Melodies of a Tattered Shadow

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Chapter 7 VENGEANCE

Rick Sizemore slumped down on the chair in front of Mr. Fisher, still shocked at what he’s looking at.

“You cannot do this.”

“Why not? Are you really considering ending The Clowns?”

“Of course not!” Disgust was brewing in the manager’s guts.

“Okay, so you—who do you think can replace Garry Gable? Do you think we should have a contest for this? Why should we waste time and money when we already know that we have someone right here. This can even make the band much… more… famous!”

No matter how much he tried to accept it, he just could not stomach it. He hates this man.

“I don’t think he will agree to this,” he tried changing the direction of the conversation.

Mr. Fisher laughed. “Leave that to me, Rick. You know very well I have the gift of persuasion.”

They were interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Mr. Fisher, your 2 o’clock is here. Should I let him in?”

“Yes, yes, please.”

The young man waiting outside paced back and forth. He didn’t know why he was suddenly called to Mr. Fisher’s office, alone. Did I do something wrong? He kept thinking of the worst scenario. Something is terribly wrong here.

Once inside, the two men welcomed him with much gusto. Something was definitely wrong.

“Speaking of the devil! The man of the hour. Glad that you’re here. Rick and I have some important matters to talk to you about.”

He was surprised to see the manager.

“Good morning, Mr. Fisher… Mr. Sizemore?”

“Have you heard of the news about Garry Gable?” Mr. Fisher asked. He was surprised, too, at the cheerful tone of his voice.

“Yes, sir. Condolences, sir. I know you were close to Garry.” He said to Mr. Sizemore.

“Do you know why you’re here? Did Jenna tell you anything?” Mr. Fisher asked. The smile on his face was creeping him out.

“No, sir.”

“Good! I wouldn’t want my news to be preempted.”

Mr. Fisher walked toward the young man and placed his arm around his shoulders. “The reason why you are here is because Garry Gable is dead. It’s the end of the road for him. But it is not for you. It is in fact, the beginning for you.”

He wriggled away from the old man as soon as he realized what he was leading to. “I’m flattered, sir. But I’m afraid I’m not with you on this. I cannot leave my friends. I will not leave my friends.” He was firm and decisive.

The old man snickered and lit a cigar. “Young man, you are not thinking this through. You are not thinking about the future… your future.”

“I believe I am thinking about my future, and my future is with my friends. We’ve worked so hard together. We promised we will finish the album on time, and we will keep that promise.”

“I admire your loyalty to your friends, but, I’m afraid loyalty will not bring you fame.” Mr. Fisher paused and smiled wickedly. “You think Cindy will be loyal to you if you become a loser again?”

Fox clenched his fist and tried to contain his growing rage. Mr. Fisher knows about Cindy’s condition, he thought. He was quiet, trying to think what his next move will be. He sat down and stared at the floor for some moments.

The last bit of the conversation left Mr. Sizemore confused. Who was Cindy? What has she got to do with all this?

“It’s up to you. You can choose to remain with your band and bring them down with you once the public knows about Cindy’s condition; or you can choose to be the lead vocalist of the number one rock band in the country, and have a lovely ever after with your future wife and kid. I don’t think her father would agree to marry off her daughter to some loser, now will he?” Mr. Fisher taunted Fox, watching him battle with his own wits.

“Okay, okay. I’ll sweeten the deal. If you choose The Clowns, everything that stinks will remain in the wretched box and kept a secret, and your beloved Kickers can continue on as a band. So, what do you think? You see, I can be as naturally nice as you want me to.”

Fox knew he did not have a choice. This man is evil and he will do whatever he could to destroy everyone who stands in his way. If he chooses to stick with D’ Kickers, Mr. Fisher will ruin everything his band has worked for. And he didn’t want to lose Cindy. He had to do what Mr. Fisher wants.

Mr. Fisher didn’t waste any more time giving out the new contracts to Fox and Mr. Sizemore, and having them sign it right away. On his way out of Triumph Records, Fox was furious. His hatred for Mr. Fisher was beyond words. But he was mostly mad at himself, as he left himself vulnerable and therefore easily preyed on by this hideous man.

“See how persuasive I am? That was so easy.”

Mr. Fisher was laughing so hard he almost choked as he inhaled more smoke from his cigar. Mr. Sizemore was still in a bit of a shock, still trying to figure out what just happened and why it had to happen.

“What happens now? The boys have recorded the new songs. Are we going to get a new vocalist?”

“Of course not!”

The manager looked at him, waiting for an explanation.

“Oh, Rick. I can only wish you can be half as clever as I am. D’ Kickers will not have to record anything again. Fox and The Clowns will.”

It was as if the room spun uncontrollably around Mr. Sizemore.

“You cannot do that!” he yelled. “D’ Kickers… Paul Andrews… they have worked so hard for those songs, for that album. You cannot just give it to The Clowns just like that! Just because you want to!”

“Who says so? And who is Paul Andrews?”

“For god’s sake, Paul Andrews is ‘the kid’. He wrote all those songs for his band.”

The old man dismissed whatever he said, as if he heard nothing of importance. “Anyway, whoever. Don’t you even read their contracts? It says there that whatever they wrote—they are all mine. All mine. So I can do whatever the hell I want with it. I can give it to the church choir, for all you care. I own the rights to all the songs.” He said the last sentence with clear, evil conviction.

“Please, man. Please don’t ‘kill’ D’ Kickers like this. They will be back to zero with no album to release, and no lead vocalist.”

“Oh, Rick, Rick, Rick. You are the manager, aren’t you? Start thinking like a businessman. Let me make it clear that we are not killing D’ Kickers. We are creating a ‘super band.’ Can’t you see what’s happening here? The lead vocalist of D’ Kickers is now the lead vocalist of The Clowns. What’s more? The genius songwriter is writing songs for The Clowns, too.

I am merging the two greatest bands of this generation. Now tell me that is not brilliant. Ha-ha!” He laughed and felt so proud of his scheme. “‘Fox and D’ Clowns’! Ha-ha! Boom! Number one song in the Billboard charts!”

It was brilliant, thought Mr. Sizemore. It was a good lesson on how a problem can be turned into a magnificent opportunity—for the record company. Not to the artists who will stand to lose.

Rumors about Fox leaving his band and leading The Clowns spread irrepressibly, thanks to Mr. Fisher’s publicity arm. Photos of Fox with the members of The Clowns were on tabloids and magazines. Everything was planned for and arranged by no other than Mr. Fisher, of course, even way back during the launch of The Clowns’ Wet & Dry album. It was supposed to be used to threaten Garry at the time; now it served a ‘better’ purpose for Mr. Fisher.

Paul, Joey, Andy, Peter and Scott didn’t know what to make of it. None of them wanted to believe the rumors, but a hint of doubt floated as Fox remained quiet and refused to confirm or deny anything. Recording sessions had been canceled, and Fox have not contacted any one of them the last couple of days. They were all waiting for Fox and Mr. Sizemore to explain what was happening.

Finally, on a Friday morning, Mr. Sizemore called a meeting and they all convened at Peter’s room. Fox was not there.

“I’m sorry that it took me a while to meet with you,” Mr. Sizemore began. “As you know, Garry passed away, and I had to attend to many different matters relating to Garry and The Clowns.”

Scott interrupted, “Is it true that Fox will replace Garry Gable?”

Mr. Sizemore took a moment to answer. He was surprised at Scott’s aggressive questioning.

“Mr. Sizemore, just tells us the truth, straight up. No frills. We need to know if we have to pack our things and leave now,” Peter said matter-of-factly.

“Peter, guys—you don’t have to leave,” Mr. Sizemore replied.

