by Kelea Reed

 Looking at him, I felt my lips curve guiltily upward.

            “What?” I squealed, raising my eyebrows apologetically. I couldn’t hear for the life of me—how did he do this all the time? He smirked, and I could tell by the way his chest jostled that he chuckled. He moved closer, leaning into my ear.

 “I said that we should play sometime.” A warm chill brushed against my cheek as he moved back. I raised my voice again.

 “Maybe, yeah! But I only started playing guitar recently, so beware—I’m not that good!” I laughed.

Although we stood in the back of the venue, I was impressed. The strength of the concert made it feel like we were front and center to the stage, and the music blazed through the air swiftly, filling every small nook in the House of Blues. I glanced toward the platform for a moment. The lead of the band was holding the microphone to her lips, singing words I couldn’t understand. The rhythm grew faster, and the banner hanging at the top of the stage began to shake; I was fascinated. The words “Battle of the Bands” danced with each beat.

“What songs do you know?” Aayden interrupted, pulling me back into the conversation.

“Oh, not much, I just play a bunch of old 2000s songs.”  

He then maneuvered the conversation into speaking about his band, as if he’d done so before. I looked up objectively at him, and suddenly noticed his posture was tilted. I was intrigued by Aayden’s fringed charisma, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he stood crooked on purpose. Somewhere in the noise I heard the words, “record signing”; he must be moving toward something grander than the local band scene. His voice seemed attuned with achievement, but his eyes said otherwise.

I took a step closer to him, hoping to feel engaged. His body was within a couple feet of mine, and he noticed, smiling—careful not to flash his teeth. My stomach tugged to take a step back immediately, but I ignored the feeling and tried to hear his language. It didn’t make a difference. My ears were being filled with the mixed melodies of the performers, and I started to find myself more intrigued by the music. Eventually, I gave in to the concert and let the music drown him out.

 The song began to hum me away, but my gaze was still on Aayden. The closer I was to him, the more the cracks along his lips caught my eyes. He spoke words that never reached me, and I wanted to look away. I’d look at the performers and make sense of the music pounding within my blood, or I’d make out the lyrics from the noise—I’d get rid of the feeling tugging on my stomach. But, I couldn’t be rude. I continued to nod my head until someone grabbed onto my arm.

“Hey, they’re going on soon! Come to the bathroom with me,” Sammy said.

The song came to an end, and my friend Sammy tugged me toward the bathroom away from Aayden and I’s conversation. At first, she initially brushed me into Aayden in hopes of sparking a new romance, but now she was back since her boyfriend needed Aayden for their upcoming set. I stepped toward her, but I looked toward the stage once more before abiding to leave. The lead announced her band’s last song for the set. The fans awe-d in disappointment. The music smoothed over again.

Another tug yanked on my arm, so I finally agreed to leave. I waved Aayden a short goodbye, watching the stage behind his slanted figure. Sammy dragged me in the opposite direction; she was determined to get me to the bathroom. I turned around to walk with her to avoid feeling dragged, and quickly I noticed how different she appeared to be. She stood out from the covert style of everyone else. Her shirt glowed a bright white underneath the lights of the bar, and her purse glittered with extravagance. When we reached the bathroom, she pulled out a bottle of perfume from her purse.

            “So, what did you think?” she asked me while she looked into the mirror, misting Chanel onto herself.

            “I’ve lived here my whole life, and I didn’t even know this place existed! It’s insane!”

The music sounded muffled from behind the bathroom walls; yet I could still feel the concert’s veins pumping within the floor.

            “No, I mean about Aayden!” she said. My gut twisted. “You guys looked like you were hitting it off!” Her voice rose with flirtatiousness.

            “Ohhhh,” I sighed. “Yeah, I mean I guess.” My stomach pulled again. “He’s alright.”

 She ruffled her hands through her hair once more before she gave me a look.

            “Oh c’mon, he’s cute!” She said, pulling me back outside into the concert. The band was no longer on stage.

            Within a couple minutes, I was standing in front of the stage with Sammy, watching Aayden and Sammy’s boyfriend arrive on stage. I screamed, playing along for my best friend while the boys introduced themselves. I was more enthusiastic to hear the music play than anything. Aayden made eye contact with me and smiled, sending it off with a wink. Was his smile crooked or was it just the lighting?

            The stage grew red. When the lights dimmed, I knew it was about start.

The boys got into position and sent a single chord shooting through the venue, sending vibrations into my skin. They quickly muted their guitars, and the drummer introduced himself with a solo. For a second, my skin was still vibrating. I scrunched my face in confusion, trying to figure out what instrument was making me feel this way. With another buzz, I finally realized that it was my just my phone going off. I rolled my eyes and told Sammy I’d be right back. I put the phone up to my ear, plugged the other with a finger, and walked out of the House of Blues.

My mom’s voice sounded small in my ears; I was adjusting to the noise of silence after leaving the venue. Her voice ached with concern, calling for me to come home. I had a feeling I should leave then, but I wanted to live in the concert. I had just gotten the chance to.

“After one more band? I swear I’ll be home right after, I promise Mom,” I begged.

She let me stay.

In a few minutes, I squeezed back toward the concert through the audience and found Sammy’s bright colors. She was dancing, swaying her hips in a way that didn’t match the hard beat of the band’s rock music. I looked up. Sammy’s boyfriend lulled into the microphone. The musicians moved easily across the stage, slamming at their instruments. Sammy saw me and mouthed, “Where’d you go?”

I leaned into her ear and explained I’d be leaving right after this set. She didn’t seem to care much, and instead pulled me in to dance for the rest of the time I had. Aayden’s band shook the stage, and I stayed until their set was over.

After I hugged Sammy goodbye, she rushed to see her boyfriend at the side of the stage. The set went longer than expected; I was pushing my time limit. I sped out of the House of Blues without saying goodbye to Aayden.

As I made my way toward the parking garage, the concert’s noise faded away behind me. It had barely sunk to a silence when I realized I had forgotten my wallet in Sammy’s purse.

 I stopped before the hall leading to the parking garage. As I paused to give her a call, I felt her grab my arm. 

Relieved I didn’t have to walk back, I turned around exhaling, “Oh my gosh Sammy you saved me so much ti—”

It wasn’t Sammy.

“Where ya headed?”  he moaned.

I jerked my arm away from his grasp, suddenly realizing how isolated I was. I froze. Silence screeched into the air, void of all sound beside the ringing in my ears. His rugged voice cracked the stillness.

“The night’s still alive. Headed home so soon?” He looked at me greedily as if he could see through my clothing. I could hear his breath. “You from here?”

He blocked the entrance into the casino; the only path was to the garage. My heartbeat grew faster.

Where do I go?

 “ I’m from California.” I lied. Would he follow me to my car?

“Oh, I see. Where you staying?” he stepped toward me. I started toward the door.

“A hotel,” I sped up. He followed.

“Let me buy you some dinner,” he huffed behind me.

I need to be home. I am alone.

“We can go back to the hotel together baby-girl.” He chuckled.

I moved my legs faster.

“C’mon it’ll be fun!” He reached after me, brushing his fingertips against my skin.

I inched my shoulder forward. I was almost at the elevator.

He was too.

I grabbed my phone, getting ready to make the call, and quickly turned down the stairs.


He stopped following.


Finally alone, I sat in my car wide-eyed, heart thudding heavily. I felt my lips curve guiltily downward. I started the engine. My gut wrenched—I should’ve listened.