Changing the Future.
I hoped the crowd didn’t notice I looked more nervous than usual when I took the stage and played the rhythm guitar intro to ARC’s first number, a cue to the band to take the stage. Vree was last from the storage room behind the stage as she followed Dave and Amy and Riley and Cheryl to the instruments and microphones awaiting them. I nodded at her when she passed, but she seemed far away, likely lost in nervous thought.
Amy took lead guitar and microphone, and was especially loud through the first set of songs. An hour later, she and the rest of us were on our last number. The music hammered the pine floor beneath my feet, vibrated up my back and down my shoulders, including the sore one Nancy’s book had caused.
It was the only time I thought of the strange woman. Then my concentration was back at fingering my strings and getting the chords right.
Behind me, Cheryl attacked her drum kit; her sweat rained upon me. Next to me, Riley played a Moog synthesizer and was the only one not wearing blue jeans or any of ARC’s monogrammed T-shirts. She wore a yellow miniskirt instead and had her manicured fingernails highly polished for tonight’s event. Next to her, Dave expertly fingered his electric bass guitar while at the front of the stage, Amy and Vree sang harmony to a wave of arms and hands rippling across a sea of teenagers clogging The Roundhouse’s dance floor. Glittering strobe lights spun across them until our song came to a climactic crash of guitar, organ and cymbals and drums.
Sudden houselights bathed the room in brilliant white light. I squinted out at the eruption of applauding kids who slowly emptied the floor, except where autograph seekers hurried to the stage’s only exit, adding to the crashing waves of squeals and noisy talk boxing at my numb ears.
I put away my guitar and leaned the case against a giant speaker, then turned and caught Vree looking at me before she followed Amy off the stage. I hurried after her into the crowd of autograph seekers.
A redheaded girl in a lime green T-shirt with ARC stenciled on the front pushed up to me when I stepped onto the dance floor. She looked older than the rest of the girls in the crowd, and I figured she was a college girl from the campus over at New Cambridge.
“I love your band,” she said as she lifted the front of her shirt and asked me for an autograph. She was braless.
“No pen,” I started to say until the girl held a black marker in front of my reddening face. I hesitated, not because I was surprised by the sight, but because a linebacker-sized muscular guy behind the girl glared at me. The unhappy fellow lifted his meaty hands and clenched them into mammoth fists at me.
“Sign my twins,” the girl cried out.
“You’re not at a strip club,” Amy said to the girl. “Put those away.”
“You can sign, too,” the girl replied. The crowd cheered her on. The guy’s stare remained fixed on me until Vree stepped up, lifted her own T-shirt and revealed a pink bra.
“The only breasts Steve touches are these,” she said. Then she pulled down her shirt, whirled, and took me by the arm and led me around the stage to the wobbly round table inside the restricted equipment room.
Giddy from the event, I dropped onto an ancient footstool beneath a rattling air conditioner above me and laughed.
“You would find that funny.” Vree’s green eyes peered down at me wonderingly. I nodded.
“Thanks for rescuing me,” I said. “I owe you.”
Suddenly, she kissed me on the lips.
“Get a room,” Amy said as she and the rest of ARC surrounded the table. They attacked a large red bowl of popcorn in the center, and then applauded when a pretty strawberry blonde-haired woman arrived with a pitcher of root beer and plastic glasses filled with ice cubes.
“I heard what happened,” Mrs. Erickson, owner of The Roundhouse, said. She pointed at Vree who had taken a seat next to me. “Keep your breasts covered, young lady. I don’t need any fines.”
“But, Mom,” Vree whined, “that girl and her anthropoid boyfriend started it.”
“And I took care of it,” Mrs. Erickson said. She turned her attention to Amy and Callie sitting side by side. “That last song was quite impressive. It got everybody dancing; including me.” She beamed. Then she snapped her fingers as though she had remembered something important.
“There’s an elderly woman at the bar who wants to talk to you,” she said to Vree. “I can send her in, or you can go out there.”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Vree said before her mother headed out into the noisy room of teenagers.
“Don’t go,” I said as Cheryl hurried to a duffel bag near the exit door. She returned with a large bag of green onion potato chips. Amy and Riley applauded, and the three girls ARC was named after were quick to open the bag and begin eating.
Dave watched, almost transfixed by their frenzy.
“Save some for the rest of us,” he said. The girls ignored him. I turned to Vree who was heading out to meet with Nancy Pennwater Stephenson.
I thought about the claims Nancy had made. Overall, they made for an interesting story.
When Vree returned minutes later, she looked lost in serious thought.
“Are you okay?” I asked as soon as she sat.
“It’s just that you look—”
“I said I’m fine!”
Surprised she had yelled at me, I grabbed some popcorn and shoved the handful into my mouth. She tapped my shoulder.
“I dropped a dollar,” she said. “Will you get it?”
I leaned down to where the dollar bill lay between our stools. Vree leaned over and whispered an absurdity in my ear. Then she stood and hurried out the back door. I let her go and said nothing to the others.