It was halftime. The two opposing teams glared at each other, tied at the end of the second quarter. A few errant leaves blew across the field as the band set up in the frigid light of the stadium. Scott tugged on his knit gloves, his breath an orange mist. Tonight's audience was huge; in a town with two high schools, the rivalry was heated. For some, there wasn't much else to do on a Friday night.
"Melody, why must you harp on Dave you cruel wench? Think you not of the fate of my beloved Mark? My raison d'etre? The one true light in this wretched life of mine?" Andronicus bellowed like a wounded beast, slamming his newly shaven head against his keyboard. He said he cut his hair in memory of Mark's passing, about a week after he and Dave had vanished into parts unknown. Attempts by Bessie and Melody to rescue the butchered mess had been cleverly avoided.
"I-I'm s-s-sure they're f-f-fine," Scott said through chattering teeth. "L-let's just f-focus on g-g-getting set-t up."
"What is wrong with you? Cowboy up, Scott. This ain't no time to be shaking like a leaf." Dave's absence had hit Bessie the hardest. Or maybe it was that no one else seemed to care.
"Oh, you sassy girl. A woman of my own heart." Melody chortled. Andronicus snorted.
"She is so out of character."
The head coach of their school, a burly, middle aged man by the name of Bud, sidled up along the fifty yard line.
"You got five minutes, capice?"
"Excuse me, coach, this is 2011. No one says capice' anymore."
"You watch that smart mouth of yours. We need to get this show on the road."
"Seriously, what century is this guy in?" Melody said under her breath
A more intimidating figure approached, the recently renamed Principal Bushy Brow. He lurched towards the band with an air of importance, jeers from the crowd aimed at his slightly hunched back.
"Alright, what's going on here?" The principal's demanding tone failed to strike fear into his targets. Everyone was fixated on his obviously manicured eyebrows.
"You looknicesir," Scott said, trying to abate his anger.
The principal cleared his throat and straightened his dark gray tie. "Thank you, Scot was it? But don't think you can distract me. After that fiasco your little friend Dave orchestrated I would assume he would be chomping at the bit to start this show' of yours. And, would you look at that, he's nowhere to be found."
"Principal Buprincipal, I can assure you Dave will be here on time," Melody said, the picture of maturity.
"And Mark as well!" Andronicus chipped in. He winked an eye and pointed a finger at the principal as if to shoot.
"Who? No matter. You kids better get your act together or I'm calling off this whole thing. To hell with the school board, I'm not going to be run around like chicken with its head cut off."
"Will you people please, please stop with those stupid old sayings?" Bessie looked like she was on the verge of having an aneurysm. "I can't take this anymore!"
"I think we might have broken her," Scott said to Melody as the adults walked off, muttering angrily to each other.
"I blame Dave."
"I most emphatically agree with your sage insight, Lady Melody. You have restored my esteemed opinion of you."
"Yeah, this is all Dave's fault," Scott said, shoving his hands underneath his arms in a vain attempt to gather warmth.
"Dave, that son of a bitch, I'll kill him!" Bessie snapped the single strawberry Pocky she had been saving between her hands and growled.
"Death to Dave! Death to Dave! Why, I sound like a common plebian. I must say, this chanting business is quite addictive. Death to Dave!" Scott shrugged and chanted along with Andronicus. What could he say? It was catchy.
"Death to Dave!"
"Enough! We're finished setting up. All we can do it wait. If Dave"
"Fine. If Dave AND Mark don't show up in two minutes we're going to start this without them."
The anxiety and irritation seemed to increase the cold of the dusk. Scott walked up the plywood steps of the stage that had been put together with help from the school band. Out of courtesy, more accurately, as a result of Dave's weaseling two weeks ago, they had been given half an hour to set up and perform.
