Make A Mistake With Me - Chapter 8: Two-Lane Blacktop - by MistakeAnon
>It’s the scent of a building completely new to you. >Far away you can hear the squeak of a sneaker against linoleum floor. >Before you, a long hallway seems to stretch on for a mile, flanked by lockers. >It’s far too quiet for a place like this. Must be because it’s a little past noon. >You decided to show up fashionably late. >Or rather, you were nervous enough to empty your pack of cigarettes that you had bought only yesterday. >It was like stepping into the wonderful Land of Oz. >Only you were an almost 6’5 Dorothy smelling like motor oil. >Definitely not, Kansas, yada yada. >You should know. >Kansas was never this welcoming. >”Anonymous?” >You’re shaken from your stupor by a voice calling out to you. >Absent-mindedly you scratch the back of your head and turn towards the source. “Yeah? That’d be me.” >”Oh, good. I thought I was mistaken for a second there. Well, um, welcome to Canterlot High! I’m here to show you around, on behalf of Principal Celestia.” >Her mouth is speaking words, but for some reason, it sounds like a muted radio. >Everything is sluggish. >Wrapped in tar, unable to speed up. >Sun shines hard into your eyes through the windows. >The light frames her form like a halo. >It’s painful to look at. >You have to squint your eyes to see. >But even then, it’s only vague colors, nothing definite. >Maybe it’s for the better. >After all, the girl standing in front of you sends a shiver down your spine. >”Umm, are you alright?” “Yeah, sorry, just… rough morning.” >You try to focus your eyes again. >You know this girl. >Of course you know her. >It’s… Sunset Shimmer, isn’t it? >”Oh, I so know what you mean. We were having a sleepover last night and sure enough, none of us ended up getting any sleep and… heh, you’re probably not interested in hearing about this. Sorry.” “Nah, it’s… it’s alright.” >Something burning wells up inside you. >You’re burning, but you’re frozen over as well. >Try as you might, your face refuses to budge. >You can’t even fake a smile. >Dry eyes stare at the girl in front of you, clad in leather jacket and her lustrous hair streaming down her back. >When was the last time you saw someone this beautiful? >And for her, it seems so natural. >Like she’s not even trying. >Compared to her, you’re like a big lumbering ogre. >Even your own leather jacket is crude and cumbersome when compared to hers. >”So, I’m Sunset Shimmer! Nice to meet you Anonymous!” >She offers her slender hand for you to shake, but you just like before, you can only stare at it dumbfounded. >Something’s pounding. >It’s your heart. >Blood is rushing like a torrential flash flood inside you, filling your ears with their cacophony. >You’re drowning. >The friendly expression on that pretty face drops a little, and she seems unsure. >It’s been seconds, but you still haven’t taken that hand. >You can’t. >You’re scorched from the inside and the flames are ever-hungry. “Who… who the hell are you?” >You take a step back, finally capable of moving. >Your face twists into a furious expression. >Why is she acting like this? >After all that, why is she acting like this? >So… pleasant? >Meanwhile, your own heart is ravaged by rage. >You can’t believe this. >What’s going on? >What is this situation? >Everything was so clear just now, so why is reality getting warped by this absurd, this surreal encounter? >”W-what?” >Her face falls and for a moment, you can see how hurt she is by your words. “Who the hell do you *think* you are?” >Your words are nothing but a growl. >But as hurt, as surprised as she is, Sunset Shimmer refuses to back down. >”I just told you! What’s with you!? What did I ever do to you?” >Doesn’t she recognize you? “Don’t you remember?” >Before you know it, the two of you are confronting each other. >You’re so much taller than her, but she’s not fazed in the least. >That fire in her eyes. >It’s like what burns within you, but not nearly as hateful. >She’s simply defending herself from what she sees. >Someone she doesn’t even know, lashing out at her. >But the question remains. >Why doesn’t she know you? >She should. >You know her. >How could you not know her? >But you don’t know the *her* that’s before you. >”N-no! I’ve never even seen you before! Why are you acting so angry?” >Small voice in your head tells you you’re being an asshole. >You agree with it all too much. >She’s not the source of all these conflicting feelings. >But you can’t no longer think straight. >If this fire wasn’t within you, you would have probably fallen to your knees. >It feels like someone struck your chest with a sledgehammer. >So the only thing you can do is this. >Take it out on her. “You should know.” >She clicks her tongue and knits her brows. Even a nice girl like her has her limits. >She’s starting to get pissed off. >”But I don’t!” >All that comes out of your mouth is a derisive laughter. >It’s so hideous it disgusts even yourself. “I guess you don’t.” >You snort and step forward, brushing past her. >You’ve had enough of this absurdity. >You know what this must be. “That’s why you’re not Sunset Shimmer.” >There’s only one explanation. >So you decide to ignore her, knowing it’ll make her fume even more. >Even if she lets you leave, even if she just stares angrily at your receding back. >You know what’ll push her buttons. “You’re just a baconswirl.” >”What!?” >She finally snaps at you. >You know what’ll follow. >This is when the real argument starts. >You’re alright with that. After all, you want to vent out your own anger as well. >And what better place to do it… >... Than in a dream? >Your eyes open sluggishly to the dreary darkness of your apartment. >Faint sounds of breathing and light snoring fill your ears. >Your head’s pounding. >Yep, that’d be tequila. >You make a mental note to never touch that damn alcohol again. >Not even if you were enticed by a group of teenage girls. >Because right now, you feel like there’s something dead and slimy in the place of your tongue. >It’s like one of those louses you saw on QI. >The type that ate a fish’s tongue and replaced it. >Ugh. >The horrors given to you by British panel shows are vast and many. “Ugh… water. Bacon and waaateeer…” >Letting out a warcry of hangover tribe warrior, you try to lift your body from the sofa. >... Only to find out you can’t. >Mostly because of the mass of bodies on top of you. “The hell?” >Well, that explains the fishy taste in your mouth. >The source would have to be Sonata’s hair, currently in your mouth. >Goof is currently wrapped around your right arm, happily snoring away the night. >She’s in a pile of sorts with Lemon Zest and Indigo Zap, all three putting their weight on you. >Your left arm, on the other hand, is numb thanks to Limestone having fallen asleep against you, head on your shoulder. >Across her lap and yours is Aria. She wouldn’t be happy to know how close her face is to your crotch. >Then again, she doesn’t look that happy even now. >Must have something to do how she has to share her place with Twilight, who’s curled up on top of you. >And speaking of sharing a spot, Limestone has had to do it as well. >Funnily enough, it’s Trixie who’s drooling up a lake on Limestone’s shirt. “Huh.” >The second occultist of your group is leaning against your leg. >It might be cliche to say it, but Starlight really looks much more gentle when she’s asleep. >Case in point? >She’s sharing your leg-space with Sugarcoat, Tree Hugger and Sunny Flare. >As for everyone else, they’re scattered around the sofa. >Looks like the lot of you fell asleep at some point while burning through the night with karaoke. >The blaring light of the TV, showing the SingStar menu screen, still hits your vision. >You groan and reach for a remote. >It takes some trying, but finally you manage to wriggle your arm from under Limestone and press the red button. >A small pop and the room grows dark. >You let out a content sigh and allow your eyes to finally rest. >As you do so, you notice something peculiar. >When you look around you see all the girls who were partying last night. >All except Adagio. >Speaking of, you remember singing and dancing with her. >A traumatic event to be sure. >But after what? >... What really happened after that? >Your recollection is hazy at best, filled with nothing but pictures of copper-colored poof and a sultry smile. >All seen through a filter that’s like a TV of a cheap motel. >A terrified shiver runs down your spine. >Hopefully you didn’t do anything you should be regretting. >Chances are… slim, thanks to all the witnesses that were around. >But then again, this is you you’re talking about. >And drunk, no less. “Ow, ow, ow…” >Make that very drunk. >So drunk that even now, you can hear the faint beating of your heart and whispers of some random song in your head. >Huh? >Now that you take the time to listen… there’s definitely a song coming from somewhere. >You crane your neck around, towards the source of the music. >What you see surprises you to say the least. “... Adagio?” >The girl that was missing is sitting at the table, cup of coffee in hand and listening to your radio with the volume turned down low. [Embed: Kris Kristofferson - Sunday Morning Coming Down] >”Ah. Romeo returns to life. Wasn’t that supposed to be the job of Juliet?” “Mrrhm.” >”Eloquent as ever.” >Adagio snickers at you, but you can see from the way she winces that she’s not nearly as chipper as she’d like to appear. >She rubs her temples and downs her cup of coffee. >Immediately she begins pouring herself some more, but glances at you when she does. >”Want some?” “Yeah. Could you…” >”Sure, just give me a moment.” >She slides out of her chair and fetches a clean cup. >A task easier said than done, considering the Ground Zero that is your kitchen right now. >After pouring you a cup, she places the piping hot elixir of life into your hands, and you dig into it with fervor of a dying man. >Your eyes shoot wide open as you taste the brown liquid. “This is…?” >Adagio smiles softly. >”I tried to make it as you do. Thick as tar, twice as terrible.” >You both chuckle at her lame joke, and you take another sip. >She wasn’t kidding, tough. >You liked your coffee horribly strong, and this was pretty close to your usual brew. >Had she been drinking this? >You had some newfound respect for the copperhead. >You let the feeling of coffee pouring down your throat rejuvenate you, bit by bit. >Adagio fetches her own cup and sits on the back of the sofa. >Quite unable to care about appearances, you rest your head against her thigh. >She absentmindedly lifts a lock of your hair, inspecting it as she raises her cup to her lips. >”It’s almost as bad as our hair. We’re gonna need to tame this some day, you and I…” >Adagio’s words are spoken softly, as not to break the congenial silence carried by the sweet lyrics of Kris Kristofferson. >You’re thankful for that. >After the surreal dreams you saw, not to mention last night, you’re in dire need of some peace and quiet right now. >Funny. >You never thought you’d find with any of the Dazzlings. >But here you are, Aria and Sonata snoozing happily while Adagio amuses herself playing with your hair. >You let your thoughts run free and take another sip of your coffee. >The warmth on your tongue is slowly making you feel alive again. >Bubbling in your stomach makes you yearn for something greasy. A proper hot dog or two. >Hell, you could eat ten right now. >Top it off with all sorts of things that you’d regret in few hours, and you’d be golden. >As if to answer your thoughts, your stomach grumbles in protest. >Adagio quietly laughs and cocks her eyebrow at you. >You just shrug. >What can you say? You love some grease whenever night before comes a-knocking. >She simply shakes her head, amusedly, and continues combing her fingers through your mane. >Guess it helps her relax and focus a little. >Not that you’re about to complain. In fact it feels pretty darn good. >A thing you’re gonna keep silent about. >Nimble fingers brushing against your scalp with a feather-like touch… any man would enjoy it. >Doubly so if it was done by someone like The Poof. >At the moment, looking so content, she’s pretty radiant in the morning sun streaming through the blinds. >Adagio would tease you mercilessly if she knew you were enjoying her touch. >Last night’s vague memories are enough for now. >Whatever happened, you’re pretty sure you don’t wanna go further than that. >Only trouble would ensue. >Trouble like… “...” >... Well, there you go. You managed to break your own tranquility. >Now your thoughts are back to that odd dream. >But more than that, you’re thinking about things from long ago. >Things that are more or less unfinished. >You try forget them, but every now and then they surface. >Just like now. >You make no excuses about it, you ran away to Canterlot. >But even here, even if against all the odds you made a new beginning, it creeps back from your memories. >Just as painful as before. >”Anonymous? Is something wrong?” >You look up, only to find yourself staring into Adagio’s big, brilliant raspberry eyes. >Well, that didn’t take long. >Even she could sense you tensing up. >You down the remains of your coffee and let out a big sigh. >Guess you’re giving up, in a way. >But thinking about it from another angle, you’re finally standing up. >In any case, you’re done being wishy-washy about it. >You’ve made your decision, and you’re gonna stick with it. >Perhaps because of the dream you saw. >Perhaps because it got you thinking about the time before you came to Canterlot. >Or perhaps because this drowsy Sunday morning atmosphere got to you. >Whatever the reason, it led to this decision. “Adagio?” >She tilts her head a bit, unsure of your expression. >Her hand has stopped as well. >”What?” “Today’s Sunday, which means tomorrow’s a school day, but… what would you say about skipping for a few days?” >”Skipping? Whatever for?” >You look away from her, gazing at the window. >Through the blinds, you can see fresh virgin snow covering the ground. >It’d melt away come evening. “I want to go visit… I want to go visit my old hometown. There’s some loose ends I need to tie up. Some things I need to come to grips with. Company would be appreciated.” >She takes a moment to consider. >Which is followed by an encouraging nod. >”Like you need to ask. Of course I’ll go with you.” >Then, with a mischievous grin, she turns to look at the rest of the living room. >”Right, girls?” >To your surprise, every single person in the room raises their hand, and you’re treated with an unified, if sleepy: >”Yeah!” >Being nervous about it… now you just feel stupid. >Directing your eyes to the ceiling, you smack your lips. “Well, I guess it’s back to Kansas for me, then.” >You can almost taste that dusty air. “... Back to Independence.” >The morning that follows is, instead of a quiet one you hoped, bustling with excitement. >Plans are made, half-truths are being spoken over a phone, and breakfast is fetched. >You munch on your Rodeo Burger as you watch Indigo Zap doing her best to convince her parents that: >”Oh, come on, dad! I’ll be still going to school! It’s just a, y’know, a study camp for all of us! No, there are no boys coming, gawd! C’mon, daaaad!” >She rolls her eyes and makes a strangling motion towards you. >Only thing you can do is an offer a shrug of sympathy. >This was quickly becoming a bigger thing than you had anticipated. >Instead of just you and the Dazzlings, it’s now you and all of the girls. >Even the Crystal Prep students, whom you had anticipated to skip on this, decided to tag along. >After all, Twilight said she wanted to get in on the roadtrip. >And where Twilight goes, her friends follow. >So now you’re facing a different sort of problem. >It’s easy enough to fit you and the Dazzlings into your car. >Now there’s 21 people who have to get their asses from Canterlot to Independence. >With you four in your car, that’s down to 17. >Gilda and Lightning Dust take their motorcycles, and apparently Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara want to ride with them. >So 13 to go. >Which is exactly the reason why Aria went to stop by your uncle’s salvage yard. Apparently there’s a car you could borrow. >It’s also the reason why Suri Polomare is parading around the parking lot with her jet black ‘59 Eldorado Brougham. >It’s a pretty car to be sure, but that’s all it is. Pretty. >Hand-crafted custom body is nice to look at, but with 389 CID V8 OHV 16-valve pushrod engine it ain’t no roadrunner. >Hell, when comparing their acceleration, your trusty Buick goes from 0 to 60 mph in half the time her Brougham does. >... Not that anyone seems to care. >The girls are too busy admiring the curvy lines. >”Don’t worry, Anonymous! The Great and Powerful Trixie still thinks your car is the best one out here!” >You roll your eyes and suck on the straw for some refreshing, watered-down soda. “Gee. Thanks.” >You’re not feeling jealous at all. >You’re not. >And the fact that Trixie is patting you on the shoulder is definitely not making things better. >”Oh come now! A muscle car is always a muscle car! Even Trixie knows that nothing can beat the touch of wind in your hair during the drive.” >She slyly elbows you and cocks an eyebrow. >”And that’s not something you can get with a gasoline-guzzler like that.” >You can’t help the smirk that appears on your lips. >But that doesn’t mean you’re happy. >It doesn’t. >”Ugh, that took way too long. Dad