They've been offered the chance of their life, but will they have the guts to take it?
“I know it is,” she began, “But how do you know this is even really him? It could be anyone trying to get your hopes up and scam you later.”
“We called him. He left his number on our PureVolume and Ryan called him and he’s coming out Saturday to see us practice,” Spencer explained.
Mrs. Smith seemed taken aback, her lips parted in surprise. She sighed and slouched against the back of the couch. “You’re sure?”
“Positive,” I answered. “It was definitely him.”
She paused again in thought. After a moment, she got to her feet and said, “Well, if everything you are saying is true and he is who he says he is, I’m very proud of you boys. This is definitely a big opportunity for you.”
“Thanks, mom,” Spencer said with relief and looked back at Brendon and I who smiled back. His mom, however, held up her hand and continued.
“But, with that being said, you will not be going off somewhere alone with this person. You are all still underage,” she glanced over at me, “Well, you aren’t, Ryan, but you are to me.”
Turning back to Spencer she told us, “I want him to come here, meet me, and he can watch you practice in the garage. Your sisters and I will be watching as well to make sure there is no funny business. Deal?”
Spencer, Brendon, and I exchanged glances and all repeated, “Deal.”
We were in overdrive for the next six days; perfecting choruses and practicing for hours until our fingers blistered and bled. This was our one chance for success and we couldn’t blow it. Brendon and I went to bed early Friday night, but neither of us could sleep, each restlessly tossing and turning until dawn. When the first rays of sun crept into the room, we got ready and made breakfast, our phones close at hand in case of last minute details from Spencer or Cameron (I had given him my number when we called him back last week).
My dad had two days of normal soberness and I told him about this then. He didn’t say much other than, “Don’t screw this up.” Helpful, dad. He said he wished he could be there (he didn’t sound too apologetic, though), but he had a conference call with a new client that he couldn’t miss. I told him it was okay and I’d tell him everything later. Spencer’s mom got a friend of hers at the hospital to cover her shift for the morning so she could be there for our audition.
We headed over to Spencer’s to set up at about eleven; Cameron said he’d be there around noon. An hour of last minute rehearsal, tuning, retuning, and making sure everything was perfect, a black Mercedes pulled up to the curb and out stepped Cameron Pierce in a black tank top that showed off his tattooed sleeves and skinny jeans. Shoving his keys into his back pocket, he walked up the driveway. Meaghan and Sam settled themselves in their colorful plastic chairs and Mrs. Smith emerged from the house to greet him. Spencer, Brendon, and I were sort of in shock and just stared at each other as we stood side by side.
“Hi, you are…” Cameron greeted Mrs. Smith as she approached.
“Mrs. Smith,” she answered, shaking his outstretched hand. “Spencer’s mom. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” He placed his aviator sunglasses on the top of his head and stepped into the garage.
“And you guys must be it,” he smiled.
Spencer was the first to introduce himself and Cameron went down the line and shook our hands.
“And that’s Meaghan and Sam, my younger sisters,” Spencer added.
“Hi,” he smiled at them. Turning back to us, he said, “So this is going to be pretty chill. Just play me a few of your best songs and we can talk after. Sound good?”
We looked at each other and Brendon said, “Sure.”
Spencer’s mom grabbed another plastic chair from the corner for Cameron while we quickly discussed the songs we’d play and took our places.
Everything seemed in slow motion as the snap of Spencer’s drumsticks counted us in. I looked over at Brendon who stepped up to the mic stand. I felt my tongue go dry and face drain of all color as the nerves finally hit their peak. I gulped and Brendon winked at me. I reminded myself to breathe and grinned back, regaining my composure, my mind settling into a determined nothingness, clearing my mind of everything else but the song.
It was the best we had ever performed. Every beat was together, every note spot on, and every chord crisp. When the last notes of the finale faded, there was a silence and all I could hear was my blood rushing through my ears waiting for a reaction from Cameron. I felt Brendon take a step toward me and he stood close to my side, grabbing my hand and squeezing tight in apprehension. It didn’t occur to me that Cameron didn’t know about the idea of us. He didn’t seem to notice, however, because he stood up and began to clap. The air I had been hoarding in my lungs came out in an audible whoosh and I felt a smile spread across my face. Brendon squeezed my hand again and looked at me, an even bigger smile gracing his face. I heard Spencer hop off his riser and stepped next to me.
