My mother had ways of getting us to do the stupidest shit for her.
She would smile at us, tell us how cute or handsome we were and we would just submit to her will. I swear it was like magic. There was definitely a sparkling thing going on with her eyes when she did this witchcraft thing.
A few weeks ago she’d done it to me. Yup, she’d used her little gray eyes to coerce me. That’s why I was here at my sister’s latest fundraiser. A full day of back to back concerts.
“You do realize this is to raise money for the Arts, right?” Nate, my bassist and childhood friend asked, "You do realize that Julliard is performing tonight, right?”
I looked around at all the tents backstage and inwardly grimaced when I saw a cello outside of the biggest one.
"You do realize that I brought my bike and I’ll be gone by then, right?” There was a story behind this shit and I wasn’t going there. Not now, not ever. The less I thought about it the better for everyone.
I looked over my shoulder to see my cousin, former band mate and bestie, as he paused in front of a tent. He was looking between me and the tent that I knew housed the Julliard students.
“We still doing that barbeque with your folks tomorrow?” Nate glared at Ian, “Even though he’ll be there?”
He was a couple inches shorter than me and definitely not as bulky, but he was still badass, even in his old age.
I looked similar to him in the fact that I had the black hair and blue eyes, but he was worn from years of partying.
His band was up first, so they were probably about to head stageside. These outdoor venues were hard to remain unseen before you went on, but his band was seasoned enough to pull it off.
“We’ll all be there tomorrow,” My dad came up and glared between Ian and I. Ian gave him a nod, I didn’t.
“We’re squashing everything. It’s time to welcome Arlee home. As a family.”
“Whatever you say.” I looked anywhere but at him as he glared at me, my eyes grazing Ian as he shook his head and walked into his tent.
“I mean it, Noah.” He pointed at me, “Your squashing whatever shit with your cousin. Once this is over you can go back to where ever the hell you go when you aren’t here, but this week is about family. Families stick together.”
I gave a tight nod and he was off.
“Your dad freaks the shit outta me, man.” Nate cringed, “Always has.”
“Let’s find our tent.” I said in a low voice, pushing my anger back. I was beyond irritated, but nothing surprised me more than when I realized my tent was between Death Mark and the Julliard tent.
My sister was behind this. She had planned this shit and Death Mark was her husband’s band.
“What the fuck?” I sighed, pausing outside of the tent.
Nate put his hand on my shoulder and chuckled, “You know Declan likes to test you.”
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this was a huge venue with a lot of bands and fans. I had plenty of other shit to think about.
“It’s cool.” I shrugged, “It’s a big place.”
“It’s all in order.” Kade popped his blonde head out of our tent and the stench of weed woodshed out in a puff of smoke around him, “Black Heart is at the head, followed by Evil Mind, then us, then you, then Julliard and Fallen Angels.”
I started laughing at my brother-in-law. He was high as a kite.
“And what the fuck are you doing in our tent?” I teased, “I don’t want Declan coming around, searching for your ass.”
Kade shushed me, “My kids are in my tent with the women, so me, Mav and Todd are chillin in here.”
“You do realize that you can’t hide in our tent forever, right?” I chuckled, entering our tent to wall of weed smoke, “Damn! You smoke the whole bush in here?”
“We don’t go on for 5 more hours and this shithead’s wife made us come at fucking nine am!” Mav complained, pointing a thumb at Kade.
“I want to thank you all for joining our efforts to raise money for The Inner City Fine Arts program.” I heard Declan’s voice over the stage, “Today is for those of you who have struggled and gone from nothing to where you are today...” Blah. Blah. Blah. So on and so forth.
I looked to Kade and narrowed my eyes, “If Declan is up there to where are the kids?”
Arabeth and Haven were their littlest ones and Haven was just over 4. Six year old Ara and 8 year old Alex, I understood, but a fucking rock concert was no place for my 5 year old niece. She was softer than Ara and such a sweet little thing. She didn’t belong here.
Kade examined me with confusion, “The girls are with their grandmother.”
“I’m gonna go say hi.” It had been 4 days since I had seen them and I was dying to hug them both.
Ara was a little spitfire like Declan and outgoing like Kade, but Haven... Haven was sweet and had a way of melting my heart.
She was their only dark haired kid, the other two were blonde and looked exactly like their dad, with my sister's features, but Haven was different. She was more McGhee than any of them. Except for her sweet, quiet personality.
I wasn’t a smoker, a contact high wasn’t my thing either, and if they were going to be smoking in here I wasn’t going to chill. There was no ventilation in these damn tents.
I was almost out of the tent when Kade’s words stopped me.
“Say hi to Arlee for me.” When I turned back to glare at him, he gave me a lopsided grin.
I always thought my brother-in-law wasn’t the brightest bulb, but I think his bulb was broken if he thought he was going to fuck with me.
“I’m not going to see Arlee.” I glared back at him.
“Just saying,” He shrugged, “She’s been in there all morning with her mom, sisters and brother.”
“Well, then I guess I’m chillin’ in here.” I shrugged and took a seat next to Liam, my drummer and Gina, my other cousin and my guitarist.
I looked to Gina. She’d been silently watching this exchange. She knew as well as I did that I didn’t want to see Arlee. Not after everything that went down.
“So, later tonight I will also have the privilege of introducing the senior graduates of Julliard.” Declan’s voice went on in the background, “They will be performing their senior showcase before Fallen Angels’ performance. So, enjoy the show today.”
I ground my hand into a fist and covered my anger with a smirk. They wanted me to break, it wasn't happening.
