“You look nervous little Lee, but that’s OK. Don’t you worry. I got somethin’ to take the edge off. Here, take it.”I know the answer to this situation, I swear I do. They call it peer pressure and they say “just say no” but I’m not thinking about the lessons I’ve learned in school, I’m distracted by my pounding heart and the way the stage lights are making me dizzy. My fist closes around the small, round object and I know what I’m supposed to do with it. Right or wrong, in a split second I’m across the back-stage area and grabbing a drink off the bar. The pill is washed down my throat pretty much before I know what I’ve done.
I don’t think my boyfriend knows what I’ve done either, even though he snuck up on me as I did the deed. His arms wrap around me and I feel comfortable for the first time this evening. As I relax into his embrace with a whimper and a sigh, he stiffens up, pulling back to look at me with concern in his eyes. “What’s up Lee? Are you alright? What’s wrong?” Genuine concern shines from his eyes as he searches my face. “I’m OK, I think… Just stage fright. I’ve never been so nervous.”
“Lee, you are the single most talented and confidant person I know. You can do this. Everyone here has come to see you and The Mighty Huge and no one is here to judge.” I try to keep my face straight as my stomach flips. Everyone’s here to watch me, everyone will be staring and of course they will be judging. Everyone judges. If I wasn’t trying to keep up appearances I swear I’d be hyperventilating. Instead I nod and try to keep the quaver out of my voice as I agree with him. “I can do this.”
By the time we’re supposed to be on stage, my nerves have been soothed. In fact, I’ve never felt so confident and alive and capable. The four of us, Hanna, DC, Jackson and I, bound onto stage with springs in our step, grinning boldly as we get set up. Jackson steps up the mic and bellows into it “Good evening Sugar Valley!! We are The Mighty Huge!” DC claps his drum-sticks above his head and as we launch into our first song (written my yours truly) Jackson flashes and knowing smile and a wink my way and I beam right back. He’s really saved the show.
Our set is a huge success. No one in the club is seated and no one, except for the bartenders, is anywhere in the building that doesn’t have a dance floor. Each song is met with hoots and hollers of approval and we deserve it. We hit every note and nail every song. I can feel the music rolling through me and it’s like heaven. Performing, on stage, to a crowd? My stage fright is a distant memory and I can’t wait to do this again. I’ve never felt more… More alive!
Here comes the bride, all dressed in white… It really should be cream, since Jess is arriving at her ceremony looking like a boat. I don’t know when Adam proposed to her, and I really wish he hadn’t but here’s my happy face and here’s the big day. It’s a small ceremony, right in our yard, and it’s only family and friends. More private and intimate this way, is the idea, but also less embarrassing for everyone. I really do feel like Adam’s being taken for a ride, Jess has been hot and cold with my brother since they were teens, mostly only hot when she was already dating someone else. She’s broken his heart and then manipulated him into bed while living with another man and then had the audacity to show up pregnant, announce she’d broken up with that man and moved into our house immediately. I know she’s my boyfriend’s sister but I really just don’t like the woman. I can’t help it. I’ve tried to talk to Adam about it, to no avail, he wouldn’t listen to a word I said. I try to let my animosity go as they exchange vows and rings. I have to admit that Adam certainly looks pleased as punch as he slips the golden band onto Jess’ finger. His eyes are lit up and I know, I know that this is honestly everything he’s ever wanted: A family with Jess. However, nothing will compare to expression on his face as Jess puts the ring on his finger. So much relief, so much joy, I realize for the first time that Adam’s been holding his breath for weeks, unsure of whether this would work out. Unbelieving that Jess was really saying yes, to him, forever. As they share their first kiss as man and wife, tears well up in my eyes and I find I’m actually really very happy for my big brother and his new wife. I want nothing but the best for them and I’m maybe I’m ready to have a little bit of faith in Jess. She can’t be all bad and she is my sister-in-law now, as well as the mom of my niece or nephew.