can be such a pain sometimes.” >Indigo Zap finally gets off the phone and walks up to you two. “Everything okay?” >”Yeah, I got the permission. So we’re all set, yeah! Are there still some burgers or fries left?” >You hand her a paper bag, and she digs into the contents with fervor of someone who spent most of the last night dancing. >Thank god for the King, coming in for the save. >As you two finish up your breakfast, the sound of an European V12 engine fills your ears. >To everyone’s surprise, another car swerves to parking lot from behind the building. >Driving that sleek, angular form is a familiar-looking scientist. “... Holy crap. Is that Countach LP500?” >Twilight grins as she stops the car next to yours, it’s white paintjob almost melting into the snowy landscape. >”Surprised? The stipend I get from Everton is usually spent on hardware, but even I can splurge a little every now and then.” >You let out an impressed whistle, checking out the cab forward design and letting your finger run down a frame. >It’s the best of 80’s, condensed into a single package. >The scissor doors slide open, and Twilight steps out of the car. >The scientist might have changed her clothes since last night, but the labcoat still remains. >That faint smell of ozone around her still remains. >She steals a french fry from your bag and begins munching on it, letting her eyes scan the perimeter. >”Aria still hasn’t returned?” >You shake your head, downing the last of your soda. “Nope. I ain’t sure what sorta car she’s supposed to find from that trash heap, but she seemed sure-” >You words are cut off by the piercing sound of Dixie Horn. >All eyes on the parking lot turn towards the source. >To your horror, a surrealistic mass of psychedelic colors enters the parking lot, with a certain Grump on the steering wheel. >You know that car. >It’s the old splitty that your uncle took in a month or so ago. >A hippie van of highest caliber. “Oh God…” >You bury your face in your hands. >This was the last thing you needed. >Sure enough, with this you’d all be set to go. >Four in Suri’s car, two in Twilight’s car. >The seven that remain over fit nicely in that monstrosity of 60’s free love movement. >Aria parks the car and steps out, scratching the back of her neck. >“Sorry, Roadie. It was the only one that still was street-legal.” >She glances suspiciously at the splitty. >”And even them, I’m pretty sure Bobby was lying about it.” “Yeah, I’m pretty sure he was. The last time I saw this heap of junk, it barely ran without catching fire.” >Aria chuckles and pats the side of the vehicle. >”Oh that? I managed to fix the best I could. I re-connected the high-tension leads and secured the distributor cap. I also had to tighten the jubilee clips since fuel was leaking into the engine bay.” >You nod, walking around the van and opening the engine bay hatch and peering inside. “What about the transmission? You ever figure out what was the problem with that?” >”It was the bowden tube like you speculated, so I changed that along with the clutch cables. I also got around changing the heater cables. Even if the nights are cold, it should be possible to drive this thing around.” >You let out an understanding grunt and scratch your chin. >Inside the engine bay, as you expected, looks like a total mess. >Still, Aria’s handiwork is clear as day, and rather improved from the last you saw. >Days spent working at the salvage yard really haven’t gone to waste. >You might not say it out loud, but you’re feeling a bit proud. >That being said… “Hand me some WD-40, would you?” >”Oh, sure. Gimme a sec.” >Aria skips back inside the van, and soon emerges with the bottle. >To your shock, she’s not the only one coming out of the vehicle. >That rotund form, that dirty trucker cap, that unshaven beard… “... Uncle Bobby.” >”Kid.” >Aria manages to look a bit guilty. >Looks like she didn’t manage to sneak out before accosted by Uncle Bobby about why the van was needed. >You groan and snatch the WD-40 from Aria’s hands, shaking it before taking aim. >Both the high tension leads and the coil-connected wires get a good spray. >Better get moisture out before the trip. >”Hmh? What’s with the auto shop?” >Starlight Glimmer walks over, eyebrows reaching for her hairline. >You nod towards the engine, and then glance at Aria. “I’ve been teaching Deep Purple here some basics. She’s put them on good use.” >Your uncle snorts derisively. >”Dream on, kid. You idjits ain’t got enough experience or talent make an engine like this purr. Most of the work was done by yours truly.” >Aria rolls her eyes. >”Most of the old hippie stashes were also pocketed by you, Bobby. Don’t think I didn’t notice.” >Uncle Bobby suddenly develops a hacking cough that mostly sounds like ‘ha ha what are you talking about.’ >Once you’re finished, you hand the WD-40 back to Aria and decide to grab bull by the horns. >You confront your uncle, staring him straight in the eyes. >You’re not about to budge. >There’s no way Bobby is okay with you heading back to Independence this soon, but when was the last time you heeded his advice? >Oh, right. >When you came to Canterlot. >And just look how that turned out. “So? Here to chew me out?” >Bobby snorts and spits to the ground, before staring right back at you. >Suddenly you feel like three feet shorter before him. >”You bet your ass I am. What are you idjits thinking? Back to Independence? Ain’t nothing good gonna come out of that. ‘Sides, you ain’t gonna make it. They’ll probably chase you out with buckshots and pitchforks.” “I’m willing to take that risk. I’ve got loose ends that need tying up. You know it, Bobby. I just need this so I can get on with my life.” >”And go back to where they hate your rotten ass? You’re just as suicidal as your old man.” >You shrug at him. “The last I checked, they didn’t arrange an actual lynching mob for me, no matter what happened.” >Bobby has an amused expression on his face, and he lets out a sharp sigh. >”Well, what can I say? Ol’ Unknown had that effect on people.” “Plus, you know, the whole One Percenter thing.” >You both chuckle. >”Yeah. That.” >After that laugh, an awkward silence reigns. >You and Bobby stare at each other for a good while, neither speaking a word. >He’s the first one to speak. “So. You’re really going?” >”Yeah. I gotta, Bobby. I don’t care if you don’t understand but… I just gotta.” >To your surprise, Bobby reaches out and pats you on the shoulder. >Then he looks over at the gaggle of girls who has gathered as sort of crowd around your talk. >”You girls keep him safe, you hear me?” >They all nod, Aria being the first one to do so. >”You got it, Bobby!” >With one last obstacle cleared, your uncle bids you all farewell and heads off. >This leaves the group of girls, you, and a group of vehicles meant to take you all the way to Kansas and back. >You’re all now gathered around an old map that you found from your glove department. >You draw a line across it as you explain your plan. “So, I was thinking we’d take I-80 all the way to Denver. From there, we’ll take Interstate 70 until we can turn to 135, which leads all the way to Independence through US 400.” >Twilight, Suri, Starlight, Gilda, Sugarcoat and Lightning Dust all nod. They’re the ones driving, along with you. >You fold the map and hand it to the group in the splitty. They’re probably gonna need it the most. >The lot of you are trying to stay in one bunch, but stuff can always happen on the road. “Let’s stop to eat around Winnemucca. We can think about motel for the night when we get tired. If we just can, I’d like to be at Independence tomorrow.” >Another wave of nods. >You raise your fist and spin it around. “Alrighty then! Let’s get on the road!” >With an enthusiastic yell, the girls pile on their respective vehicles. >You and the Dazzlings head for the Saturn Yellow Buick, of course. >Sonata and Aria cram in the back, while Adagio, naturally, rides shotgun. >You turn the key and the engine roars to life, starting to warm up the car again. >Familiar rumble fills your ears, and you turn to look at the Poof sitting next to you. “Mind getting a tape from the glove department?” >”Sure. Any preferences?” >You bite your lip for a moment, and then nod. “Yeah. Get the one that reads ‘Homecoming’.” >Adagio follows your instructions, and pops in said cassette. >As you steer out of the parking lot, taking the helm of your vehicle column, you push play. >Familiar riff fills your ears. [Embed: Doc Holliday - Dead Man's Road] >And as the lyrics finally start… >... you start singing along with them. “I had a good friend,” >You turn the steering wheel and take your vehicle out on the streets. >From the rear view mirror you can see two motorcycles follow you. >Behind them comes a mess of 60’s psychedelia. “In my home town.” >The traffic lights turn green and you accelerate. >You hear a faint rustling as Sonata’s head bobs to the rhythm. “Early this morning,” >You hit the signal to the right and start turning, joining into the steady flow of cars. >Many people heading out of Canterlot, even more heading back in. >Weekend is coming to an end for some. “They laid him in the ground.” >Sonata’s head-bobbing stops immediately. >Even she seems to have realized that this is not a happy song. >Aria is wearing a forlorn expression as she stares out of the window. >Adagio, on the other hand, keeps her eyes trained at you. “He was my brother,” >You can’t really decipher the expression on her face. >Maybe she’s just studying you. >Or maybe there’s something she wants to say. “I won’t tell you his name.” >Whatever the case, Adagio has clearly realized that this is not going to be a happy trip. >Scratch that. >All of the Dazzlings have realized that. “He was a junkie,” >Aria’s looking at you through the reflection in the window. >Sonata’s leaning against the back of your seat, her breath tickling your ears. “For whiskey and cocaine!” >And so, as the song builds up to the chorus, you steer your car to Interstate 44. >You crank up the volume, letting sound wash over you. “Oh, no! He’s dead and gone!” >Suddenly, you hear it. >Three other voices that join you, silencing you momentarily. >”Don’t go!” >Three pairs of eyes look at you. >Three pairs of worried, worried eyes. >”Down the Dead Man’s Road!” >Eyes you don’t want to let down. >”The Dead Man’s Road!” >It was somewhere after Elko, Nevada that Sonata got tired of going through your cassette collection. >Something about getting sick of mullet rock and wanting something lighter. >Unfortunately neither you nor your glove department could comprehend what she meant. >Mostly because you had zero things that were hitting the top ten of pop charts these days. >And the moment she tried to switch over to FM radio, your fist of fury was there to remind the Dazzlings that in your car, the only thing that was worth listening to was whatever was on a tape. >Not to hit her of course. >To be frank, you think you kinda broke your car’s CD-player thanks to your overzealous attitude. >So, for the past 15 minutes, you had listened to Bobby Roode’s theme on a repeat. >It was Aria’s idea. >Sure enough, even Adagio had enjoyed on the first time. >But right now? >Right now she looked like she wanted to strangle both you and Purple Grump. >”I swear, if I have to hear the word ‘glorious’ one more time…” >Aria grins a bit sheepishly, and then makes a cutting motion across her throat to you. >You mock salute her and eject the mixtape before the worst comes to pass. >There was still plenty of driving to do, and the last thing you wanted was a massacre on I-80. >With a sigh, you throw the tape back to Aria, who begrudgingly puts it back to her backpack. >She probably stayed up all night one fateful day to record it. >Out of all the Dazzlings, only Aria would do something like that, really. “Fine, fine. I’ll try to get something a bit more modern…” >You fiddle with the buttons of the radio while you watch the arid scenery pass you by. >Nothing but the occasional passing truck and East Humboldt Range is there to keep you company. >”Ooh! Ooh! Nonny, can you get us a mainstream pop station?” >Sonata leans over your seat, rubbing her cheek against yours. >Correction. >You also had three teenage legendary monsters in your car. >It’s a feeling you’re not used to. >After all, usually it’s just you and crippling loneliness that inhabits the Buick. >... Not that you care, really. “No.” >You crank the tuner and out pops a familiar beat that you’ve heard once or twice at Alabama Song while drinking with Shining. [Embed: Yelawolf - Till It's Gone] >Better than nothing, you suppose. >Thanks, Jack FM. >Adagio clicks her tongue, leaning her elbow against the window. >Her dry stare tells just how much she appreciates all the miles behind you, and still ahead. >Jack and shit, in other words. >”You know, we could also spend the journey talking instead of arguing about music.” >Her suggestion is not bad. >Unfortunately… >”Yeah! We could play some road trip games while we’re at it! I looked them up before we left. There were some super fun ones, like twenty questions! For realsies!” >Yup, Sonata’s still in the car. >”Ugh, play them yourself. Acting like a kid just because we’re bored… that’s the worst.” >Aria’s quick to shoot down Goof’s attempts. >Still, you don’t miss the devious smile in your mirror that Sonata throws at her. >”Reeeally? Then why’re you always acting like a kid when Nonny’s around, Aria?” >Aaaand Aria’s gone from pale to beet red in 3 seconds, max. >That’s gotta be some sort of record. >”S-shut up! No I’m not!” >”Yes you are~!” >”Am not!” >”You *are*!” >”Am not! Tell her I’m not, Roadie!” >Aria’s desperate look is almost… cute, though you’d never tell her that. >Adagio, on the other hand, is rubbing her temples hard enough to dig a hole in her head. >”Girls, please. Sitting in this car isn’t any more bearable with you two acting like five year olds.” >A soft ‘Boo’, is Sonata’s only response. Aria, on the other hand, looks relieved. >Adagio fishes out a can of Dr. Pepper from the small icebox, popping it open and taking a frustrated gulp. >”What I meant was: we’re sitting here for a long time. At least I would like to do something creative with that time. For example…” >Her narrowed eyes turn towards you. >”Independence, Kansas, right? So… that’s where you were born.” >She lets the meaning of the words hang heavy in the air. >You’re a bit disappointed there’s no beer with which to ease the awkwardness. >Still, there’s Blue Weenie willing to rescue your ass. >”Hey, that’s right! Nonny, you should totes tell about that! What were your family and hometown like?” >Aaaand she’s dug you deeper into the swamp. >Even Aria pulls her back rather forcefully, making a much-telling glare towards her and you. >Sonata seems to realize she touched a rather sensitive subject, as her happy expression falls. >But… hell, you’ve come so far. >You might as well put all the cards on the table. “Nah, it’s alright Aria. I don’t mind talking about it. And you three… you deserve to know.” >You scratch your chin and press and hit the cigarette lighter. >After winding down your window a bit and letting the cold air in, you fish a smoke from your pocket and light it up. >After a calming drag, and blowing the smoke out of the window, you start talking. “Let’s see… yeah. I was born there, in Independence, about 18 years ago. Fifth of April, 1994 to be exact. Almost came out kicking and screaming on the back of a 1979 Chevy pickup, but my old man was sober enough to drive mom to the hospital.” >Adagio stares at you, and you can almost hear the gears in her head grinding. >Sonata’s not catching on, but Aria? She almost jumps at you from her seat, eyes bulging from surprise. >”Hold on! Roadie, you serious? April 5th, 1994!?” >You chuckle laconically, taking another drag off your cigarette. “Yeah. Same day Ol’ Kurt shot himself. When I picked up guitar, my old man used to joke about it. Never was as good, though. Or as famous.” >You try to grin, but it comes off as a bit bitter. >Some scars still itch. “Anyways, I had a pretty uneventful childhood. We lived in this trailer house on West Sycamore Street. I went to IHS, hung out behind Pharaoh 4 when we didn’t have money to catch the latest movie and listened to vinyls at Grimey’s store. Sure, I had a handful of friends, but we got along just fine.” >You tap the wheel with your fingers to the rhythm of the beat. “My mom, Outis, was a singer. Never got famous or earned enough to get by without my dad, but she was happy. My old man though? He rode with El Forastero. Ol’ Unknown was a pretty big name in his hay day, enough to throw his weight around and get me my patches around 2010. And even before that, I practically grew up amongst the brotherhood. Hell, I even met Mann; you know, that artist?” >You’re not surprised that Aria nods. >She, if anyone, would know about him. >”Yeah. I think Bobby has some of his works at the salvage yard?” “That’s the man. Anyways, at the same time me and my friends from IHS got together and started a band. We played mostly at Grimey’s place, but after a while we got more popular. Bigger venues, bigger audiences, better pay… all seemed to work like a dream. And it did. It did until…” >You fall silent, against your will. >Your grip on the steering wheel tightens. >It’s not something you want to think about. Even if you’re going to confront that very same thing, you don’t want to think about it yet. >Not while you’re driving. “Well... you’ll see. You’ll