Music Capital of the World

by Tougyo (闘魚)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/85314.html)

“You know, it was really kind of silly for us to come this early,” Rebecca sighed, as Austin watched the band set up on the stage.

“Is that your way of saying ‘why yes, Austin, you are always right! Why do I never listen to you!’?” That just made Rebecca tap him on the top of his head. He responded with a smile, an innocent look, and finally a quick peck on her lips.

That was when The Abstract Noun, without so much as in introduction, started to play.

It was a standard indie pop intro, until it wasn’t anymore, the sound growing layered and complex and fascinating. And then the singer started singing, and it all came together perfectly.

Austin was mesmerized. Seeing a decent band in the first opening spot of an 18+ club on a Thursday night was nearly unheard of; seeing a good one was simply ridiculous. A statistical impossibility. They were young, but they didn’t sound like they were just riding the wave of generic emo breakdowns or thrashing on their guitars. Austin found himself wanting to sing along, except that the vocalist was just letting the words fall out of his mouth like they were nothing, and maybe they were; they didn’t seem to mean anything when he thought about them. The guitarists were bouncing around a bit, but the singer, he was holding onto the microphone stand, hardly shifting his weight, eyes closed, longish hair falling in front of his face. Austin found he couldn’t stop watching him; there was an energy there that was simultaneously nervous like a school boy and intense like, well, a rock star.

The song moved into the bridge, and the singer’s voice fell into a mumble, and now Austin really had no idea what he was singing, but he’d never wanted to know the lyrics so much.

He only realized his mouth was slightly agape when his girlfriend elbowed him in the side.

“Austin! That’s totally Vincent Whitledge!” she shout-whispered to him over the amped guitars.

“Who?” Austin said, loathe to take his eyes off the stage.

“He was my senior buddy when I was a freshman! You know, piano and vocals, little bit of guitar? He’s good!”

“Yeah,” Austin agreed. “He’s good.” He considered talking about it some more, but the music was loud, and Rebecca had turned her attention back to The Abstract Noun. He put his arm around her, and listened to the music, and watched Vincent Whitledge cradle the microphone to his mouth.

***

The set was too short, but the meager crowd seemed happy with it, and Austin had to agree. He wondered how long the band had even been around; there was no merch table, so it couldn’t have been long. The band was also packing up by itself; the Liquid Lounge was a tiny place so they were just moving amps onto dollies in front of the crowd, while the next act bided their time. Austin was content to just watch them and wonder, but Rebecca insisted that they lose their spot at the balcony banister to say hello to Vincent Whitledge, Senior Buddy. She had to drag him to the stage–he’d always found it weird to talk to people he only knew through performances. Really, what did he know about The Abstract Noun except that they were surprisingly good, and that their front man had a fucking awesome voice?

Despite his protests, Rebecca led him downstairs and to the stage, where she interrupted with a wave and a smile. “Vincent! Hey, do you remember me?” Rebecca bubbled at him, not even waiting for him to put his guitar in its case. The singer paused, turned around, and stood up straight. He’s tall, Austin thought. And I don’t recognize him. He realized he didn’t have anything to say, and felt a sudden urge to hide behind Rebecca, which was stupid. It took him a moment to realize that Vincent was talking, in a voice that sounded nothing like his singing.

“Hey, yeah, Rebecca right? Long time no see! I dig the hair. Pink works for you.” He was casting side-glances at Austin, in that way that people do when they want to be introduced but don’t know how. Right, Austin thought. Cue.

“I’m Austin, by the way.” He waved a little, hoping he didn’t look too dorky. “And, uh, I really liked your set. I wasn’t expecting that from the opener.”

“Oh, straightforward!” Vincent brought a hand to his chest, faking a mortal wound, and Austin smiled but couldn’t help but want to apologize.

“Oh, um, sorry; I didn’t mean it like that.”

Vincent laughed, and his laugh sounded like his singing, now that was odd. “No, man, s’cool. We’ve only got, like, five original songs so it’s hard enough to just fill out a support set. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, right?”

“Right,” Austin agreed, and then Rebecca took over, giving him a chance to just sit back and listen for awhile. Vince (“Only my mom calls me Vincent.”) had dropped out of UNT, and was working for a temp agency to pay the bills. His band mates (Jeremy, Michael, and Will, all of whom had introduced themselves with a single word and moved on to talk amongst themselves) were still in college. Rebecca and Vince kept talking as he finished packing up the band’s gear, and then Austin found himself following them out to their van as they loaded their stuff in the still-warm September night. The conversation was nothing much: the usual chit chat, peppered with Rebecca’s professions of love for the band.

“Hey,” Austin finally said, interrupting Rebecca’s babbling after a quick look to his watch. “Shouldn’t we get back for Danny’s set?”

“Friends?” Vincent asked.

“Oh yeah, just some guys in our year–they’re pretty solid, if a little emo; you know how it is.” Rebecca waved a hand and laughed a little. “We should really go back. There’s not much of a crowd tonight, so they’ll be pretty mad if we aren’t there.”

“Hey, s’cool, I mean Dallas doesn’t have much of a scene, you gotta take it where you can. Hell, I was planning to stick around anyway.” He turned around, to where the other band members were chatting. “You guys can get home without me, right?” Jeremy flicked him off, and the rest gave him an affirmative, so Vincent turned and inserted himself between Rebecca and Austin. Austin considered being annoyed, but mostly he was okay with it.

They flashed their X-marked hands to the doorman, and found themselves between sets yet again. Danny was on stage, looking pensively at a tangle of cables.

“You guys go find a table; I’m gonna go say hi to Danny.” With that, Rebecca hurried off, all pink hair and rubber bracelets, leaving Austin to make awkward conversation. He flashed Vince an apologetic look.

“She’s, uh, she’s a little strong of will,” he said, trying not to sound timid and totally whipped.

Vince laughed again. “I’d noticed. Nothing wrong with that. Here, let’s snag something in the balcony; easier to talk and listen at the same time up there.” He started toward the stairwell. “You go to Booker T. too?”

“Yeah,” Austin said, happy to have something to latch on to. “Senior. I’m surprised you’re willing to hang out with a bunch of high school kids.”

“It’s totally cool; gotta stick with the old alma mater. Besides, Rebecca and I were fairly good friends, that one year we were in school together. What section are you in? Visual art? You strike me as a… painter?”

Austin laughed at that one, as they squeezed their way up the narrow stairs, past a giggling pack of scene girls. “Actor, if you can believe it.”

“No shit! Little quiet for a drama kid, aren’t you?” Austin forgave him. It was a common misconception that all drama kids were, well, dramatic, except possibly the stage techs who would slit your throat for losing their props. He knew he was quiet; he was okay with that, as long as nobody insulted his acting.