Black Heart, my dad’s band, did their set flawlessly, as always. They were followed immediately by Ian’s band and Death Mark. Then it was our turn to head back and get ready for our set.
It was stage side that I saw my dad watching Death Mark’s performance as Kade paraded around the stage with his usual flare. I wasn’t one for the show myself, but Kade loved it. I guess that was difference of growing with expectations vs having to work for what you love.
“He’s such a fucking showboat.” Dad chuckled low, shaking his head, “Damn...”
“He sells records.” I shrugged.
Dad and Kade may be on decent terms now, but I could still see my dad’s annoyance of the blonde lead vocalist from time to time. Years back, when they met, Kade had spoken about Declan in an inappropriate way, to say the least. He may have also outed her to the press for sleeping with a friend of the family and gotten her pregnant after only a few months of messing around. Needless to say, dad had put his ass in the hospital.
Was I supposed to know this shit? Nope, but I knew a lot more than they thought I did.
“True,” Dad gave a thoughtful nod, “Plus, he and Declan gave us some beautiful grandkids.”
“Well, at least Declan did.” I chuckled and Dad threw me a dirty look.
“No more jokes about Haven.” Dad snapped, “That shit ain’t funny. She’s a McGhee, that’s all that matters.”
“She’s nothing like any of them.” I shrugged, “Too much of a princess.”
“She’s a McGhee.” He stormed off and was gone before Kade thanked the audience and headed offstage.
It was our turn and Declan wanted a whole concert for this performance, so our set included all the older songs from our debut album and a few from our new one.
I was hard rock, not metal like my dad and not regular rock like Kade. I had a lot of somewhat softer shit, since yelling was good but not for every song.
My new single was selling like mad and my last one had reached #4 on the hit list, so obviously people weren’t complaining about my sound.
My parents had once told me that experiences made the best music, so I wrote about what I knew and how I felt. People ate that shit up, especially when it called people out.
The last song of my set was on my new album. It was the kicker of all my tracks and people stopped everything to listen.
It was amazing how a simple song could entrance an audience and this slower song did the trick.
I looked around the audience as I sang and belted my song. I wasn’t a performer like Kade, but my songs had depth and emotion.
This song was actually a letter that was written to me that Gina and the gang had put with a slow tune and it really fit great, but the author was here, listening somewhere and it made me a little self-conscious.
My original thought for adding this song to my set tonight was to rub my cousin’s face in what her and I had once shared and I smiled when I saw his pissed off expression as I sang the words he’d read in this exact letter.
Sure, the letter was intended for my eyes alone, but I didn’t care and if he wanted to brawl again I was down.
I stood in the back of the crowd, I had watched Noah’s entire set. He was amazing, just like I knew he’d be.
He looked so different than he had when we were kids. He was even taller now, broader shouldered and more muscular, but still just as handsome as ever.
And his last two songs killed me. It was like a knife, stabbing me in the heart and twisting repeatedly. I knew I deserved it, but it was too much to bear.
“You okay, Ace?” June, my best friend, shielded her face with her red hair.
"This is the letter I wrote him.” My eyes began to tear over.
She was a tall, lithe redhead with a personality to match and I loved her all the more for it.
“Arlee,” She put her arms around me and kissed my forehead, “I love you.”
“He hates me.” I cried as Noah finished his set and left the stage.
“You think he hates you now, just wait-” She hugged me tightly, “But we have to go get into our spots. The rest of the group is waiting.”
I nodded and we put our masks on, heading backstage. June grabbed her violin along the way as Declan spoke to the audience.
“We know that the thought of Fine Arts covers a large variety of genres and categories. Those being larger categories such as theater, music or design, but did you know that those are split into subcategories as well? For instance, do you know how many varieties of music there are out there? Shitloads!”
We passed Noah leaving backstage and he paused, giving me a look as if he was trying to figure out if it was me, but I kept my head down and kept moving.
“There are fine art individuals who do the choreography, set lighting and design, costumes, theatrical, writing and so much more. Fine Arts is more than the performers alone.”
Everyone was moving the desks to the stage and taking their seats as we entered the stage and I took my own.
“Every minute detail matters, especially when putting on a two hour show. It is not just the performers involved, but those who figure out the technicalities, those who orchestrate and there are those who execute the plan with precision.”
“You okay?” Ethan, my other bestie, leaned in to whisper.
“I’m fine.” I smiled, even though he couldn’t see it through my mask.
The masks were part of the design team’s idea, they thought they gave us more of an artistic feel. I fully agreed, especially since it blocked my face.
“Next up is a performance that I fell in love with. I had the honor of going to Julliard’s senior showcase this year and let me tell you, it was an eye opener.” Declan went on, “Normally these people show their telent individually, but one person in this senior class brought them all together during her freshman year, to bring their final showcase to immaculate perfection. One where everyone can show what they have worked for years to perfect.”
“Noah’s toned up,” Ethan whispered, “What did you think of his-”
“Ethan, we’re about to go on.” I took a deep breath, “I need to focus.”
He gave a nod and left me to my own. It wasn’t a lie, this was a big performance and we had put six years worth of work into it. We were doing this and my vocals needed to be top notch.
“It takes a great mind to bring 37 of unique these individuals from all of their separate categories and pull them together, to make this production that includes dance, theater, vocal and instrumental. Along with songwriting, set, costume design and friendships that will last them a lifetime. Please welcome to the stage, the 2017 graduates of Julliard, with their final showcase.”