see when we get there.” >To your surprise, you feel something warm against your hair. >A quick glance to the rear-view mirror reveals Sonata’s petting your head. >Aria has an odd look on her face; a mix of worry and something gentle. >Adagio though? She only flashes an encouraging smile at your direction, before turning her eyes back to the scenery outside the window. >Something stirs within your chest. >It’s almost… reassuring. >To know that these three are with you, even though you’re headed towards Independence gives you more strength than you expected. >”Nonny?” >You glance upwards, your eyes meeting those of Sonata. “Yeah?” >”Don’t worry. It’ll be fine, for realsies!” >Giving you the biggest grin she can muster, Sonata pats your shoulder with all the force behind that tiny frame of hers. >Which is quite a lot. >Enough to make you wince in pain. “W-what would I worry about?” >You try to mask how you were caught unawares by focusing on your cigarette. >It should also mask the fact that your cheeks felt oddly hot all of a sudden. >Aria’s low cackle isn’t helping things. >”Well, I mean…” >Sonata puts her finger on her chin quizzically. >Adagio takes a sip of her soda. >”We don’t mind that you’re an easy rider.” >Adagio spits out her soda. >Your sputtering protests, ones that almost caused you to swallow your cigarette, are drowned by Aria’s howling laughter. >Sonata just tilts her head at you three, looking confused. >”What? What did I say?” “I-I’m not an easy rider! Goddammit, don’t ever say that!” >You feel blood rushing to your head, and it’s no longer your cheeks that are red. >Your whole head must be red from embarrassment. >Aria nearly folds in two thanks to an inescapable giggle fit. >”H-h-he totally i-is! Roadie’s a t-t-total easy rider! That hair! That *hair* proves everything!” “Don’t mock my hair!” >You turn to Adagio for help. “My hair’s fine, right!?” >To your horror, even copperhead has turned her head away not to succumb to whatever hilarity she finds in this situation. >”S-sure. It is… it is just… f-fine.” “Oh come on!” >Grumbling in your blushing anger, you slump against the steering wheel, doing your best not to swerve in front of an incoming semi and ending this all. >The hell’s so funny about it? >There’s nothing funny about you riding a motorcycle. >Or your looks! >There’s not! >”J-just imagine it! Roadie, riding a chopped up harley on an open road, that magnificent L’oréal hair blowing in the w-w-wind!” >Aria proceeds to lose it once more, her sides escaping from the car and shooting past your Buick, going 88 miles per hour and leaving behind a flaming trail. >Even Sonata’s giggling now, even though she probably has no idea why it’s so funny. >Adagio does her best to wipe the splattered soda from the front window, only managing to smudge it in the process. >The way she’s biting her lip, looking like she’s choking, tells you all about what she’s imagining right now. >Damn it all to hell. >If it’s come to this, you’re going to strike back. “I see, I see. Well, laugh all you want. I know a certain someone who didn’t mind my hair at all this morning.” >You try your best to not sound like a petty child being bullied at the sandbox. >You fail miserably. >Adagio, however, lights up like a christmas tree. >Ah, revenge. >A dish best served lukewarm like the beer in your trunk. >”W-what? Who? Nonny, who said that?” >Sonata peers over your seat with a radiant expression of curiosity plastered on her face. >You smile smugly and glanced towards the copperhead next to you. “Oh, just someone who amused herself by playing with it for quite a while. Dunno if I can reveal the name though…” >”H-hooh? Mind telling us, Roadie? This sounds sorta interesting…” >Aria’s eyebrows are twitching like mad. “Well let’s just say the name starts with-” >Before you can utter anything else, Adagio yanks you by the collar.. >Her cheeks are a marvelous shade of red but her eyes make you want to pee your pants. >”Not. Another. Word.” >Her hiss is full of venom. “I wasn’t going to say anything. But looks like you already ousted yourself…” >You nod towards the two other sirens, who are staring bug-eyed at their eldest. >A second passes. >Two. >Adagio proceeds to curl up in a ball of shame as Sonata and Aria explode into a cacophony of accusatory questions. “... Jesus.” >You couldn’t be more relieved when you feel your phone vibrate. >You pick it up, only to hear the very tired voice of Sugarcoat. >”When are we going to stop for the night? I regret to inform you but Tree Hugger has smuggled all the liquor remaining from last night in here.” >You glance into your rear-view mirror and spy at the splitty. >What you see reminds you of a small rave party confined within the space of four wheels, driven by two very disgruntled girls. >You pinch your nose, trying to drown out the noises caused by the arguing Dazzlings. >It’s easier said than done, though. >Especially with Sonata yelling something about how Adagio broke the truce or somesuch. “Okay.” >You know they’re not gonna like this. >But you really want to get the most of the travelling done today. “Sorry, but it’s gonna be a while. I wanna get us to Laramie, if possible. So that means… nine more hours?” >Something that sounds like a dying moose can be heard from the other end of the line. “B-but don’t worry! We’ll stop by Red Wok or something at Erda!” >You hear the phone being snatched from Sugarcoat, and Starlight’s hoarse voice fills your ears. >”Promise me one thing, Anonymous.” “What?” >”When we get to Laramie, we’re getting absolutely hammered.” “...” >You floor the gas pedal. “You have my word.” >“So, uh… why are we here again?” >Sunny Flare eyes you suspiciously while twisting open her root beer and taking a swig from it. >You cock an eyebrow at her. >The cigarette on your lip quivers. “Riddle me this, Malibu… where are 21 nigh-penniless students supposed to spend their night while on a roadtrip? A motel?” >She looks like she’s about to fire back some comment, but realization dawns upon her. >Her raised finger, and arm entirely, flops against her side and her expression drops. >”That is actually a pretty well-made point.” “Yeah? We could try some bodunk motel out on the road, but I’d rather sleep someplace I can trust.” >You raise your hand, almost like you were presenting Miss Deep South, towards the building before you. >It’s… not much better, to be honest. >The wooden three-story building looks like it’s just about to fall over. The walls were covered in metallic fishnet where various car parts, such as mufflers and dustcaps, hung like Yuletime decorations. >About a dozen of gaudy motorcycles had been parked to the pavement before it, and rest of the vehicles were old muscle cars. >On top of it all was the barely-working neon sign that kept flashing two words. >”Lucille” and “Open”. “It might not look like much, but I know the person who owns this place. I think we can manage to get a place to sleep here… unless you want to spend the rest of the night hustling pool with me?” >You shoot Flare a devious grin, and she pretends to think for a moment. >”Oh, my, let’s s-Howaboutno!?” >She throws her arms in the air with frustration. >”Why me? Why did I have to keep up that stupid act with you when we got here?” “Because we were pretty broke and that’s the only way I know how to make money while on the road. Not to mention the rest of them don’t even know how to play pool. And…” >You kick open the icebox next to you and fish out a bottle of Pabts Blue Ribbon. “That ‘act’ let us buy all this stuff *and* that root beer you’re drinking.” >Flare’s eyes hover from the bottle to you humorlessly. >However, she eventually breaks into a grin and bumps you in the shoulder with her fist. >”I knew there was a reason I liked you. Class or not, you at least know how to keep a lady entertained.” >You put the bottle back and shoot her a look with a raised eyebrow. “As long as you don’t start acting like you did last night. I think that was quite drunk enough, no?” >Huh. She has enough modesty to actually blush a bit. >Sunny Flare scratches her cheek with her finger, refusing to meet your eyes. >”I’d been meaning to say… so sorry about that. The alcohol got me a bit, didn’t it?” >You cackle. “More than just a bit. Not that I’m someone to talk…” >You both get a little amusement out of that, enough for Twilight to be curious when she finally walks up to you two. >”Hmh? What are you two talking about?” >Flare just shakes her head and pats you on the shoulder in a rather familiar way. >”Nothing much. We were simply flirting, right?” >Ah, forehead. Allow me to introduce: palm. >This isn’t the first time you’ve met, is it? >”Y-you were?” >Twilight looks between you two, seeming a bit flustered. >”Sorry. I didn’t mean to-” “Stop it.” >You put a hand on the scientist’s shoulder and look her dead in the eyes. “Just… no. You really think I’d be randomly flirting at this point of the night?” >Twilight folds her arms and glances at the icebox. >”Well, you have been drinking a bit…” “A bit! I just took like a one beer-” >Flare snorts. >”He’s had three.” “Whatever! The point I’m trying to make that I have better things to do than be hitting on Flare here.” >Wait what. >Why is she actually looking offended because of that? >”That being?” >You groan and roll your shoulders. “Again, getting us a place to sleep.” >Letting out a loud ‘hmph!’, Malibu turns her back to you. >You look at Twilight, trying to make some sense of the situation. >To your utter confusion her eyes seem to blame you. >The scientist points at Flare, as if you’d know what she meant by that. >Okay, fine. >You heave a heavy sigh. “Tell you what, Malibu. Once I’ve gotten us the place to sleep, I’ll flirt with you as much as you want.” >You pat her on the shoulder, trying to sound as diplomatic as possible even though you’re spouting total nonsense at the moment. >Too bad your answer is just silence. >Wait a second. >Why are Flare’s shoulders shaking like that? >Is she cr- “Are you laughing!?” >Both Sunny Flare and Twilight burst out into laughter at your outburst. >You feel your cheeks flush, and angrily stomp away, grumbling under your breath. >This is why you hated teenage girls. >Nothing they did made any sense. >”Sorry Anonymous! We didn’t mean anything bad with it.” >Wiping tears of joy from her eyes, Twilight catches up to you, as does Flare. >”Just a little teasing, man.” >You grumble some more, determined not to talk to them anymore. >They deserve some silent treatment. >”Oh, stop being like that.” >To your utter shock, Flare links her arm with yours. >”Now let’s go get those rooms for us.” >Twilight giggles and does the same. Suddenly you find yourself sandwiched between girls half your height. >You really don’t want to admit it, but… damn they smell good. >”She’s right, Anonymous. Stop grumbling and lead the way. Seeing that everybody else out at the gas station getting the vehicles refilled, we might enjoy this rare moment of having you all to ourselves.” >The two of them lean their heads against your shoulders with a dramatic flair. >This is why you hated teenage girls. >They made it impossible to actually hate them. >Inside the roadside bar known as Lucille lights are dim and the music is relaxing. >Well, relaxing if you’re into Bog Seger. [Embed: Bog Seger - Turn the Page] >That doesn’t mean it’s empty though. >Oh no, looks like the place is packed with locals as usual. >There are some bikers over in the corner, and you see more than your share of Stetsons. >Trailer park people milling with guys who think they’re keeping the dead cowboy culture alive. >What keeps the place from falling into the typical traps of a roadside bar is that it’s actually Shoshone-owned. >Meaning that there was also a fair share of Native Americans milling about. >And lo and behold, no fight between the two demographics was a-brewing. >Had probably something to do with the fact that the owner of the bar was as big as a grizzly and twice as angry. >Still… it wasn’t exactly a place where teenage girls were a typical sight. >Sure enough, you blended in with your leather jacket and looks. >Hell, even Sunny Flare’s grunge-inspired Hawaii shirt made her look somewhat the part. >But Twilight? >She was like a citybred, well-educated fish in drunken, white trash shark-infested waters. >So, as to not draw any more attention to you three, you made beeline to the counter, shaking off the two girls who were still clinging to you. >You flop down on a stool and swing to face the bartender, who’s already grinning from ear to ear. >”Well, well, Anonymous. I was waiting for you.” >You snort at her. “Stop lying, Strongheart. You had no idea I was coming.” >She laughs and steals a pint from the hook, setting it on the table and starting to fill it. >You take a good look at the girl as she’s filling your drink. >You and Little Strongheart go back a few years, and have known each other long before you went to juvie. >It was back when you were just riding around, a bit before you got your patches. >Somehow or another you got mixed up in this nasty land-claim argument with Strongheart’s tribe and some local farm owners. >You helped her out, and afterwards, your band had a place to play whenever near one of their bars. >... Still, you have to admit. >You never thought she’d fill up this nice. >Looking at her, she’s growing up to be one hell of a woman. >There’s not a single inch of useless fat on her, and her muscles are like those of a track runner. >Those tight jeans are hugging the hell out of her tights, and the denim jacket accentuates her curves just the right way. >The brown fringe vest and the lazily put-on bolo tie mix her otherwise feminine appearance just enough to make her fit a place like this. >”Oh? Seeing something you like, Anonymous?” >You’re waken from your stupor, and realize you’ve been staring at the girl for a good half minute. >You immediately avert your eyes, but the damage is already done. >Thank God that the girls around you just laugh about it. “N-nevermind that. Anyways, what’s up, Strongheart?” >You two fistbump and she hands you the beer before taking orders from Flare and Twilight. >”Not much. Dad’s leaving me in charge of this place more lately. Guess he finally understood that I’m not a little girl anymore.” >You remember Strongheart’s dad well. >Now there was a hulking brute of a man. >Good company, though. Especially when drinking. “Keeping busy, eh? That’s good, that’s good.” >You take a swig of the beer, and she nods. >Still, you can see her smile has a bit of fatigue in it. >”Yeah, well… it’s nice to be trusted, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get tough, balancing work and school. Lately I’ve been meaning to take a small break. You know, clear my head a bit.” >Twilight gladly accepts the glass of Jim Beam. Her eyes shine a bit, just like they always do when she gets an idea. >”Hey, you should come visit Canterlot! Anonymous is living there these days. We could show you around, visit all the best places.” >Strongheart cocks an eyebrow at you while pouring Flare her Budweiser. >”Canterlot? Isn’t that all the way in California? How come you’re cruising there these days?” “Life at Independence got a little.. hard after juvie. Bobby figured a change of scenery was in order. And damn did he make the right choice.” >You glance at both Flare and Twilight, and shrug at the girl behind the counter. “Met plenty of good people, got back to school, and been thinking of picking up music again.” >Looks like Strongheart’s not completely buying it though. >She was always a bit too smart about these things for her own good. >”So, why are you here now?” “Oh, that’s…” >You try to pick your words carefully. “I’m heading back to Independence. There’s some loose ends I need tie up before I can settle completely to my life in Canterlot. You know how it goes.” >To your surprise, Strongheart reaches over the counter and pats you on the shoulder. >Man, that’s some hefty power she’s got. >She must have a punch as mean as Gilda’s. >”Just try not to get burned, alright? I can’t say I wasn’t worried about after I heard you being put behind the bars.” >She then folds her arms, managing to look a bit angry even though she’s sporting her typical grin. >”I mean, a simple call would’ve put my mind at ease. But nope, not a peep in year or two. I’m glad you’re doing alright in your new home but don’t just go forgetting those you left behind.” >You feel a pang of shame darken your mood. >Staring into your pint, you mutter a quiet apology. “... Sorry, Strongheart. I was a mess, sure, but I should’ve sent a word or something.” >”Hey, don’t worry, don’t worry! At least I know you’re okay now.” >She smiles gently at you, and then leans against the counter. >”And since you’re here, I think I might just end my shift early. There’s lot to catch up with, and I intend to drink tonight.” >All four of you laugh at that. >It’s strange, but this actually feels nice. >You never thought you were that close to Strongheart, to be honest. >Your memories from that time are a bit blurry at best. >Yet she cared this much? >If nothing else, it makes you feel humble. >... and glad that you’re meeting up with her again. >You made the right call to stop at Laramie. “Actually, before you do that, could I ask you something?” >”Shoot.” “See, like I said we’re on a bit of a roadtrip with my friends. I was wondering if we could use The Shack tonight? Getting everyone a motel room would cost too