The boys weren’t satisfied with this answer. Paul was quietly observing him.

“We have been through a lot these past two years. Don’t treat us like kids anymore. We can handle it, no matter what it is,” Peter emphasized.

The manager sat down and began telling them the whole truth.

The group was quiet; the silence in the room was deafening.

“I’m so sorry. I know you are mad at me. I don’t blame you. I didn’t see this coming. I am in shock, too. I had big plans for you but—” Mr. Sizemore took a deep breath, trying to control his emotions. “Garry’s death, and Fox’s secret… all these things changed the course of everything I planned.”

Mr. Sizemore continued, “He didn’t have a choice. Fox, I mean. He was practically blackmailed by Fisher. I’m sure I wouldn’t have done differently.”

After a long pause, Peter asked, “What now, Mr. Sizemore?”

“We have to find a new vocalist and record our songs again,” Paul insisted.

“I’m afraid it’s not going to be that easy.”

“Why?” Joey asked.

“What, Mr. Sizemore?” Scott was impatient.

“You cannot record your song again with a new vocalist, because you can no longer use the songs Paul wrote.”

“What?” yelled everyone in unison.

“No, that can’t be right…” was all Paul could say.

“All those songs will be used by The Clowns for their new album with Fox.”

“You cannot do that!” Everyone was held back as Andy shouted angrily at him. “Those are our songs! ‘The kid’ wrote those songs. It’s ours!”

The manager was shaking his head. “Unfortunately you don’t own any song. Miss Keys overlooked that part of the contract. The agreement you all signed made Triumph Records the sole owner of everything you will create—including the songs Paul, or any of you will write.”

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying? What now? You said we don’t have to pack our things yet, but it sure looks like it…” Scott was already punching the sofa he was sitting on, so hard his knuckles started to bruise.

“We have to regroup, and you—” he said pointing to Paul, “have to write new songs.”

“That is impossible.”

“It’s barely two months before our six-month deadline, and we still have to look for a lead vocalist. How are we supposed to do that?” Andy asked.

“Don’t think of that deadline anymore. We need to start over again. Back to zero.” Mr. Sizemore said.

“What do you mean?” Joey inquired sadly.

“The new album will stand on its own merits. We can no longer expect that whatever Angel’s Cry and Mad as Hell have created can affect the success or even the sales of the album because of the long time that lapsed.”

“So what do we do now? Are we going to look for a new vocalist?” Peter asked.

“No. Don’t think about the vocalist yet. Let’s create music from what we have,” Mr. Sizemore suggested. “’The kid’, here will be our vocalist for now,” he turned to Paul, “You can sing, right?”

Paul nodded, but said nothing.

Reality sets in as the boys were left to themselves to digest what have transpired that morning. They were ready to face yet another challenge, head on, but they could not simply accept that Fox had left them. They hadn’t seen Fox for a while now. Is he never going to speak to us?

They were in pain. It was worse than the physical pain they went through back in the school gym, that day of the wrestling match. All of them, except Paul, had known Fox almost all their lives. They all grew up together in that small town in Tennessee. And he turned his back on them? Now, of all times?

Paul walked back to his room with a heavy heart. When he opened the door, he was surprised to see Fox, sitting on his bed. Paul sat down on a chair in front of his friend, and said nothing.

“Kid, I’m so sorry for the trouble.”

Paul was quiet. He didn’t even know how he felt about Fox right now. He felt he had already lost a friend. His mentor. He didn’t know what to tell Fox or what to ask him.

“I know I failed you guys. I’m really sorry.” His voice was breaking.

Paul wanted to ask him, Why are you here? Why talk to me? Why not Peter or Scott?

“I know what you’re thinking, kid.” He looked him straight in the eyes.

“I have to talk to you first. From the time I signed with The Clowns, I worried about all of you, but especially you. Those are your songs, kid.”

Paul just kept silent and let Fox keep talking.

“All I have thought about is you, kid.”

“Why?” Paul asked, lacking any emotion.

You are D’ Kickers. It might surprise you, but without you, there will be no Kickers. Don’t you see?”

“Fox, you’re the one who brought us here…”

“No, Paul. You brought us here. From the beginning, it was you who gave us our name, our history. You are the poet who wrote all those words. You are the soul of our band.”

“Fox…” Paul shook his head in disagreement.

“You have to understand, you can get a lead vocalist anytime. And he can be a hundred times better than me. But you can’t find someone like you. Look at The Clowns. It was so easy for them to replace Garry…” he paused and buried his head in his hands. “They can easily replace me, too.”

“What do you mean?”

“Me, leaving the band, was not entirely a loss for you guys. As long as you are there, D’ Kickers can survive. You have to lead them. Don’t worry, kid. I’m sure the band will make it soon.”

He walked over to the window, looked out and then turned around to face Paul. “I will always be part of D’ Kickers. Even when I’m with another band.”

They looked at each other both with sadness in their eyes. Fox extended his hands and shook Paul’s hands and left the room without saying another word.

*****

Triumph Records had drastically cut the band’s budget. They were out of the plush hotel and send to a cramped space in downtown Los Angeles. Their practice sessions were held in the smallest studio at Triumph Records. They were no longer the priority of the label. Sometimes they would rent a studio, paying it from their own pockets. Other times Mr. Sizemore would cover the rental.

To help fund everything, Mr. Sizemore was forced to send them on small- time gigs. These gigs put so much pressure on Paul. He had no time left to write new songs. Meanwhile, Fox and The Clowns released their new album, and it topped the charts in just two weeks—all thanks to the music written by Paul Andrews. This wasn’t all bad news to Paul. He was actually earning royalty from the songs The Clowns recorded.

On one of the nights D’ Kickers were playing at a club, they chanced upon Vincent Baker, who was out for a drink with some friends. He walked over to Paul after their set, and asked how the band is doing.

“Hey there, kid. What are you doing here?”

Paul told him everything, not leaving any detail out.

“But if you’re going to do this,” he looked at the place, and then back to Paul, “you might as well just go back home and finish your studies. You are wasting your time here. You have a better chance in school than here.”

“What are we going to do?”

“It’s simple. Go create your own music. Don’t do this stupid cover songs and nightly gigs. You are much better than this.”

“But this is what Mr. Sizemore had arranged for us to do for now. We need rent money, and food money, and….” His voice trailed off.

“Kid, I’m sure Rick means well. But he is a businessman. He wouldn’t want everything to come out of his pocket for your benefit. That’s why he’s asking you to do this.”

“I understand that, Vincent. But what else can we do to earn some bucks?”

“I can help you, but you have to go for broke.”

“What do you mean?”

“Kid, just like I said, stop this nonsense. Create music. I have a studio at home. You can practice there, but you have to provide now for your band mates for rent and food money. Only for the meantime. You have a decent income from royalties. You can use that to help your band.”

Paul and Vincent set up a meeting with Mr. Sizemore the next day. They told him about the proposed plan of action for the band, and he readily agreed.

There were three songs left from Paul’s compositions that The Clowns did not use in their album. The group used those to resume rehearsals.

Loaded Bottles

The Fool on the woods sang

Bottle of spirit is a friend of mine

He gave me courage to do things I couldn’t have done

Give cries to an innocent one

Otherwise sane man cries

A bottle of spirit made him a sinful man

He drove his car, hit a pedestrian

Killing instantly, an honest man

Refrain:

Loaded bottles

Can make you sing

It can make others scream in fear

What a delight, her spirit brings

Death to some who just happened to be there

A restless teenager bullied in school

A bottle of spirit made him superhuman

He shoots everyone while they’re eating lunch

And shot himself to prove he’s superman

A man who is good to no one

An empty bottle made him a mad man

An empty bottle is no use for his strong arm

He struck the head of his wife with one

Vincent saw the potential hits the boys have in their hands now. He persuaded Paul to hire a temporary keyboard player so he can again focus on writing songs.