“If it makes it any worse, which I’m sure it does, I’m also leader of the mime troupe.”

“Oh, for the days of silent films to return! That our hero could secure a role without talking; oh for the days.” Vincent grinned a toothy grin, and snagged a table at the edge of the balcony, probably recently vacated by the scene girls they had just passed.

“Hey, shut up, it makes you more money than busking. Gets you more shit, too, but I can take the shit-givers.” Austin pulled himself into the bar-height chair, and leaned over the table. “Besides, it gives you lots of practice with movement and body language. I like to think of it as a solid career move.” He rolled his eyes. “S’what I tell the parents anyway.”

“You’d think,” Vince mused, “that learning to wait tables would be an even better career move.”

“Yeah,” Austin said, “but that would require me to find a job.”

There. That moment, the third time Vince laughed that night. That was when Austin realized he had a crush.

***

They would have people believe that art school was somehow special, that it would make it easier for your typical drama student to notice, “Oh, wow, maybe I like boys and girls.” They would have you believe that artists just don’t panic, that they don’t have identity crises, or, if they do, those crises are just a way to create more art and fuel the creative process.

Austin thought this was a crock of shit and his current dilemma only further entrenched that belief. If anything, being gay among artists and actors and singers was worse; they expected camp and fabulosity and if there was anything Austin was certain he was not it was fabulous. He did not desire a horde of girls who considered him their best friend; he desired hordes of men and women that he could have hot, hot naked action with. He was a teenage boy; he was pretty certain that the harem fantasy, at least, was normal.

Usually, he ignored his crushes until they went away, but this time was different. It wasn’t just about Vince. It was about The Abstract Noun.

Rebecca was their new biggest fan, and Austin was along for the ride. The sense of discovery, from finding a new band, from the new band not sucking, that was something he’d always cherished. He never invited friends to shows; his favorite local groups were like secrets, something he’d discovered all by himself. Sharing that with Rebecca was awesome; he felt closer to her for it, and yeah, he enjoyed the shows. But Rebecca was determined to make Vince her BFF, and Vince seemed determined to make Rebecca and Austin feel welcome, right when Austin was determined to enter the land of avoidance and denial.

They played every couple of weeks, in 18+ clubs or in bars where Vince would sneak them in as guests as long as they promised not to drink anything. And, afterwards, they’d always end up with the band (or, sometimes, with just Vince) hanging out at a coffee shop in Deep Ellum or Uptown or Denton or Addison, talking about nothing in particular until the small hours of the morning. Austin felt like such a groupie, and half the time he hid behind Rebecca–at least she could sing, at least she knew some of what they were talking about, and at least she could contribute a little. They’d be hanging out with the band, and the two of them would just start playing around with harmonies. It was interesting to listen to, but Austin couldn’t help but feel a little alone. Still, Rebecca continued to ask him along, and he found that he couldn’t refuse.

September and October flew by like that, in a blaze of concerts and school and drama productions. Then Austin was cast in an original one-act, and the Mime Troupe had a gig next weekend, and he had to work on his own monologue for Showcase, and his U.S. History grade was abysmal. He didn’t see Rebecca as much as he wanted, and he started missing their now-regular concert outings. He was aware Rebecca went without him, but mostly he was concerned with college applications and audition tapes and teachers hounding him about homework.

Then, he got a cryptic email:

hey do you have some time for an old fogey? we should talk. call me.

It took Austin awhile to remember that he did have Vince’s cell number, and then he was just nervous. Did Vince know? Austin was under the impression that he was adept at sailing under the gaydar, but the man was still very much a mystery to Austin, and he didn’t know what to do. It took him awhile, but finally he was able to just steel his nerves and call. They agreed to meet up at Cafe Brazil after Austin’s Friday rehearsal, and that was that.

***

“Rebecca’s been coming on to me,” Vince began, simply. “She wanted me to keep it on the down low, but I thought I should tell you. There you have it.”

What?” Austin didn’t know why he was surprised that straight women could have the hots for Vince, but suddenly Rebecca’s groupie behavior made a lot more sense. He tried not to think about how he’d been acting the exact same way.

Vince stared into his coffee. “Look, she kissed me, okay? And I kissed back. I wanted you to hear from me, because I don’t want it to go on behind your back. You’re both great people, and you deserve to know.”

“I. Um.” Austin figured that “will you kiss me too?” was the improper response to this situation, and so he opted to just not speak. It was a solid decision that had served him well in the past.

“If you need to be mad at me, go ahead; it’s all right.” The thought of being angry at Vince for all of this hadn’t even occurred to Austin; after all, if he’d had any sort of balls, he probably would have done the same thing as Rebecca.

“No, um, that’s okay. She started it, right? I guess I need to talk to her.” Austin sighed, and brushed his bangs out of his face. “I mean, truthfully, it wasn’t going to work anyway.” That was a bit of a lie; things with Rebecca had been stellar until most of their dates had started to revolve around Vince. Austin wondered why he hadn’t thought of it that way before.

Vince, though, didn’t say anything, for a long time. Long enough that Austin grew uncomfortable with the silence, which was flat-out unusual.

“OK, it’s like, um…” Austin stammered, as he berated himself for not taking the time to think of his words first. “You know, never mind.”

“Hey, hey, it’s cool. Just, you know, you’re a cool guy, for a high school punk.” Austin found it amusing that Vince was stumbling over his words; he’d always seemed so witty. “I mean, Rebecca’s eighteen and she seems fourteen a lot of the time, but you’re really pretty mature. The guys all like you; Rebecca, not so much.”

“Ha, well, the next time your band needs a mime, let me know.” Austin didn’t want to come across as bitter and sarcastic, but his words sure sounded that way. He fidgeted with the pepper shaker, focusing on it rather than Vince.

“Oh, bullshit, we both know you do more than mime at that fancy-pants school you go to.” Austin looked up, and noticed that Vince looked sympathetic at least, all half-smiles and brown eyes, leaning over the table so that he was closer to Austin than before. It was the first time they’d really made eye contact all night, he realized, before he turned his eyes back to the pepper shaker. “I’m just saying, we’re cool, all right? I do think of you as a friend. It’s why I told you about all this. And I’m really genuinely sorry if it hurts you, that’s all.”

Austin’s heart dropped into his stomach. “Yeah. Thanks for telling me; I’ve really got to get home.” He started to dig around in his messenger bag for his wallet so he could pay for his only-half-drunk coffee, suddenly eager to get away from Vince and his too-kind words.

“We’re playing a show tomorrow, you know?” Austin didn’t look up from his wallet as he pulled out a five. A bit much, but the waitresses always liked the extra tips on a busy Friday night.