much, and I figured we could do the usual.” >You point at the back of the bar, where a familiar stage sits in the darkness. >Protected by a mesh fence from top to bottom, it had seen its fair share of bottles thrown its way. >’Chicken Coop’ as bands liked to call it. “Well play a gig here, draw in some people and money, and get a place to sleep as a payment. Sound good?” >Flare’s and Twilight’s heads whip towards you when they hear this. >Looks like they weren’t expecting a performance. >Strongheart, on the other hand, looks a bit troubled. >She scratches the back of her neck. >”Look, Anonymous, I’d love that, really, but… we already got an act for tonight. So the usual is out of the window. I’m afraid you’d have to pa-” “An act? Who?” >Strongheart points to the back of the bar, near the stage. >Towards a young woman dressed in a rather stereotypical country-artist attire. >”See that girl with the big stetson? Her.” >You down the rest of your pint with one huge gulp and wipe your mouth. “Wait here.” >You make your way through the bar, past the patrons and the drunkards. >You ignore Twilight’s voice calling you out and telling you to not do anything stupid. >Of course you weren’t going to do anything stupid. >You were just going to bully this fledgling Miranda Lambert wannabe to give you guys her spot for tonight. >And thus, with confident steps you stride towards her, unwavering glare trained at the stetson-wearing girl. >She notices your approach too late, and soon enough you got her cornered. “So I heard you’re tonight’s main event?” >“Um, y-yes? What of it?” >Wow, that’s a bit of a posh voice for someone about to sing in a dive like Lucille. “Let me make this clear. You’re in the way. We need that stage free today.” >”Wait, what do you mean? I was booked by the owners of this place. Has there been a double-booking or-” “No, I meant what I said. We need that stage for us, and your presence makes it impossible. So, if you want my advice, I’d say get the hell out of dodge.” >You smile darkly. “Otherwise it’s not going to be pretty when our leading trio gets here.” >You weren’t even kidding. Aria would blow a gasket. >”Oh, well… I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to get in your way. It’s just, this is a new chance for me to expand my repertoire and actually a bit of a surprise gig, so…” >She keeps on talking, but you tune her voice out. >Something is bothering you. >Not only her voice, but that hair. >Dark indigo with opal highlights? Where had you seen that before? >You try to wrack your brains for an answer. >M-maybe we could split the stage time, half and half? That way we can both be tonight’s main attraction.” >Suddenly, it hits you. >Like bolt ouf of the blue. >With your index finger you reach out and flip the stetson upwards, revealing the girl’s face. >You’re met with confusion, and sure enough, recognition. “... Rara?” >She smiles sheepishly. >”Oh. Hey, Anon.” >So, how had it come to this? >Really, how the hell had it come to this? >”I can't believe this...” >Aria's leaning to the table, head in hands, staring blankly at her beer. >”Neither can I, and *I* at least acknowledge the absurdity enough to look at it.” >Adagio is biting her thumb, her eyes bouncing back and forth like they were watching a game of tennis. >”Nonny knows the Countess, Nonny knows the Countess, Nonny knows the Countess...” >Sonata rocks back and forth, hugging her knees and glassed look on her face. >... The rest of your group isn't handling this revelation any better. >Various degrees of shock, confusion and utter disbelief can be read from their faces, all directed at you and the girl sitting next to you. >Coloratura, sensing the pure, unadulterated awkwardness hanging in the air lets out an embarrassed chuckle and scratches the back of her head. >”Umm... Hi, everyone? It looks like most of you already know who I am.” >Sour slams her fists against the table, making everyone jump a bit at the sudden hostility. >”Like damn right we do! But how does Anon know *you*!?” >All twenty one pairs of eyes are now focused on you, who feels mostly just no-clipping through the floor and receding in the darkness beyond space and time. ”Uh... we've met before?” >Sour looks like she wants to smack the mullet off of you. >To recap a bit, your surprise reunion with not one but two old faces from your past had not gone unnoticed. >While you were still reeling from having come face to face with Coloratura, Flare and Twilight had met up with the rest of the gang, and introduced Strongheart to them. >So when you and Rara headed towards the counter, you were suddenly met with a gang of suspicious teenagers thinking you were hitting on some random country singer. >Unfortunately, the truth was that much worse. >Every single one of them recognized Rara. >Or as they knew her: Countess Coloratura. >Just about the most prolific teenage electropop sensation of this decade. >So here you are, sitting next to your old friend and up to your eyeballs in excuses. >They all want to know how, why and when. >Especially the surprisingly seething trio of Dazzlings. >Well, with the exception of Sonata. >It looks like her brain just fried its circuits like a Thai restaurant fries a shrimp the moment she laid her eyes upon Rara. >Was it that weird? >Or was Sonata an actual, true-blue fan? >”Anemoneous.” >You nearly choke on your beer as Twilight addresses you, her tone heavy. >Wiping your mouth, you growl at her direction. ”Since when was I a sea creature with extremely dubious outwards appearance? You know full well my names is Anonymous! You've even been using it recently!” >Her eyes narrow dangerously, and for some reason you feel cold sweat creeping down your back. >”You’re the one who keeps calling me Doctor Strange, love.” ”When have I ever referred to you as Master of the Hermetic Arts who just happened to be a surgeon suffering a karmic punishment, huh!? If anyone, Starchild here's the real Doctor Strange!” >She points her finger at you like administering some sort of punishment. >”And thus, bear me far!” ”I'm gonna drop you if you start acting Scottish, you pseudoscientist!” >”Here me, there bar?” ”As if you were in need of any more alcohol!” >Twilight closes her eyes coldly and puts down her own bottle. >Her next words are like spitting cold venom. >”Well fine then, Anal Mousse.” >Your elbow slips from the table and you end up face first against the wooden surface. >Ah, it feels good. >Much more so than that verbal slap against the face that Twilight just administered you. >”Ah, I think she just shot down Hoss completely.” >Gilda snickers into her beer, elbowing Suri that's sitting next to her. >”Well of course, love. Twilight has always had the gift of gab, especially when it came to overly compensating males.” >You jump up when you hear this. ”She just insulted me, plain and simple! Anal Mousse! The hell!? Who the hell is that!? There ain't a single person who'd stay standing after being called that! Is that all I am to you guys these days!? Anal Mousse!?” >Your retort pours out of you mouth like beer pours into it. >You're getting swept up by emotions, but right now you don't care. >You're too embarrassed to care. >You can actually feel the flame of your cheeks. >It's only when you hear a quiet giggle next to you that you realize it's not just the usual group watching your antics. >Like a rusted clock, your head turns towards Rara, who is doing her best to hide the fact that she's finding all this far too hilarious. >Well at least she tries. >Even though she fails miserably. ”Just forget what you saw, Rara. Please?” >She wipes the corners of her eyes and turns to look at you, holding back the last remaining guffaws. >”S-sorry, I didn't meant to laugh, Anon. It's just...” >Her words taper off as she glances the gaggle of girls that has gathered around you. >Strongheart had to put two tables together to make room for all of you. ”Just what?” >Her smiling face turns back towards you, and you're a bit surprised to see their sincerity. >”Just that it seems you have made lots of good friends since we last saw.” >You fall silent and slowly sit back to your chair. >Bringing your pint to your lips and taking a big swig, your brains rack what she just said, trying to process it. >Lots of good friends? >Okay, even you admit that these people were your friends. >But good friends? >Didn't Twilight just straight up insult your asshole? >What's so good about that? >”At least that’s how it seems to me. After all, you can say whatever you want and it’s all in good humor, isn’t it?” >Huh. Maybe she has a point? >You know that nobody really minces their words in your group. >And you wouldn’t have it any other way. >So why don’t you feel actually, properly insulted when Twilight calls you yet another stupid wordplay of a nickname? >Just embarrassed? “I… suppose it is.” >You glance at everyone, before breaking into a smile and sitting back down. “Well, whaddya know? I guess it means that I trust these guys here.” >You find yourself unable to resist a chuckle, one that’s mirrored by many of the people around you. >You even see Trixie giving you a small, discreet thumbs up. >You wink at her and then turn your attention back to Coloratura. >”Well, whatever our relationship with each other is, it’s not important.” >Looking quite eager to dip her finger into a juicy pool of rumors, Suri leans forward, towards Rara. >”What we *do* want to know is your relationship with Anonymous, love. How do you two know each other?” >You and Coloratura exchange a meaningful glance, before you grimace a bit and scratch your head. “If you really want to know, eh, we met at this camp thing years ago. We were the same age and we both liked music so we hit it right off.” >Coloratura nods. >”There was a talent contest at said camp, but because of our… hmh, musical differences, we ended up competing against each other. It was me with a friend of mine versus Anonymous and his guitar at the finals.” >You see that everyone is now leaning closer in. >Looks like they want to hear about a scintillating tale of two musical prodigies duking it out in a blaze of glory. >Unfortunately… “And, uhm, I kinda lost. Miserably.” >There’s a collective gasp and Rara pats your shoulder with an apologetic smile. >”No need to be so humble, Anonymous. It was a close call, and since your choice of song wasn’t the most… hum, proper, we ended up winning. Simple as that.” >”No way! Nonny *lost* at music!?” >Sonata seems most surprised out of the lot. >What sort of Rock ‘n Roll god does she think you are? >”Wait, Roadie? What song did you play?” >Under Aria’s scrutinizing gaze, you find it suddenly hard to meet her eyes. “... Tush. By ZZ Top.” >Aria, Limestone, Gilda and Strongheart break out in a hysterical laughter, while rest of the girls eye you disapprovingly. >Especially Sour Sweet’s glare is downright evil. >Actually, scratch that. >Not all of them are disapproving. >Looks like Indio Zap is just too innocent to have heard the song. That or it’s just her natural idiocy pushing through. >All you can offer them is a half-hearted shrug and a mischievous smile. >After all, you were young. >You thought you should appear cool, instead of trying to ‘be’ cool. >It’d take many more years before you’d realize your mistake. >And even now, you weren’t sure you ever achieved your goal. >... At least Sonata seems to think you’re cool. >”So, that’s it? You were friends and rivals at a music camp?” >Adagio cocks an eyebrow at the pop icon. >”Oh, we did keep contact afterwards. We only recently stopped talking, after I made my breakthrough and Anonymous had to spend time behind the bars.” >That seems to satisfy the lot of them, though some people like Starlight and Adagio still look somewhat doubtful. >You give your old friend a quick, grateful glance. >At least she was discreet and didn’t spill all the beans. >There were things the girls did not need to know about your past. >Like the fact you lost your virginity to Rara. >And she lost hers to you. >And that you kept it going for quite a while afterwards. >”Well, now that we’ve sorted all this out…” >Rara smiles at you lot and turns to look at Strongheart. >Speaking of which, shouldn’t she be working? >Wait, why is she pouring a beer to herself? >You frown at her, and are only met by an innocent whistle all too knowing in its execution. >This damn girl… >”I heard that all of you were looking to sleep here tonight, but apparently my gig got in the way of your planned arrangement?” >You sigh and nod to the singer, leaning back on your chair. “Pretty much, yeah. The Shack’s the cheapest place to sleep around here, thanks to Strongheart’s old man, but since we can’t pay it with a gig of our own, well…” >At least the young bartender sends an apologetic expression your way. >You don’t blame her. >After all, they’ve got to run a business here. >Still, it does sting a bit. >Rara, however, claps her hands together excitedly, surprising all of you. >”Well! Why don’t we do it this way, then?” >She leans forward, over the table, like she was about to share some made-up government secrets to further her conspiracy theory. >”Strongheart, why don’t you dock the rent for The Shack from my pay?” >”Y-you sure? I mean, you’re a big name and all that, but since this was supposed to be a surprise gig, your pay isn’t exactly-” >”Oh hush, I have enough money already. One act of charity doesn’t hurt.” >Next thing you know, Rara’s eyes are trained at you. >You find yourself swallowing, hard. >You know that look. >You saw it between the sheets more than a few times. >”And as the price, Anonymous and his friends here will replace my backup band for tonight. How’s that sound?” >Oh, right. >That’s much better than what you feared. >Though it doesn’t mean that everyone is as relieved as you are. >Some of the girls are freaking out a bit thanks to the thought of going on the stage to perform before this crowded bar. “Really? Well, I don’t mind. What do you girls think?” >You glance at your companions, who all seem more or less nervous. >Hell, Gilda is probably the only one who seems fine with the idea. “What do you need, Rara? The basics, or…” >”Oh, I was thinking of lead and rhythm guitar, keyboard, drums, bass... “ “Probably a resonator guitar too?” >”Of course.” >You stroke your chin, deep in thought. “You have instruments we could borrow?” >Rara giggles and taps her nose. >”I have a backup band, don’t I?” “Ah, right you are. Well, let’s see…” >You wrack your brains, trying to think a possible combination from the girls before you. >Hope as you like, not all of them are ready for the stage, both due to nerves and technique. >So for now, it’d be better to play it safe as it were. “Okay. Gilda, can I count you on the drums?” >The boxer nods enthusiastically, downing her beer and slamming the bottle against the hard wooden surface of the table. “Sparks, you helm the keyboard. Indigo, you’re on the bass.” >”You got it, boss!” >Lightning Dust seems excited, but Indigo Zap looks a bit hesitant. You give her an encouraging pat on the head. “Don’t worry. We won’t be playing anything too complex. And from what I heard from Twilight last night, you should be able to handle it just fine.” >She blushes a bit at the touch of your hand, and sneaks a glance towards the scientist, who gives her thumbs up. “Which leaves us with… Limestone? Zest? Can I trust you with resonator and rhythm guitars respectively?” >The silver-haired girl pumps her fist. >”Alright, should prove sis ain’t the only musically gifted in the family!” >Lemon Zest on the other hand… >”Duuuude! This is unreal! I get to play on the stage with Anonymous! Oh man, oh man, oh man…!” >You grimace and look at Rara. “Yeah, she’’ll be fine. And if I take the lead guitar, that should be all.” >”Great! I’ll go tell my band that they can have the night off. After that, we should probably start.” >With a skip in her steps, Rara heads outside. >Probably a tour bus or something there to wait for her. >You turn your attention to your friends, some excited and some fearful. >All in all though, the dread seems to be slowly transforming into a bubbling, good-natured nervousness in their stomachs. >Always a good sign. >”... Anonymous.” >Aaaand that’s not a good sign. >Adagio looks a bit miffed, Aria’s turning the grump to eleven, and Sonata is clearly sulking. >You were a bit afraid that this would happen. >But you’re going to stand by your decision. >You just hope the three sirens will understand. “Before you say anything, Adagio, I know that the three of you’ve been training like mad. I mean, I was there for most of it.” >You take a swig from your bottle, only to find it empty. >So much for liquid courage. “But even so… we need this gig to go without a hitch. Otherwise we’ll just cause unnecessary trouble for Rara and Strongheart.” >You shoot her an apologetic smile and put a hand on her shoulder. “I have complete faith that you three will become superb musicians. But I also think that it’s too early.” >Adagio’s eyes have myriad feelings in them as she studies your face. >Finally, she heaves a sigh and leans into your hand. >”Fine. If you’re absolutely sure, I’ll defer to your judgment. It won’t make Aria or Sonata happy, but if this is the best option for now…” >You feel an unhappy knot form in your stomach. >Disappointment is something you’re not used to dealing with. >Especially when you’re the source of it. >Sure enough, you’ve let down a hell of a lot of people, but like this? >Never. >Hoping