I arrive at the Riverton Music location early, in fact, I’m the first one there so I’m able to talk to the people in charge of the competition and get to know everyone a little. I’m hoping to make a connection so that even if I don’t win, I’ll still know people who can guide me in the right direction. When other bands and producers begin showing up, I take my seat and anxiously wait for Jay’s band to show up. They are the last to arrive, all having excited smiles on their faces. My stomach tangles into knots, unsure if I want to be paired up with them or not. The woman conducting the meeting asks us to introduce ourselves and to say how long we’ve been producing or playing music. As I listen to everyone’s introductions, intimidation replaces any confidence I had when I arrived. All of them have been doing this longer than I have, someone has nine years of experience. How did I even make it to this round with so many talented and experienced people entering? When it’s my turn, I stand up nervously, not sure where to look. “Hi, my name is Alia Sanders. I’ve been producing music for two years now, but I’m excited to learn more and expand my skills through this competition.” I sit back down and avoid looking anyone in the eye. I don’t feel like I belong here. Jay’s band stands up and makes their introductions, and the entire time I have to watch Jay make flirtatious smiles at a pretty singer into another band. I don’t know why but jealously burns through me. Could he not have waited until we were out of the building? Ever since we reunited, it feels like he just likes to rub it in my face that girls are obsessed with him.
“Now,” Says the boss lady. “I wanted you to tell everyone how long you’ve been doing this because it doesn’t matter how many years it’s been. You are here because you are talented. We only pick the best for our company and you are the best. Producers, I had the bands listen to all of your songs anonymously. They were able to put in their vote on who they wanted to work on, but ultimately the choice was ours and who we thought best fit together. Ready to see who you’ll be working with?” There are some excited ’yes’s but I just sit there, wishing this would be over already. She calls out bands and producers until I finally hear my name, “Alia Sanders and Fallen Resistance.” I look over at the band where two of their members smile at me, but Vance and Jay can’t be bothered to even look my way. “I will be sending you all email’s for important dates to look out for. Spend this time getting to know each other a little and exchange information! I don’t want to get a call saying you don’t know your producer or band’s number.” I walk over to my band, feeling nervous. “Hi, I’m Alia.” I say.
“I’m Chance, the bassist.” Says the blonde who looks so much younger than everyone else.
“I’m Dakota, guitarist and keyboard.” Says a tall guy with long brown hair, longer than Micah’s hair ever was.
“It’s nice to meet you. I saw you guys play at The Okley a few weeks ago. You killed it.”
“Really? That’s awesome. I’m glad you liked us.” Says Dakota.
“Which song was yours?” Asks Chance.
“Whoa! We picked your song! It was incredible. They let us take a copy home and I’ve had it on replay for a month now.” I smile, happy to know that someone liked my song so much.
“Should we go ahead and pick a date to meet up and talk more in-depth about what we want to do and accomplish? My schedule is pretty open.” I say.
“We all have hectic schedules. It might be easier to get all of our schedules put on a calendar and go from there.” Says Dakota.
“Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s exchange numbers and decide on a time later?” I get everyone’s number and automatically create a group text and send them my information. “It was nice to meet you all.” I say as I stand up.
“You too.” Says Chance. Jay nor Vance bother to say anything the whole time, aside from giving me their number. I can’t tell if I’m angry at their inability to communicate or nervous that we’re paired up for this thing. I hurry outside and to my car where I feel like I can finally breathe. I sit there for a few seconds, collecting my thoughts, as I watch the other bands and producers exit the building. They all hang out, talking with each other. I spot Jay with the girl from the other band. I pull out my phone and call Micah. “Hey, how did it go?” He asks.
“This was a terrible idea. They paired me up with Jay. But they couldn’t bother to talk to me the whole time.”
“Alia, you have to give it time. But this is good. You’ll be forced to talk to each other.”
“Or Jay will ruin our chances in this competition and never talk to me.”
“Sure, they didn’t talk to you today, but I guarantee that they’re not going to let the past interfere with this competition. It’s too important to them. They’ll be professional.”
