Chapter One of SHADE (Part 2 of 2)
I pulled into Logan’s driveway at 6:40. I loved going to the Keeleys’ house—it sat in a Hunt Valley development that had been farmland only a few years before. Newer neighborhoods had way fewer ghosts, and I’d never seen one at the Keeleys’. At the time, anyway.
I checked my hair in the rearview mirror. Hopelessly well-groomed. I pawed through my bag to find a few funky little silver skull-and-crossbones barrettes, then pinned them into my straight dark brown hair to make it stick out in random places.
“Yeah, you look totally punk in your beige suit and sensible flats.” I made a face at myself in the mirror, then leaned closer.
Were my eyes really that old, like ex-Hazel said? Maybe it was the dark circles underneath. I licked my finger and wiped under my brown eyes to see if the mascara had smeared.
Nope. The gray shadows on my skin came from too little sleep and too much worrying. Too much rehearsing what I would say to Logan.
As I walked up the brick front path, I heard music blasting through the open basement window.
Late. I wanted to hurl my bag across the Keeleys’ lawn in frustration. Once Logan got lost in his guitar, he forgot I existed. And we really needed to talk.
I went in the front door without knocking, the way I had since we were six and the Keeleys lived around the block in a row home like ours. I hurried past the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the family room.
“Hey Aura,” called Logan’s fifteen-year-old brother Dylan from his usual position, sprawled barefoot and bowlegged on the floor in front of the flat-screen TV. He glanced up from his video game, then did a double-take at the sight of my Slurpee cup. “Bad one?”
“Old lady, stabbed in a mugging. Semi-shady.”
“Sucks.” He focused on his game, nodding in time to the metal soundtrack. “Protein drinks work better.”
“You bounce back your way, I’ll bounce my way.”
“Whatever.” His voice rose suddenly. “Noooo! Eat it! Eat it!” Dylan slammed his back against the ottoman and jerked the joystick almost hard enough to break it. As his avatar got torched by a flamethrower, he shrieked a stream of curses that told me his parents weren’t home. Mr. and Mrs. Keeley had apparently already left for their second honeymoon.
I opened the basement door, releasing a blast of guitar chords, then slipped off my shoes so I could walk downstairs without noise.
Halfway to the bottom, I peered over the banister into the left side of the unfinished basement. Logan was facing away from me, strumming his new Fender Stratocaster and watching his brother Mickey work out a solo. The motion of his shoulder blades rippled his neon green T-shirt, the one I’d bought him on our last trip to Ocean City.
When he angled his chin to check his fingers on the fret board, I could see his profile. Even with his face set in concentration, his sky blue eyes sparked with joy. Logan could play guitar in a sewer and still have fun.
The Keeley boys were like yin and yang, inside and out. Logan’s spiky hair was bleached blond with black streaks, while Mickey’s was black with blond streaks. Logan played a black guitar right-handed and his brother a white one left-handed. They had the same lanky build, and lots of people thought they were twins, but Mickey was eighteen and Logan only seventeen (minus one day).
Their sister Siobhan—Mickey’s actual twin—was sitting cross-legged on the rug in front of them, her fiddle resting against her left knee as she shared a cigarette with the bassist, her boyfriend Connor.
My best friend Megan sat next to them, knees pulled to her chest. She wove a lock of her long, dark red hair through her fingers as she stared at Mickey.
The only one facing me was Brian, the drummer. He spotted me and promptly missed a beat. I cringed—he was sometimes brilliant, but he could be distracted by a stray dustball.
Mickey and Logan stopped playing and turned to Brian, who adjusted the backward white baseball cap on his head in embarrassment.
“Jesus,” Mickey said, “is it too much to ask for a fucking backbeat?”
“Sorry.” Brian twirled his stick in his thick hand, then pointed it at me. “She’s here.”
Logan spun around, and I expected a glare for interrupting—not to mention leftover hostility from last night’s fight. Instead his face lit up.
“Aura!” He swept the strap over his head, handed his guitar to Mickey, and leaped to meet me at the bottom of the stairs. “Oh my God, you won’t believe this!” He grabbed me around the waist and hoisted me up. “You will not believe this.”
“I will, I swear.” I wrapped my arms around his neck, grinning so hard it hurt. Clearly he wasn’t mad at me. “What’s up?”
“Hang on.” Logan lowered me to the floor, then spread my arms to examine my suit. “They make you wear this to work?”
“I didn’t have time to change.” I gave him a light punch in the chest for torturing me. “So what won’t I believe?”
“Siobhan, get her some clothes,” he barked.
“Choice,” she said. “Say please or kiss my ass.”
“Please!” Logan held up his hands. “Anything to keep your ass in the safe zone.”
Siobhan gave Connor her cigarette and got to her feet. As she passed me, she squeezed my elbow and said, “Boy thinks he’s a rock god just because some label people are coming to the show tomorrow.”
My mind spun as it absorbed my biggest hope and fear. “Is she kidding?” I asked Logan.
“No,” he growled. “Thanks for blowing the surprise, horseface!” he yelled as she slouched up the stairs, snickering.