to explain the situation to the two other Dazzlings, you look at Aria. >Her expression is surprising to say the least. >The way she looks at you and Adagio… you swear that for a split-second, it looked almost hurt. >Betrayed. “Aria-” >”I’m gonna get another beer.” >With those blunts words, Aria slips out of her chair and heads to the counter. >”A-Aria, wait for me!” >Sonata is quick to follow. She bites her lip and glances at you, but worry about her sister soon takes precedence to whatever she was going to say. >And to top it off, you feel Adagio drawing away from you. >You look at the copperhead, only to see her expression has become difficult as well. >Like a kid caught with her hand in cookie jar. “Adagio… are you sure you three are fine with this?” >She rubs her temples, trying to make sense of something even she herself seems confused about. >”Yes. Just… just give us some time, Anonymous. I think all of us have something we need to come in terms with.” >And having said that, Adagio takes off, leaving the table as well. >You’re left alone, bewildered at what just happened. >What was going on? Since when did the Dazzlings not know what to say or do, no matter the situation? >You scratch your head and lean against the table, trying to make sense of what was going on. >To your surprise, you feel your hair being ruffled. >Turning to look at the culprit, you see Tree Hugger standing next to you. >”Don’t worry, dude. They’ve just got their leylines mixed up, and are suffering bad karma ‘cause of that.” “... Right. Whatever you say, Rastafury.” >On the other side of the table, Sour Sweet cackles little maliciously, and arches an eyebrow at the stoner. >”You say that, but, like, aren’t your own ‘leylines’ equally messed up for the same reasons?” >For a moment, Tree Hugger seems to be thinking, just staring at the soft serve hair that tried getting under her skin. >Then she proceeds to shrug. >Shrug and bury her nose in your hair. >Wait, WHAT!? “T-the hell!? Stop sniffing my hair you weirdo!” >”Nah, man. Just wanted to make sure.” >With a big, content smile on her face Tree Hugger pulls back and nods at Sour Sweet. >”Looks like you’re right, dude. Thanks for clearing it up for me.” >”I d-didn’t mean that you should… I mean… ugh! You’re freaks! Both of you!” >Looks like it’s Sour’s time to make a hasty retreat, this time accompanied by loud stomping. >You bury your face in your hands and groan. >You have no idea what’s going on anymore. >Why are these girls acting like bunch of mental patients? >... You couldn’t wait to get to the stage. >Music was much easier than teenage girls. >”Don’t take it too hard, love.” >Oddly enough, it’s Suri Polomare who comes to your aid. >”I think everyone is just trying to get their emotions worked out. Last night was… interesting, in more ways than one. Just give them some time, m’kay?” >You smile dryly and glance at the fashionista, who is busy nursing her wine glass. “You really think so? This is just teenage hormones working their natural course?” >”Oh I don’t think so. I know so. For example, look there.” >She points to the counter, where you see a bit of a surprising combination. >Aria’s talking with Sunny Flare. >”Leaving Aria aside, Flare has been acting far more enthusiastically today than she usually does. I think last night might have had something to do with it, frankly.” >As Suri talks, yours and Flare’s eyes meet momentarily. >She doesn’t exactly turn her gaze immediately somewhere else, but even you can feel she’s acting a bit oddly. >Almost as if this chance happening had turned into an impromptu staring contest. >What’s with the sudden challenge in those eyes? “Is it something I should be worried about?” >”Of course not, love. It is simply normal high school life.” >You’re pretty glad when Rara finally comes back and you can move to an environment that you’re far comfortable in. >Namely, the small stage at the back of the bar. >Chicken Coop is a fitting name for the thing, as it’s been fenced off with wire mesh in case the customers get a little rowdy. >The floor smells like cheap beer and cigarettes, making it a home for you. >With a budding smile on your face, you plug your loaned guitar to the amp and turn the damn thing on. >Afterwards, you’re forced to go through the tedious process of checking if the Strat is tuned right. >Some bastard always let the Low E sound like a cow with an ulcer. “Figures.” >As you pluck the string, you can immediately hear this is the case with your loaned guitar as well. >Turning the peg up to the note, you feel for the sweet spot for a moment or two before you catch it. >With a simple strum across the strings, you quickly check the guitar is in working order. >After you’ve made sure your own equipment is in adequate shape, you take a look at how the others are faring. >Gilda’s taken to the drums like she would into a boxing ring. Not an ounce of hesitation or worry hangs around her. >Instead she’s calm and collected, grin playing on his lips as she tests the bass and snare, also getting a feeling for hi-hat’s pedal. >Looks like the kit’s a bit too loose for her, so she has to rearrange it a tad. >Seeing the boxer wasn’t going to be a problem, you glance at Zest and Limestone. >Latter is already going through the motions to get a feel for her Fender FR48. >As you expected, it’s not a first time for her. >She might not want to admit it, but Limestone’s got bluegrass blood running in her veins. >Lemon Zest, though? >You’re gonna have to take away all those effect pedals from her. >80’s this ain’t, miss. Even though your hair color suggests otherwise. >”Boss, how’s this?” >You hear a lilting jig echo from the Jupiter-8 Lightning Dust has gotten her hands on. >Her fingers fly on the keys and slides, and her grin is nothing if not contagious. >It’s already obvious that out of all the people that have gathered around you, Dust might be the one with most musical talent. >That or she just had the most experienced. >Aside from yours truly. “Sounds good. Though keep an eye on that pitch bender, looks a bit wobbly, the way you’re handling it.” “Gotcha!” >And that left the last member of your impromptu band. Indigo Zap. >Immediately, you saw she was gonna be the one you needed to watch out for. >Top Gun was clutching her RAY34 like it was a boyfriend about to leave. >With a sigh, you lit up a cigarette and walked over to her, sitting on the monstrous amp next to her. “Getting nervous?” >Your question catches her off-guard. >”A-as if! I mean, I don’t do things half-assed. Just watch me!” “Ain’t nothing wrong with getting nervous. Hell, I still get nervous when I step on stage.” >You take drag from your cigarette and watch Zap’s bewilderment with some amusement. >”Wait, really?” “Yeah, sure. Every time I take my place behind the mic and guitar, my stomach starts to churn.” >You chuckle self-derisively. “Yet I consider that a good thing. Wanna know why?” >Indigo nods fervently, clearly wanting to find something good in her stage-fright. “If I didn’t feel nervous, I’d think it as just another gig. And then I wouldn’t be able to give it my all. If playing ever becomes monotone for me, that’s when I know to throw in the towel.” >Indigo Zap stares at her fingers resting on the strings of her bass. >Like she was contemplating something deeper than her usual go-getter attitude allowed her to. >A fixated gaze you had seen a million times in the eyes of your old bandmates. >Oh yeah. She was ready. >Hell, those were the eyes of someone who’d be right fit to a big stadium. >”... Am I gonna do alright?” “You bet your sweet ass you will. Just transform that nervousness into emotion and channel it through that bass of yours.” >You laugh when she blushes a bit and mock-punches you. >Looks like the beer is getting to you a bit. >Now that you think about it, if you were sober you would have never made such a remark. >Or followed it with a playful slap to her buttock afterwards. >Still, seeing the jock blush even harder was a nice surprise. >”You’re drunk, aren’t you?” >Zap’s tone is a mixture of amusement and accusation. >You shrug your shoulders, pretending to be innocent yet appearing completely guilty. “Who, me? Never.” >You both laugh, and to your surprise, she tousles your mane. >What was up with everyone fiddling with your hair these days? >Not that you minded, but it was getting a bit weird. >”You know, Anon, I don’t think I ever said it, but I think you’re a pretty good guy.” >Her tone is considerably quieter. >Most likely she doesn’t want anyone else to hear. “Really now? And here I thought I was a complete jackass.” >”Oh come on, you know what I mean. I mean, you act like a complete delinquent all the time, but then you do stuff like this.” >She grins happily. >To the point you feel your own mood lift a bit. >”So yeah. I’m glad we met.” >You focus on your cigarette for a moment, and blow out a cloud of smoke. “Yeah. Me too, Zap. Me too.” >You stand up from the amp and get ready to take your place. Rara could be here any minute. >But before you manage that, you hear Indigo say one more thing. >”Oh, and, um… thanks.” “Huh?” >”Thanks for the compliment.” >Your brains are not able to connect her words to any context. “What compliment?” >To your surprise, she winks at you. >”About my ass.” >Aaaaand now it’s your turn to blush. >Goddamn teenage girls. >By the time Rara arrives, you’ve managed to calm yourself down a bit. >That surprise attack by Indigo was unfair though. >So you’re pretty glad when Rara hands you all your own setlist to tape to the floor or anywhere near you where you can read it. >You glance at the first song, and cock an eyebrow at Rara. “What? You want me to sing?” >She smiles mischievously back. >”Were you thinking I was not going to exploit this to the best of my abilities?” “Figures. You guys ready?” >You turn your gaze at the rest of the girls, who each nod. >That being clear, you turn back towards the audience and give a hand signal to the small booth where some sleepy-looking guy was holed up with the mixing console. >Immediately, the lights start dimming in the whole bar. >Few spotlights warm up, ready to throw their colored lenses upon all of you. >You hear the patrons of the bar quiet down. >It seemed none of them had realized the main show was about to start. >Not until now. >About half a minute. >That’s how long you and Rara give everyone time to settle in and shut their mouths. >A glance tells you that all three Dazzlings have their eyes trained on you. >... Yet, for some reason, they are all sitting in different parts of the bar. “Crap. Focus, Anon. Focus.” >Now wasn’t the time to worry about them. >Now was the time to transform that worry into an emotion that’d bleed from your six string and use it to wash over the crowd. >And the piece that Rara had first wanted to perform? >It was the perfect stage for all of that. >The singer took her place next to you and immediately one of the spotlights turned on. >Coloratura now bathed in purple light. >She showed three fingers to Gilda, who immediately understood the sign. >The drumsticks hit each other with echoing click. >Once. >Twice. >Thrice. >And finally, after almost two years, you finally played for live audience once more. >Your pick starts moving. [Embed: Brad Paisley feat. Demi Lovato - Without a Fight] >Alternating between D and A, G and D, you begin building the intro. >And once you finish it, Gilda’s left drumstick strikes the snare, bringing her and rest to the song. >In a slightly cacophonic harmony, you revisit the intro. >Even when Indigo momentarily falters with her bass line, she manages to straighten it up. >And so, you push your mouth closer to the mic and begin singing. “There’s a tangled mess of sheets on the bed. A lack of sleep, poundin’ in my head.” >Old habits die hard and your hands know exactly what to do even though half of your focus now rests with the lyrics. >Your eyes scan the audience. “We both regret some of the things we said, but we love the way it ends.” >Damn, your voice sounds raspy. >No, it sounds just gritty. >You blame all the whiskey. >”Sometimes I think.” >And so Rara joins in. “We hurt each other just because of where it’ll lead.” >You feel awkward as a lanky moose next to her. >”Sometimes I think.” >But even after these two years, you’re confident that you can make your guitar weep all the same. >And so the two of you unite your voices as one. “We’re fighting just to be lovers and all so needlessly.” >Your eyes spot Adagio from the audience. >She’s refusing to meet your eyes, staring at the bottle in front of her instead. >But you know she hears you. >And thus you push the song into the crescendo of chorus. “Good as we are at gettin’ it on! How come we just can’t get along?” >You notice it. “The way we love, it don’t seem right! The way we fuss, the way we fight!” >All in the bar are quiet now. Enraptured. “I got a crazy idea! How ‘bout maybe tonight?” >Some feet are tapping. “We make up!” >Some hands are clapping. “Without a fight!” >And you didn’t even understand how much you’ve missed this. >Being able to convey emotions without being restricted by your shitty personality. >You glance at Aria at the bar counter. >She’s staring at you like she’s seen a ghost. >Huh. >Now that you think about it, this was the first time the sirens heard you play. “They say don’t go to bed angry, that’s true.” >So you have to put your all into it. >By becoming one with the ones that trusted you enough to come all the way here with you. >”But it’s really something when we do.” >The girls behind you who are supporting your guitar and voice. >The girl beside you who granted you this chance. >And all those watching you with their jaws ajar. “Madder you make me, the more I want you.” >You grin at Aria. “Girl, I admit.” >She turns her gaze quickly away, forcing you to suppress a laugh. “Sometimes I think.” >In here, behind the guitar and the mesh fence, it all seems so small. >Just when was there a problem that couldn’t be solved by talking it out? >”It couldn’t be any better.” “And I couldn’t want you more.” >You eyes meet those of Rara. >On her face is a brilliant smile, like a one of a woman on top of the world. >Thinking about it, you two hadn’t sung together before. >”Sometimes I think.” >Not like this. >It was just some campfire songs with an acoustic guitar to accompany you. “We don’t belong together!” >But here, on this stage, you finally met as equals. >She, the famous Countess Coloratura. “Confusing love and war!” >And you, Anonymous, the lead of Star Generation. >Such warm feeling envelopes you as your fingers and pick fly on the strings, lifting the whole song once more to the chorus. >Limestone’s elbows touch with yours and you hear her chuckle. >It’s small, it’s cramped, and it smells like crap. >But this stage… God bless this little stage. “Good as we are at gettin’ it on! How come we just can’t get along?” >The deafening sound of the drums behind you nearly drowns you. >Yet another gig where you forgot your earplugs. >But right now, you don’t care. “The way we love, it don’t seem right! The way we fuss, the way we fight!” >Your chords intertwine with those of Zest and are carried by Indigo Zap. >It becomes a harmony unlike what you can find even in a concert of U2. >It doesn’t go perfectly, there are little imperfections everywhere. >But it’s your harmony. >Yours and the one of these girls. “I’ve got a crazy idea! How ‘bout maybe tonight?” >It’s more intoxicating than any sort of alcohol. >And more romantic than any relationship. >It’s what fits into the hole you’ve felt in your chest since you got out of juvie. “We make up!” >You’ve finally found it. “Without a fight!” >How did you ever lose it to begin with? >It was staring right in your face in the eyes of these people whom you have found yourself connected with even without intending to do so. “We ain’t givin’ up!” >And that’s why you want to make the Dazzlings hear this song. >“Without a fight!” >Because you know what sort of girls they are. “We can make up!” >They’re selfish, they’re emotional, they overreact and antagonize others. >”Without a fight!” >But more than anything, they love each other. “No, we ain’t givin’ up!” >And you want to remind them of that. “We can make uuuuup!” >With Rara’s voice rising above yours to help you send that message. >You step away from the mic and grip your guitar tighter. >Your pick nearly heats up from how fast it goes. So do your fingers. >This solo is your emotions in one fervently-paced combo of notes. >Your gaze rises to meet the mulberry depths of Sonata’s eyes. >She’s staring straight at you, refusing to look away. >Sonata, if anyone, understands. >And the way her own fingers fumble the non-existent strings, you know she wants the power to make her own heart known. >Just like you’re doing now. >She wants to maker her sisters listen to her. >Just like you do. >They say that Adagio resembles you most out of all the Dazzlings. >But it’s Sonata who knows your heart the best. >So well that you feel your body heat up under such intense gaze. “Good as we are at gettin’ it on!” >Rara’s arm suddenly snakes over your shoulders and pulls you together. >Your voices reach for the same mic. >”How ‘bout maybe tonight?” >Over the audience and into the night beyond. >”We make up!” >All the way to the stars. “Without a fight!” >And as you repeat the riff one last time, accompanied by the band behind you, you bring the song to the final close. >One followed by two seconds of