"I can’t come to your house right now," Peter continued, hoping she’d understand. He hoped she’d see that it would pay off for both of them. He could buy her a ring; show her and her dad that he was made for loving her. Tomorrow and tonight. Forever.
But that wouldn’t happen unless the band found their sound.
"Let me guess," Beth sneered, "you and the boys will be playing all night."
And click, right in his ear.
Actually, it felt more like a slam, right in his gut, but as Peter tucked the phone in his pocket, he gave another eye roll.
"Beth thinks she’s a hard luck woman or something," Peter snickered to the guys, not wanting them to know how much Beth’s call had rattled him. He knew Beth was lonely. He hoped she’d be alright. Hoped she wouldn’t let these crazy nights tear them apart. He cringed at the thought of tears falling down her face. And his. Man, did he hate that thought. Fortunately, he could always count on Ace to pull him out of the doldrums.
"Two thousand, man," Ace complained, shaking his head at the comic book’s classifieds. The picture called for him to rip it out, and tack it up in his locker at school. Most of the guys, especially Gene, kept pictures of blonde Playboy bombshells. This, however, was right up Ace’s alley, maybe a little juvenile, but unlike everybody else, he wasn’t in any hurry to reach childhood’s end. "That’s a good deal," he said, albeit undoable when you had little more than lint in your pockets.
"What’s a good deal?" The guys asked in unison, though it was Gene’s interest that sparked the most hope in Ace. At sixteen, the kid had a Wall Street portfolio that would put any pinstriped suit to shame. Maybe he’d want to invest?
"It’s a spaceship." Ace grinned; sure the guys would raise their glasses to such a stellar idea.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
They laughed their asses off.
Ace shrugged. "Suit your earthbound selves; I’m taking off, into the void. It’s gonna be a blast!"
Just as Ace cracked himself up, Paul flew down the stairs, breathless, and brimming with great expectations for the band’s future. And his own. "Look at this," he shouted out loud, waving an advertisement seeking bands for the annual Hall of Fame concert, featuring their high school’s brightest talents. He’d found it pinned to the bulletin board at Second Cup, a regular haunt of his. And Shandi’s.
Paul routinely ran late to band practice thanks to his lingering in the corner boot, or at the counter, or the bulletin board, any location with a clear view to the door, to Shandi’s entrance. On ultra sunny days, he’d swear her black sunglasses made her look just like a queen. The kind seemingly unaware that a plebian like him existed. But that would all change the minute he stepped up to the mic at school.
"What do you guys think?’ He pressed. "Let’s get this! Let me hear you say, yeah!"
All three said exactly that, with visions of fortune and fame, wedding rings, and spaceships dancing in their respective heads.
Or in Gene’s case, visions of the entire world recognizing what he and his mother had long known. Yes, nobody’s perfect. But he came awfully close. "They want the best, they’ll get the best," he declared. "The hottest band in the world."
"Is this a joke?" Jann had the gall to ask, eyes darting, feigning a search for a candid camera.
"If I wanted to joke with you, I’d just hold up a mirror to your face," Gene said, a slight growl in his throat almost as if a B-movie demon had taken up lodging there. Now there was some dark humor. Jann Weiner. The guy wouldn’t know how to rock and roll all night and party every day if his weaselly little too cool for school life depended on it. While Gene loved it loud, Jann loved California dreamin’ on a winter’s day. Enough said. He shouldn’t be permitted to own a radio, let alone book acts for a Hall of Fame concert.
"Let me go rock and roll," Paul said, "you won’t be sorry."
"What was it the Eagles said?" Jann scratched his head. "Oh, yeah, when hell freezes over. Only I actually mean it. NKOTBSB stand a better shot of ever taking the stage than you do, and that’ll happen when heaven’s on fire."
The four bandmates stood in the school’s crowded quad, each head turned longingly in one direction or another.
Paul craned for a glimpse of Shandi. Every time he looked at her, his blood boiled hot and his heart screamed, wouldn’t you like to know me?
Peter experienced the sweet pain of watching Beth from afar, yearning to drop to his knees before her, and not in the racy sense.
Ace, his mind off in outer space, dreamt of the day that he’d take control of the joystick, also not in the racy sense.
And Gene, preened, strutted, waited for someone everyone to declare him king of the nighttime world. He’d never been good at waiting. "Screw, Weiner. We don’t need his Hall of Fame. We have our people. We have our crowd. God gave rock and roll to us."
The others seconded, thirded and fourthed the sentiment.
"All for one," the band chimed together, "and all for the glory."
With Gene and Peter in the backseat of Ace’s Cadillac, and Paul, riding shotgun, they tried to make their midnight show in Detroit Rock City. Movin’ fast, doing 95, they hit top speed, still moving much too slow. Twelve. They had to rock. But there was a truck ahead, light staring at their eyes.
"Oh, my god, no time to turn!" Paul shouted out loud, and Ace had to laugh that laugh of his, because they knew they were going to die. Why?!?
He hadn’t died. He’d staggered away from the wreck as if he’d downed too much cold gin, woozy, but lucky to be alive according to Dr. Love’s examination, a million to one odds that he’d survived.
Others hadn’t been so lucky. The way moron pilgrimaged to their graves, you’d think they were alive enough though, ready for a meet and great, or Elvis. The idiots.
As Jann passed the cemetery, he saw the usual band of loyal, tone-deaf misfits en route for their daily homage.
Rags, the sailor’s only daughter.
Christine, all of sixteen, alongside the oh so modern day Delilah.
Johnny. And far across from him, keeping a suspect distance, Rosa, who had a lover on the shady side of town, Tito, he was king of the streets.
Then there was that hanger-on, Beth.
And the girl in the dark sunglasses. Sandi. Or no, something stupider than that.
Anyways, they were all idiots, clearly. Didn’t they get that those losers had always belonged in the remainder bin? Not like the immortal work of Mama Cass. Everyone knows her songs.
Day upon day, their followers, Twitter, and non alike, continued to pay their respects, because there were, surprisingly, or not surprisingly considering celebrity culture, many finally wished to pay respect now that the band was too dead to hear the posers copping to them being worth a deuce or three after all.
And on the eighth day, somewhere between heaven and hell, a sonic boom rumbled, as if all hell were breaking loose. Slowly, they broke up through the ground, their bodies heavy, limbs resistant to come alive again as if set by plaster caster, but each had his to live, to rise to it, and not just in the racy sense. Reborn as unholy creatures of the night, dressed in leather and seven inch heels, war paint on, ready to battle Jann, and all the non-believers like him.
Paul, the star child.
Peter, the cat.
Ace, the spaceman.
And Gene, the powerful and attractive demon.
Suddenly, for miles around, they arrived in droves, like an army, the old and the young, the innocent and the skanky, all tired of living in a world without heroes. They saw the band in a new, radiant light. Even Jann did.
Shandi threw her arms around Paul and he asked her, "Do you love me, I mean, like, really love me?"
Beth cried against Peter’s shoulder, "I thought I’d really lost you."
"I’d fight hell to hold you," he told her, as Ace declared the jet pack attached to his costume even more of a blast than a rocket ride or spaceship, and Gene commanded Jann to kneel before the god of thunder, to pledge allegiance to the state of rock and roll, and put them in the damn Hall of Fame already, what kind of a psycho circus were they running there?