“That was… incredible,” Cameron said at last, taking a step towards us. “Brendon, a little off-pitch at points, but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with more practice. Ryan, solid chord changes. Spencer, bud, that was great. All of you, that was, like, crazy good.”
We all thanked him and Mrs. Smith spoke up. “So what do you think, Cameron?”
“Why don’t we go inside and we can talk,” he offered before turning to Mrs. Smith and adding, “If that’s alright, of course.”
“Of course,” she smiled. Meaghan and Sam stacked their chairs and led the way into the house.
We all filed into living room. Spencer, Brendon, and I took the couch while Mrs. Smith offered Cameron the love seat as she dragged in a chair from the kitchen. Meaghan and Sam were sent to their room to play to let the “adults” talk.
“Well,” Cameron began, leaning forward, his tattooed arms supporting him against his thighs. “I think I’m just going to dive right in. There is no doubt about it. You all have a wonderful talent for being so young and self-taught. The lyrics are… incredible, Ryan,” he looked at me and smiled. “Very mature and very poignant.
“Alright,” he said, sitting up looking at all of us,” This may be crazy, but I’m going with my gut on this one. I’m offering you a record deal.”
“Really?” Brendon asked incredulously.
“Really,” Cameron laughed. “You guys are the real deal with talent and stage presence and the exact sound I’m looking for.”
“But don’t bands usually put out a record and tour before they get offered a deal?” I questioned.
“Yes, I’ll admit that is the norm, but I think you guys are ready. So what do you say?”
“I’m sorry, Cameron, but don’t you think you’re rushing into things? You’ve only seen them perform once. And they’re so young—” Mrs. Smith interrupted. I saw Spencer shoot her an embarrassed/shut the fuck up look.
“I understand you may have a lot of questions, Mrs. Smith, but I do believe these boys hold a lot of promise. We can talk over more details if you’d like,” he offered. His expression then turned to confusion as he looked at both Brendon and me. “Maybe we should get both of your parents’ here before we continue. Can you call them?”
“Um, actually,” Brendon murmured nervously. “My parents kicked me out last year so I live with Ryan now…”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, man,” he sympathized. Turning in my direction he asked, “How about your parents? This is pretty exciting I thought they’d want to be here…”
“Yeah, uh,” I stuttered, at a loss for words, but luckily, Mrs. Smith came to my rescue.
“Ryan’s father has some issues and I act as the primary parent figure for all three boys at this point.”
“Alright, well, I’m sorry to hear that, but it’s certainly better than nothing,” he gave a weak smile. “Now, I’ve heard everything you’ve got online, and I think with a little work it will be ready to be recorded. Do you have anything else you’ve been working on?”
“I’ve got a few things started, but nowhere near being done,” I admitted.
“That’s fine. You will still have plenty of time to make things come together,” he grinned, and then let it fall when he realized our nervous expressions. “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to put the pressure on you guys, if this is too much…”
“No, it’s—” Brendon began before being interrupted by Mrs. Smith.
“Cameron, if these boys were to sign your record deal, what were your immediate plans. They’re still in high school and that has to come first.”
“No, no, I completely understand. Education is first. I encourage you to finish out the year and my plan was to maybe get you guys recording during the summer and we can work out tour details before the record drops.” A faint buzz followed his statement and he excused himself as he dug through his jeans pocket to get his phone. Upon seeing the screen, his face lit up and he smiled lovingly. “My wife. She’s at home with our daughter.” He showed us the screen to show a picture message of a women with long black hair and stunningly beautiful features, her arms covered in ink like her husband’s. She held a toddler with dark curly hair and bright blue eyes. Taking one last glance at his phone, he smiled again and set it down on the table.
“She looks just like you. She’s adorable,” Mrs. Smith said, beaming like any woman after seeing a baby.
“Thanks,” he said. “Now, how do you all feel about this? I’m not going to force you into anything, but I can’t stress enough how big of an opportunity this is.”
Brendon, Spencer, and I all looked over at Mrs. Smith and waited for an answer. She sensed the multitude of eyes on her and cleared her throat. “Well, I think I’ll need to think about this and get in touch with Ryan’s dad, but…”
“But…” Spencer pried, hopefully.