Just when things seem to be looking up for D’ Kickers once again, a huge blow had come their way. Triumph Records served them a notice of contract termination. But what shocked them was the notice that said Rick Sizemore will no longer manage them.

“What are we going to do? We don’t have a manager, and a record label!” Andy was almost in tears.

Peter was looking on, but said nothing.

Is this all a big joke? It seems that fate was not really their ally, after all. Every time they overcome a hurdle, another one just comes up and tears them down.

Vincent was told of the bad news that evening. To their surprise, Vincent just smiled.

“I kind of expected this will happen. It’s all just business to them. They will let you go, because you’re not making money. Frankly, I’m surprised it lasted this long.”

Vincent continued, “Others, they are just good as their last song. It’s been more than two years since the release of your song. I think they only held on to you this long so that they can fish ‘the kid’s’ new songs. It’s a good thing you didn’t come up with any more songs.”

“So why is that good news?” Scott asked.

“Don’t you see? You are now out of the clutches of the ‘Hawk’. You are free now,” Vincent looked at each of them and nodded cheerfully.

“Free from what?” Joey was puzzled.

“Son, you can now steer your own journey. You created a lot of pitfalls in your partnership with Triumph Records, but still, you learned something. I’m sure you can find your way.”

Somehow, with his words, they began to understand why all these needed to happen to them. Still, one question hovered on their minds.

“We don’t have a manager. Where do we go from here?” asked Paul.

“Vincent, can you represent us?” Peter asked, a bit uncertain if it was the right question to ask.

“I thought you’d never ask,” he smiled and then addressed everyone else. “But do the rest want the same thing?”

As if a burden was suddenly lifted off their shoulders, the boys smiled and nodded in agreement. “Yes, yes, of course!”

“To tell you honestly, I’ve never handled anyone before. But I have been wanting to manage a band. I was just waiting for the one I truly believe in.”

At that moment Paul and Vincent formally establish a company to both manage and finance their band. Vincent also told them not to worry about signing with a record label again, for now. The first thing to do is have enough songs for an album, because this will be their selling point. As soon as they have materials to show the record companies, everything else will follow.

The boys spent months working on their album, having nine new songs in their bank. Although D’ Kickers had not been active in the public’s eyes for quite some time, fans still remembered them and sent mails to ask how they are. People knew that Paul wrote the songs in The Clowns’ new album, and they expressed support and love for him just as much.

Everyone thought they had disbanded after their first single. Somehow, after over two years, people began talking and asking about D’ Kickers. What happened to them? Don’t they have new songs to release? And somehow, this buzz triggered the interest of many record labels, including Triumph Records. They were in the hunt again for D’ Kickers.

Vincent was well aware of the clamor for D’ Kickers, but he chose to be silent. He told the boys to keep focused and to not be shaken by any negative vibes.

Rumors about D’ Kickers album in progress dominated radio and TV news, as Vincent had managed to sign the group with a small record label, where all parties were assured to mutually benefit from the partnership. A few last touches for the album, aptly titled ‘Vengeance’, were being implemented. The playlist included the songs Vengeance, The Poet and the Beat, Waging Wars, Climactic Death, Songs from the Graveyard, Devil’s Prayer, Ray of Darkness, Wounded Heart, American Virgin, and the three earlier songs that The Clowns left out: Loaded Bottles, Tears for the Undead, and Fearless.

Even without any promotional gimmicks, die-hard rock fans were eagerly awaiting the D’ Kickers first album. Record bars were already being hounded by fans. With no big budget for advertisements, the record company only managed to print a limited number of posters featuring D’ Kickers. The kid conceptualized the poster design, showing a bouquet of roses and a bloodied knife on top of a piano, with blood spatters and dripping on the piano keys, with the album title: VENGEANCE.

The poster alone roused the fans’ interest. It became a collectible in such a short time, and bootleg copies had even come out.

A copy of the poster found its way to Mr. Fisher’s hands. Looking at the poster, he grin his evil grin, and tossed the poster onto the conference table.

On the first day of the Vengeance album’s release, rock fans lined up hours before the record bars opened. Copies sold by the hundreds, and then thousands, until after only a couple of days, selling of D’ Kickers album was stopped. A restraining order was filed by Triumph Records for copyright infringement. Triumph alleged that the three songs: Loaded Bottled, Tears from the Undead, and Fearless, were owned by Triumph, and should not have been recorded by D’ Kickers. The injunction prompted more attention toward the D’ Kickers once again, but for the wrong reasons. The media dubbed them as the ‘controversial fivesome’ who seems to never escape the scrutiny of the general public. And because of its controversy, it became the object of contempt by some conservative groups. It was eventually tagged as ‘the devil’s work’ by people who have never even listened to it, judging the record only by its cover and its song titles. The rock fans, on the other hand hailed it as a true masterpiece. Some even began to raise it up to the level of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album.

The controversy only stirred more interest toward the album and D’ Kickers. The demand was phenomenal. Unfortunately, court litigation was being dragged, which was again, one of Mr. Fisher’s tactics.

Pristine Records, the label under which Vengeance was released were already talking about alternatives.

“Our lawyer has already stated our position in the case. They strongly advise us to settle with Triumph Records. They have the legal rights for the three songs, even if ‘the kid’ wrote it.” Dan Anderson, President of Pristine Records conceded.

“That guy is one shrewd son of a bitch. I don’t think we can have a good deal with that man,” said Vincent in disgust.

“Other choices are damaging for us. We can’t re-record. That will cost too much.”

They were interrupted by Mr. Anderson’s secretary, telling them about a lady waiting outside from Mr. Fisher’s office.

“Let her in.”

“Good morning, sirs. Mr. Baker… Mr. Anderson,” Jenna said politely as she entered the office.

“So, your kind boss sends you over. What can we possibly do for you?” Vincent asked in sarcasm.

Jenna simply smiled and said, “Mr. Fisher would like to invite you for a coffee at Beverly Hills Hotel this afternoon. If you’re not too busy.”

Both men sensed a deal in the offing. But somehow they knew it was a deal they could not swallow. However, they needed to hear it from him, and see if there’s a way to go around what he wants.

On the way to the meeting, Mr. Anderson had already reminded Vincent that no matter what, he would not deal with Mr. Fisher if it meant losing his dignity. He didn’t care less if he loses money over it.

The burly old man pleasantly greeted his guests, shaking their hands as if they were old pals.

“Good afternoon! Have a seat, have a seat. Let’s have coffee, come.”

“Mr. Fisher, we’re here, and we all know why. So we might as well just listen to what you have to offer to end this mockery,” Mr. Anderson’s voice was stern.

“Oh, Well. Down with the business, eh? Very smart. I respect that. No frills, no, no. Okay so, first, I know your business can only handle the first phase of sales, and only within LA and maybe some nearby cities. But not the whole California State…nor the US. I, on the other hand, have that power. I want to market the album to the whole US at a 50/50 profit deal; apart from the royalty of the three songs.”

Mr. Anderson paused, somewhat confused and surprised by the offer.

“Mr. Anderson, I know you’re thinking it’s a fairly good deal. Because it is, it is. Anyway, you don’t have the strength now to sell it nationwide; and the royalty as you know is justified.”

“What’s the catch?”

“Oh, yes, of course. There is a catch.”

“As you know, the last album of The Clowns was a phenomenal success, and that was greatly because of Fox. But I’m missing the other key to the group’s success. D’ Kickers secret weapon: the one who wrote all the songs in the album.”

