THE NEXT AFTERNOON after he finished his homework, Josh walked to Nikko and Gemma’s house to practice. The four met there most days after school; Josh’s garage was packed with his mother’s canvases and paints, and Vee had neither a basement nor garage.
Only Gemma was in the basement.
“He’s in the bathroom,” she said when Josh asked about Nik. “He’s worse than Vee, primping and all. He’s been there since we got home.”
They did not speak of the petition. Instead, Josh tuned his guitar, the spare he left at their house, while Gemma went upstairs to wait for Vee. Nikko emerged from the bathroom, humming under his breath. A red-and-grey flannel shirt hung over his fingers. Nikko nodded at him, then turned to the keyboard, rubbing his left arm.
The girls came down, giggling and carrying a half-gallon of lemonade and plastic cups. Vee gargled with the juice before practice.
“Clears the vocal cords,” she said, but the boys laughed and called her a prima donna.
While Vee gargled and warmed up with arpeggios, Gemma passed out copies of the newest song, Ode to Youth. Nikko had penned the lyrics, Josh the music.
“Dudes, listen up!” Nikko said. “This is our best to date. Seriously. It starts out slow—note the largo—with Vee singing a capella. Then I come in on keyboard, still slow, on the second line, Josh joins on electric four measures later. Then watch--the time shifts to two-two and awaaaaaaay we go. Got it?”
Josh positioned his strap; he knew the music but it was the first time Vee had seen the score. She put down the cup and scanned the first page.
“Pitch, please,” she said.
Nikko found the middle C on the keyboard. Vee hummed the tone, then nodded.
“One, two, a one two three,” said Nikko.
She hit the C pitch-perfect and sang the first two lines without seeming effort, her voice pure and strong. Nikko joined on keyboard, and then Josh played. Gemma kept the beat with a steady rap on the snare; they needed a drummer but there was no one suitable at school. The basement filled with sound and Josh felt himself on the brink of relaxing, of losing himself between the notes. Nik sang with his eyes half-lidded, swaying on his feet, while Vee stood still, gripping the microphone pole as if it kept her tethered to earth. Her eyes slanted sideways towards Nik, his gaze met hers, his mouth curved into that crooked smile of his and when she blushed, Josh knew: they were sleeping together.
He closed his own eyes. He could see the attraction, though he himself was not attracted to Vee; she was too colorful, too loud, a walking carnival. Vee was too out there, though so was Nik. Josh did not understand his attraction to Nik, or to Gemma, Nik’s temperamental opposite. He thought then of kissing Gemma, of how her lips would yield like a warm peach, and of kissing Nik, of being with both of them at once, and an image of laying with them on Gemma’s pink ruffled bed flashed in his mind and he missed a note. The song tumbled into confusion.
“What was that chaotic mess?” Vee said.
“Sorry,” Josh said. “Lost my place.”
“Gotta focus, man,” Nik said, but he wasn’t mad, not even irritated, and relief washed over Josh.
Installment 3 of THE RUNAWAY (you can go here and here for the first two scenes). As I was writing this story this week, something felt off-kilter, so I mucked around with POV and tense, and ended up moving from third present to third past. We'll see if the tense change sticks, but for now all seems to flow. Peace...