“Yeah, I know.” I always know when you guys play, Austin did not say. I always know because your band is amazing, and because you’re even more amazing, he did not say. Instead he put the five on the table and stood up, suddenly all too aware of his probably totally awkward motions, and his stupid emo bangs, and the fact that he was still just a stupid kid with a crush and a cheating girlfriend and God, could he leave yet.

“It’d be great if you’d come.”

OK, so maybe Vince deserved a real response before he left. Austin paused a moment before responding. “Rebecca’ll be there. Not certain I’m up to it.” After all, for all that they’d apparently both been after the same thing, the concerts had been their time, their secret awesome band. It would be hard to give that up, but better to stay away for now.

Vince faked a smile, Austin could tell; real smiles make the eyes all squinty and Vince’s were still big and brown and sympathetic. “OK, then. As long as it’s your call. Good luck with Showcase.”

“Thanks.” As he left, Austin wondered if Vince knew you shouldn’t wish actors good luck, or if he’d done it on purpose, or if maybe he was thinking too much.

He was probably overthinking things, he decided, but he still sat in his car, thinking, for ten whole minutes before beginning the drive home.

***

The next day, Austin called Rebecca. He didn’t want to see her, he explained; he knew what had gone on with Vince. And then she started crying, which was something he’d never known how to handle. She’d told him, once, that she never cried in front of anybody else, and while he half suspected it was a lie it still touched him a little.

He felt awful, telling her he wanted to end what they had, and he felt even worse when she agreed. It wasn’t fair, she said, for her to see him when she was so enthralled by Vince. Austin’s stomach sank, at that, and while he knew his secrets were equally unfair, he said nothing about them. It’s for the better, he assumed, and he stayed on the phone with her until she had worked her way down from sobbing to sniffling, and then they hung up.

That night, Austin went to the concert. He didn’t know why he went; Rebecca had told him she’d be there. He stayed near the back, where he could see Rebecca’s bright pink hair reflecting the stage lights as she waited at the front of the crowd for the band to appear.

Austin had barely begun to mope when Vince started singing.

It was a new song, he realized immediately. No bass, no guitars, no drums, just Vince standing there singing nonsense words (Ahhh-ahhh-ahhh) into the microphone, playing tricks with his vocal cords, his voice clear and clean like a bell.

And then it all came crashing down, bass line and drum and guitar, and Austin forgot completely about his regrets. Instead he stared at Vince from the back of the room, attempting to mentally remove the crowd around him and the girls behind him trying to talk over the band. He suddenly wished for that spot near the stage, the one where Vince could see him when he opened his eyes, the one where the club would fall away.

Instead, he settled for falling ever toward the back of the room, listening. He finally found himself standing on a bench against the rear wall, in the midst of a bunch of tiny girls with no other way to get a good look at the stage. Austin watched the crowd in front of him; most of them were bobbing their heads, some were dancing the white boy two-step, and a few were getting completely into it. It was impressive, really, and Austin wished he could have this kind of effect on an audience.

It had only been a couple of weeks since the last show Austin had been to, but there were three new songs, including one of the ones Rebecca had tried singing harmony on. It sounded a bit flat, without that extra layer of vocals, but the audience seemed to like it well enough, and Austin was engrossed by the sheer amount of change the song had gone through since he’d heard it hummed in Denny’s.

Their set ended too quickly. The guys were loading their gear off stage, except for Vince. He had run off through the back door, and Austin saw Rebecca leave through the front.

Austin’s curiosity was piqued. He relinquished his spot on the bench, and left, not bothering to get his hand stamped at the door. A quick glance around the building, and voila, there they were chatting by the dumpster.

No, not chatting, Austin realized. He couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying, but the tone and body language said a lot–there was distance between them, and Rebecca had crossed her arms, a sure sign that she was pissed off or annoyed. Vince, for his part, looked exasperated. Rebecca eventually stormed off down the other side of the alley, while Vince leaned against the door and stuck his hands in his pockets, watching her leave.

Austin approached him, slowly, only just noticing the slight chill in the November air.

“Hey,” Vince said, when he finally noticed his approach, still leaning nonchalantly against the door.

“Hey,” Austin replied. “So, uh, wow, lots of new songs tonight. I liked the opener.” He wondered if he should mention Rebecca, or ask if it had been a fight; they certainly hadn’t looked like they were on good terms, and just how far had things gone?

A slow smile crept across Vince’s face. “Figures. It was about you, could you tell?”

About him? That threw Austin for a loop, and he forgot all about Rebecca as he attempted to construct a response that didn’t give away the fact that he was really flattered. “Yeah, um, was I supposed to be able to tell? Your lyrics don’t make any sense, man.”

“Hmmm. Nothing on the bit with moving without talking? I mean, I like being cryptic, but when the subject himself doesn’t get it I start to worry.” Austin wracked his brain for what the hell Vince had been singing about then, but it was true that the musician’s lyrics were nigh indecipherable, like a note written to yourself when you’re falling asleep.

“Well, lyrical obfuscation aside, what were you trying to say about me?”

“That shy kids are cute.” And then Austin really didn’t know what to do, because Vince kissed him.

It was just a peck, really, warm and dry on his lips, and then Vince withdrew into his own space, and looked at Austin.

“Am I wrong?” he asked, grinning.

“No,” Austin replied, still a little dazed. “I can’t say that you are.” Half a step was all it took to close the gap between them and wrap his arms around the taller man. Austin was slightly annoyed that he had to stretch upwards a little to reach Vince’s mouth. Still, this kiss, it was exponentially better than the last. Virtuous pecks were for morons; this was all lips and teeth and tongue. Austin felt his arms tighten around Vince’s waist, half out of the chilly night and half out of pure want, and then Vince had broken off the kiss to work his way up Austin’s cheekbones, nuzzling at his ear.

“‘s windy,” Vince whispered, and the feel of his breath against his ear made Austin shiver a little. “The van’s empty, you know. It’ll take them awhile to move the equipment out.”

“Mmmm,” was all Austin could manage, and then he felt Vince’s hand around his and he was being pulled down the alley toward the band’s van. It took too long for Vince to unlock the door, and while Austin knew intellectually that it was because he kept hanging off the man, he didn’t particularly care.

The back of the van looked huge when it wasn’t filled with drums and amps, although the (coarse, scratchy, ancient) blankets on the floor were a welcome change from the dark windy alley. The two of them climbed in, shut the door, and settled in with their backs to the cold metal of the opposite wall.

Austin considered trying to say something witty or funny, but his perpetual slowness had him at a disadvantage yet again, because Vince’s mouth was on his, nibbling at his lower lip. They kissed like that for awhile, slow and languid, until Austin pulled himself onto Vince’s lap, straddling his legs. He began to unbutton Vince’s shirt, trying not to break contact with his mouth and spreading his palms over the new expanse of skin. He could feel Vince’s hand, a little cold, pushing up his hoodie and t-shirt to run fingers along his spine while the other hand stroked his hair.