The “reception” is just as small as the wedding, a nice, catered lunch and music from the radio inside the house. Jess and Adam can’t keep their eyes off of each other, even when we offer congratulations. It’s really cute. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves… Except for Troy. He’s sitting sullen and alone, staring at a plate of turkey but I’m done worrying about that boy. He can sulk all he wants but I’m out of sympathy. I’d much rather spend time with happy people, the majority of the people
here, for example. Conrad and Laurie are having a blast and I didn’t know mom and dad could dance like that! Kaitlin’s boyfriend (who no one has met yet) couldn’t make it but her and the mother of the bride, Trish, are keeping each other happily entertained. I have to admit though, it’s sort of a weird scene for Berjes and I. All of a sudden we’re kinda-sorta related. Not to mention the fact that both of our parents are in the room looking at us a little bit expectantly and with a scary gleam in their eyes. I really wish mom and dad would fix that look on Conrad and Laurie ’cause I’m pretty sure that will be happening first.
A little resolve keeps our situation from staying weird for too long. I’m crazy about Berjes, really and truly. There’s no one I would rather spend time with, any where in the world. There’s just one place in particular that I’d like to spend more time with him. I can’t hardly get him into the bedroom with me! He’s game in dark corners or on couches but looks frightened out of his wits when I suggest going a little bit further. I’m so frustrated but I can take it slow, for him…
He is good to me, after all, the very best. He’s always happy to hang out during one of our rehearsal’s, and my heart swells with love every time I look over and see him on the dingy couch, tapping his toes in time to the music even if he is trying to get some homework done. It’s not his favourite place to be, but he never whines about it. He doesn’t actually like Jackson all that much, or DC for that matter but he usually just grins and bears it. Jackson’s a real jerk sometimes, but his main problem seems to be their “liberal attitudes” towards drinking.
He does have a point I guess, there’s always a bottle of booze around while we’re practicing and it’s not unusual for the smell of it to be on someone’s breath but no one ever get’s out of hand or anything. It’s just, like, a drink. To relax and enjoy yourself. I’ve only had a glass with them once (while Berjes wasn’t around, obviously) and I didn’t think it was that great but why should I police what my bandmates and our fans do? I’m not their mom and I’m taking care of me just fine.
Nevertheless, it’s the practices of other people that are the cause of just about all of our bickering and arguments. Why should tonight be any different?
“I just want to take care of you, Lee. I know they’re your friends but I just don’t trust them. Well, I trust Hanna, she’s just, uh, weird, but DC, and Jackson especially. I don’t get why you always defend them, what you see in them. I know you love the band but you don’t have I hang out with them so much… They’re a bad influence on you.”
Berjes doesn’t know the half of it and he won’t. He’d kill me if he found out and over something that’s so not a big deal too. If he saw me before a performance, all sickly and stressed out. If he could feel the way I felt thinking about all the people who were about to be watching me – whether at a house party, talent show or club – if he could feel the way my blood drains from my head and the way my stomach flips and flops he’d get it. But he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know any of it.
He doesn’t know that before each show Jackson surreptitiously slips a pill into my hand, the way he did the first time, and he doesn’t know that the way I’m feeling after a show isn’t just the high of being on stage. He doesn’t know I still get stage fright and I’m going to keep it that way. Besides, one day I won’t need to pills to get on stage and then I can stop taking them and he’ll be no wiser and everything will be fine. No one needs to know but me… And Jackson I guess.
You can do it Lee, pull it together. It’s just a stupid English assignment. A stupid oral presentation. In front of the whole class. Watching me, only me. Shut up. Your speech is great, you’ll be fine. I’ll forget all the words, I’ll be standing there like an idiot. Everyone will be watching me, waiting and I’ll mess up. I can’t do this. I can do this. I can’t do this. I can do this. I can’t. I just can’t. Or…
My only choice, or I’ll fail. I hate doing this it feels so… So wrong. But if I don’t… Detention is almost over, there he is…
“Jackson?” He looks surprised to see me, which makes sense and walks over to join me behind the school, giving me a… Well, it’s a look. “Jackson I need something from you. Not a favour. I-I I’ll pay?” I’m looking at him, pleading with him (as best as I can without actually using words) to not make me spell it out for him, I don’t know if I could, I’d lose my nerve entirely. He doesn’t, just nods and smirks at me and helps me out.
