She sat in the dark corner on top of the broken speaker case. The neon light beamed on her face against the black abyss that surrounded her. She tapped the heels of her combat boots together; they were at least one size too big. They covered the torn, lime green leggings with safety pins in them that cover her skinny legs.
“What am I doing?” she asked herself while picking a hangnail that resides next to her purple nail polish.
The bass vibrated the floor, causing her heart to beat even faster. They started. Her hands began to shake. She was next. In forty-five minutes, she would be on the other side of that curtain, out of the black, into the blinding lights. She was not ready.
“Hey, loser. How are your in-ears?” The words slid out of Jake’s mouth like snakes. Holding his bass guitar, he looked much more like a misshapen gourd than he probably wanted to.
Katy’s in-ears had never failed her before. She snuck the clunky, black box onto the back of her sheer, voluminous black skirt with black ribbon trimming. Lacing the cords underneath her cartoon monster sweatshirt, she hoped for a feeling of any kind. Noise erupted in her ears as she checked the volume. She wanted anything except for the anxiety and confusion she was feeling. She had always loved this. She loved sound check and getting ready; she loved listening to the opening acts backstage. She remembered bouncing off the walls, running back and forth like a tiger in a cage. She needed to be out on that stage.
But tonight, she felt nothing. She felt none of the excitement that once resonated so deep within her. She longed for it, but it was gone. She no longer believed in this life. Her hair, with its brand-new blue streak on the left side that cut through the bleach monotony, now seemed so utterly stupid. Even the hot pink octopi painted on her in-ears now looked like a blobs of spattered paint, nothing of importance.
Sneaking to the side of the stage, she saw Kyle. He was there; he was always there. He jumped and pounded his fist in the air to the music. Kyle was always the one that made the crowd excited for music they had never even heard of. He was the secret weapon, and he was doing his job well. The crowd around him grinned and lost themselves in music they knew nothing about. The opening act was good.
Katy smiled weakly at Kyle; he did not see her. She leaned back against the wall behind her. She looked at the crowd, silently thanking every star in the sky that she was not a part of it. They were a group of wild boars, thrashing about and hitting into each other. They fought for no reason and called it a celebration. Blood and spit poured out as the lead singer sweated on them from the stage.
Jake joined her. He slapped her shoulder like the big brother he was replacing. She stood stiff.
“What’s up with you tonight?”
“Have you ever realized how unsanitary this all is?”
“What are you talking about? Unsanitary? Get out your Lysol, Mom.” Jake’s sarcasm normally would have amused her, but today it felt like her fingers the winter she got frostbite.
She looked back across the crowd. She saw what he did: people having fun, enjoying themselves. They did not care what the lead singer was screaming, or what the guy next to them smelled like, or how they were getting home tonight. They were absorbed into the guitar thrashing. She used to be like that. She used to have the ability to lose every thought in her head.
“What are we doing, Jake?” He stared at her blankly.
“I know that. But what are we actually doing? We get up in front of these small crowds in these small bars and play these songs about our failed relationships for an hour. No one cares. No one is listening.”
“Katy, I care. We’re living out our dream! Don’t you love this?!” Jake had real tears in his eyes, horrified at the betrayal she was displaying.
“Yeah, I know.” She could not look at his face anymore. She clunked past him and started to warm her voice.
She pulled out her black acoustic guitar. It was covered in smudges and worn like her favorite pair of Converse. She started to play and sing. The world around her quieted. Peace filled her body and she breathed deep. This was right. She kicked off her chunky boots and curled her feet underneath her. She pounded the strings while her left hand strangled her guitar’s neck, working their way across its entire surface. Her voice warbled and scratched against the background noise. Nothing mattered anymore.
“KATY!!!” Jake screamed at her. He had been trying to get her attention for awhile.
“I want to go acoustic tonight.”
He stared at her. His mouth struggled to find the words as it opened and closed inconsistently.
“What? Katy, we’re all here. This isn’t the time.”
It was true. She could not let the others down. Jake had worked too hard on his solo to give it up. Sam’s drumming was coming along so well, and Chris was always amazing. She saw the cold facts laying in front of her. But she wanted so badly to ignore it.
“Yeah, I get it. Let’s go.”
She set down her guitar carefully and pulled on her boots. Trudging through the cords and cases that littered the ground, she grabbed her microphone. She looked at the crowd once again from the side of the stage. Their piercings and unnaturally-dyed hair hurt her eyes. They were anxious, waiting for her to step on stage. The boys filed past her and took their places. The crowd bounced in excitement as sporadic cries came from them. Kyle smiled at her; she did not return it. Jake looked over, waiting for her to count down until he could start his bass line.
She nodded her head. The burst of noise flew over and into the crowd. They cheered. She ran out, her boots holding her back as they practically melted to the stage.
“How is everyone doing tonight?!?!” She screamed.
This would be her last night.