“Are you saying you want to steal ‘the kid,’ too? Okay that’s it,” he stood up angrily and tossed his table napkin on the ground. “No deal.”

He turned his back to leave.

Fisher raised his voice so the other man can hear, “Mr. Anderson, I’m merely saying I just want his services for the next album of The Clowns. Twelve songs, to my satisfaction. Is it that bad? Surely we can work that out?”

Mr. Anderson looked back to him, and pulled Mr. Baker away from Mr. Fisher. They discussed the offer, and went back to Mr. Fisher’s table.

“We will agree, if you heed our counter-offer,” Mr. Anderson stated.

“Sure, sure,” he took a sip from his coffee and said, “That’s what we’re here for; to negotiate. Let me hear your offer?”

“First, we agree to the deal regarding the distribution for most of the states except New York and California. As you know, we have our own office in New York. Regarding the royalty, it goes without saying. We follow the protocol. On the matter of ‘the kid’ writing 12 songs for you, we agree, but the copyright should written off to Paul in two years.”

“I agree. Except for the turnover of the rights, it should be five years and no royalty after the end of contract,” Mr. Fisher countered.

“Three years,” Mr. Anderson offered.

“No, four years.”

“Four years—deal!”

“Okay, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Baker, congratulations! You just made huge profits for your company.” He grinned at the two and took out a cigar. “I’ll be sending my lawyers for the details of the contract. It was great doing business with you, gentlemen.”

That night, it was all over the news: Triumph and Pristine have reached a settlement and will partner for the re-release of Vengeance. With the strength and capability of Triumph Records, nationwide distribution was assured. Apparently, Mr. Fisher proved to be a businessman more than anything, and a genius one at that. Although he was a big problem initially for D’ Kickers and Pristine Records, his business ability was beyond belief. The deal had put D’ Kickers back in the limelight, and Triumph Records amassed huge profits again.

Pristine Records did not reap as much profit, though, but the sales in New York and California had catapulted their name and worth to a new level. With this, Pristine Records was able to arranged distribution of the album internationally. Everything had fallen into place for D’ Kickers. Vengeance made it to the Billboard top ten albums, and was featured as one of the best albums of the year by Rolling Stone Magazine. D’ Kickers belonged to the top five rock bands in the country by the year’s end. While this was happening, ‘the kid’ was busy writing the twelve new songs for The Clowns, as promised.

They’ve reached the fame they had never imagined. Unlike over two years ago, they were so much more excited to promote Vengeance. They’ve gone on concert tours across the states, and it was the best time they’ve ever had. Theirs were rock-opera themed, inspired and designed to be like a horror flick on stage. Their gimmicks and branding raised their popularity to a different height. They have undoubtedly surpassed The Clowns. Paul was the genius behind the concepts, planning the stage, production sets and special effects all on his own. He writes the songs and visualizes how the songs will be interpreted during the performance. Their act had become the most sought out concert in America. Western Europe, Australia and some parts of Asia were following suit. Pristine Records decided to prioritize the promotional concerts outside of the US knowing this was the big break the label has been waiting for.

Before the scheduled trip to Europe and Asia, the boys were given two weeks to rest. For the first time in almost three years, they had a chance to go back to Tennessee. There was no announcement about their homecoming; they all agreed this would be a time to be spent with their families.

That was why when they arrived at the airport, they were speechless at the sight of thousands of people waiting to welcome them. The whole state of Tennessee was practically there! Even the Governor of Tennessee was there, side by side with the newly elected Senator Cummings. The only ones missing were their families.

It was frustrating for the boys. The fans were corded off and the boys were led from one point to another inside the airport. It obviously wasn’t taking them anywhere. The security men leading them were trying to divert the fans’ attention, but the attempt was futile. The boys looked at each other, shaking their heads in disbelief and exasperation. They thought it would be easy because nobody knew they were coming home.

After going through what felt like an endless maze, they finally saw the outside of the airport. Only to be surprised once again with a motorcade.

As they stepped on the vehicle, Paul couldn’t help but think of the days when they were just starting. Fox often told him to get used to it. “It’s part of fame,” he said. Although it was true, Paul didn’t like every bit of it.

At the motorcade, they smiled and waved to the crowd for almost two hours. They were headed to their hometown and despite all the ruckus, they were excited.

It was only later when they realized they were not going “home”. The motorcade was headed to Senator Cummings’ mansion. From a mile away, they can already see the crowd spilling out from inside of the huge property.

They had no choice but to mingle with the guests that gathered there apparently to welcome them and meet the “wonder boys” of Tennessee—Senator Cummings’ protégées. At this point, it came to no surprise at all when they were asked to perform. They went up the stage to sing. It was set on the same exact place that night of the tragic fire.

Andy and Scott were both wary. Paul was still lost in his thoughts, as he was suddenly reminded of his precious book that he lost forever because of that fire. Then he remembered Cindy and Kim. The girls were not there and Paul wondered why. He stared at all the nameless faces gathered ’round to see them perform, and felt exhausted.

The show went on for D’ Kickers, and the crowd was in awe. When people began shouting for Angel’s Cry and Mad as Hell, Paul looked at Scott. They both remembered Fox, and it was the first time they truly felt a sharp stab of pain. They miss him. Plus the fact that as much as they would love to sing the two songs that changed their lives, they couldn’t. Instead, they sang another cut from Vengeance as a final song.

After the impromptu mini-concert, they were introduced around to the VIPs. They couldn’t leave on the spot as they were at the mercy of the Senator; there was no vehicle to take them home except for the Cummings limousine. When the party was finally over and everyone had gone home, they were finally let go.

When Paul reached home, he was surprised to see his mom and his friend Tony, were waiting for him at the front porch. How did they know I was coming home?

“Honey, you’re late again. What’s the problem this time?” his mom teased him. He walked up to her without saying a thing and embraced her really tight. He missed her so much that he couldn’t let go.

“Honey, I can’t breathe,” she said, laughing. Paul let go and hugged Tony, too.

“How did you know?” Paul asked.

“It’s all over the news, silly. And I know that all of you were taken hostage by Senator Cummings. You don’t have to explain. I know you, you wanted to surprise us,” she held Paul close, and walked on with him. “Let’s go inside. Your Dad is preparing our dinner, but I’m sure you must’ve already eaten in that mansion.”

“No mom, I haven’t eaten yet. I was looking forward to your cooking,” he said, giving her the hungry puppy look she always loved. “I’m starving, Mom!”

They all went inside laughing. He ran to his Dad who was standing by the kitchen door, frozen, like he’d seen a ghost. They hugged and laughed and started catching up like he was gone just yesterday.

Paul shared stories about LA over dinner, while his parents and Tony took turns telling him everything that happened in their small town since he left. The feeling of ‘home’ was overwhelmingly joyful.

That night in his old room, Paul could not help but feel reminiscent. Years have gone by now, and they were fleeting. He remembered his first time at a particular room. He didn’t fit well, but because of James and Jackie’s love, everything fell into place soon enough. He soon belonged; the room became his. He realized everything started in that small room.

He got up from his bed, sat in front of his study desk, and started to write.

Bat Cave

I’m always like a little angel

who can sing a beautiful melody

My hair is curly, gold and silly

People seem to look with glee

Bye bye little angel

To your body and soul

You were wounded like a crushed candy

A beast had bit your very spirit

Your cries were grim

Graves turns to pleas

The church could not even save thee

Now you nurse a broken will

Refrain:

Darkness overshadowed you

As if you were blind and mute

I see death will save you

When you awake, you’re in as cave

Clip my wings quickly

See a uniform not for me

I don them in envy

Now I am Batman, can’t you see?

