Dave stepped out of his house early the next morning. A gust of wind tousled his hair and swept up browning leaves. The dried husks crackled a sharp sound in the sleepy street. Dave heard an engine start up in some nearby driveway, the grey exhaust drifting upwards to join the overcast sky. A small tabby cat slinked through his front yard, paused to consider Dave and the possible thread he presented, then continued on her way.
Dave didn't notice these things.
Dave had more important things on his mind.
Dave was thinking about pretzels. Soft pretzels. He was hungry.
He was also thinking about the show he had managed to book on Friday night. Two days from now his fledgling band was going to be opening for The Aluminum Cans, a well-known local band of no small standing. The fact that his band had neither a name nor songs didn't faze him. How his band mates might take the news didn't even cross his mind. Dave hadn't even realized he had started walking to school. He heard a crunch from underfoot and stopped to look. He had stepped on some peanut shells.
"See a peanut on the ground, pick it up, pick it up
There's a chipmunk's staring at me, give it up, give it up
But they also eat seeds, also eat seeds, alsoeat
Dave's singsong delivery collapsed into a ragged growl. Now that his band had a song, they needed a name. An idea of unparalleled genius, at least in Dave's opinion, hit him. Chuckling to himself, he capered the rest of the way to school.
"Dave, that's like the fiftieth time you've said that."
"I'm sick of it already."
"God damnit, who's there?" Dave had gotten a desk right behind Scott during sixth period and was leaning forward to talk to him. It was more like harassment.
"Banana who?" Scott sighed.
"How long are you planning on doing this?"
"Melody! Hey! Knock, knock!"
Melody pushed up her glasses and Dave approached her during the break between sixth and seventh period. She was eager for the day to end and to start band practice. Not for the school band, she had quit soon after the assembly. Though she would never admit, Dave's offer for her to join his band was the best thing that had happened to her that year. His timing was uncannily perfect.
"Hi, Dave. Who's there?"
"Yeah, I know how that one goes. What's up? Class is about to start."
Dave looked somewhat crestfallen at his joke being cut short but swiftly returned to his merry self.
"Scott said his dad showed him how to restring the bass and that he also agreed to lend us one of his guitars and a practice amp and that he would bring them over to my house after school."
"I know, he told me that earlier."
"Me, Mark and Andro are picking up the drums today."
"I know, you told me that earlier."
"I wrote some lyrics. Can you put music to them? Oh, we also have a show in two days. Here're the lyrics. See you later!" Dave seized Melody's hand and forced a crumpled napkin into it.
Dave ran past her down the hall. Melody looked at the stained napkin in her hand, stunned, disgusted and confused. She unfolded it and blinked at the childish script.
"WHAT THE HELL IS THIS, DAVE? DAVE!?"
He was out of earshot, or far enough away to pretend he couldn't hear her. Melody shoved the napkin into her back pocket and stomped off, muttering obscenities. Dave, feeling that he was at a safe distance, doubled over in laughter.
Mark was doing some independent drills with his Frisbee. The PE coach had long since abandoned trying to make him participate with the rest of the class. His allotted four square feet of gym space did not offer a lot of room to practice, but he made due. The wall in front of him was scuffed and neon orange in places where the plastic disk had made contact. He squatted, the purple and black gym shorts ("Go Sea Urchins!" he thought) giving ample swaying room. He narrowed his eyes and flicked his wrist; the Frisbee sliced through the air and struck the wall, leaving a slight dent. He stepped over to retrieve it and heard a commotion from behind.
"Excuse me, young man! You are not in this class. I'm going to have to ask you to leave!"
From what Mark could see the PE coach was spread eagle at the gym's doors, blocking a tow-headed person who was bouncing up and down trying to see what was inside.
"No, it's alright! I'm here to speak with Mark on some very important business."
"And what business would that be?"
"His chinchilla is dead."
The sound of Mark's Frisbee hitting the floor echoed unnaturally in the silent gym.
"Chinchilla the Hun?" Mark said, voice strained.
The coach stuttered, embarrassed. "II see. Mark?"
Mark ran towards the person bearing news of his precious chinchilla's demise. To his surprise, it was Dave. Dave's mouth was forced into a straight line and his eyebrows were scrunched together. The PE coach stepped aside to let Mark pass.
"Dave? Is it true?"
"Let's go to the office, your mom is on the phone."
"I recently lost a ferret myself," the coach said, tears welling up in his eyes. "You're excused for the day, Mark. I'll tell your other teachers."
"Let's go, Mark," Dave said, putting an arm around Mark's shoulder. "Arrangements need to be made."