She smiled and continued, “But I think this is amazing and if I can get your father on board, I think we’ve got a deal, Cameron.”
“Yes!” Brendon and I both said looking over at a very excited-looking Spencer.
“Great,” Cameron grinned, reaching over to shake each of our hands again. He got to his feet and, checking the time on his phone, said, “I better be going. I’m meeting a friend at three. I’ll be in town until Tuesday so if you could give me a call before then, I’ll be over with the paperwork and everything. It was a pleasure meeting you all.”
After Cameron left, I said, “There is no way you’ll convince my dad.”
“Maybe not, but is that really going to stop you?” Mrs. Smith said, smiling.
On Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Smith went over to talk to my dad while Spencer, Brendon, and I rehearsed. I was thankful she didn’t do it while I was around or I might have end up with another black eye. There was no telling how this encounter would go. I was almost certain my dad would firmly say no to the idea of his son going off to record an album the summer after he graduated high school. He would say it was stupid even though he’s the one that bought me my first guitar. I guess at the time he thought it was a phase and the whole dream of a “musician’s lifestyle” would pass and I would go on to law school or become a brain surgeon. Something that was guaranteed a steady income and promising opportunities that was not frowned upon by the majority of society. Nothing as unstable and risky as being a musician. Even after all these years, my father still did not understand that I would die for a chance to make music professionally. That nothing I did in life could compare to just one show in front of people who sang my lyrics just as loud as Brendon. To feel like maybe I was capable of doing something huge. To feel important.
After practice, we played Mario Kart on Spencer’s Playstation, nervously waiting for his mom to come back. What she said would decide our future. Don’t fuck this up.
It was almost five o’clock when she came back and Spencer and I had started making dinner for Meaghan and Sam. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans. When the timer for the meatloaf rang, I heard the sound of the front door and a pair--- no, two pairs--- of shoes cross the linoleum floor.
“Dad?” I called out, wiping my hands on my jeans. He turned the corner and entered the kitchen looking surprisingly sober.
“One condition,” he said sternly. My heart jumped to my throat. The answer was yes no matter what conditions he set.
“When this whole band business doesn’t go anywhere,” he began, “don’t expect me to be there. I cannot and will not support this decision, Ryan. You, all you boys, are making a grave mistake,” he wagged a finger in our direction before turning his gaze to Mrs. Smith. “So are you, Ginger.”
With that he stood up and started making his way out before I ran after him and said, “But, dad—”
“No. I will not wait around and watch you waste you life and end up like your mother.”
My breath hitched in my throat at the mention of my mom.
She was a painter. I remember her picking me up from preschool in her paint splattered jean overalls with stained hands that turpentine wouldn’t clean. We would pull into the driveway and she’d open the garage door. The garage served as her studio. Every day she would let me paint with her. I had my own easel and paints right next to hers. I even had my own wall that every single one of my finished paintings would hang on. Those were the days when my dad only had a glass of wine at Christmas or a beer when he occasionally watched a football game. He would step into the garage and kiss my mother and then my head. I would giggle and say, “Don’t look, daddy!” He would playfully cover his eyes and kneel next to me until I finished a few moments later. “Now, daddy! Look!” And no matter what my canvas contained, my father would always say that I would grow up to be an artist like my mother.
I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since.
When I was twelve, my dad told me that she had been depressed for a long time, even before I was born, and when her paintings stopped selling, she felt her purpose disappear. She felt like she failed not only herself, but me. Her depression deepened and she felt trapped so she took initiative and got herself out.
No one went in the garage for four years until my dad got drunk one night and trashed the place. He ripped my paintings off the walls and took a palette knife, stabbing my mother’s beautiful canvases save one that I kept and placed under my bed with other things of my mother’s that I saved. I came home and found him on the concrete floor, sitting against the wall, his knees to his chest, crying. I ran to his side and cried with him. I saw how things had become and desperately tried to remember how they were when my mother was alive. I tried to picture her in her overalls, enthralled in her art as I worked beside her. I tried to remember her long auburn hair braided down her back. Her smile when she saw my paintings and how she picked me up in her arms and told me she loved me.