After writing, he rummaged through his old things on the desk and the drawers. There he found his old English notebook. He smiled as he opened it to the three poems he wrote for that assignment: the unfinished poem for his parents, and the two poems that catapulted them to where they are now.

He read the first poem and wondered why he hadn’t finished it. Should he continue? Or leave it as it is? James and Jackie love him to no end. But why was it so difficult to complete it? He attempts to write some lines:

What do you pay

For a gift of you?

The boundless joy

For them, that is you.

He put his pen down and closed the notebook shut. A small parchment fell off as he did. He picked it up and noticed a note that read: “CINDY… I hate you, I hate you… You always kept me waiting.” He paused, and opened his notebook again. On one of the pages he saw the lyrics he had written for Fox and Cindy:

CINDY

She always cries

“I hate you, I hate you”

You kept me waiting

But when you look into my eyes

You are satisfied, ’cause you knew

I’m yours till the day I die

Refrain:

There are days, when all I do is stare

Looking at your beauty, I can’t compare

I listen to music, just to rest my stare

But still her beauty, beckons me there

Where her smile is floating on air

Oh my Cindy

Don’t you cry, don’t you cry

I’m on my way love

To where your beauty lies

I miss you, I could die

I’m yours to make you smile

Here the tune

Kiss me, Kiss me, Kiss me

I sing to you near

Cause I’m just here singing

I love you, sweet baby

He wasn’t able to give this to Fox because everything happened so fast. He heaved a deep sigh. This was the first song he had written that expressed love, and not hatred or fear. He wrote it for two dear friends, and they’re both out of his life now. He wasn’t sure what to do with the song. If he gives it to Fox now, it could probably end up in the hands of that greedy Mr. Fisher. He still wanted Fox to sing it, though.

“Maybe someday,” Paul whispered to himself.

The boys spent all their time in their own homes and with their families for the rest of their time off.

Paul enjoyed his stay at home just as much, but he would often be caught sitting alone in his room, or staring at nothing on the front porch, holding a girl’s old tattered clothes. He was pensive and quiet, Mrs. Andrews would notice.

Every time his parents would see him like this, they left him on his own and never dared to bother him. It tears them apart to see him like this, but they simply cannot do anything. This always happens after he spends time with his parents. No matter how great a time they had, he would retreat to a solitary place and keep silent for as long as it takes for him to bounce back. Family time triggers a bad memory for Paul, that’s what his parents surmised.

James and Jackie have always felt blessed for having Paul as their child. They’ve always thought of him as an angel sent by God to ease their pain. But somehow, there are some things they simply cannot ease for him.

Before going back to LA, Peter arranged a secret meeting for the group in their basement just like the old times, if only to avoid being mobbed by their fans. Peter assigned disguises for them to wear to keep people off track: Scott went as a plumber, Andy was a phone bill collector, Joey was a pizza delivery boy. Paul, on the other hand was not assigned anything. Being the most creative, they left it up to him to surprise the group.

Tony Lee parked his bike in front of the Andrews gate, and greeted Mrs. Andrews good morning.

“I’m just here to give Paul this,” Tony told Mrs. Andrews politely, then handing over a paper bag.

“Come in first and see Paul.”

“I’m on my way to work, ma’am. I don’t want to be late. Paul requested that from me last night, so I just dropped it off.”

“Okay, Tony. Take care then. Do come back again before Paul leaves for Los Angeles.”

“Okay ma’am,” replied Tony and drove away.

“Honey, there’s a bag here that Tony left for you,” she yelled from downstairs to Paul, who was in his room.

“I’m coming down, Mom.”

“What is it anyway?” asked Mrs. Andrews as Paul peeked inside the bag.

“A costume,” he said, grinning mischievously.

“Oh. What for? A party? What will you be then?” his mother was curious now.

“I’ll surprise you. You’ll love it.”

Paul went upstairs to his room and quickly put the costume on. He looked at himself in the mirror and was disappointed. It was too simple for him. He wanted something more creative. He sat in his study, and pondered more on what he can wear. Then he glanced at his notebook, and saw the lyrics he wrote last night.

He dashed to his parents’ room and rummaged through his parents’ closet. He picked one set of clothes and took it with him back to his room. He checked himself again on the mirror, and this time, he was delighted with what he saw.

Little did he know, his Mom was peeking from the half-opened door. She watched as he posed and made funny faces at himself. As he slipped the costume off to change, something caught them both off guard. She didn’t expect to see it, and Paul wasn’t sure what to say or how to react as he watched his mother gape in horror. They stared at each other for a moment without saying a word, then Paul ran to her and held her tight as he sobbed relentlessly.

“Honey, are you ready for this?” his mom asked in between sobs.

Paul did not answer.

“I will not stop you. Even your Dad will support whatever you want. If you decide to do this now, we will support you all the way.”

Paul held her tighter now, but still did not say anything.

It took a few moments for him to calm down and let go of Mrs. Andrews. He undressed in front his mother, who stood there unperturbed.

Paul handed the clothes to his Mom.

“Honey, if you really want to wear something like this, I’ll buy you new ones.”

He smiled and picked up the other costume he took off earlier, and put it on again. It was a carpenter’s jumpsuit and a baseball cap with paint stains.

“This is what I was actually imagining you’d be wearing. I see your Dad in that attire every day, but you’re definitely cuter, honey. You should bring the carpenter’s bag Dad takes to work, to complete the attire.”

The two laughed and talked about Dad and all his nuances and rituals before going to work every morning, as if trying to forget everything that just transpired a few moments ago.

Paul walked over to Peter’s place in his disguise. The clothes gave him a sense of freedom; that was why he wanted to wear it. Yet there was fear attached to it. And upon realizing that fear, he stopped to hilt and sat on the curb.

“I am already Bat… and I’m not going back.”

He searched inside the carpenter’s bag he was carrying for a pen. He had no paper to write on, and found only a handkerchief from his pocket. He started scribbling:

I am Batman

Bruised like hell

In a kid’s room

My blood was toxic with liquor

Someone poisoned my bosoms

Kill my spirit

Can fly no more

My wings was tiered split

Mimics like hanging dead bird in a ceiling

Refrain:

I’m in despair

I am damaged beyond repair

I need a superhero

Like batman to turn my life upside down

Hanged my life upside down

So I could survive

Wearing costume that doesn’t fit

I myself can’t even recognize

Chorus:

Always in despair

You’re damaged beyond repair

All you need is a superhero

Now I’m batman and I’m not going back

Being me has made me weak

Now I’m Batman and you can’t kill me.

The boys waited excitedly for Paul’s disguise. And when Paul finally arrived at Peter’s place, everyone was speechless. His costume was plain and—boring. They all teased and booed him, and he simply laughed at them. He didn’t think it was boring at all. This is his Dad’s work clothes and he’s proud of it.

They decided to play some music for old time’s sake. They were reunited with their old instruments, they realized, and they all waxed sentimental. While dusting off the keyboards, Paul noticed the record collection again. He has always envied this collection; and although he can now afford to build his own collection, he wanted these records because they were vintage, and priceless. And for Paul, these records were the very ones that inspired him to come out of his shell and dare to take risks. At that moment, he realized he wanted something from this collection. Something he left a long time ago. He began to rummage through the shelves and stacks of records like a dog hungry for a bone.

“Hey kid, what are you doing? You’re messing the stacks! You’re gonna get kicked out here, kid,” Scott joked.

“What are you up to now?” Andy asked.

Everyone was laughing, and Paul laughed along, but didn’t stop looking.

“I found it! I found it!” he finally shouted in glee, holding a 45’ vinyl single and waving it like a jackpot price.

Was his copy of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Mrs. Cook came running down the stairs, startled by the noise.