I tugged on his shirt. “Who’s coming?”
“Get this.” He gripped my shoulders. “A and R dudes from two different companies. One’s an independent—Lianhan Records—”
“That’s the one we want,” Mickey interjected.
“—and the other is Warrant.”
I gasped. “I’ve heard of Warrant.”
“Because they’re part of a major major major humongous label.” Logan’s eyes rolled up in ecstasy, like God himself was handing out record contracts.
“We’ll use Warrant to make Lianhan jealous,” Mickey added. “But we’re not selling out.”
Logan pulled me to the back side of the stairs, where the others couldn’t see us. “This could be it,” he whispered. “Can you believe it? It’d be the most amazing birthday present ever.”
I steadied my breath so I could get the words out. “Hopefully not the best present.”
“You mean the Strat from my folks?”
“Not that either.” I reached up under the back of his T-shirt and let my fingers graze his warm skin.
“Is it something you—wait.” His eyes widened, making the silver hoop in his brow glint in the overhead light. “Are you saying—”
“Yep.” I stood on tiptoe and kissed him, quick but hard. “I’m ready.”
His gold-tipped lashes flickered, but he angled his chin to look at me sideways. “You said that before.”
“I said a lot of things before. Some of them were stupid.”
“Yeah, they were.” His eyes crinkled, softening his words. “You know I’d never leave you over this, either way. How could you even think that?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” He traced my jaw with his thumb, which always made me shiver. “I love you.”
He kissed me then, drowning my doubts in one warm, soft moment. Doubts about him, about me, about him and me.
“Here you go!” Siobhan called from the stairs, a moment before a clump of denim and cotton fell on our heads. “Oops,” she said with fake surprise.
I peeled the jeans off Logan’s shoulder and held them up in salute. “Thanks, Siobhan.”
“Back to work!” rang Mickey’s voice from the other side of the basement.
Logan ignored his siblings and gazed into my eyes. “So…maybe tomorrow night, at my party?” He hurried to add, “Only if you’re sure. We could wait, if you—”
“No.” I could barely manage a whisper. “No more waiting.”
His lips curved into a smile, which promptly faded. “I better clean my room. There’s like a one-foot path through all the old Guitar Worlds and dirty laundry.”
“I can walk on a one-foot path.”
“Screw that. I want it to be perfect.”
“Hey!” Mickey yelled again, louder. “What part of ‘back to work’ is not in English?”
Logan grimaced. “We’re switching out some of our set list—less covers, more original stuff. Probably be up all night.” He gave me a kiss that was quick but full of promise. “Stay as long as you want.”
He disappeared around the stairs, and immediately Megan replaced him at my side.
“Did you make up? You did, didn’t you?”
“We made up.” I sat on the couch to remove my stockings, checking over my shoulder to make sure the guys were out of sight on the other side of the stairs. “I told him I’m ready.”
Megan slumped next to me and rested her elbow on the back of the sofa. “You don’t think you have to say that to keep him, do you?”
“It’s something I want too. Anyway, who cares, as long as it works?”
“You know what it’s like, going to their gigs.” My whisper turned to a hiss. “Seeing all those girls who’d probably pay to get naked with Mickey or Logan. Or even with Brian or Connor.”
“But the guys aren’t like that—well, maybe Brian is, but he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Mickey loves me. Logan loves you.”
“So?” I slipped on the jeans. “Plenty of rock stars have wives and girlfriends, and they still screw their groupies. It comes with the territory.”
“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” she said in her best Darth Vader impression, forcing a smile out of me.
I unbuttoned my white silk blouse. “What should I wear?”
“Same stuff as always, on the outside. That’s the way he likes you.” Megan snapped the strap of my plain beige bra. “But definitely do better than this underneath.”
“Duh,” was my only response as I slipped Siobhan’s black and yellow Distillers T-shirt over my head. I’d made a covert trip to Victoria’s Secret weeks before—the one way up in Owings Mills, where no one would recognize me. The matching black lace bra and underwear were still in the original bag, with their tags on, in the back of my bottom dresser drawer.
“The first time doesn’t have to suck,” she said, “not if you go slow.”
“Okay,” I said quickly, in a deep state of not wanting to talk about it.
Luckily, at that moment Brian tapped his sticks to mark time, and the band launched into one of their original tunes, “The Day I Sailed Away.”
The Keeley Brothers wanted to be the premier Irish-flavored rock band in Baltimore. Maybe one day go national, become the next Pogues, or at least the next Flogging Molly, with a heavy dose of American skate-punk ’tude.
As Logan began to sing, Megan’s face reflected my bliss and awe. With that voice leading the way, the Keeley Brothers didn’t have to be the next anyone.
Two record labels. I closed my eyes, ignoring the way my stomach turned to lead, and savored the sound that Megan and I would soon have to share with the world.
I knew then that everything would change the next night. It was like time had folded in on itself, and I could remember the future.
A future I already hated.
by Jeri Smith-Ready
Copyright © Jeri Smith-Ready