Vince’s hands tugged at Austin’s hoodie in short order, and he backed away briefly to pull off both t-shirt and sweatshirt in one movement, tossing them behind him as he went back to kissing Vince, this time along his neck. The other man had started breathing more heavily, in a highly satisfactory manner, and Austin ground against his hips as he kissed Vince’s shoulder. He was delighted to hear a small gasp, which quickly turned into Vince mumbling at him.

“I still can’t understand you when you mumble,” Austin said, in a low voice, speaking against Vince’s shoulder. That only seemed to prompt Vince to stop talking, instead bringing a hand to run over Austin’s chest, leaving the other resting on the small of his back.

Austin pulled back again, and looked at Vince, who was smiling at him in a ridiculously sultry manner. “Wanna know a secret?” Austin asked, in a quiet whisper.

“What?”

“I’ve, um, never done anything with a guy before.”

Vince just smiled at him, though, and held his hand. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” he said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. Austin let his heart beat in his head for a few moments before he leaned forward again, only to find Vince talking straight into his ear again.

“So,” he said, his voice all breath, the hand on Austin’s back moving tentatively southward. “What do you want?”

It was a good question, Austin thought, but it was also the hottest thing in his entire life. He forced himself to breathe, and then he brought a hand down to the waist of Vince’s pants, and clumsily managed to unbutton his fly. His stomach was in knots, but in a good way, and he managed to grab the zipper and pull it downwards. Then it was simply a matter of reaching down into Vince’s boxers, and, well, touching him. They’d somehow managed to keep kissing through all of this, and Austin broke away to look at Vince’s face. His eyelids were hooded, and Austin couldn’t help but compare it to the way his eyes looked when he was singing.

Vince was looking at him, too, but for once Austin didn’t feel self-conscious with his stupid almost-emo hair, and his pale skinny body. They’d slid down the wall of the van, and were almost horizontal now, Austin still kneeling and leaning above Vince’s body, now supporting himself with one hand.

A smile crept across Vince’s face, and Austin felt hands brushing against his stomach, moving slowly toward his own jeans, unzipping them. Austin gasped a little, as Vince brushed against him, tentative and shy, before he felt the hand envelope him and start to move.

No more whispering now, just the two of them, breathing heavily, each looking at the other when he remembered to open his eyes.

Austin came first, with a pant, and resisted the urge to just fall on top of Vince. Instead, he watched him, gasping a little now and eyes closed, until he felt hips thrust into his hand and Vince reached up to put a hand in Austin’s hair as he came.

Austin slumped down next to the other man, still half on top of him, not wanting to move for a few minutes, or maybe forever. He was vaguely aware that Vince had snagged a towel from under the front seats, probably for cushioning equipment, to make a cleaning pass over both their stomachs before wrapping an arm around Austin.

Austin wondered what you were supposed to say after handjobs in the back of a van, but didn’t have time to speak before Vince’s pocket started buzzing. Vince picked his phone out of his pocket (and they hadn’t even managed to get their pants off, Austin thought), and clicked through it a little.

“Aw fuck,” Vince said. “The guys need my help packing up. And they’ll, uh, probably want the van too.” Vince wiggled a little as he pulled his pants up, and started to button his shirt back up. “You’re welcome to hang around, if you want; we’ll probably do a band thing after we pack up.”

“Naw,” Austin replied, suddenly shy and awkward again. “I do have to go home sometime tonight.”

“Just wait until college, my friend; I promise you it’s awesome.” Vince finished buttoning his shirt, and gave Austin a kiss on the forehead that made him suddenly dizzy again. “We should get together, you know, not at a gig sometime.”

Like a date, Austin did not say.

“Yeah. I’d like that.” And then a sinking feeling entered his stomach, and he remembered the beginning of the night. “But, um, Rebecca. Aren’t you…?”

Vince kissed him. “It’s nothing, she just thinks it is. I never wanted that kind of thing from her. Nothing’s gonna happen.”

Austin gave no thought at the time to what that kind of thing meant, and focused instead on pulling his hoodie over bare skin, thinking of kissing Vince one last time, and of shivering on the way to his car, the taste of his newest secret still in his mouth.

***

Austin’s parents were asleep when he got home, though they’d left him a note reminding him to lock the door. They’d also left him a cookie. He munched on it as he headed upstairs, before slumping down onto the bed and reaching for his iPod. He ignored the clock, which insisted on telling him precisely how late it was and precisely how much his parents would berate him for sleeping in tomorrow. Instead, he put on the ear buds and let his thumb click around until it found something that didn’t seem completely unlistenable, only to move ahead to the next song thirty seconds later.

He didn’t even know what most of the music was; he hadn’t managed to listen to half the stuff in his library. Still, it wasn’t bad, and he needed some noise in his head other than his own thoughts. Somehow, lying in his own bed had suddenly made the past few hours too real for comfort, and there were caterpillars in his stomach on top of all the food he hadn’t remembered to eat that night.

I kissed a guy, he thought to himself, and let the idea sit for a few moments before thinking: I jacked off with a guy, and it was hot.

Which lead him straight to “oh God, what do I do now” and “how do I tell everybody?” and “should I tell everybody?”

Austin let his mind turn those thoughts over, not moving from his bed, until he eventually woke up to the sound of his cell phone.

11:43, the clock told him. Light streamed through his window, and Austin was unhappy to discover that he was still fully clothed, on top of his comforter, and that his cell phone was still in his pocket.

“Hello?” he mumbled, despite his best efforts to sound moderately awake.

“Oh, did I wake you up?” Vince’s voice was chipper. “Sorry. But hey, if you hurry, we can get pancakes.”

Austin rolled out of bed, and rubbed his eyes. “Man, it’ll take you longer to get here from Farmer’s Branch than it’ll take me to get dressed.”

“Except I’m about ten minutes from your house.” Suddenly, Austin realized that all the background static was, in fact, highway noise. Well, that was a little weird and a little touching.

“…and you know where I live how? Vince, that’s kind of creepy.”

“I still had my old high school directory. Never underestimate the power of the packrat. I thought it’d be a good surprise!” His voice dropped. “Is it really that creepy?”

“Naw,” Austin said, smiling against his best judgment as he walked toward the bathroom. “The address in there was 1064 Camelot, right?”

“Yeah. I’ll be there in a bit.”

“Cool. I’m gonna change real quick, see you then. Don’t ring the doorbell, though; I’ll meet you outside.” Austin flipped his phone closed, and picked at his hair a little in the mirror, before rushing off to shower.

***

The pancakes were delicious.