“What happened here? Boys! Who ransacked the records? Oh my!”

“Mom, sorry. It was Paul. He did that all by himself,” Peter teased.

“Hey kid. I don’t care if you’re all superstars now. You clean this up or I’ll tell your Moms on you,” Mrs. Cooks told them off, and winked at Paul.

“Ma’am, can I just change them all with new ones?” Paul teased back.

There was a quiet laugh, as everyone took a hint that Paul wasn’t joking. They all looked at him, and then at Mrs. Cooks.

“What was that Paul? What did you say?” Mrs. Cook was befuddled.

“No ma’am, forget it. I—I was kidding. I’ll go and just fix all these now.”

“No Paul, just let it be,” she smiled. “I was only joking. Anyway, I will have the time of my life fixing it… Once all of you are gone.” Mrs. Cook smiled but they all felt the sadness in her voice.

The doorbell rang and broke the moment of silence that enveloped the basement. Mrs. Cook went upstairs to answer the door.

Peter asked Paul, “What did you mean a while ago?”

Paul didn’t want to explain, but he knew he had to or he will be misunderstood. “I want… the collection. This collection,” he said pointing to the records. “I want it for myself.”

“But you can buy a copy of all these records. These are not hard-to-find records. These are old, and some of them might even have scratches already.

“It’s not that, Peter. I love these records… don’t you remember?”

And then Peter realized what he was trying to say. He remembered the first time Paul was here, and how he ogled at the shelves. How he almost worshipped that corner of the basement. He and the records, they have a history.

“I’ll try to talk to my dad about it,” Peter said.

“Thanks, man. But this I can take now,” he held the single up. You borrowed it, and didn’t return it.” They smiled at each other.

“Hey, hey, hey? It’s not just me who borrowed it; all of us did.”

“True. But can I take it now?”

“Of course, kid. It’s yours anyway.”

Paul put the single inside the carpenter’s bag he was carrying.

The conversation was brought to a pause when they all saw someone walk down the stairs. It was Kim Chiu.

“Kim!” they all chorused.

“Hey guys, long time no see.” Kim smiled at them, as sweetly as she always did.

They all gave her a hug and led her to the couch.

Paul was delighted to see her most.

“Guys, I brought someone who misses you so much. But she’s worried you might not feel the same way.”

When they saw Cindy, they were almost in tears. She was a different Cindy from the one they all knew in high school. She was calm, more pensive, and the hint of sadness in her eyes is evident. The boys hugged her one by one, as she welled up and laughed at the same time. Scott clowned around to make the girls laugh more, and cry less. It was a pleasant reunion and they all knew it was incomplete.

Mrs. Cook came down the stairs carrying a baby girl. They were speechless for a few moments, until Scott yelled “Cute baby girl, come to Uncle to Scottie!” and took the baby.

The boys took turns holding the baby. No one needed an explanation; the baby got Fox’s blonde, wavy hair, and Cindy’s beautiful blue eyes. Paul could not take his eyes of the little girl and carry the baby. It somehow came natural for him. He felt a connection to her instantly, knowing how much Cindy and Fox meant to him. They swapped stories about LA and Tennessee, and eventually, Fox’s name came up. They were careful not to push the topic, but they realized Cindy was eager to tell them about Fox, too. They told Cindy how much they, too, miss Fox, and that there was not a moment that they didn’t think about Fox as part of their band.

“He misses you all,” Cindy told them. “He’s just really busy and schedules are impossible.

She told them about their wedding, and showed them photos of the ceremony. It was a very private affair.

“Her name is Pauline Cummings Silvers; and you’re all listed as godfathers so you better have something for her come Christmas,” she teased them.

“Oh, this is such a lovely reunion. Squeeze in guys...I will have to take a souvenir of this,” Mrs. Cooks ordered all of them.

While everyone was busy posing with the baby and Cindy and Kim, Paul looked for his bag, took out his notebook and quickly writes something. He tore the page and handed it to Cindy.

Cindy was moved to tears again. It was the song lyrics for her and Fox.

“What did you do now, kid? Why are you making her cry?”

Cindy smiled, wiped her tears and showed the group what she was holding.

“You are one talented kid, really. You never stop surprising us,” Kim commented in awe.

“He can really write that fast,” Joey agreed.

“Actually, this was the first song I wrote as a song. Fox asked me to write this way back...before we left this town. When he was still in the hospital.”

Cindy hugged Paul really tight this time.

“Thank you. Thank you, Paul.”

Paul talked to Cindy about the copyright of the song, so he instructed Cindy to register it in her name, so that Triumph Records will not be able to claim its copyright. He also asked her to drop by his house the following day.

The group continued to catch up as they played music for their lady guests. While everyone was busy playing with the baby and chatting away, nobody noticed how Kim and Joey were sitting together, whispering to each other. Nobody except Paul.

The two finally noticed that Paul had been looking at them. Joey walked over to Paul, and mumbled something privately. To their surprise, Paul pushed him and started yelling.

“When did this start? I thought you were my friends. Is this what you do to your friends? Betray them?” Paul was red in anger. He was yelling so loud the baby started crying.

Mrs. Cooks took the baby upstairs, and left everyone in silence. Kim and Joey were too shocked and embarrassed to say anything. Kim was going to walk away but Paul stopped her. And then Paul laughed.

“Gotcha.”

There was a pause. And then the rest of them laughed, except for Joey and Kim.

“I’m sorry if you didn’t find that funny. Look, I love both of you and I’m really happy that she found you. I would definitely get mad if she falls in love with someone I don’t know. This is good. It’s for the best. I love you, guys,” Paul addressed the two while everyone looked on.

Paul asked them how and when it started, and they went on to tell them it was when Fox left the group, and Kim was the one who found a way for Cindy to talk to the group again; and it was Joey who stood as a link to Cindy and Kim and the rest of them.

“That’s a good story. I think I need to write a song about that,” Paul joked and everybody laughed.

It was almost midnight when the chauffer arrived for Cindy, Pauline, and Kim. They said their good-byes with heavy hearts, and the ladies left. Cindy wanted Fox to be there, and that was all that she thought about on the drive back home.

*****

Cindy wasn’t sure why she was being summoned to the Andrews house. She arrived early and was welcomed by Paul’s mom. Paul led her to his room, and asked her to sit on his bed. He took out his notebook and handed it to Cindy. Puzzled, she flipped the pages and saw the first three poems: James & Jackie, Angel’s Cry and Mad as Hell.

“Yeah, I remember these. What about it?”

“Turn the pages some more,” he told Cindy. As she flipped through, she saw the song Cindy along with the corrections and erasures. Cindy was in awe and was totally speechless. Paul smiled and pointed to a folded piece of paper inserted in between the pages.

“Wha--?”

She unfolded and read: ’CINDY, I hate you, I hate you… you kept me waiting...

Her eyes were wide in disbelief. It was Fox’s handwriting. She held the paper close to her lips; she knew he wrote this in the hospital. Paul told her how Fox requested for the song to be completed for Cindy. She was in tears now, overwhelmed by the deep emotions for her husband. It was the most important gift she’d ever received.

“He was right when he said we should name our baby after you. You are a very dear friend, kid. We will be forever grateful,” she rubbed his head with her knuckles and hugged Paul again.

Now more than ever, she wanted Paul and Fox, and the rest of the gang to come together for old time’s sake.

*****

It wasn’t long after they found themselves heading back to LA. Before he left for the airport, Paul’s mom gave him a box wrapped in special wrappers and tied with ribbon. A note attached read: “Honey, use this as you see fit. It will suit you well, I know.”