“I don’t think they will…”
“Give it a few days, if they don’t talk to you, let me know and I’ll speak to them.” I see Jay hand his phone over to the girl for her number. A dagger twists its way into my stomach. I hate seeing this side of Jay. I hate seeing him talk freely to other girls and not be bothered to say a word to me.
“I’m going to go. I’ll talk to you later.” I hang up before he can say anything more.
As I’m reading for a class at home that night, Min barges into my room. “What do you mean Jay gave his number to some hot girl?”
“I see you finally saw my text.”
“Sorry, we got in trouble for having our phones out at work so they get put in our lockers now.” She lays across the foot of my bed and sighs.
“Extremely, but I’m mad at Jay.”
“It’s not like he was doing anything bad. He’s free to give whatever girl he wants his number.”
“But he should be decent and not do it in front of you.”
“I was in my car and happened to see it.”
“I’m sorry Alia….”
“No, don’t be. You know, I’ve had time to finally digest the fact that they’re back in my life and I don’t care. I’m done caring and worrying about what Jay thinks of me. Clearly, I wasn’t very important to him. I left, and he got better. He started singing in front of people and playing baseball. See, I’m nothing. He’s just mad that I dumped him before he could dump me.” She gives me a sideways glance, then rolls her eyes. I know what I’m saying is utter bullshit, but for now, it’s keeping me from being too upset about Jay.
“If that’s how you really feel…”
“It is! I’m not stressing myself over Jay and Vance anymore. We’re going to work on this competition like adults.”
“Okay, fine, but I think you should start dating someone.”
“Min, I do not have time for that.”
“You have time to stress about Jay but not date? When was the last time you hooked up with someone?”
“Like a year…”
“See, that’s your problem right there!”
“I don’t have time.”
“You always have time for happiness.”
“A man does not equate happiness.”
“But he equates having a good time.”
“But I’m right.”
“Not doing it, Min. I just want to focus on the music for now.”
“Fine, but if you change your mind. There’s a cutie at work who’s single. Just say when.”
“Don’t hold your breath.”
═════════════════ ∘◦ ❉ ◦∘ ══════════════════
I send a message in the group text to the band that and let them know that I’m free all weekend and have time any day after two during the week. I don’t hear back from them, but I don’t worry about it. Come Friday, there’s still no answer from the band. By Friday night, with still no answer, I send a text to Jay personally. He doesn’t respond. I do as Micah suggests and wait. But come Saturday morning, with all read receipts and no responses, I’ve had enough of the bullshit. There’s no reason for my messages to go unanswered this long. All I want to know is when they plan on meeting up. “Min, where is your boyfriend?” I ask her as I storm into the living room and tug on my tennis shoes.
“At the Okley, what happened?”
“I didn’t want to drag you into this, but no one from the band has bothered to answer any of my messages so where Vance is, Jay is.”
“I’ll come with.”
“No, stay. I need to give them a piece of my mind as their partner in this competition and I can’t promise I’ll be nice.”
“Duly noted. I’ll get onto Vance tonight, though.” I grab my wallet and keys then march my way down to The Okley, my anger growing each minute it takes me to get there. When I open the bar doors, I see the band on stage, running a soundcheck. It’s only two in the afternoon, so few people are in here except for the usual drunks.
“Did no one think it may have been a good idea to, oh I don’t know, maybe text me back?” I say angrily as I approach the stage. They all look at me, surprised except for Vance. What an asshole.
“Jay said he’s been in contact with you.” Chance says innocently.
“Oh, really?” I look to Jay, who just shrugs his shoulders.
“I guess I forgot.”
“If you don’t care about this competition, then why did you enter it?”
“So I could piss off people like you.” He looks down at me, a smirk on his face. His sudden hostility has me shaking with anger. I thought we could be cordial, but I don’t understand why he’s suddenly acting this way. I grab the cup of water at his feet and splash him with it. He wipes his face, looking pissed.