“I’ve spent enough time eating shitty pancakes at the Denton IHOP to know when good pancakes are worth it,” Vince said, as he drowned his own batter circles in syrup. “Only the finest in not-24-hour-dining for you, Austin. Remember the lengths to which I will go.”

“You’re full of shit,” Austin said brightly. “I don’t have any idea why anybody would ever like you. Freaks, all of them… ow, hey, that was my leg.”

“Degenerate musicians like me are known to be violent when our reputations are foully besmirched,” Vince said, without a single pause. Austin wondered how often he had to have rehearsed that, before he was distracted by the way that Vince’s stupid stubble made him look so… Okay, so Austin didn’t know why he was staring at Vince’s stubble instead of focusing on his pancakes but he was.

“Hey, Austin?”

Austin looked up.

“What’re you up to for the rest of the day?”

Austin shrugged, and leaned back in the booth. “Nothing’s really going on. I was just gonna, I don’’t know, do homework. Why?”

Vince smiled at him, and leaned forward over his pancakes. “Want to go somewhere cool?”

Austin couldn’t help but smile back. “Like where?”

‘Somewhere cool’ turned out to involve driving half an hour, parking in the river bottoms, and trekking through mud created by the past week’s rain. Leaves clung stubbornly to the trees, likely to not even fall until Christmas, and they kept the sun from even attempting to dry the earth. The woods smelled surprisingly inoffensive, given the Trinity’s penchant for covering the entire city with the smell of sewage and standing water. Sure, there was the smell of water, and earth, but as far as nasty urban rivers went it was downright pleasant.

Except the bottoms of Austin’s jeans were getting muddy, and his shoes were squelching at him. “You owe me new shoes, when you’re famous,” Austin said casually, as he continued to follow Vince, now up a bit of a hill.

“I think this’ll pay for it. It’s been awhile since I’ve been down here, though, so um it might take awhile for me to find it.” Austin stared at Vince’s back a little, as he scrambled up to the top of a small rise, and looked around, pushing a loose strand of his hair behind his ear. He was just standing there, quiet, before he turned his head back and beckoned Austin. “C’mon, I think I know where I am now.”

“Only just now?” Austin surveyed the rise, and attempted to climb it without getting too much mud on the sleeves of his jacket. He mostly failed, but ended up on a raised bank of the river. The Trinity crawled along below them, higher than usual due to the rain.

“The river,” Austin remarked. “Something which I have never seen before, despite going to school downtown. Brilliant.”

“Hey now,” Vince said, voice a little injured. “Not only is it a river, but it doesn’t smell so much once it gets to where it’s actually moving. Anyway, the cool bit is down here.” He grabbed Austin’s hand, and pulled him along the bank, on what may or may not have been an intentional trail. Austin felt his cheeks blush a little when their hands first met, and he berated himself for being a stupid girl about things, but then there was a… something… in front of them. In the middle of the river, in fact.

“It’s a lock,” Vince proclaimed happily. “They tried to move paddleboats through here for awhi–hey, what?”

Austin couldn’t stop laughing. “You brought me to see some remnant of 19th century engineering?”

Vince punched him, lightly, in the shoulder. “It’s not like that! Did you know it was here before?”

Austin shrugged. “Guess not.”

“And did you know,” Vince continued, in his best PBS kid’s show voice, “that they tried to move boats up the river, before discovering it was so not worth it?”

“No,” Austin said. “I can’t say that I did.”

“It’s like a secret,” Vince continued, looking at Austin instead of his ridiculous river lock. “I almost majored in history, in college, you know? Didn’t really agree with me, on a large scale, but the local stuff is all made from stories and legends and everyone forgets it because it isn’t written down. Or important in any way, really.”

Austin reached over and put his hand around Vince’s waist. Really, he thought, if the idiot is going to wax poetic about everything then maybe he couldn’t help that the hopeless romanticism was rubbing off.

“So, this thing isn’t important,” he joked, as Vince put his own arm around Austin’s shoulders.

“Nope,” Vince answered. “Completely inconsequential in every way.” He certainly sounded cheery about it.

“Well, as long as it’s an unimportant lock,” Austin continued, matching Vince’s cheerfulness. “That makes all the difference.”

“It does!” Vince pulled at his shoulder, and Austin obliged, resting his head against the other man. He had to admit, it was a pretty view, and the day was nice. And the lock, just sitting there in the river, a forgotten monument. Like a secret, he supposed, and yeah, maybe there was a little bit of something in that. Secrets had power, like family recipes, or discovering a band, or stupid shared moments, or a single performance of a play.

“Hey, Vince?” Austin finally asked. “Want to come watch my completely unimportant performance in my friend’s original one act?”

“As long as it’s unimportant,” Vince answered.

***

Austin did not actually have a speaking part in Janelle’s play, but that was okay–she was continuing her obsession with the theme of communication, and had wanted at least one silent role. It was cool, it meant that Austin got a lot more leeway, and physical lines were easier to play with than verbal lines for him anyway.

The audience seemed happy, Austin thought, as he held his final position, arms wrapped around Sarah, waiting for the lights to go down. He hoped the recruiters in the audience could see just how awesome Janelle was as his mind buzzed with the more-than-scattered applause, and the odd whistle and catcall from his classmates.

The green room was buzzing with activity, including people congratulating him on being done for the night.

“Ha, I just want to get the stage makeup off before it devours my face. Break a leg, guys.” Austin hurried off, yet again, toward a restroom that wouldn’t be crowded with performers, ending up near the music practice rooms. He used to stand in the hallway here, waiting for Rebecca to finish up, trying to pick her voice out of the choir. She’d never even known he’d done that practically every day they were dating. The sense memory of it hit him hard and unexpectedly, and he paused for a bit, only slightly aware that he looked silly standing around in an empty hallway.

He snapped out of it when his cell phone started to buzz in his pocket. VINCE it said, and he flipped it open.

“Yello?” he answered, immediately resuming his sojourn to an empty restroom. Vince had a peculiar way of shoving everything out of his head, but the make-up on his face still felt gross.

“Where are you?”

“Booker T?” Had he not come? Well, that sucked, but maybe they could get together tonight and…

“No, I mean–oh, there you are!” and Austin turned around, to see Vince walking down the hall and hanging up his phone. He wasn’t in his stage clothes for once; it looked like he’d come from work, maybe. He was even wearing a tie. That was kind of hot.

“So, how awesome was I?” Austin joked, performing a little stage bow, ignoring the voice telling him that that was just too dorky.

“Pretty awesome.” Vince had finished his trek down the hall, and they continued walking, together. “You’re… really really good, you know, I’ve been to a lot of shows here and… you’re just really good.”

“Half of it’s Janelle. She points me in the right direction; I just do the acting thing.” Austin felt Vince’s arm creeping around his waist, and considered protesting, but this wing of the building was basically empty and screw it, it felt nice. “But, um, thanks. For coming.”