He accepted the gift looked into his Mom’s eyes. They don’t need to say anything; they understand each other so well. He stowed the gift into his luggage and headed out the door. Before he hopped into the cab, he looked at his Mom again, and blew her a kiss. “Thank you, Mom. I love you, you know that, right?” she called back at her. Her mother smiled, wiping the tears from her cheeks. She mouthed: “Of course, honey. Go on now...” as if whispering to her little child’s ears.

Rehearsals resumed back in LA for their world tour. Their first stop was Australia then Asia, where they were well received and loved. It all seemed surreal how famous they are in these countries they have never been to. Japan was phenomenal, with fans wearing bizarre costumes to keep with the theme of their shows. It was an incredible experience for them.

From Asia they proceeded to Europe, with Germany as their first stop. They hopped from one city to another: they performed in Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. The last two stops were in England and Ireland. While in London, they took advantage of the trip and walked where their idols, The Beatles lived and breathed. They went to Liverpool, visited sites relevant to Beatles history, like the Tavern, Penny Lane, Apple studio and even the Strawberry Fields. And just like The Beatles, they had themselves photographed crossing the world-famous street, Abbey Road.

One night in London, at the famous Ritz Hotel where they were staying, the hotel concierge man delivered a nameless invitation to their room. They were informed that there would be an exclusive party to be hosted by a VIP, and they are invited. A note said they should not miss this occasion. When they asked from whom the invitation was, they were told no one knows. Apparently, private parties were a normal practice in London. Most probably, it was from a Royalty or a famous celebrity. The instructions were to not breathe a word of the invitation or the party to anyone other than the group. They examined the invitation out of curiosity, to find any clue about the host; they found none.

“Dress Code: Strictly Casual
Party starts at 11:00 in the evening
Your limousine will be at your place half past 10.”

Who would care to send an invite so elaborate? It was surely the first time they were given this kind of invitation. What puzzled them was that it was a casual party. Limousines and casual clothing do not go together. So they surmised it was not from the Royal family.

They dressed for the night and at exactly half past 10, the concierge informed them that a limousine was ready to pick them up. They hopped in the limousine and the chauffeur took them to the suburbs of London.

To their amazement, the limo drove into a driveway that led to a castle—an actual enormous English castle. It must be from the Royal family, after all, they thought. They looked around but didn’t see any cars parked outside; there were only limousines with chauffeurs. As they entered the castle, they were promptly greeted by a fine young British lady and were escorted inside a room, a big room that looks like a library of antique books. On the walls were huge paintings of people who very well might be from the Royal family, from the 16th century. Antique vases, wooden furniture from the Victorian era, wall decors and drapes that reeked of luxury. They were seated on one of the leather sofas at a lounge. They were informed that their host is very shy and he didn’t normally mingle with people he does not know personally. However, their host learned from sources that the boys were big fans, and admitted that he himself was a big fan of D’ Kickers.

Their excitement grew and they couldn’t contain it any longer. What’s with all the mystery? Tell us who it is now. At last, the door opened and in came the most pleasant surprise they have had in their entire lifetime.

It was Freddie Mercury.

Paul was speechless to say the least. No. This could not be happening. He squinted his eyes trying to snap off the dream, if it was a dream. Scott was tapping Peter on the shoulder and pointing to the man, attempting to say something, but no voice was coming out of his mouth.

The rock icon turned out to be really shy but very warm and down to earth. He approached the boys one by one, shaking their hands and introducing himself, like an ordinary guy. He welcomed the boys to the castle, and invited them to sit comfortable, “like you’re art home.”

Freddie started asking them how the band was formed, how they all came together, and how they came up with such novel music. Paul began to tell him about high school and how they finally came up with the name. The superstar sat there and listened intently to their stories, even laughing along from time to time. By the time they left the room to mingle with the other guests, they all felt like they’ve been friends with Freddie and the rest of the guys for like forever.

The garden was crawling with British celebrities, but nothing was registering anymore. Nothing shocks them after meeting “the superstar”. They shook hands with every famous British musician you can think of. But it was the members of the Queen that mattered the most to D’ KICKERS.

“See you soon,” Freddie bid them good-by.

“Anytime, sir. Looking forward to seeing you again…and jamming with you, maybe?” Paul replied, nervous and shaking, but trying to be still and cool.

“That—was—out of this world! Man!”

Scott was in shock, Joey was laughing relentlessly, Andy was hugging Peter and punching the seat of the car, and Peter and Paul were looking at each other, as if waiting for the dream to end, and for their moms to shake them awake.

They were face to face with Freddie Mercury. “The” Freddie Mercury. The Queen. And they will never get over that feeling.

Paul was still quiet as they walked back to their hotel rooms. Was he trying to savor the moment, or does he look like he’s in pain? He himself didn’t know what to make of it. He was as thrilled as everyone was. It was surreal. This was one hell of a night they will never forget as long as they live.

The Europe tour was an astounding success. They resumed their US tour as soon as they got back, and it was a big coincidence that one of their stop was going to be at their hometown in Tennessee. This made the boys even more excited. They were finally going to perform before the people they grew up with, the people they’ve lived with all their years of living an ordinary life. But for some reason, Paul was apprehensive, and he doesn’t understand why.

But first to Georgia then to Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and then Virginia—they were working non-stop and they were almost exhausted. Although the concerts were generally successful, there was something that’s been bothering Paul, that he was almost angry all the time. He was frustrated whenever the crowd would clamor for the two songs they are not allowed to play. They tried to appeal to Triumph Records to at least be allowed to play the two songs during their tour, but it was to no avail. The ten-year contract for him to write songs in exchange for the temporary rights was too much for him to bear. Paul now doubts if he had made the right decision.

*****

The Memphis Tennessee Stadium was jam-packed with people from all walks of life, from Tennessee and from other parts of the country. Familiar faces were among the audience, led by their close friends Cindy, Kim, Tony, their families, their neighbors, their schoolteachers, schoolmates—almost everyone they know.

The crowd went wild, when they were about to take the stage; going even wilder than they imagined when they started performing. They sang all their songs from Vengeance and it was undoubtedly a huge hit for the Tennessee crowd. As they were thanking the audience and saying good-by to conclude the performance, there was a deafening uproar that startled them. They didn’t make it out at the beginning, but as it got louder, they understood what the huge crowd was chanting:

“Angel’s Cry, Angel’s Cry, Angel’s Cry, Angel’s Cry!”

Paul felt very frustrated at that moment. He clenched his fists and was gritting his teeth as he tried to suppress his anger. If he could sell a portion of his soul just to play those songs. Peter saw how upset Paul was, so he grabbed the mic as quickly as he could before Paul snaps. He apologized to the crowd, just as always, and explained why they couldn’t play the songs. He struck his guitar playing a few notes from the song and with a heartfelt “Thank you all” waved and left the stage with the others, putting his arms around Paul as they exited.

Paul was almost running into their dressing room, and into the restroom, locking himself in. Peter followed and stood by the door. He turned others away from the door, and stood there patiently waiting for his friend to come out. Their friends and families were already huddled at the backstage right beside their dressing room, eager to congratulate them.

But Paul stayed inside the locked rest room. When he finally stepped out after maybe half an hour, Peter just looked at him and nodded at him. Paul grabbed him by the neck and hugged him tight. The smaller crowd waiting for them at the dressing room cheered on when they saw the two rock stars. They were both taken aback seeing their friends and families again, and somehow, Paul felt more at ease and calmer than earlier.

Peter approached his dad, and asked, “Dad, where you able to do it?”

“Of course, son. Anything for you guys.”

The concert was the last leg of the tour, and so they were allowed to join their families for the weekend. Vincent Baker arranged a big bus to take them all home, and dropped off one by one right at their doorstep. When they reached the Andrews house, Peter stood up to join Paul.