silence. >And a roar of applause. >Especially from the three sirens. “Well folks it's time to call it a night!” >The last bottle of beer hits the floor, shattering with a refreshing clink. >The guitar under your fingers feels stained with beer. >Lemon Zap laughs quietly and pats you on the shoulder. >You didn’t see her take a sip of alcohol while on stage, so she must be drunk on the atmosphere. >And for what’s it worth, your opinion about her has changed a bit. >The girl can work that guitar when she needs to. “Do what you feel and keep both feet on the wheel.” >Next to you, Indigo Zap takes a swig of her drink and gives you an exhilarated grin. >She’s been on Cloud 9 for the last two hours. >It’s infectious to say the least, and she practically exploded when she was allowed to do a bass solo after the third song. >You return the expression and turn once more towards the near-empty bar, where few last patrons still hoot and holler at you. “You don't have to go home but you can't stay here.” >Giving a sign to Coloratura next to you, you both raise your arms. >She beams a brilliant smile at you. >You had forgotten how much you missed that smile. >Your shoulders are screaming for some rest, but what the hell. >You can do it one more time. >You’re feeling far too good to stop now. “So 'till next time!” >Both you and Rara take your positions and start by pointing at the floor. “Stand by your man!” >Floor, palms open, point to them, point to yourself. >That’s the choreography made by legends themselves. >”Give him two arms to cling to!” >You raise your arms, hands in fists like they were in shackles. >Aria raises her glass from the counter. Looks like she’s finally in a better mood. “And something warm to come to.” >You eye the audience, seeing an old trucker with a tear in his eyes. >He quickly drowns it into his pint. >”When nights are cold lonely.” >Behind you, rest of the girls have completely succumbed to the soft atmosphere of the song. >Even Gilda’s violent drumming has receded into a soothing tapping. >She practically tore the house down when you did some Kid Rock covers, but now that she’s using a wire brush stick, she’s like a different woman. >Thanks to her, you and Rara made some impromptu changes to the setlist to incorporate some more rock-focused songs. “Stand by your man!” >Floor, palms open, point to them, point to yourself. >You chuckle when you see Sonata repeat the moves in synch with you. >She’s had quite a lot to drink. >At least, judging from the way she sways from side to side, her ponytail bobbing in rhythm. >”And show the world you love him.” >You both make a ball with your hands, like enveloping the globe. >You see Adagio snort at the sight. >The whole gig, her eyes have been glued to you in particular. >You can’t claim the attention didn’t feel great. >Especially from a girl like her. “Keep givin’ all the love you can~” >To your surprise, Limestone leans to you and puts her face to the mic. >Her hair brushes against your nose, and you can see a challenging smirk on her face. >”Baby~!” >She bellows and you can smell alcohol in her breath. >It smells surprisingly good. Enough to make you chuckle. “Stand by your man!” >With the last notes from your guitar, you bring the song to a close, and Gilda teases the cymbal with her wire brush. >An errant bass-note echoes in the air as Indigo lets out a sigh and stretches. >Before you, the few patrons still in the bar explode into applause. >Meaning the five guys who still hung around, and your own group. >You see Strongheart give you a big thumbs up from behind the counter, and strike some shot glasses to the table. >Looks like your reward is waiting. >You turn to Rara and the others. “Let’s get the hell outta here.” >”Hah! You should’ve seen your face, Roadie! I bet you had no idea Limestone could rap!” >Aria slams her hand on your shoulder multiple times. >A gaggle of laughter rises from around you, and you chuckle yourself. >The pleasant, warm night of Laramie caressed you all with a breeze. >It was now two hours after the gig, and you all were camped outside The Shack, enjoying a well-deserved beer. >In this case ‘All’ meant those of you who hadn’t fallen asleep already, plus Strongheart and Coloratura. “Nah, she made a fine Joe C. Still, a warning would’ve been appreciated.” >Limestone cackles and elbows you, before losing her balance and ending up sprawled on your lap. >You cock an eyebrow as she nuzzles against your jeans, not fazed in the slightest. >Somebody was drunk. >”Music’s in the Pie blood, Chief. Just because we’re farmers from the middle of nowhere doesn’t mean we can’t rock with the best.” >These words make Aria snort derisively. >”Yeah, I saw that pink menace you call your sister. Sounded like she was humping the drums.” >Limestone shrugs, her can of beer nearly tipping over and dousing your pants. >”Well we can’t all be winners. But Marble? She’s a natural singer. I’m good where I am, and there’s… ugh, I guess Maud’s the black sheep.” >You try to bring to your mind images of Limestone’s sisters, but draw a blank. >Well, blank for others. You remember the ‘pink menace’ unfortunately well. >”But man, Chief, you smell good. Gimme some of that loving~” >With another audacious cackle, Limestone buries her face to your crotch. >You attempt to keep a straight face, but fail miserably. >All around you, laughter. >Guess your blushing face is universally amusing or something. >Goddamn teenage girls. >They drive you to drink. >Or rather, they drive you to Laramie where you drink. >One or the other. >”Hey, that’s enough skinship! Nonny doesn’t like it!” >Before you can react to it, Sonata assaults Limestone, and soon you have a full-blown playground fight on your lap. >Tiny fists try to reach their target, but the more experienced combatant simply shifts her head to avoid them. >Sagely, you raise your bottle of Lonestar, trying to keep it out of harm’s way. >Around you, those still awake start a chant of: ‘Fight, fight, fight!’ “Don’t encourage them, idiots!” >You hand your beer to Adagio and catch both girls on top of you by their necks. >Lifting them like kittens, you separate the two. >Limestone’s still laughing like a maniac, while Sonata’s trying her best to slap the taste out of her mouth. >That or lightly bop her cheek. >You never knew with this Goof. >”Aw come on, Sonata! You know Chief likes it! You saw us on the stage, didn’t you?” >”That was… that was different! You were playing! Right, Nonny?” >Memories of the gig flash before your eyes, and you grimace. >You remember damn well how, in the middle of Moonshine in the Trunk, certain grey-haired girl started grinding her ass against your leg. >You can’t forget that firm sensation even if you wanted to. >All in all, you were ready to say that Limestone had one great caboose. “Y-yeah, sure. You do all sorts of weird stuff on the stage when you’re playing. It’s just thrill of the moment thing, really.” >Crap. >You don’t like Limestone’s smirk a one bit, no sirree. >You try to down your nervousness in beer and snatch your bottle back. >”Reeeeally? So the thing you and Coloratura were doing, that was ‘thrill of the moment’ thing, too?” >You nearly spray your beer all over the place. >Another cavalcade of flashing memories, images from between adrenaline-filled songs. >Rara draping herself over you. >Her lips caressing your ear as she continued to sing. >You and her, back to back, dancing to the music as you continued to play. >She leaning into you as she raised her voice to the highest octave, and feeling that familiar warmth on your skin again. >You had forgotten it, but whenever Coloratura drank, her inhibitions were gone like dust in the wind. “Y-yeah, sure it was. Right, Rara?” >Coloratura giggles and flutters her eyelashes at you. >”What? Was that all it was to you, Anonymous? After all we’ve been through?” >Goddammit don’t spill the beans now, you idiot! “Yes it was! Don’t try to make it sound worse than it was!” >All eyes are now on Rara as she takes an elegant sip from her drink, before looking at you with a sultry expression. >”I don’t remember you ever claiming it bad in any way, Anonymous.” >”Hah! I knew it!” >Strongheart claps her hands together and points at you accusingly. >On her face is a grin so large it almost splits her head in half. >”I knew you were more than just old friends!” “D-don’t get the wrong idea, idiot! That’s the only thing we are! That’s my final answer!” >You nearly choke in you beer when you hear the way Rara purrs. >”Well, certain *type* of friends, at the very least…” >You nearly facepalm with your bottle, stopping at the last moment. “Oh don’t you start this now, not after we got so far!” >”Buuut, it’s so cold of you to act like we never meant anything to each other.” >Is there a hole somewhere? >Hole in which you could bury yourself in? >Please say there’s a hole nearby! >You were ready to burrow your way to Australia if need be. “I’m not saying that, I’m just… agh… guh… Not in this company!” >All this while, the gazes of the girls around you have been hopping between you and Rara like this was a damn tennis match. >Now they’re all focused on you, and you can almost hear them screaming: J’accuse! >”Wait, Roadie…” >You see Aria’s eyebrows turn into a dangerous frown as she peers closer at you. >For some reason, you can feel cold sweat dripping down your neck. >”Just how *well* do you and Coloratura here know each other?” >You try your best to look anywhere but at Deep Purple’s face that’s inching closer every second. >To your horror, you can already see Rara is contemplating an answer. >She’s swirling her can of beer like it was a glass of red wine. “That’s, we, we just, I mean, it isn’t what you-” >”Oh, I don’t think there’s a nook or cranny in my body Anonymous doesn’t know.” “Gaaaaahhh!” >You jump up, tossing aside both Sonata and Limestone. >Sheer panic filling your mind, you try to look around for any safe place you can hide in. >Alas, your options are limited. >The Shack is behind you, and guarded by the same crowd of girls you’re trying to escape from. >The old three-story building used to be a barn, but in the 80’s, it was turned into a motel of sorts for various guests of Strongheart’s family. >It’s got enough shadowy corners and hidden rooms where you could bunker down for the night, but… >... But it’s far too late already, as you can see from Aria’s face. >”W-wait. So you’re saying that Nonny has… has…” >Even in the dark of the night, you can see Sonata’s cheeks blossom in crimson as her eyes grow wide. >”... Stuffed Rara’s taco?” >Her shocked voice is naught but a whisper. >You bury your face in your hands and squat to the ground. >Welp, that’s it. >You can kiss any respect you had with this group goodbye. >”Yes, that’s the gist of it.” >Coloratura says with a satisfied smirk. >”Anonymous has oscillated my unmentionables.” >Shocked gasps all around. >You can see that just about every girl still conscious in the group has grown a varying shade of red. >Twilight especially seems ready to blow up. >Some, like Gilda and Limestone, are leaning forward with wide grins. >Some, like Adagio and Starlight, are laughing their asses off. >And some, like Sour Sweet and Flare, are more or less disgusted. >Aria though… >... For some reason she looks like someone punched her in the gut. >”Really? You rode his Bony Express?” >Gilda cackles, and Rara nods. >”Vulcanized his whoopee stick?” >Twilight gets a nod as well. >”Filled your gas tank?” >As does Indigo Zap. >”Harpooned your salty longshoreman?” >As does Trixie. >”Bruised your beef curtains?” >As does Lemon Zest. >”Sweeped your chimney?” >As does Silver Spoon. >”So he bent you over a barrel and showed you the fifty states?” “Stop iiiiit!” >Strongheart’s was too much. >You’re rolling on the ground, unable to take it anymore. >Why? >Oh God why? >Just how the hell did things get to the point that your sex life became the butt of all the jokes? >Okay, you could sort of see it coming. >But still! >Why!? >”Oh stop being so melodramatic, Anonymous.” >Coloratura walks over you and pats you on the shoulder. >You can see she’s enjoying this far more than she should. >”You have nothing to be ashamed of.” >Her smirk widens. >”*Nothing*.” >If possible, your face grows three degrees redder. >On the porch, you can hear the rest of the girls wolf-whistling and hooting like they were dirty old men. >And judging by what they just spoke, most of them were. >Begrudgingly, you stand up. Rara leads you back to the others like you were a runaway calf. >A very ashamed runaway calf. >As you sit down, Adagio hands you another beer. >You dare not look her in the face. >”You sly dog, you. Getting it on with a world-famous pop sensation.” >Her tease is like an arrow through your heart. “That was before!” >You protest vehemently. ”We were just kids back then, right? It was years ago!” >”He’s right you know.” >Rara takes a seat next to you, and cracks open another can of beer. >Now that you look at it, her smile has softened quite a bit. >”While we did meet multiple times after that summer camp, mostly whenever he was touring near my hometown, we were still just teenagers. Well, teenager-ier than we are now.” >She takes a sip and sighs contently. >”We both felt some sort of attraction to each other and, well… things just escalated from there. As they do.” >This catches Suri’s interest. >Her eyes are positively glowing with excitement. >The rumor mill was already spinning. >”Oh? It wasn’t simply a physical thing?” >Rara shakes her head. >She gazes up towards the stars dotting the night sky. >”Oh, not at all. It was young love alright. And, well, it was before Anonymous met his… previous girlfriend. It might have seemed like a every-now-and-then fling but when we talked about it… well, we both realized it was more than that.” >She glances at you with a raised eyebrow, and all you can do is nod. >She’s not wrong. >Although your memories are hazy from those times, you can still feel the emotions from back then. >There was much more to it than just thinking Rara was pretty. >Not that she wasn’t. >But her personality and yours… they simply meshed. >You were emotional, she was calm. >She was like water to your fire, ready to calm it down whenever there was a need. >A little like how the Dazzlings are these days. >... Huh. >You never thought of that before. >How odd. >”So, were you two…” >Twilight searches for the right words as she bites her lip. >”Well, um, you know?” >You sigh and rub the back of your neck awkwardly. >Might as well just come clean about it. “Yeah. We were in love back then.” >Clang. >The moment those words left your mouth, you hear a beer can hit the wood of the porch. >A bit surprised, you turn towards the source of the sound. >All you see is a flash of anger on a familiar face. >Then, with hasty steps, Aria walks away from the group, rounding the corner and disappearing on the other side of the building. >You’re left amidst an awkward silence, unsure as to what the hell just happened. >You turn towards the rest of the girls. >Everyone’s expression is full of worry or confusion. >Well, not everyone. >There are two girls whom have a much different take on what just happened. >Sonata hangs her head silently, shadows covering her eyes. >Her mouth is a tight line, and you can sense she’s doing her best not to say something. >And then… then there’s Adagio. >She bites her thumb, looking annoyed. >Not at Aria. >At herself. >Like she wanted to cursed herself for some reason. >Only to find that it was already too late. “Adagio? What just-” >”Go after her, Anonymous.” >Her eyes bore into yours. “... What?” >”Go after her. Now. Aria… she’ll need someone to be with her right now. And I’m afraid neither Sonata or I can do it.” “W-why not, aren’t you family?” >”That’s just it.” >For a moment, an incredibly sad smile hovers on Adagio’s lips. >”Some time ago, we made a truce… a promise. But I’m afraid that as these days go by, it’s getting harder and harder to keep that promise.” >A chuckle. >But not a happy one. >”Especially for her. Aria’s always been… emotional. So. Please. Go after her.” >You don’t need her to say anything else. >You get up from the porch and walk to where Deep Purple disappeared. >You go around the corner, wood creaking under your steps. >What reveals itself to you is like a scene from a picture book. >Deep ultramarine of the night melts into the arid fields or Laramie. >Far away, railroad tracks shine under the moonlight. >Distant wind, carrying the scent of a nearby winter, blows through the clearing. >Light of the roadside bar throw their distant glow to frame the picture. >In the middle of it all. >Face towards the starlit sky above. >Purple hair gently rocking in the breeze. >Helpless expression on her face. >There stands a girl known as Aria Blaze. >And for but just a moment, you find yourself breathless. >It’s like you’re seeing underneath all the sass, all the grump. >And understanding just how lonely person lies behind it all. “Aria?” >Her fingers twitch, and she turns her eyes towards you. >You take a careful step forward. >”Go away.” >Her voice cracks, and you can see her clench her hand into a fist. “Aria, I’m… I just want to talk. Everyone’s worried.” >”I said go away!” >You stop. >You can see something glimmer on the edges of her eyes. “And I mean everyone. Adagio sent me to talk to you. If you really want me gone, that’s fine, but…” >You hear her let out a single, bitter chuckle. >”Adagio, huh? And of course you