“Thanks for inviting me.” And then Vince was leaning over, and nuzzling at his neck. They’d basically slowed to a halt.

“H–hey, man, I’m still all covered in stage makeup, at least let me wash it off first.”

“No.” Well, who was Austin to argue against that kind of logic? Besides, Vince was nibbling at his ear, and his hands had moved rather scandalously south and–

“Here, this way, not in the hallway.” Austin dragged Vince into the choir classroom, which was thankfully unlocked. Once the door was safely shut behind them, he grabbed Vince by the tie, pulling him into a corner where a few music stands at least gave the illusion of cover, and then he wrapped his hands around Vince’s neck and pulled his head up toward lips and tongue and teeth. Vince’s mouth was warm, and tasted of the free cookies they’d had in the front hallway. Austin was aware that they were in school, that anybody could come in, but he found himself dismissing such worries and focusing on the way that Vince’s thumb was idly stroking some random piece of his back, through the shirt wardrobe had thrown at him, and the fact that it was Vince’s thumb made it ridiculously hot.

Austin was also vaguely aware of his own cock, half hard, and Vince, pulling them closer together, continuing with the enthusiastic makeouts. And then, before Austin even knew what was happening, Vince moved decidedly downward until he was on his knees, where he unzipped Austin’s fly and oh God, he was in school but the fact that sexy, confident Vince was looking up at him made him push such thoughts to the back of his head once more, because Vince was taking his cock into his mouth and the world went a little blurry.

He actually squeaked a little as Vince did something with his tongue, and, feeling mildly embarrassed about making girly noises, he let himself fall a little to lean against the wall, breathing growing labored.

Wait, were those footsteps? Austin swore to himself and tried to get Vince to pay attention and stop so he could at least get his pants up, but trying to do so while staying quiet was not the most efficient plan and shit the door was opening.

Vince noticed that much, at least, and was pulling himself back while Austin attempted to stuff his rapidly flagging cock back into his pants and zip up, but no, somebody had come in and that somebody was Rebecca.

Chorus room, and that messenger bag in the corner looked just like hers. Of course it was Rebecca, and of course Vince was still on his knees and Austin was still zipping up and Jesus she looked so pissed.

“Vince? Vince?” She’d brought her hands up to her face, eyes wide.

“Rebecca,” Austin started, “Um.” He suddenly felt like there was a black hole in his stomach, and all he wanted to do was run away because why Rebecca and why now?

“You bastard,” Rebecca continued, and all five foot two of her was charging towards them. Vincent had risen to his feet, and–wait, Rebecca was in Vincent’s face?

“You… What are you doing with my ex-boyfriend?” For all her vitriol she was keeping her voice low, and that was when Austin remembered that they were in the school, which was still far from empty even if not many people were still in the music wing tonight.

“Well, um, I… It’s pretty obvious?” Austin couldn’t really see Vince’s face from where he stood, but his voice sounded apologetic and solid, where Rebecca’s was like the quietest stage yell Austin had ever heard. “Look, Rebecca…”

“Do not talk to me, you lying fuck. I thought we were something, at least!” Her eyes had started tearing up, and Austin suddenly remembered his talk with Vince in the van, I never wanted that kind of thing from her. Nothing’s gonna happen. This counted as something, he was pretty certain.

“Look, I tried to tell you, I never wanted a committed thing–”

“No, you said you never wanted a serious thing. I can’t believe this! Did you tell Austin about us?” And, for the first time, Vince stepped back so that he wasn’t between Austin and Rebecca, instead facing the both of them. “No, of course you didn’t,” she finished coldly, before turning and running out of the room, leaving Austin confused and pale, with the sense that all the air had been forced out of him.

He looked at Vince. The other man, in turn, was still looking at the door, as if he half expected Rebecca to come back. His face had fallen completely and gone white, and he was biting his lower lip. He stayed like that a few moments, before turning to Austin. Austin immediately looked away, as a matter of principle more than anything else, focusing instead on his shoes.

“What’s there to tell, Vince?” Austin asked quietly, even though he already had a pretty good guess. He resolved not to look up, out of principle, but also because he knew that Vince would look sad, injured, genuine, despite being none of these things.

“I. Austin, look, I never wanted this to happen, okay? Can you… Can you promise to just listen to me, before you, um, run off?”

Austin stood still, but didn’t move. Perhaps perverse curiosity kept him there: how will he try to talk his way out of this or what will he say to me without her here. Whatever; it would be easy enough to get a straight story later, from Rebecca (if she would still talk to him; he’d never wanted to burn that bridge so completely).

“I just… You know that feeling, when you meet a new person, and they’re just so bright and awesome and you fall in love with something stupid, like the way their hair–” Vince had adopted that tone that he usually only used when he was talking about music, the tone that Austin always heard coming from dancers when they spoke of the human form, or writers when they spoke of the human condition, and it was pissing him off the longer he had to listen to it.

“Is this going somewhere?” He could hear the coldness in his own voice, and saw Vince’s weight shift from foot to foot, as if he were nervous or uncomfortable. Good.

“I like people, Austin.” He was speaking in the tone again. “And yeah, I like–I like to touch the people I like. Physically, emotionally, whatever; it’s a thing. And sometimes I just don’t think, or I like lots of people at once, and then someone gets hurt and I never meant for this to happen. I tried to tell her; I tried to tell her that I didn’t want commitment or anything and we didn’t do anything since, um, since you and me, and… and maybe I should have talked about it, but I didn’t, but I do really really like you and it was a total mistake and please don’t… just don’t leave?”

Austin took the time to look Vince in the eye before walking calmly out the door. He made it all the way to his car before he hit something, and counted that as a great victory.

***

The calls started that night, and the texts, and the emails. “We need to talk” seemed to be the universal constant, along with a lot of “please” and “I’m such a fucking idiot.” The last of them was the one most likely to get a response, as Austin couldn’t really argue with it, but he was content to ignore them, along with his piles of school work and college applications, listening to shitty-but-suitably-sad-and/or-angry music on his iPod instead. His parents had seemed concerned, but stayed out of his way, like they usually did these days.

Austin only made one call, to Rebecca. It went straight to voicemail.

“I hate what happened, and I’m sorry things went that way. I guess we need to talk. Call me, please, or I’ll see you at school tomorrow. Really I’m–I’m just sorry, okay?”

He really did not want to go to school the next day, despite his message to Rebecca, but there was still prep to be done on his solo monologue, and he honestly wanted to be in his acting classes. There was something nice about learning to be somebody else, and he supposed it was a healthier coping mechanism than drugs or alcohol or listening to sad songs on loop and staring at his ceiling.