Together they walked through the halls toward the principal's office. Mark couldn't make himself talk and Dave allowed the silence to stretch. Chinchilla the Hun was only 9 years old and in perfect health. Mark thought she would live forever.
"We have to make a quick stop really quick," Dave said.
Mark was thrown by the repetition. "Huh?"
Without him noticing, Dave had taken Mark to a class room where a teacher was lecturing inside. Planting Mark off to one side, Dave opened the door and walked in like he owned the place. The teacher stopped midsentence and demanded an explanation.
"Someone or something in Andro...I mean Andrew's family died. He needs to come to the office."
Andronicus' desk squealed against the floor as he pushed himself up.
"What fate has befallen this obscured loved one of mine? Instructor, I must away. I cannot linger in this stifling room as my life crashes around me."
The teacher put both of her hands on her desk and hung her head. "Just go, Andrew." Dave heard her say to herself, "Kids these days. No tact at all."
Andronicus, true to his flamboyant nature, whirled out of the classroom, bumping into his peers and almost hitting his head against the top of the door frame. Dave threw an arm out and bowed and Andronicus strode past. Mark, caught up in the mood, casually inclined his head. Andronicus, impressed, returned the gesture.
The atmosphere was grave as Dave took the lead, letting Andronicus and Mark walk side by side.
"Man, today isn't a good day, dude."
"Am I to assume you too have suffered a loss?"
"Yeah, my chinchilla" Mark's voice caught. "Sorry, dude. It's hard to take."
"I understand. My heart fills with sorrow, thought I know not who among my brethren has shuffled off this mortal coil."
"Yeah, I totally can feel that."
A few morose minutes later the three walked past the office. Dave continued past, showing no intention of stopping.
"Hey, Dave dude. We just passed the office."
"Aren't we, like, supposed to go there?"
"We have more important things to take care of. Follow me!"
Dave started to jog towards the school's front doors. Andronicus and Mark matched his pace.
"What do you mean? Where are we going? Dude, my chinchilla just died!"
"Chinchilla the Hun is in the prime of her life! She's safe and sound, nibbling on some carrots or whatever chinchillas eat!" Dave said over his shoulder.
"I usually give her pellets and hay. Carrots are treats, dude. Wait, she's alive?"
Andronicus guffawed, privy to the scheme.
"Mark, my good man, it seems Dave concocted a story to break us out of class."
"I was really upset, man. Jesus, don't do that again!"
Dave looked over his shoulder. "You should be happy she's alive. Now hurry, we have to get the drums to my garage by the time everyone else gets out of school. We have a show in two days and we need to practice!"
Dave ran into the double doors, pushing them open. A crisp breeze and grey light embraced them as they exited the school. Dave hurtled over the first set of stairs and ran to tackle the next, Andronicus and Mark opting to take them one step at a time.
Andronicus, unused to physical exertion, huffed, "We're to be on stage in two days?"
"What are we going to perform?"
"Meh, I'll figure something out."
Mark sped up to race alongside Dave. "Do we even have a name yet, dude?"
Dave laughed, "You'll find out soon enough!" They ran all the way to Mark's house, stopping only once when Andronicus collapsed into some shrubbery. He didn't wonder how Dave had gotten his address.
Scott's dad pulled up in front of Dave's house. The lime green Honda was parked in the driveway.
"That doesn't seem to match very well."
"Yeah, dad. I know."
His dad turned off the car and popped the trunk. "I got some time before I have to get back. I can help you unload."
"You don't really"
"I insist. I wanna see who's exactly in this band of yours," he said, shutting the driver side door.
"It's Dave's band, dad," Scott said, also getting out.
"Whatever," Scott's dad replied. "You grab the bass out of the back seat. I'll get the guitar and the amp."
"What about these cords?" Scott asked, holding one up.
"Yeah, just grab em all. I'm not sure which ones still work."
"Get the chord book too."
"Oh, right," Scott said, leaning back into the car. As he pulled his head back out, book and cords pressed against his chest, he heard a clanging from down the block. Someone was approaching fast with what looked like a hi-hat precariously clutched in one hand. The cymbals were crashing together. A large, dark shape was pursuing him.
"Scott! The door's unlocked! Hurry!"
Scott and his father exchanged confused glances.
"Is that Dave?"
Scott walked up the drive, his dad close behind. Neither were in any hurry despite Dave's frantic shouts. Scott looked at him again and thought he spotted Andronicus and Mark struggling with a bass drum swinging between them.
"Get inside! Quick!"