“Grow up, you freaking brat.” I say then storm out of the bar, anger rushing through my veins. I know Jay isn’t happy about being paired together and it’s okay if he doesn’t want to talk during this whole competition, but I don’t need the whole band treating me this way. We won’t get far like this. I accidentally bump into someone as I’m walking away from the bar but I don’t bother to apologize, I’m too angry at Jay. “Excuse you Bitch.” Says the man. I say nothing as I keep walking. A hand grabs my shoulder and forces me around. I get a whiff of beer on the man’s breath as he says, “I don’t think you heard me, bitch.” He’s angry and his grip on my shoulder tightens. I’ve really messed up.
“Take your hand off me.” I say, trying to pull his fingers away, but he digs them in more. “You’re hurting me.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone rush inside the bar. I pray they’re asking Sal to come help me.
“I’ll do whatever the hell I want to pretty bitches like you.” He takes his other hand and reaches for the side of my face, and when I try to slap it away, he grabs my wrist – the bad one – and twists it. Tears prick the edges of my eyes, but I’m not about to beg this disgusting human to let me go. “Come on, just say the magic words and I’ll let go.”
“Fuck – you.” The taunting smile on his face turns into an angry grimace. He shoves me to the ground and when I try to get up, he kicks me back down. Before I can try again, Sal and the whole band run outside. Sal grabs the man and walks him away as Vance helps me to my feet. I cradle my wrist, the pain nearing unbearable. “Are you okay?” Asks Dakota.
“Yeah… I think so.” I rub my wrist and move it around, wishing the pain would subside.
“Why don’t you guys go back inside? I got Alia.” Says Jay. I don’t like what the tone of his voice is implying. They all look at each other, questioning if they should, even Vance looks hesitant, but they walk towards the bar. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Jay asks once everyone’s inside.
“How do you know I wasn’t just innocently walking when I was attacked?”
“Come on, we both know you find trouble wherever you go.” His words hurt, but everything that happened in North Isles wasn’t my fault and he knows it.
“What do you care for, anyway?”
“I don’t but if you cause problems, you’ll ruin our chances in this competition. They’ll kick us out immediately for stuff like this.”
“Oh, don’t act like you care about the competition now. I would have thought you would put a little more effort into talking to me since we got paired.”
“Alia, I don’t owe you anything. You left!” The anger from me leaving finally comes to the surface. His cool and collected attitude these last few weeks only hid the anger that he felt towards me. I don’t blame him, but he makes it sound like I wanted to leave.
“You think that was easy for me?”
“Really seemed like it. I woke up, and you were gone. You left like I meant nothing to you.”
“I don’t want to hear it. I really don’t. You left, and you didn’t bother to come back. I was nothing to you and I know that. You needed your rich life in Westbrook, so why should you care about a poor kid in North Isles?” He shakes his head, not expecting an answer, and walks back to the bar.
“Asshole.” I say under my breath.
“Alia?” I look over my shoulder and see Micah walking from the parking lot. I wipe away any stray tears and force a smile.
“Nothing. I’m okay.”
“You’re covered in dirt and you like you’re going to cry.”
“Hey Alia.” Says Sal as he walks towards us. “I’m sorry for what happened. He gets too drunk all the time. I sent him home, but if you want to press charges, I understand.”
“No, that’s okay. Thanks Sal.”
“Okay, what happened?” Asks Micah as Sal goes back inside the bar.
“I don’t want to say…”
“Why don’t we go inside, I need a drink.”
“I heard Min doesn’t like it when you drink.”
“Where the hell did you hear that from?”
“Oh.” I shrug my shoulders and walk towards the bar.
“Wait, you’re seriously covered in dirt.”
“Where?” He dusts off my back and legs.
“You can dust off the rest.” I roll my eyes and dust off my butt.
“Much.” We sit at the bar where Sal gives us an appetizer for free. Micah orders a beer and I get a fruity drink that doesn’t have a lot of liquor in it. Micah and Jay make brief eye contact with each other, but then ignore each other’s presence. I glance between them, worried that being friends with Micah is coming between him and Jay.