The day was over soon enough, and a quick sweep by the main choir classroom told him that Rebecca’s choral ensemble was still practicing. Rather than ambushing her outside of rehearsal, which seemed a rather mean thing to do, he made his way out to her car and sat on the lid of her trunk, wrapping his jacket around him and pulling out a book to read under the parking lot lights.

People always left in groups, but Rebecca always drove home alone. Sure enough, Austin heard the gaggle of girls coming out the doors of the school before he spotted Rebecca herself. She waved goodbye to her friends, and started across the parking lot. Austin slid off of the car, and put his hands in his pockets just to have something to do with them. He ignored his sweaty palms and racing heart as Rebecca came nearer. I’m not in the wrong, he thought. I’m not.

“Hey,” he said, weakly, giving her a little wave and what he hoped was a sympathetic smile.

“Hey,” she said. She paused, and neither of them looked at each other, until finally Rebecca spoke again. “So, what in the world made you think that getting a blowjob in the unlocked choir room was a good idea?” Austin winced at the coldness of her voice, and considered his own immense stupidity before speaking.

“It just kind of happened,” he finally said. “You know Vince.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I do. And I know that he’s a douche bag, and I know you’re a jerk for not talking to me just because we broke up. I’ve known you for three years, Austin.” She punched him in the arm, then, gently, and Austin faked injury. She was smiling now, at least.

“Don’t blame me! I was just confused and… and yeah, a little infatuated.” He looked up at the lot light, and then back down to her. “I thought you two had broken up. After that show, a couple weeks ago; I saw you arguing, and he made it sound like there was nothing there.”

She snorted a bit at that. “He probably really didn’t think there was. And yeah, nothing physical happened since then, but he keeps–kept–flirting with me and it’s frustrating. He didn’t say anything about you.” She paused briefly, before beginning again, this time with less anger. “You still could have talked to me you know. No need to keep secrets.”

They were quiet, then, for a little while, leaning against her car in the November night. Austin was cold, and he imagined Rebecca was colder–she’d always been susceptible to the elements, as much as she liked to pretend to be a spunky hard-as-nails scene girl. Austin took time to think, to swear at himself for not asking Vince what was up with Rebecca and what he’d meant when he’d said that there wasn’t anything there, and he couldn’t believe that his life was suddenly so full of drama.

He felt a weight on his shoulder, and looked over to see Rebecca leaning against him, arms wrapped around herself as she shivered. Her mascara had run a little, even if it was barely visible in the parking lot lights.

“Are you gay?” she asked, her voice suddenly not much more than a whisper, devoid of her usual bluster and bubble.

“No,” Austin replied, as he put a friendly arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “But I guess I’m not straight. Never was. Sorry for hiding that.”

“Fucking artists,” she said softly, as she hiccupped a little, and nestled into the crook of his arm.

“Yeah,” Austin said. “Not going to argue with that one.”

***

Life went on. The phone calls and texts turned into long emails from Vince. At first, they all asked for forgiveness, and then they gradually turned into updates on Vince and The Abstract Noun, every week or two. Austin read them all, often several times, sometimes returning to them days later. He would, occasionally, delete one of them, only to move it out of the trash folder before it was scheduled to purge itself forever.

He would have been content to stay angry forever, except that Rebecca didn’t seem to be receiving any contact from Vince at all. Austin told her of the first emails, although he’d stopped talking about them eventually. Rebecca didn’t want to hear it, anyway. “Good riddance,” she would say, “he was such a dog,” before they would move on to other topics. If anything, they were better friends than ever, especially since Rebecca had agreed to abbreviate the story of her fling with a college guy for the sake of letting Austin stay in the closet a little longer. He didn’t tell her about the ever-growing pile of emails, though, despite the pangs of guilt he felt whenever he neglected to share things with her these days.

The discrepancy made Austin turn the situation through his head over and over, picking at it like a scab. He tried to dismiss it as lingering feelings for the first guy he’d been with, or as an obsession with the music, or just a stupid high school thing. Maybe he was just too stupid to let something go, but the emails, they still seemed to have a fondness in them, and they all ended the same way:

You’re free to call whenever. Promise I’ll pick up.

–Vince

It was confusing, and it was there and Austin still felt a weird rift between his outer life and, well, his kind of gay inner life. Vince had treated it all like nothing, and it had been so easy and so comfortable. Yet Rebecca was there, reminding him that lying tended to be a pattern, that Vince had a way with obfuscation, that he was, as they say, such a dog.

He was busy anyway, even over Christmas break, with the last of his college applications and with helping his mother bake cookies and being dragged across town to visit his crazy aunt who lectured him about the insecurity of a career in acting. Other than the time Rebecca dragged him to a rave in an Arlington warehouse he avoided going out, especially to the places he knew Vince would haunt.

The day after Christmas, he got a real letter, with a real CD.

Austin,

Great news! We recorded a bunch of songs; we’re using a few of them to make demos, and we’re thinking of self-publishing a few CD’s. Next thing you know we’ll have t-shirts.

I made you a copy of what might become the CD. Please listen to it.

We’re also playing a couple of weeks after New Year’s, a thing for college and unsigned local bands only. They have us slated to headline, barring some really famous gig freeing up. Our first show with an encore, I bet! There’s a flyer in the envelope; it’s got all the details.

On a personal note, well, I guess I’ve said everything I can say. I still miss seeing you at shows. I still think you’re an amazing person, and an amazing actor. There’s nothing more I can say, except that I still consider you a friend, and I’d be honored if you’d do the same for me again. I think this is the last I’ll write, because I know you probably just want to be left alone at this point.

You’re welcome to call, whenever, whether it’s now or five years from now or only when we’re rich and famous. You’re also welcome at our shows–I’ll look for you.

-Vince

The demo was just a burned CD, with the track listing written in sharpie on the envelope it came in. Austin recognized it as Vince’s handwriting, but didn’t bother to read it before going to his room and sticking the disc in his ancient stereo.

Lo-fi, like it was recorded in their garage, but the sound was there. If anything, the songs benefited from the fuzz in the background. There was warmth there, and in Vince’s vocals.

Austin knew Vince could sing. Somehow that made the way he mumbled through his lyrics, the way that his voice would soar into a falsetto for just the chorus, or the bridge more exciting and definitely more emotional. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed Vince’s music, and then the first song changed, and the words with it, over the jangle of a guitar:

So lend me the look on your face and the locks on your doors
Tell me tell me all that you need
You never heard the words but I swear that I swore
We’d head south on I-35

A spark of recognition flashed in Austin’s head, and he looked at the track listing:

1. They Named You For A Music Town

Well. That didn’t change everything, but it certainly changed something.

***

Austin kept to the back of the room. He couldn’t really see the stage, but that was okay; none of the opening acts grabbed his interest. They were all simple radio alt-rock, playing the same handful of chords over and over again, or acoustic acts that were solid but not really his thing. The bands ranged from death metal to space-case: one guy basically got on stage and played his guitar for fifteen minutes.