came, since she asked you to…” “That’s not it. I was worried too. I thought that was obvious. If something’s bothering you, it’ll always make me worry.” >She doesn’t answer this time. >Instead, she simply heaves a powerless sigh and stares at the ground. >You take that as a permission to advance, and slowly walk over to her. >She shudders a bit at your presence. >But as you put a hand on her shoulder, that shivering stops. “Want to talk about it?” >After a moment of hesitation, she nods. >”... I’m a wreck, aren’t I?” “What do you mean?” >When she looks at you, you can see heaps of self-loathing in Aria’s eyes. >”I mean, just look at me. Whenever something happens, I always get too emotional about it. Even if I shouldn’t. Even if logic says I shouldn’t, I still do.” >Aria clenches her hand into a fist. >”My emotions are always a damn jumble. I hate Adagio and Sonata… except I don’t.” >She then points at you, accusingly. >”I hate you! ... except I don’t. Nothing I feel makes any sense, ever!” >“I… I guess Sonata’s right about one thing. It’s me who’s the worst.” >You grip her shoulder a little tighter. “No you’re not. Everybody gets emotional every now and then. Remember when I put that guy through the locker?” >She lets out a laugh that’s halfway to a sob. “Yeah. So you’ve nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to the best of us.” >Slowly shifting her weight, Aria leans into you. >She buries her face into your chest. >You can feel her warmth next to you. “... If there’s anything you need, I’ll help you. You know that, right? Like Adagio put it, we’re family. So… so I guess that means you’re my little sister.” >Again, she lets out a hiccuping laugh. >”I’m older than you, dork.” >You wrap an arm around her. “Like I give a crap.” >For a moment, the two of you just stay there. >Silently, without moving a muscle. >You allow Aria to collect her thoughts and gaze at the moon and stars above you. >Their cold light doesn’t bother you. >You’re warm enough, thanks to the girl with you. >”The thing is, Roadie… it’s because you’re family that I don’t think you can help now.” “What do you mean?” >Aria shifts her weight a little. >Her fingers find the edges of your jacket, and she squeezes. Hard. >You can hear her gritting her teeth together, like she’s forcing herself to stay calm. >”I don’t want these days to end.” >Huh? >”The way we goofed off in the bandroom, the way we annoyed the Rainbooms and rest of the school… all those normal, meaningless days. I don’t want them to end. But the more I try, the more those days keep slipping away.” >The grip of her fingers tightens. >”Being villains, fighting against the school, all of this… it just keeps piling up. More and more keeps happening, and as it does I… I think I’m starting to slip as well.” “Slip how?” >Hesitant, you slowly pet her silken hair. >She doesn’t seem to mind, so you continue, running your fingers through it. >”Remember when you drove me back home that one time? You know, after I slapped you and you told me to man up and talk to Sonata and Adagio?” >You nod. >”Back then, we… we made a promise with each other. Before we met you, we might have been at our lowest point. But after that… things were starting to look up. It’s like we had a reason to look forward to tomorrow again.” >She leans a bit stronger into you. >Her voice grows muffled as she speaks into your shirt. >”We promised each other we wouldn’t try to do what we always do. We wouldn’t try to hog… all of that to ourselves. We knew that if we did, we’d just hurt each other again and spiral back to where we started. >Her tone is even, surprisingly so. >“If one of us got to monopolize that happiness, it’d all just fall apart. So we’d keep our distance and enjoy it, all three of us.” >Again, that bitter laughter. >Bitterness directed towards herself. >”But… it’s hard, you know? Super hard. The more I try to stay away, the more it feels like it’s drawing me back in. I want it. I want it so bad. I haven’t wanted something like this in a long, long time.” >Far away, an endless-looking train glides across the tracks. >”So I try not to act, I try to keep the happy days from before going on… but it’s just not working. I’m too emotional. The more I try, the more I fail. If this continues, I feel like I’m just going to rip myself apart.” >Her teeth grind against each other. >That is frustration born out of sorrow. >”But I don’t wanna hurt Adagio or Sonata again. I’ve done it enough…!” >Her voice falters into silence, and you can feel her shoulders shake. >Instead of answering right away, you pull her a little closer. >You listen to the clacking sound of the faraway train and compose your thoughts. >She deserves your honest answer. “Aria? Like I said, Sonata and Adagio… and me, we’re your family. In good and in bad. Family isn’t just about sharing the fun times, it’s about sharing the bad times too. We’ll always be here, whether you want it or not.” >Your coarse, clumsy fingers can’t feel good against her hair. >But she doesn’t complain. “And since we’re family, I don’t think you need to worry about Adagio or Sonata.” >Her head shifts and she looks up at you. >You stare back into those brilliant mulberry eyes. “If there’s something you really want, then go. Get it. If you think it’s going to hurt your family, talk to them about it. Explain to Aria and Sonata that you can’t lie to yourself anymore. If your emotions tell you to do something, then go and do it. It’s not something you have to hide or be ashamed of.” >You try your best to give her an encouraging smile. “As long as you explain why, they’ll understand. It might not be immediately, but eventually they will. Because that’s what family’s about. Being together, in bad and in good.” >Aria’s gaze falls, and she stares past you into the darkness. >The expression on her face is something you can’t quite put your finger to. >“Go and get it… huh?” ”Yeah. If something is important enough to make you cry, you shouldn’t try to hold yourself back. It’s okay to be a little selfish. Especially in a family.” >To your surprise, she doesn’t retort or complain. >Instead, Aria just gives you a ghost of a smile. >”You really think so? That they’ll understand if, just this once, I’ll be selfish?” “I promise they will.” >Drawing a deep breath, Aria tenses up her body. >Like she was making a big decision. >Then, swiftly, she pushes you at arm’s length. >A little surprised, you look at her. >On her face is a determined, if lopsided, smile. >”Then I’ll do it. I’ll go tell them… and then I won’t hesitate anymore. I’ll do what I should’ve done a long time ago.” >Her expression turns a bit sour, and for some reason, she sizes you up. >Under such a scrutinizing glare, you feel yourself grow tense. >There’s an odd finality in that stare of hers. >”But Roadie… that also means one other thing.” “W-what?” >Warning bells ring in your head. >Something’s not right. >You feel like bracing yourself for an impact for some reason. >”It means… it means…” >Before you manage to react, Aria pushes you away. >She steps one step backwards. >There’s now a clear space between you two. >”It means I can’t be family with you anymore. I can’t be your little sister. Not in the way you want me to.” >Her expression hardens. >The eyes of the Aria before you are pure steel. >”Sorry, but this make-belief family, when it comes to us, has to end here. I can’t keep playing house with you guys anymore.” “Aria, what-” >”Sorry, Anon. But that’s it. I’m gonna be selfish just this once… and it starts with this.” >And then, showing no hesitation anymore, Aria walks away. >She passes you without looking back, and heads back to the light. >You feel like someone punched you in the gut. >What just happened? >You take a step, but for some reason, your legs can barely carry you. >What the hell just happened? >Was that it? >Did Aria long for the days when she was free to do as she pleased, as the lone, defeated villain of CHS? >Before you entered the picture? >Was that what she had meant? >And the reason she was afraid Sonata and Adagio would be hurt was because… she’d be destroying this new status quo you four had achieved? >She’d be leaving all of you behind? >So the reason she wanted to cut ties with you was… because she saw this ‘family’ as nothing more than an obstacle? >Your wobbling legs bring you to a tree stump, and you sit down. >You try to collect your thoughts, but they just keep swirling and swirling. >Like an endless spiral that just refuses to stop. >A veritable typhoon with all your emotions jumbled up inside. >It twists and turns, becoming a snake that threatens to consume all. >You try your best to focus on anything else. >With shaky hands, you fish out your pack of cigarettes from your pocket. >In process of lighting just one, you manage to fumble enough to make the whole pack fall to the ground. >You sigh and pick it up. >This wasn’t right. >This wasn’t what you meant. >You try your best to work the lighter, but it just refuses to work properly. >You flick it and flick it, but for some reason your fingers keep trembling. >Like you were shivering from freezing cold. >You didn’t want to encourage Aria to abandon it all. >Especially if the reason was… you. >The pinprick light of your cigarette finally cuts the empty night. >For some reason, the ultramarine around you has turned a shade of black. >If her reason for leaving Adagio and Sonata behind was you, then this wasn’t how things should’ve gone. >You would have rather left all three of them alone if they had just stayed together. >They deserved better than to be separated again. >They were the true family. >You were just a random guy they had decided to include. >There was no need to break it all apart just because of you. >You could just fade into the shadows, as always. >Instead of breaking apart something beautiful. >Again. >You never meant to do it, but… it still just keeps happening. >Because you’re an idiot, through and through. >With someone wiser, things might’ve just gone differently. >Someone better than you. >You don’t know how long you sat there. >At some point, the voices of the girls on the porch faded away. >You thought you heard some yelling and arguing, but you didn’t pay too much attention. >Even the lights on the porch have been turned off. >You’re on your third cigarette, and your bottle of beer is empty. >Yet you still feel drunk. >Drunk and numb. >Somehow, that feeling is like returning home. >A filthy, trash-bag filled home. >Just like before. >Your eyes lazily stare at the second train you’ve seen travelling through the night. >Iron boxes cutting across the horizon in the distance. >You don’t stop even though you hear footsteps crunch against the dry grass behind you. >”Hey dweeb. You gonna come inside?” >You turn your head. >Gilda enters your field of vision. >She’s wrapped up in her leather jacket, holding two cans of beer in her hands. >With a quiet grin, she offers one to you. >You take it and crack it open. “Soon. I… I think I’m just gonna sit here. And think. A lot.” >”Really now? What’cha thinking about?” >Without asking for permission, she plops down on the tree stump next to you. >There’s not much space, so she ends up glued to you. >You groan and take a swig of your beer. >You weren’t exactly in the mood to talk, but then again, Gilda had helped you once before. >She might be of help now. >Relationship expert she wasn’t, but she knew thing or two about emotions. “About what a screw-up I turned out to be.” >You hear a dry laughter echoing from her. >”As if nobody knew that already.” “I’m being serious.” >”So am I.” >She winks at you and brings her own beer to her lips. >”Nobody’s expecting you to be perfect or a saint. Well, except you yourself at times. And looks like one of those times is right now.” >You stare into the depths of your can. >Moonlight is dimly reflected on the surface. >It shows your face, which has seen better days. “You might have a point. But that doesn’t mean everything I do can be just swept under the rug.” >She shrugs, like it’s not her problem. >”So what? We all make mistakes. That’s part of life, Hoss. You better get used to it.” >Even if what she speaks is the truth, it doesn’t make it easier to swallow. “But what if you keep on making those mistakes because you just don’t know any better?” >Those golden, eagle-like eyes turn to stare at you. >”Whaddya mean?” “Just look at me Gilda. What do you see?” >She feigns thinking for a moment. >”A Cult of Personality?” “I’m being serious.” >”Alright, alright. Well… you’re you. You’re a hoss. That’s who you are. To me, at least.” >You stifle a chuckle. “A hoss, huh? Somehow I can’t agree.” >”Hey, you asked for my opinion, dweeb, you got it.” >To your surprise, she sounds somewhat genuinely annoyed. >Whether it’s because of your clear intent of degrading yourself or just because you doubted her, you don’t know. “That’s just a pretty word to describe what I really am: A low-life redneck who's not smart enough to realize when to say something or when to shut up.” >You spit to the ground and stump your cigarette with your foot. “I smoke too much, I drink too much, I cause too much trouble and am a general pain in the ass for anyone who meets me. That’s who I am, and there’s nothing ‘hoss’ about that.” >Out of the blue, Gilda against you. >For a moment, you two sit in a complete silence. >”You know… I dunno about others, but to me, those qualities are pretty hot in a guy.” >You can just stare at the soft expression on her rough face. >For some reason, there’s only few inches between you two now. “... Really?” >”Yeah. Really.” >You two stay there for a minute. >Almost touching. >... >And the next thing you know, you backpedal into your room, Gilda’s legs wrapped around your waist and her lips against yours. --- BEYOND HERE BE LEWDS --- >The small radio on the nightstand plays oddly appropriate music as Gilda’s hands caress your skin under your shirt. [Embed: Bad Company - She Brings Me Love] >Her legs are wrapped around you in a vise grip. >Her lips and teeth nibble at your neck. >Letting out a drunk chuckle, you fall backwards to your bed. >You help her slip out of her jacket as she straddles you, hungrily gazing at your body. >Her tight, white T-shirt does nothing to hide how erect her nipples are. >Whether due to the cold air, or because of you, you don’t even wanna know. >You’re way past the point of caring. >The only thing you care about is how she’s apparently not wearing a bra at all. >”Clothes off, Hoss.” >Her voice is close to a purr. >You do as told, and throw away your own shirt. >Her hands are immediately all over you. >The way they slide around, it’s almost like she’s desperate. >Desperate to get your warmth to herself. >”You smell way too good.” >What an odd thing to say. >She throws away her T-shirt, and in the pale moonlight, you finally see her half-naked body. >As you always suspected, she’s way ripped for a girl. >Her abs are clearly pronounced and her muscles can be seen glistening with sweat. >Her breasts might not be big, but with a body like that, you don’t care. >The sight of that toned figure above yours is enough to drive you mad. >You grab her by the waist and take in how smooth her curves are. >She leans over you, peppering you with kisses all over. >Cheeks, jaw, neck, lips, earlobes. >She’s not stopping for a second. >Those amber eyes shine at you in the darkness as she pulls downward, her coarse tongue sliding over your chest. >Her left hand caresses your scarred right arm. >A gentle touch upon the scar tissue sends shivers down your spine. >You let out a satisfied sigh, one that does not go unnoticed by her. >With a smirk, she moves over to said arm, letting her lips work their magic against the scars. >You grit your teeth together and try to hold back the groan of pleasure. >You fail miserably. >”Want me to kiss them better?” >Gilda chuckles contently as she sees how much you’re enjoying yourself. “Oh Jesus yes.” >As she concentrates on your weak spot, you move your left hand down her backside and into her jeans. >You feel super tight sports underwear and slip under them as well. >Gilda gasps in surprise as you grab her buttock, giving it a good squeeze. >”J-jeans off?” >She asks, breathing heavily, gazing up at you. “I dunno. Your ass looks criminally good in them.” >You smirk at her, and earn a playful jab. >”Then why don’t you ever cop a feel?” “I’ll be sure to do it more often.” >You both laugh and she moves from your hand to your belly. >Now with both hands, you continue massaging her ass, eliciting satisfied growls from her. >But you can do better than that. >With a rough chuckle, you slip your right index finger further down. >You’re a bit surprised when you meet something utterly wet. >Sliding your fingertip across that moist surface elicits a happy grunt from Gilda. >”Okay, that’s it. Jeans off, now!” >Before you can stop her, she starts fumbling with her belt. >A metallic clink later you see her slip out of those dangerously tight things. >Afterwards, she goes after your pants. >Gilda cocks an eyebrow when she touches the longhorn belt buckle, only to see the tent you’re pitching. >”Someone’s eager.” >She giggles at the sight, giving it a flick. “Yeah, I noticed.” >You wiggle your glistening index finger at her with a grin. >She blushes a bit, before burying her face against your crotch. >”Well, I’ve been wishing this for a while now. I ain’t gonna slow down now when it’s a dream-come-true time.” >Her husky voice is enough to send