“Where are you going? You’re not going home with your parents?”

Peter squinted and said, “Kid, don’t worry about it. I’ll join them later.”

Paul assumed Peter just wanted to make sure he’s okay after his meltdown earlier, so he didn’t ask any more questions. He was still feeling bad though. But being with his family makes everything easier.

They both walked straight upstairs, into Paul’s bedroom. Paul stopped to a hilt as he saw what was waiting for him inside. On one side of the room, against the wall stood a couple of shelves that was only too familiar for him. He was shocked at the sight of neatly piled records inside his room, lined on his wall.

“Is this what I think it is? Is it…?”

Peter just smiled at him. He watched quietly as his friend literally jumped for joy and cried tears of pure glee. Peter knew this was his ultimate gift for a friend who has given him, and the group so much by writing all those songs. He remembered how Paul was in quiet awe the first time he saw these records, and how he still looked at it with wonder the last time they were in his basement.

Paul was in tears but he was laughing so hard and making cowboy noises all of a sudden. He hugged Peter again and again, in between jumping and hugging the shelves. Mrs. Andrews stood by the door watching her child go crazy over his gift. Paul didn’t notice her at all. He was busy picking each record one by one, smelling it, touching it carefully, and just staring at it.

Finally he asked, “How did it get here?”

“I called my Dad and your Mom last week. They arranged everything. My Dad was so excited to give them to you, because he knows how much you love them and that he can entrust them to you. He was the one who suggested to include the stereo, not just the records, to complete everything.”

“Thanks you, Peter. Really… Will call your Dad to thank him…tomorrow.”

“Don’t mention it. You deserve it. You are the one person I know that appreciates these like they’re a treasure. I’m happy to see you have these.

Paul took a record and placed it on the player. He played Your Song by Elton John.

That night they played songs, one after another; songs that were memorable to them and their journey. They were sitting very close to each other, their knees touching, but none dared to move away or closer. They felt good. And they fell asleep that way.

The following morning, Mrs. Andrews peeked inside Paul’s room to rouse the boys for breakfast. She saw them holding each other as they slept. She wasn’t sure how to react or what to make of it. Confused, she went over and tapped her son to wake him. Paul opened his eyes, saw his Mom and seeing as Peter was in his arms, he quickly pulled away and stood up. Mrs. Andrews turned away and headed downstairs to the kitchen without saying anything.

When his mom left the room, he looked at Peter who was still asleep. It was only then that he appreciated the way his friend looked. Paul touched Peter’s hair and stroked it gently. Without realizing it, he bent down and kissed him in the forehead. Paul was confused, surprised at his actions; but he was happy about it. He stayed there staring at Peter, until he finally woke up.

“It’s time for breakfast,” Paul said in a whisper. Peter smiled and lazily rose to follow his friend.

Mrs. Andrews didn’t say anything all throughout breakfast. She still didn’t know what to think or what to say. She was still deciding whether to tell her husband or ask Paul. She was just disoriented.

But she was happy; happy that Paul is happy.

When Peter left for home and he was the only one in his room listening to music, Mrs. Andrews tried to talk to Paul.

“Honey, does he know?” Paul just looked at his Mom with no expression at all and shook his head. Mrs. Andrews looked away, avoiding his eyes. She didn’t know what to say after that. It hurts her so much to see him like this.

The boys were scheduled to leave that Friday for North Carolina, and Mrs. Andrews was growing even more anxious for Paul. She can sense Paul was feeling the same way.

“Honey, do you want me to come with you?”

Paul didn’t know how to respond. He felt restless and agitated, but he didn’t want his parents to worry. With his head bowed down, he simply said, “Don’t worry Mom, I’ll be fine,” and for the first time he added, “I’ll be fine Mom. Peter is with me.”

Mrs. Andrews was relieved that he now trusts someone, but worried too that he might have his heart broken.

“Honey, about Peter… I think you should tell him.”

He looked at her, bewildered. “Mom… tell him what?” He paused and added, “I don’t think he’ll understand.” Somehow, she knew he was right.

“Honey, call me anytime if you need me there, okay?”

He hugged her one last time, and left.

They performed for three consecutive days in the major cities of North Carolina. Paul was both frustrated and anxious, as fans continued to request for the two songs they cannot perform. Peter noticed he was growing more agitated as days passed. He tried to console him by inviting him to tour the city the following night, but it turned him even angrier, which worried Peter even more. In the end, they just stayed in their hotel rooms and smoked some pot until they fell asleep. It was the first time they did that since their first time in LA.

The morning after, Peter woke Paul up and convinced him to go around the city. Paul didn’t want to upset Peter as he did the night before, so he came along.

Paul was alarmingly quiet the whole time. He didn’t know how to control the overwhelming emotions that was clouding his mind. He wanted to tell Peter everything, but he didn’t know where to begin.

Finally he spoke. “Peter, let me drive.”

He turned the wheel over to his friend, hoping this will at least calm him down. Paul stepped on the gas and drove out Charlotte, North Carolina. Peter didn’t say a word. For hours they drove without talking, until they reached Ashville City.

Paul had decided he would just look and leave just like the last time when he was there. He decided that he would just go first into the woods near Lakeshore Drive and Pine Tree Road Alley to look around, then drop Peter off at one of the hotels before going to Riverside Cemetery. When they reached the woods, he stopped the car and got off the car. Peter, as puzzled as he was, just followed him.

Paul kept a safe distance as he looked at the house in the woods. He noticed that every window and doors were left open. There was a strong gust of wind blowing so hard it made the dilapidated windows swing loose.

Where is she? His heart beating fast, and his tears forming, ready to stream down his cheeks. He murmured something and ran towards the house. Peter didn’t know what to do. He watched his friend run and trip, and get back up until he reached the house. Then he stopped. Paul looked at the shredded yellow ribbons along the fence. They were old and covered with dust, and he was sure as hell they have been there for a long time now.

Paul froze and could not move an inch more. He cried. He bawled and yelled and fell to the ground, burying his face in his hands. He looked around the property and saw diggings as deep as six feet each. He walked over toward the pits, and felt his heart shatter into pieces. He felt numb now, as he tried all his might to move again.

He decided to go inside the house, his knees trembling; seeing the old crumbling tattered piano in one corner, his sight turned blurry from the tears that he cannot keep from streaming down his face. This could not be happening. The house was empty. The fierce wind continued blowing relentlessly. He knelt down and crawled, desperately searching for something, looking for clues or anything that would explain what happened to the house or to people who lived there.

“Paul? What are you looking for? Where are we? What is this place?”

He ignored Peter and kept searching. They went from one room to another desperately looking they are not sure what.

Until Peter noticed a room that Paul seemed to be avoiding. He decided to enter the room, and found himself inside a child’s room. The wall, although old and torn, was riddled with kiddie stickers. There were crayon doodles on one wall, worn out but still visible. Peter examined the room and saw photographs, torn off from the wall near the window. He looked closer and made out a smudged image of a little girl, about six or eight years old. He carefully ripped it off the wall and called for Paul.

“Kid, I found something. Come here.”

Paul stood up and ran to Peter without thinking. He grabbed the photograph from his hand and looked at it. He didn’t know who she was, and was about to toss it onto the floor, when he suddenly realized he knew her from somewhere. He took a closer look. Blond hair… I know these eyes. He shook his head, and walked around, slipping the photograph into his front pocket.

It was only then that he recognized the room. His eyes were wide in disbelief, and then he squinted, blinked his tears away. Peter watched as he saw Paul shiver in fright, then ran so fast he stumbled many times before he reached the front yard. When Peter finally made it back to the car, he found Paul crouched on the back seat, sobbing like a little boy.

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