Warnings, Welcome Home Parties, and terrible guitarists.
“Oww.” I grumble, pushing myself up to sit next to Mikey. Every muscle screams at me and my head is hammering, but I’m used to that. What I’m not used to, though, is seeing Mikey look like he has been crying.
“Hey” I purr softly to him, leaning over and putting my arms around him.
“Don’t you FUCKING DO THAT!” he almost screams at me, pushing me away. Something inside him has snapped.
“DON’T YOU ACT LIKE NOTHING IS WRONG. LIKE YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW- LIKE YOU CAN’T-” he yells out in frustration. “YOU PROMISED! YOU FUCKING-”
I don’t realise I have been crying too until the tears splash onto my neck, running down my shirt.
“NO. Let me do the talking for once okay?” He takes a deep shuddery breath and continues, “You expect me to just sit here while I watch you waste your life away? I thought this band was going to be good for you, I thought it would take your mind off drinking and drugs, but no. I shouldn’t have been so naïve. This is just something to fill up the void in your life left after you graduated, isn’t it? You never wanted us to be well known, to do good. It’s just your selfish way of getting what you want, but cheaper, easier. I dropped out of college, Gerard. Gave up my education to follow my wonderful big brother on a valiant quest to change lives through music. I thought this was our dream.”
He falls silent for a few moments, deliberating what to say next.
“Well, no more. I am not going to let you ruin this for us. We are good, Gerard, we could actually get somewhere. So… you either stay clean and sober, like you fucking promised me a few fucking days ago, or you are out of the band. Ray and Matt agree. There are plenty of good singers out there ready to take your place. Understand?”
He breaks down, his face crumbles and he holds his head in his hands, defeated.
A lump rises in my throat, I have never seen Mikey like this, wild-eyed and angry, and it breaks me. The gravity of what he has threatened sinks in, and I try to form an answer to his plea.
“A-alright. I give up. I’m so sorry, it’s just- I can’t help it, Mikey” I can’t believe I’m saying this, the sound of my gasping sobs fill the van. Mikey softens a bit and holds me tightly to him. The barrier of his arms makes me feel stronger, though I still cling to him.
“You have to try, Gerard. I’ll be here. There are other things in life to hold on to other than addiction. It will pass, you just have to give it time.”
And for the first time in what seems my whole life, I am prepared to try.
Matt and Ray return from wherever they went to avoid Mikey’s confrontation with me holding steaming paper cups of liquid gold. This is one addiction I can live with. As we make our way back to New Jersey, thoughts are flying around in my restless mind. Doubts about what I have promised Mikey, anticipations of going home, worries about our potential new guitarist. I rest my weary head on Mikey’s shoulder and he inclines his to rest his cheek on my hair. We fall asleep like that, while Matt and Ray chat happily to each other as we approach Jersey.
There is a small ‘Welcome Home’ party for the band, and Mikey sticks to my side all evening, beaming at me when I decline anything mildly alcoholic. What I really want to do is have a smoke, so I excuse myself and slide out the front door.
To my surprise my grandmother, Elena, is outside already, lighting up her own cigarette.
“Aren’t you too old for that?” I tease, and she turns to greet me with her wide toothy grin.
“Aren’t you too young for that?” she replies hoarsely, nodding towards my own pack of cigarettes.
“Oh, I missed you.” I sigh while hugging her small frame tightly. She smells wonderfully familiar, like lavender and sunsets.
“Not as much as I missed you, honeybee. I hear you are some sort of a rock star now, huh?”
“Hardly!” I scoff, almost choking on the smoke I breathe out.
“It’ll happen. With a face and talent like yours, you will go far. Ever since I made you that darned Peter Pan costume and saw you perform for the first time, I knew.”
“Well… thanks, Gran.”
As we chat about mundane things, how my little cousin dropped out of school a few weeks ago and how the guy next door got arrested for drug charges, I start to feel more and more at home.
It’s gotten a bit too cold, so we stub out our cigarettes in unison and head back inside.
“Here we are!” Mikey cries enthusiastically as we pull up outside a small karaoke bar. “It‘s lucky Sarah let us use it at such short notice. It has got a stage area, so there is plenty of room for our stuff, and we can see how they perform under pressure.”
I groan outwardly, my hunt for a new guitar player has become much less appealing.
“Are you even sure anyone will come?” I question, but Ray holds up a list and says “Yes. There are 17 people who want to audition, and they arrive at 2 ish, so we have to hurry up.”
I am often surprised at how organised people can be before 10 cups of coffee.
Half an hour later we have set up the amps and necessary equipment, ready for the first person to grace the stage. We sit at a table with pens poised, ready to take notes if we have to.
It’s going to be a long afternoon.
“Right. Next!” Ray calls out, and a… girl strides out onto the little stage.
“Name?” I drawl, sick of having asked the same questions 15 times already.
“Rachel” her red lips stretch into a charming smile.
“Go on, then” I wave a hand at her, to indicate that she can start playing.
I’m bored of hearing the same riffs of famous songs being played, I am fucking sick of Stairway To Heaven and Dark Side Of The Moon. The only half-way decent player we have had so far was no.7, Zacky. And 8 terrible players later, I am just about ready to give up altogether.
To be fair to the girl, she is quite impressive, but it’s no good, I don’t want a woman in our band, no matter how good she is.
“Thanks, we‘ll get back to you” I say in the same tone as before, gesturing for her to leave. I turn to the other guys, exasperated.
“If this next guy isn’t fucking incredible, I’m done. We’ll have to manage without another fucking guitarist, I’m so-”
“Shut your face and stop feeling sorry for yourself, would ya? This next guy is the last one, then we can go watch CSI re-runs to your heart’s content.” Matt mutters to me, as Ray calls out for our final candidate.
I slam my head a little too hard against the desk, keeping it there so I don’t even have to look at the next kid. Alternatives to a new guitarist are running through my head as I hear the last guy step up onto the little stage. Not even bothering to look up, I wave a hand at Matt indicating for them to carry on without my input.
This guy just starts without a prompt, though, saying “I’m Frank, my band just broke up and I have nothing to do with my life, so I thought I would join another one,” he giggles nervously and pauses before what sounds like him hooking up his guitar and carries on “I’m gonna play one of my own songs, if that’s okay.”
“Sure.” encourages Ray, and he starts playing.
And damn, he is good. Better than good. Not as good as Ray, obviously, but good all the same. A darn sight better than the rest of the sorry bunch we have had to endure today, so I give the guy a chance and lift my heavy head off the table, to assess his stage presence.
He is like a blur. Of black, gloved fingers, and white guitar as he thrashes around on the little platform, giving his all, yet still managing to play very well. I smile to myself. He is just what we need.
I look around towards my band mates, all have big smiles on their faces and I see Matt write ‘YES.’ in big letters on his pad, which is empty except a note by the name Rachel that says ‘nice tits, call her.’
The guitarist… Frank, stops playing and grins at us, wiping the sweat off his forehead.
Ray begins “Thanks. We’ll get ba-”
But I hear myself saying, “Welcome to My Chemical Romance!” And the other three turn to me, in shock, but all smiling as I know they wanted Frank too.
“Oh my God thanks!” Frank is the shocked one now, and leaps off stage to hug us all, and we agree to meet for a practice tonight.
Ray’s mom hands out pizza and juice, greeting Frank and commending him for ‘having to put up with these four for God knows how long’. But Frank just shrugs it off and rubs his hands together, eager to get down to business.