“So what happened?”
“Micah, why do we have to talk about it?”
“Because, I’m your friend and I’m worried.”
“What about you and Jay, you two don’t seem to be talking.”
“Difference in opinions currently.”
“Please do not ruin your friendship because of me.”
“You know it can’t be ruined. Not after all we’ve been through. He’ll come around. So, start talking.”
“The band hadn’t been returning my texts, so I came down here to confront them. I was angry when I left and ran into a guy who was drunk, and he pushed me.”
“So you got hurt because Jay was acting immature.”
“That’s not even what I said.”
“But if he replied to your texts, then you wouldn’t have come down here and you wouldn’t have gotten hurt.” He stands up, but I grab his hand before he can walk off.
“Sit down.” I say.
“No, Jay needs to stop acting like a child.”
“Sit-down.” Micah looks at me for a second, sighs, and yields. “Thank you. I can handle Jay on my own.”
“Or I could beat some sense into him.”
“Micah, what are even you doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
“You got in your car and drove an hour to be here for a reason.”
“Oh, yeah. You said you would treat me to a birthday dinner next time I’m down. So I’m here to collect.”
“What if I had been busy?”
“Min told me you weren’t. But I didn’t expect to have to track you down.”
“Trust me, I didn’t plan on coming here today.” I look down at my drink and take a deep breath. Letty has been on my mind all week, and it’s time I finally ask about her. “I think it’s time that I ask you something.” Micah looks over at me, confused. “Letty… What happened when I left?” He sets down his beer, making me feel like this will not be good. I instantly regret asking.
“When we found out you left, I think we were all worried about how Jay was going to react. So, I don’t know how she processed it. She would never talk about it. I knew she was angry and hurt like the rest of us, but she didn’t let it show. After a couple of months, she and Emmett started dating.”
“They did? Well, what happened? Why did they break up?”
“They didn’t Alia. Emmett and Letty have an apartment together back in Greenville.” I feel my face falter. I’m more than happy that everything was good for Letty after I left. Even the fact that she and Emmett are together, but it’s been weeks, and either no one has told her, or she doesn’t care.
“D-does she know?” Micah sighs and shakes his head.
“Emmett doesn’t want her to know. Not right now.”
“I don’t know. I think he’s still trying to figure things out himself.” I look down at my drink, not wanting Micah to see how upset this makes me. I know I don’t have the right, but Letty is in my grasps and I still have to wait. “Alia, we’ll tell her. I promise.” I wipe a stray tear from my face, angry at myself. “Hey now.” He reaches out and rubs my back, trying to comfort me.
“I know I don’t get to be upset, but I thought… hoped she would be happy. I guess after you, I let myself hope things could be normal again.”
“Who’s saying they can’t? I’m respecting Emmett’s wishes. Ones that he only has a couple of weeks to hold on to before I tell Letty without him.”
“Micah. You can’t do that. He’ll be mad at you.”
“But what right does he have keeping this from Letty? He’s not protecting her. He’s just prolonging the inevitable.”
“Maybe he is protecting her.” I say as I finally look up at him, tears in my eyes. “He’s protecting her from me.”
“No. Stop. You’re not an awful person. Stop thinking you are.”
“I feel like I’m becoming more and more like my mom.”
“In what way?”
“Lying to you all. Selfishly wanting everyone to love and accept me back. Leaving to begin with.”
“None of it was your choice, and it’s not selfish to want us back. Was it selfish of me to want you to come back? Well… maybe. But the thing is. How you feel about someone isn’t something you decide. I wish it was but it's not. Trust me, I wanted to be angry at you. I wanted to make you the bad guy. But you weren’t and you’re not. So I forgave you because it was the only thing I could do in that moment. I don’t know where this self-hate is coming from or if it has always been there, but stop. You are not your mother, do you understand?” I smile, loving how much he sounds like a parent right now. “I mean it. If you continue with this thinking, you’ll never let yourself be happy.”