A week later, Mrs. Smith helped my dad clean out the garage. My dad said he threw out all the ruined paintings, but I found them in the attic when I was fourteen. He tried to fix the ones he could and dealt with the regret for the ones he couldn’t. He hung some on the walls and others were propped up in the corner. He tried to recreate her studio. Sometimes, while I was doing my homework, he would disappear for a few hours with a bottle of gin and I knew he was up there…remembering. It was when he came down, he would be drunk and angry and the abusive cycle would return.
“I need a drink,” he finalized as he opened the door and left.
I let out an audible breath as I stood in the middle of the hallway. I felt…empty. I had an answer that I couldn’t take for granted, but I just…I guess I don’t need to explain why I felt physically and emotionally drained on the verge of tears at the mention of my mother. I ran my fingers through my hair, feeling all emotion fade. I felt Brendon beside me. Without looking at him, I whispered, “I think I’ll just go home.”
“Ryan, you know you can stay if you wan—” Mrs. Smith said from the kitchen.
Turning I answered with a convincing grin, “I’ll be okay.”
“Do you want me to come?” Brendon asked. I cupped his face with my hand and kissed him saying I would be fine and I’d see him after dinner. I wasn’t hungry anymore.
I thanked Mrs. Smith for talking to him and said goodbye to everyone before I walked the few hundred yards home. My dad had apparently gone out to get that drink so I was alone. I felt the numbness crushing me and I couldn’t breathe. I tried to sit down and concentrate on a paper that wasn’t due for another week. I tried to do extra calculus problems. Anything to distract me. My mind ran to the drawer under the towel. To the only thing that would make this all go away.
By the time Brendon came home, I had cleaned up and thrown on a sweatshirt. I had drifted off to sleep only to awake to the muffled scrape of my bedroom window. I jumped and sat up. “Hey,” Brendon greeted softly. “Sorry, I woke you.”
“My dad home?” I asked, rubbing my eyes and checking the time on the clock on my nightstand.
“Yeah,” he answered, closing the window, kicking off his shoes, and climbing into my bed next to me. “Are you okay?” I didn’t answer, rather scooted closer and curled up beside him, my head on his chest. “Ry…”
I groaned and buried my face in his neck. That was as good as an answer and he put his arms around me. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“I love you, Ry,” he said, kissing my hair. He rocked me gently and told me that Mrs. Smith would sign all the papers that needed to be signed and could call Cameron tomorrow morning to tell him we would be taking his offer. I said alright.
The next day at lunch, Brendon was absent while he went to make up an English test.
“My mom called Cameron this morning,” Spencer began, breaking the silence.
“Cool. What did he say,” I answered flatly, not looking up from the pages.
“He’ll be over later tonight to get paper work signed and let us know what the next step is.” When I didn’t answer he said, “No offense, Ryan, but why are you so upset? Your dad said you could do this. Isn’t this what you wanted or have you been lying for eight years?”
“Spencer, don’t you get it? If this doesn’t work out, I have nothing. My dad has abandoned me. He doesn’t support this. Never has, never will. I always knew I was pretty much on my own, but this just confirms it.”
“And I have no idea what that feel like, right?” he snapped.
“It’s fine,” he said, obviously trying to remain calm. “That was different.” Spencer’s dad had an affair and left when Sam was born. The last I heard he was in Texas somewhere with his new family. “This is going to work out,” he assured me.
“But what if—”
“No,” Spencer said. “After you graduate we’re going to make a record and we’re going to tour and we’re going to make it. I promise.”
“You can’t know that for sure,” I retorted pessimistically, closing my book and setting it in front of me.
“Ryan, have you not noticed how many people love our music? Your lyrics? Cameron Fucking Pierce loves us. He offered us a record deal because we earned it. We are capable of making a kickass career at this. Screw your dad. When our first album is released, he’ll be kicking himself for ever doubting you. You are good enough, Ryan, and it sucks that your dad can’t see it, but you are.”
My eyes fell to the table and I sat in silence for a few moments. Maybe I did have to let it go. Let the fact that my dad will never understand and support me go. This is my life and I can’t let one person ruin it. I have a best friend, a loving boyfriend, and a huge opportunity at my feet. Fuck my dad, we’re signing that record deal.