Chapter Nine

The following Friday afternoon, Riana was steeling her nerve to tell Mike C. that she wasn't feeling well and needed to go home early, when someone dropped that day's print of Alternative Review on her desk. She looked up at Alexis, who nudged her shoulder.

"Open it to the center spread," she said softly. "I noticed that you didn't get a copy today."

Riana dragged the newspaper open and laid it flat. Before her, distributed over both halves of the broadsheet, were artfully arranged, color photographs chosen from those she'd taken at Theory's show. The headline read, 'Not Irish's drummer, Tim Carver, makes his city and former bandmates proud!' Captions hugged the frames of every picture, but she didn't bother reading them.

"These are some great shots," she murmured, casting a professional eye over the spread.

"They really are," Irish spoke. Riana looked up questioningly; Irish regarded her calmly from beside Alexis. "When I saw them at the beginning of the week, I couldn't believe how perfectly you captured the depth of Tim, and in such a genuine, loving way. Seeing him through your eyes made me realize what a total asshole I've been."

Flustered, Riana looked away. "What are you talking about?" she said weakly. "They're just photos."

Irish sat on the edge of her desk. "You wince when you hear his name," she said gently. "Vertice told me that he left the two of you together last Wednesday night." She paused. "I heard from Jeff that he stayed at your place."

"The bunch of you are like a goddamn sewing circle," Riana muttered bitterly.

Irish chuckled. "We're pretty bad, aren't we?"

"It gets worse," Alexis assured her. "You haven't been answering Jeff's calls since Wednesday, either, and you don't answer your door when he knocks. You appear at every art and music shows that the boss dictates, snap some pictures, then leave without talking to anyone."

"Oh, and here's the kicker," Irish said kindly, "Jeff knows you lied to him."

Riana's head whipped up. "What?"

Both Alexis and Irish nodded, the latter saying, "He knows you were just protecting him, and Tim, from the truth. He doesn't hold it against you. Tim was the one who explained the situation, in fact."

"What is this?" Riana threw up her hands. "A fucking intervention?"

Alexis nodded. "Jeff told us you'd react this way, but before you stalk off, he wanted you to know that he doesn't blame you."

"He said to tell you that your 'nothing like her,' and that you should give Tim a call," Irish concluded.

"Holy fucking hell!" Riana exploded, jumping to her feet. She grabbed her bag from the floor. "It's a conspiracy! The 'tell Riana what to do and how to think' club!" She stormed across the office, oblivious to startled stares, and walked to the open door of Mike C.'s office. "I quit!" she yelled, not pausing long enough to observe the horrified look on his face.

Exiting the building, she walked home fueled by fury and heartache. She made it as far as the inside of her apartment before sinking to the floor, heaving, fighting with all her might the tears that wanted to flow.

Some time later, she heard a soft swishing noise, and glanced down at the flyer that had been slipped beneath her door. Atop a black and white collage of chaotic images, it read in bold print: Joe's Grocery is proud to present Not Irish and Sound Theory, headlining together. Opening bands include… She stopped reading, her eyes scanning the first line over again in disbelief. Her fingers traced the words, and felt the telltale rents of writing on the back.

Turning the paper over, she read the note, and started first to laugh, then to cry.


I wrote a song about you. It's really cheesy, all about how much miss you, pine for you, wake up in the middle of the night needing you… You've reduced me to a run-of-the-mill, lovesick songwriter. It's acoustic, Goddamnit!

If even a little bit of you wants to give us a chance, please come tonight. If I see you, I can't promise I won't do anything stupid, like yell at you or kiss you in front of your brother, but I will play the stupid song.

Hell, even if you still hate me, you can come just to have your revenge. It's a really sappy tune and I'm sure to get my ass kicked a couple hundred times for it. It would be worth it, just to see your face.


Riana waited in line outside Joe's Grocery, having left her press pass and camera at home. She entered the club camouflaged by the crowd around her, and slowly made her way toward the stage where one of the opening bands was concluding their set.

As the applause died down, Riana touched the arm of a girl beside her. "When does Theory come on?" she asked.

"Next," was the happy reply.

Looking doubtfully at the hundred or so tightly pressed people between her and the stage, she suddenly realized the slim chances of Tim being able to see her. Riana bit her lip in, shifting anxiously from foot to foot.