The band puttered around, needlessly going over their equipment and hoping to find some fault that would occupy their time. Scott spun around on the new throne his father had given him, the irate crowd a blur among the stands. Plastic cups of cheap beer smuggled in, overly buttered popcorn and tasteless corndogs were being prepped for flight. Scott had seen one too many riotous crowds since the beginning of the school year and he was down to his last unstained coat. The toll of a bell rumbled low across the field, marking the hour. "We're out of time." Melody's trumpet hung dejected in her right hand.
"It's 7:40," Scott said, checking his watch. "Why is a bell ringing? We don't even have a bell at this school."
"That's kind of not relevant right now," Melody said, walking towards the mic Bessie was flicking. "Want me to announce us?"
"Sure. It doesn't matter anymore. Nothing matters," Bessie said, tears welling up in her eyes. Scott shook his head.
"Heh, women." Scott stopped his rotation with a foot and looked around.
"Who said that?"
Melody tapped the mic with a finger a few times. "Testing. Okay, hi everyone. My name's Melody and"
"Hurry the hell up! I wanna kick some ASS!" A linebacker had cupped his hands. A few supports cheered him on, and the cheerleaders shook their pompoms with gusto.
"North! North! Gooooo North!" More hoots followed, accompanied by a few boos from the challenging team's supporters.
"Ahem. As I was saying, my name is Melody, and we're Didn-"
A large explosion flared at the end zone with a bone-shaking boom. Bright red flares flashed to life in the aftermath, smoke obscuring the holders. Two figures leapt forth awkwardly, burdened with guitars slung across their backs.
"Een! WRONG!" Dave's voice was distorted by the megaphone he was shouting through. Mark, wearing the same clothes as when they had last seen him, was running alongside him, matching Dave step for step.
"My name is Dave and I'll tell you who were are once we get to the stage. Deal with it!"
"Dave!" Bessie seized the mic from Melody's hand. "Dave! Where have you be"
"Give me that, you truffle bandit!" Andronicus tried to wrest the mic from Bessie and got it halfway to his mouth.
"Mark, there are so many things I must tell you! Run, Mark!"
Scott smacked himself in the forehead with his drumsticks while trying to bury his face in his hands. "Ugh."
"Hey, Scott! Dave's here!"
"Really, Melody? I hadn't noticed. Thank you for the update."
Dave and Mark made it to the stage, tossing the flares onto the field to smolder. The crowd was going wild, elated at the loud noises and bright lights. Andronicus started towards Mark, gasping.
"What happened to you? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HIM, DAVE!?" Mark's clothes were filthy and ragged.
"Ah, don't worry about him. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Dave said dismissively. "Or cripples you. He's fine."
"Dude, Andro, chill. I'm fine, man. II can't talk about it right now. Not yet, man. I'm just not ready." Mark averted his eyes. Scott rolled his.
"Simmer down!" Bessie had yielded the mic to Dave, her face a bright crimson. "Now that we've got everyone here, my name's Dave. These are some random people I gathered. I have no idea who any of them are, or if they can actually play instruments. Nevertheless! WE ARE DIDN'T SAY BANANA, AND IF OUR NAME DOESN'T MAKE SENSE, YOU DON'T! HA! TAKE THAT!"
"Scott," Melody hissed.
"GO!" Melody and Dave shouted at him.
Scott slammed mangled triplets across his set, going as fast as he could without care for accuracy or sound.
"Donkey over board, dog's open beer, donut on bat," Bessie sang over Dave's short, squealing riff. The others managed to get in a few questionably harmonious notes.
"DIDN'T SAY BANANA!" Scott choked his cymbals and looked up.
"Thank you, thank you. That was just a little taste of our banana-y goodness. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, our next song is Nuts Like a Squirrel'."
"Dave, that's not one of our songs. Did you just make that up so you could rhyme?" Scott yelled, and his voice was captured by the mic. It echoed across the silent stadium.
"Great, now they know. Guess we'll have to play it now."
Scott pulled his phone out of his pocket. Ten minutes to go. After a deep breath, he began a steady beat on his crash and waited for Dave to join in.