Before English starts I nervously down one of the pills Jackson sold me the week before. I can barely stand up straight in the girls bathroom I’m so anxious. If this doesn’t work I’ll be glued to the seat when our teacher calls me to the front for the classroom. I’m just so glad I’m not going first. My presentation is flawless. I don’t stumble over a single word and I feel as though everyone is hooked. I feel smart and funny and charismatic and I am pretty sure that I have aced this assignment. I’m feeling so good that you could say that I’m feeling cocky. I’m comfortable and happy at the front of this classroom and I can’t help but take a moment to ham it up I feel absolutely amazing.
Kaitlin’s moved out and Adam and Jess have followed suit. They got houses right next door to one another which I think is super sweet and adorable. The two have been close as well, twins, their whole lives and now, even all growed up and moved out of mom and dad’s (and I guess my) house and they still can’t bear to be more than 20 meters away from one another. I’m just glad they did it before Jess popped. I was scared I’d have to live in a house with a baby…
Kaitlin’s house is the one on the left, Adam’s is the right
Ramona was born not two weeks after they moved out, close call, huh? She’s a pretty cute little thing, Adam and Jess love her very much and I’m pretty sure they love each other just the same. I’m coming around to Jess, maybe she’s worth my brother after all? She did produce this itty bitty cutie tootie little princess.
“Whose a sweet little itty bitty cutie tootie little princess? You are! Yes you are… Yes you are!”
Adam and Kaitlin living away from home has made a big difference. Bigger than I thought. But now, sometimes, I actually come home to an empty house! If dad’s working and mom’s visiting her grand-daughter (they’re both over the moon), Conrad may be at work at the new movie lots and Troy… Who knows where Troy is? Well, sometimes they’re actually all out and sometimes, like tonight I can get home from a concert with my boyfriend in tow (and seeming malleable) and the house is actually empty. Berjes and I have the place to ourselves.
I can’t believe and managed to persuade him up to the room, it took some coercion, a little bit of strategic moving as we made out in the hallways and the stair cases but I’ve got him up here and he looks like he’s finding me extremely alluring. I’m panting for breath and feeling the good kind of nervous as our hands roam and we make our way to the bed. I’m so excited. I think this is it. Finally, my first time with Berjes! Almost there… Almost…
And then he pulls back, sits up. “I’ll be right back. K?” With a nervous grin he heads to the bathroom and that’s when things go wrong. I hear a clatter and I know it. My bottle of pills. I left them out before the gig tonight. I had no idea I’d be bringing Berjes home with me. Hopefully he’ll ignore them. Leave them lie. The bathroom is eerily silent. If he’s picked them up I’m done for. A prescription bottle with someone else’s name on them.
I’ve been lounging on the bed, trying to look sexy but I know as sure as anything that sexy is not happening tonight. It’s too quiet in the bathroom and he’s been in there too long to be doing what I thought he was doing. It’ll be OK. It’ll be OK. I’ll explain it and he’ll understand. He’ll have to understand, maybe I don’t have to explain it. He knows me, he trusts me, it’ll be OK. We’ll be OK.
We are not OK. Berjes is pissed.
“How could you do this?! What were you thinking?! You KNOW how I feel about this… this… shit. I thought you had more respect for me, I thought you had more respect for YOU.“ He falls silent and contemplative and I open my mouth to explain when he stops me. “Lee. Are you… Are you high right now?” I’m too ashamed to answer, my head hangs and I don’t even see him leave, I just hear my bedroom door slam shut and then the front.
My explanations would never have been enough, but I never had a chance to voice them. Never had a chance to beg or plead and now he’s gone. High. Killed.