"I knew you'd come," Irish said, appearing beside her. She didn't bother waiting for a response, grabbing Riana's arm and pulling her through the crowd. Recognized by the majority of people in the venue, Irish received a wide berth of space in which to walk.

They reached the pocket of space directly before the stage, occupied by press and bouncers. "Enjoy the show," Irish said, winking before she walked away.

Riana glanced back at the first line of the crowd, crammed against a metal retaining bar. Someone yelled at her, asking who she was. She shrugged, smiling, and said she was no one.

The stage lights went dark and a wave of ecstatic screaming filled the club. Riana watched Tim's shadowed form walk across the stage. Her hands gripped together so tightly that her knuckles ached, she held her breath and waited.

When Theory's members were in position, the stage lights flashed bright. Tim was looking back at Vertice, who yelled something over the noise. Still facing away from the crowd, Tim angled his mouth toward his microphone.

"Shut the fuck up, people," he said, "I'm trying to have a conversation here."

Laughter and more screams sounded in reply. Riana, shaking with emotion, unable to look away from Tim's face, watched him frown as he tried to make out Vertice's words. Suddenly his expression shifted and he turned quickly, eyes dropping to the pit.

He found her, their gazes locking, holding for an eternity of several moments.

"Holy shit," he muttered, voice amplified. "I have to play the song, don't I?"

Riana nodded, grinning.

He shook his head, dimples playing around his mouth, and lifted his eyes to the crowd. "Here's the deal," he began casually. "There's this girl that I'm dying for. She's standing right there. Everyone say 'Hello, Riana!'" He pointed at her, and the willing audience screamed the words, making her cringe in embarrassment. "I promised her that if she came, I'd play this song for her. It's kind of a love song, but if anyone asks about it, you kids tell them to fuck off, you never heard a thing. Got it?"

"Yeah!" they roared.

He pointed at a group of skinhead-types near the stage. "You fucks are going to want to beat the crap out of me for this. Hell, I want to beat the crap out of me for this. But be warned, I am still the crazed son of a bitch you know, and if you so much as look at me the wrong way because of this, I'll put you in the hospital."

"Play… the… song!" chanted the audience, skinheads included. Riana joined them, yelling, "Play the song you big baby!"

Tim glanced at her, laughing, and spoke low-voiced into the mike, "Have I told you, Riana, how much it turns me on when you tell me what to do?"


He groaned. "Fine!"

An acoustic guitar was offered to him by a grinning stagehand, who he glared at as he strapped the instrument on. The lights dimmed until they outlined him alone in a soft glow.

He strummed a few chords, rolled his shoulders back, and began to play.

It wasn't cheesy, or anything like. It was a dark, disturbing song of eerie harmonic vocals and complicated music. It was a love song, of that there was no doubt, but it was no serenade. It was a melody of pain, confusion, and loneliness, and summed up so completely what Riana had felt for the past week that tears slipped unnoticed from her eyes.

When the final chord faded away, there was a pregnant pause before a vast roar of approval surged up. Tim opened his eyes and blinked in surprise, before smiling broadly. He looked down at her, finding her in the shadows, and she whispered, "Thank you."

He somehow managed to read her lips, for she saw his face register her words. Unmistakably, the silent phrase his mouth moved on was, "No, thank you."

The applause after Theory's final number lasted for a good five minutes. The band ended up playing three encores, and the end of which Tim screamed, "Fuck you all! Good night!" He then crouched at the edge of the stage, opening his arms. Several kids standing behind Riana nudged her forward. She grinned and let him lift her up. Wrapped tightly in his arms, with her legs locked around him, she was carried backstage and into a vacant dressing room.

There, he set her down, placed his hands on his shoulders, and stared into her eyes.

"Did you like the song?" he asked.

"Yes," she whispered.

His lips quirked. "Do you love me tons?"


He hugged her, kissing her head. "I love you," he murmured with every kiss. "I love you. I love you."

Riana, grinning into his shoulder, said, "I love you too."

"Good," he said. "Can we have sex now? 'Cause I'm feeling up to that eight hours."

She laughed, and laughed, and he kissed her laughter, kissed her until she forgot where she was, forgot everything but the moment and him.

[the end]