The garage was brighter than last time; it looked like someone had replaced the lone bulb that hung from above. Melody was sitting in a folding chair, busily writing in a notebook. Most of a drum kit was already set up in the middle of the room, along with a microphone and a stand that Scott figured must have been stolen from the school as well. His dad set a small practice amp down and propped the guitar against it. He gave a friendly greeting to Melody.
"Hi, I'm Scott's dad Jim. Nice to meet you."
Melody looked up. "I'm Melody. I guess I'm the songwriter."
"So," Jim said, surveying the room, "You guys have a name yet?"
"Yes!" Dave said, bursting into the room. He set the hi-hat down as Andronicus and Mark eased the drum through the door. "All will be revealed shortly."
"What happened to that girl who was following you?" Scott asked.
"Dunno. I think I lost her."
"She was right behind you."
"Is that her?" Jim asked, point towards the door.
Everyone looked at the girl peeking through the doorway. Her shaggily chopped hair hid her eyes and she was dressed in varying shades of black. Scott thought she was blushing.
"Er, hi," she mumbled.
Andronicus shouted, "You! You have been following us for days! What is you game, mistress?"
"Dude, don't drop your end!" Mark yelled at him.
"Hi," Melody said absentmindedly, looking down at the notebook again.
"Scott, do you know her?" Dave asked.
"Uh, no? I don't think she even does to our school."
"What's your name?" Dave demanded.
The girl's face became redder.
"Er, ahthey call me Big Boned Bessie."
"What? Are you serious?"
Scott motioned towards Andronicus, "It's not the weirdest thing I've heard."
"Excuse me?" Andronicus said, eyes flashing.
Jim laughed at the scene. "Hey, kid, I gotta go back to work. This looks like it's going to be a lot of fun. See you at home."
"You're just going to leave me here like that?"
Jim smiled as he passed Bessie. "Don't be so shy. These seem like good kids. You'll be fine. Bye you guys!" he said, waving back towards the group.
"Bye!" came the chorus of voices.
Bessie tried to sidle away but Dave flew across the room to grab her arm.
"So, why are you following us? You want to join the band?"
Bessie stuttered at Dave's too close face. "No, I mean, uhyeah. Maybe. I don't know!"
"You could have just asked! We're about to start practice, come on in!"
"No, no, it's alright! I need to go," Bessie said, looking distraught. She ripped her arm out of Dave's grasp and sped down the drive.
"Wait!" Dave shouted. "How will I find you again?"
Bessie moved at a speed that belied her wait, eager to get away. Dave sighed and turned back towards the rest of his band.
"Did you guys hear her voice? It was like an angel surrounded by kittens and puppies."
"Yeah, dude! She sounds amazing," Mark agreed.
"My heart is still beating madly," Andronicus said. "She is my muse."
"You could barely hear her," Scott said.
"I must have her!" Dave exclaimed, balled up fist slapping against his other hand. "Big Boned Bessie will be mine!"
"Well, you better get her before the show," Melody said, closing the notebook. "I managed to write three songs based on what you gave me. We need to start practicing or we'll get laugh off stage."
"Dave, you didn't tell Scott?"
Dave scratched his head, smiling fiendishly. "It slipped my mind. We don't have time for that! I've assigned us all positions in the band."
"We have a show? When?"
Melody stood and walked over to where Andronicus and Mark were. They were arguing over how to set up the drums.
"No, dude, this is how my brother had it!"
"It is not aesthetically pleasing! I refused to stand in front of this vile jumble of parts!"
Melody straightened the bass drum with her foot, shutting them both up. "Stop it for a second. Yes, Scott. We have a show in two days. Were the openers for the Aluminum Cans. I asked around and I hear their fans are pretty picky so we need to get our act together."
Dave clapped his hands together. "Okay, I got it! Scott, you're on drums. Mark, you take the bass. Melody, you do your thing. Andro, I got my little sister's keyboard for you, so you'll do that and back-up vocals. I'll play the guitar and we need to get Triple B for lead vocals."
"Big Boned Bessie, Mark, stay with me man. Now, how to catch Triple B"
"Do we have a name yet? The club owners have been calling me all day asking how they should bill us. By the way, why did you give them my number? How do you even know my number?"
"It doesn't matter. Melody, you stay here and finish up the songs. Mark, you go with Scott. Andro, you come with me. We're going to find Triple B or die trying! Let's go!"
Dave ran out of the garage, Andronicus hot on his heels for the first few yards.
"Dave's right you know," Melody said from behind Scott. "We need that girl."
"How can you tell?"
"Scott dude, you ready?" Mark asked.
"As ready as I'm ever going to be. Let's get this over with."