He spent most of his time watching the people around him. Most of them were college kids, and almost all of them seemed to know somebody who was playing; the usual whistles and shouts of “JASON! I SEE YOU!” exploded after every song, while the uninterested mingled in the back chatting amongst themselves and waiting for their own friends to take the stage.

The group immediately before The Abstract Noun contained a fellow who was absolutely shredding his violin, and Austin found himself bouncing his head along despite his best efforts at stoicism. He gave them some applause when they said their good nights and walked off the stage. There were a couple of students doing the stage ninja thing, and Austin took the time to breathe, and to eavesdrop on the conversations around him just to keep his mind off of Vince and his stupid songs.

Which was a futile effort, because in no time at all the guys were taking the stage, just strolling on casually, Vince grabbing the mic stand as soon as he was up there, as if he’d fall over without it. Austin was always surprised by how Vince’s stage presence was so full of nervous energy, all the bluster fallen away, leaving the singer with nothing but words and music. It was like the opposite of acting: no character, no props, nothing to protect you from the audience but yourself, and maybe a microphone stand.

Austin didn’t have long for introspection, though, because Jeremy was counting them off and they had launched into one of their peppier numbers, all sunshine and love and dance floor. Even at the back, the crowd was noticing them, turning their attention to Vince and his lidded eyes, as he sang his most well enunciated and most cryptic lyrics. Nobody seemed to care what he was singing, though; instead they were drawn into the hooks and the beat of it all, most of them tapping along, a few dancing.

He liked the song, of course, but Austin liked all their songs. He’d heard them all, plenty of times, either live or sprawled on his bed listening to the demo and reading Vince’s letter over and over. He’d brought it along, folded and hidden away in his back pocket like a piece of evidence or a map or a security blanket.

The song ended, on a long chord, and the crowd was louder than it had been all night. Vince was smiling, and saying something to Mike, and then he was actually speaking into the microphone, despite his usual taciturnity at gigs.

“Uh, good evening, UNT!” The audience gave a whoop, and Vince just laughed. “It feels weird talking like that. All rock star, you know? . . . You don’t know? Well, I guess that’s why we’re up here, huh?” Chuckles from the crowd. “Anyway, uh, that was “Canary,” and this next song, well…” He laughed, and looked over his shoulder to Jeremy for a moment. “It’s just a stupid love song. Hope you like it.”

The intro was clean. It sounded just like the recording, only without all the fuzz, and Austin felt like throwing up, or rushing the stage, or maybe shoving his way slowly through the crowd just to throw up on Vince’s shoes.

He’s singing about me, Austin thought, and then he thought it again, and again. Looping the song had wedged the words into his head, even here, where Vince’s voice wasn’t making any sense, all low gravel and sand and lyrics that were like poetry but completely different.

Austin looked at the people around him, most of them standing more or less still, a foot or finger tapping idly along with the song. They don’t know, he thought. They don’t get it; he’s singing about me.

On the stage, the guys looked calm, while Vince stood there with his mic. There were a few measures of instrumental before it all changed, Austin knew that by heart. During his moment of silence, Vince looked up, and took a hand off of the stand to brush his hair out of his eyes.

Austin didn’t know if he imagined that he was looking down at the people he could see, the ones in the front row, but the moment he found himself wishing for it to be so he turned and made his way to the door.

Even in the corridor, he could hear the words about him. Stupid love song.

***

Sometimes Austin wished he smoked, just to have something to do with his hands. Instead he stood around outside the concert doors, without much company except the ushers who were talking amongst themselves, and the occasional person heading to the restroom or leaving early. The show was long; The Abstract Noun seemed to be playing every one of their songs. There was nothing new there, except for the crowd and the energy, but Austin didn’t particularly want either of those.

Austin paced a little, hands in his pockets, and listened half to the faint music and half to the ushers. It seemed like an eternity until Vince finally took the mic again, said something like, “Thank you, and good night,” and then there were people everywhere.

He had no idea where anything was, in this building or on this campus, so Austin waited until he saw somebody with a walkie headed away from the crowd. He followed him, and the direction seemed right. Confidence was all it took, at an operation this small, and he was backstage in no time.

He could hear Mike and Jeremy chatting, barely offstage, apparently waiting for a moment before they started packing up equipment. Austin paused for a moment, before he headed around the corner, into their line of vision. Vince wasn’t there.

“Hey, um, guys…”

“He’ll be back in a second,” Mike told him, gently, with a smile. “I mean, if you wanted to see him; I assumed you did.”

“Yeah, uh, I guess I do. Do you know where he is?”

“Little boys’ room.”

“Thanks,” Austin said, before rushing back to the hallway. This end was nearly empty, and he waited outside the stage doors, not really wanting to talk to Vince in front of the entire band.

And then, suddenly, there he was, still in stage clothes and still wearing ridiculous guyliner. He’d clearly noticed Austin first; he seemed to have a purpose.

“Hey,” Austin said, giving a little wave, mostly out of habit.

“You came!” Vince was surprisingly giddy; the smile on his face was ridiculous, which only made Austin want to leave again out of spite, except for the part where he didn’t seem able to move his feet at the moment. “I’m… I’m really happy you did! Did we rock or what?”

“I, uh,” Austin looked at his feet. “I spent most of the act in the hall.”

God, he could feel Vince’s face fall, it was ridiculous. “Oh. Um. But you heard–?”

“Yeah,” Austin said. “I heard.”

“It was my way of saying I’m sorry. And that I missed you,” Vince mumbled. “A lot.”

“Yeah, and I missed you, except for, you know, the drama.” Austin tried for sarcasm, but instead sounded bitter; he winced a little at his own callousness, and looked at his feet.

“I know I’m kind of a miserable fuck, but I was just hoping… You know, never mind.”

Austin looked up, only to see Vince not making eye contact for once; he was focusing instead on some probably-riveting spot on the wall. “Hoping what?”

Vince shook his head, and faked a smile at Austin. “You know, it’s not important.”

OK, then, I’ll go, Austin didn’t say, and I’ll think about you more than necessary and I’ll probably end up going to your shows and hiding from all of you. Instead, he thought for a moment about the way his feet seemed to have grown roots and the way his heart was doing ridiculous rollercoaster tricks, and how incredibly idiotic he must be.

“Well,” he finally started, just as Vince looked like he was about to say something. “As long as it’s unimportant,” he finished, aware of the stupid grin on his face and the immense stupidity of his actions. The dumbstruck expression on Vince’s face was worth it, Austin thought, as he took the man’s hand and tugged him down the hallway, away from whatever people were around, to where maybe he could kiss his stupid, stupid rock star.

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