shivers down your spine. >Well, that and the fact that she’s speaking directly into your nether regions. >A bit of work later, and you soon find yourself with jeans. >They’re tossed unceremoniously on the floor along with the rest of your clothes. >Gilda eyes your underwear and the bulging shape under it with a scrutinizing eye. >”Why hello there.” >She giggles again and digs her nails into the elastic band, finally releasing your dragon to the outside air. >For a moment, you both just stay there. >You at full mast. >Gilda perched between your legs, eyes wide and mouth curving into a hungry grin. >”Should’ve known, Hoss. You ain’t just tall. You’re big all over.” >Before you even get a chance to answer, she dives down, lips and nose caressing your member. >When she brings her head back up, her tongue slides across your shaft. >You let out a heavy groan and grab her by the hair. >Her bird crest-shaped mane is just a perfect handle. >For a moment, she works just the outside, her breath tickling against your skin. >That wonderful tongue of her does miracles you never believed possible. >And the way she stares at your member almost reverently makes your already big ego swell with pride. >She slobbers spit all over it. >Tasting it like she was worshipping it. >Then, without warning, she opens her mouth and takes your cock into that blissful warmth. >You let out another sigh, this time rising to her movement. >Her head bobs up and down in an uneven rhythm as she tries to get adjusted. >After only a few seconds, though, she coughs and separates, wiping spit from her chin. >”My jaw’s gonna get sore…” >Her sultry murmur makes you tingle all over. >You caress her hair, and she nuzzles your hand, her fingers around your shaft. >She grips your penis tight and starts a pumping movement, trying her best to keep you satisfied while enjoying your touch. >Another few seconds, and she steels herself once more. >Taking a deep breath she goes down on you again, and you groan audibly. >It’s like warm silk around you precious place, sliding in just the right way. >Even when she accidentally hits you with her teeth a few times, you don’t care. >Slowly but surely enough, a force starts to build between your legs. >If she’s going to continue, that dam will burst eventually. >She alternates between taking it all in and just licking the shaft again with her eyes amorously glazed over. >Damn this girl. >She knows just what the spots to hit. >You can only take it for a moment more before you catch her by the jaw and make her face you. “Gilda, s-slow down… If you continue that, then we’ll miss the main course.” >She smirks and leans closer, planting a kiss to your lips. >You can taste yourself, but what the hell. >Her taste overwhelms that in an instant. >”That good, huh? Well, I’m not complaining. I’m practically a bayou down there already, so… we good to go?” “Hell yes.” >With a victorious laughter, she scoots upwards on her knees. >Gilda aligns herself to your pelvis and lifts her hips. >For a moment she stares at your member, biting her lip. >You’re surprised to see a bit of hesitation in her. >”Just… just gimme a moment, Hoss. I might have to ease this in.” >Having said that, she lowers herself slowly. >Grabbing your cock with her left hand, she takes an aim at her entrance. >For a moment, you two hover there, barely touching. >Then, with a grunt from her, Gilda slides even lower. >Your tip spreads her open and you can feel the girl on top of you shiver. >You’re barely in for the first inch when you feel Gilda stop. >She’s breathing ragged, and there’s a bit of a wild look in her eyes. >Her hair is a disheveled mess. >Sweat crowns her body. >”S-sorry Hoss. Just, lemme…” >Another push lower. >This time Gilda even yelps a bit. >But you can hear pure pleasure in that sound. >”Damn that’s thick.” >A bit of a struggle later, she finally slides down to the hilt. >As she does, Gilda sighs in utter satisfaction and her tongue lolls out of her mouth. >She leans forward and her arms wrap around you. >She brings you into a deep, passionate kiss, your tongues wrestling like they were Bret and Owen Hart at Wrestlemania 10. >Your own hands catch a hold of Gilda’s hips, and tug them tentatively. >She breathes a laugh into your mouth, understanding your desire. >With her knees, she begins pushing herself forward, before bringing herself back. >A pumping rhythm that sends waves of ecstasy down the spines of both of you. >Gilda moans, your name escaping her lips over and over. >It starts off soft, but slowly and surely grows. >In volume and in force. >You drive power to your hips and start thrusting to match her movement. >It takes a moment, but soon the both of you are in synchronization. >Perfect synchronization. >Her fingernails dig into your back and she stares a sultry gaze into your eyes. >”A-Anon… oh, o-oh, damn… Anon…!” >She calls out your name, full of emotion. >You keep thrusting in time with her. >Your pleasure, her pleasure, your hips… it all moves together as if one. >”Holy h-hell, that’s, it’s… so deep!” >She grits her teeth together and slams herself down on you, causing you to nearly buckle. >You moan loudly, and somewhere there you can hear yourself hungrily calling her name. >You grind up at her and she gyrates her body, shivering each time you slide against her walls. >The wet sound of you two becoming one fills the room. >She arches her back, and you take the chance to cup her breasts with one hand. >Other hand caresses her abs. >The sound of her purring to that sends your mind overdrive. >Your loins feel like they’re on fire. >Even though you’re both sweating like in a sauna, you keep up the movement. >She’s panting due to exhaustion, due to pleasure, yet she just goes and goes. >The last vestiges of your rational thought barely hold together. >The way she envelops you, the way she keeps a grip of you… >She’s tighter than you expected. >Or you’re bigger than she expected. >Nevertheless, you pierce her again and again from down below, causing her to scream in pleasure. >It’s like a majestic eagle. >That ragged breath of hers matches her quivering body. >Her skin feels hot to touch, like you could burn yourself. >The expression on her face is pure dream. >The way her mouth hangs open… >The way she keeps calling out your name like all other thoughts were stolen from her… >The way she takes you in again and again, unable to stop… >Your mind is swept away by the beauty on top of you. >Just like her last bit of self-control is destroyed as a jolt travels down her body. >”A-Anoooon!” >She screams your name again, her body nearly spasming out of control. >Gilda collapses on top of you, her eyes nearly rolling to the back of her head. >You’re pretty much gone though. >You can barely feel the weight, if it even is there. >As tough as she is, you’re still way bigger than Gilda. >Thing which you prove as you slide out of her, lift her in your arms, and toss her to the side of the bed. >Heaving breaths like a bull possessed, you step to the floor, catching Gilda by her ass. >You align yourself, taking in the sight of her soft back and buttocks spreading before you. >”H-hoss, what are yo-” >Before she can regain her bearings or finish that question, you slam yourself into her like a freight-train into a tunnel. >She lets out a sound that’s somewhere between a moan and a scream. >One that must have been heard back in Canterlot. >It’s raw. >Just like the sensation of pushing into her with far too much force. >But your mind is pulsating with enough lust to corrode your sense of reality. >Every nerve-ending in your body is abuzz. >You’re set ablaze, and run your tongue across the nape of her neck. >Gilda whispers your name frantically, trying her best to look at you. >But you’re a towering shape toying with her tiny body. >You lift her ass up with ease as you continue to pound her. >”H-Hoss, no, it’s… oh God, it’s… you’re b-b-breaking meee~!” >You can no longer call it making love. >This swelling surge, feeling of superiority as you do as you please with her body… >... You’re violating her, plain and simple. >Like a rabid dog, your spit turns to foam. >You see a reflection of your bloodshot eyes in hers. >You no longer care. >Gilda’s breath spills ragged as she tries to hold onto her consciousness. >Your brain explodes into sparks. >With every thrust of hips, with every move you pull out, your vision cracks with desire. >Your throbbing member stirs her up again and again, sweeping into her like a hurricane. >Gilda’s eyes distort and she screams uncontrollably, throwing her head back. >You grasp her by the hair, forcing her to look at you. >Her jaw is ajar, tongue lax, and she barely sees you anymore. >Sweat and other fluids coat her body. >The friction between you two numbs you as her vagina tightens, the girl under you whispering again and again how she’s being gouged. >Pleasure melts into your body with every thrust, your own or one from her. >You’re no longer aware. >Are you feeling pain or pleasure? >Does it even matter? >The all consuming desire to take this girl, this girl before you, this girl whose name escapes you, and make her nothing but yours… >It’s burning in your mind with searing white flames. >You direct that heat through your body, through your senses, and into your organ. >You ram into her so hard that she’s lifted off the bed momentarily. >Her nails dig into the matters, and she screams your name incoherently. >Again. >Again. >”I’m overfloooaaagggaaaa---!” >The noise she’s trying to make dies in her throat, becoming an incomprehensible garble. >Her body goes rigid as orgasm wracks her body countless times. >It does not stop. >With every thrust you soak her further and further into depravity. >The thought of dominance makes your vision grow red. >Your pace quickens,and you feel something expand in your loins. >Next to you, your right arm. >Shadows of moonlight dance upon it. >Like flames. >Or stripes of a tiger. >In your frenzied haze, it looks like a claw of a beast, holding down this girl as you violate her. >But instead of screams of anguish and fear, you hear those of indescribable pleasure. >It’s those sounds, and what is building up within you, that brings you to the edge. >You’re ready to burst. >Animalistic growl escapes from deep within your gut. >Accompanied by its cacophony, you thrust one last time, driving your shaft into her deepest parts. >The girl lets out a garbled sound as her body convulses again. >Roughly, you thrust your lips against hers as the dam in your loins explodes. >You taste her sweet, wild taste as you continue pumping your white liquid into her depths. >One hand on her hair. >One hand on her waist. >Holding her like she was your prey. >And marking her as your own. >And with that, you finally collapse. Spent. >Your swirling mind, a maelstrom of desire, begins to calm. >Your ragged breath begins to calm. >And you feel Gilda’s accepting warmth as she cuddles into you, sweat drops framing her by reflecting the moonlight. >At last. >You’re finished. >It’s about ten minutes after you got your bearings that you emerge from the outhouse. >A satisfying piss was done, and you light up a cigarette. >You breathe in the smoke deeply, enjoying the sensation. >It’s like there’s an odd warmth in your chest that you can’t just get rid of. >Enjoying the nighttime breeze, you start walking back to the Shack. >There was still time to get few hours of sleep before it was time to wake up. >And honestly? >The thought of sleeping in the same bed with Gilda didn’t sound that uninviting. >Humming a tune under your breath, you skip to the veranda, meaning to slip inside without anyone noticing. >However, you stop. >There, sitting on the railing, legs hanging limply and gaze towards the moon… >... There sits Sonata. >”Fly me to the moon…” >Her tiny voice breaks the air in a melodious whisper. >She’s singing, her bright eyes reflecting the pale light from above. >”And let me play among the stars…” >For some reason, a guilty hand grasps your mind. >Almost like you’ve done something terrible. >Without saying a word, you walk next to her and train your gaze towards the stars. >Stars and their big, blue elder brother hanging low. >”Let me see what spring is like on, Jupiter and Mars…” >There’s definite sorrow in that voice of hers. >Just what happened tonight between the Dazzlings? >Did Aria really mean to cut ties with them? >Just what sort of trouble lay in the future? >Your heart sinks a little bit when you think of that. >To ease your worries, you ruffle Sonata’s hair a bit. >She smiles softly at your touch. >Then, for whatever reason, she sniffs the air a bit. >As if smelling something. >When she next looks at you, there’s a strained smile on her face. >Like she was forcing it. >”Nonny?” “Yeah?” >”... What are we to you?” >You don’t even have to ask who she means. >She can be only talking about the three of them. >After what happened with Aria tonight, you’re sure of it. >You give her a reassuring grin. “You lot? You’re my family. My important little sisters.” >You mush around her head a bit more. >But… it doesn’t seem to work. >After all, Sonata looks away from you. >Up towards the moon. >”Y-yeah. That’s… I knew you’d say that.” >She doesn’t say anything else. >Instead, she starts humming again the words to Sinatra’s finest. >For a moment, you simply stare at her. >The young girl under the moonlight. >Melting into the pale blue almost perfectly. >You want to say something… but you can’t. >You don’t know why, but you just can’t. >Thus, defeated, you wish her good night and head back in. >Behind you, you hear one last whisper of words. >”In other words, please be true…” >She sounds like she’s trying her hardest not to cry. >”In other words, I love you…” >You escape. >Eventually, you collapse back to your bed, cigarette still smoking on your lips. >Next to you, the naked form of Gilda stirs under the sheets. >She softly snuggles against your side, draping her arm over your shirt. >You stare at the wooden ceiling, trying to collect your thoughts. >There’s… at least one thing you have to say. “You know… sorry.” >”Hmh? What about, Hoss?” >You scratch your cheek awkwardly. “I got a little, um… rough there, at the end.” >Gilda simply giggles and plants a peck at your cheek. >”I don’t mind. I mean, I’m not usually the herbivore, but…” >You can see a teasing gaze in those amber eyes. >”... With you, Hoss? I don’t mind. Hell, it was a bit exciting.” >You chuckle as well, and wrap your arm around her. >Her legs automatically tangle themselves with yours. >The sensation of her naked body glued to yours almost awakens you again. >Too bad you’re just too tired. >And you’ll need to get up in just a few hours. >Pleasant silence falls into the room. >It’s like the direct opposite of the one with Sonata just now. >Somehow, being there, next to Gilda… >... It just feels right. >And judging by the way her breath grows calmer, she feels it too. >”... Hoss?” >Gilda’s murmur cuts the atmosphere once more. “Yeah?” >”Don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t usually just jump in the bed with anyone…” >She seems a bit lost, searching for words. >”But this? It’s… something I’ve wanted to do for some time now.” “Really?” >”Yeah. Ever since I saw you working that punching bag, in fact.” >Her finger draws shapes into your chest while her eyes stare out of the window. >You feel her swallow hard. >Gilda seems to tense up. >”I… do really care about, Hoss. Hell, I’m just gonna say it. I think I love you.” >Your heart skips a beat. >You feel your cheeks heat up. >What was she- >”I’m being serious here. I can’t explain it, but I do. That’s God’s own truth.” >Her body starts to quiver ever so slightly as her grip of you tightens. >”B-but I know… I know you’re a mess, Hoss, and you can’t really focus in this stuff. You’ve got so lot on your plate, this is just unnecessary baggage for you, right? So, don’t mind it. Just… just think of this as my selfish act, and leave it at that. You don’t need to follow up. I’m fine. Really. I am.” >It’s at this point that you realize she’s not shaking because of cold or something like that. >No. >As you turn your eyes towards her, you can see them. >To your shock, you can see tears staining Gilda’s cheeks. >”So in exchange, Hoss… just lemme stay here for the night. Just this one night, that’s all I ask. I’m satisfied with that.” >In shame, Gilda buries her face against your chest. >”Just gimme this one night, Anon..:” >You’re speechless. >Yes, you have no words to say. >Gilda’s right about you being a wreck in a sense. >You didn’t give much thought to relationships, not really. >Because of what happened those years ago, you just haven’t felt ready. >Hell, even this trip was partly to free you from those shackles. >But you can’t just abandon Gilda. >You’d hate yourself forever if you did. >She deserved better. >She deserved so much better. >So, without even thinking twice about it, you pull Gilda into your arms and embrace her hard. >You put your chin on top of her head. >You can feel her frantic heartbeat against yours. >This is the closest you’ve been to another human being in a long time. >And you’ve missed this sensation so much. “Sure, Gilda.” >You finally speak up, your voice sounding hoarse. “And after we’re done with Kansas… I’ll give you a proper answer.” >You smell the fragrance of her hair. “So until then, this one night…” >That wild, wild scent. “... It’s gonna be just ours.” >A scent you might just fall in love with.