Snippet: Playin’ His Heart Out

Okay…I’m officially grumpy now.

I sat down to write a blog post this weekend.  I wanted to get at least one post — and hopefully more! — saved and ready before the week actually started so I didn’t get stuck behind the blogging eight ball (like I usually am).  Step One of that plan was to finish a post in a specific writing session (on Saturday afternoon).

I gave myself no choice, and no way out: I had to do it, and I couldn’t stop writing until I was done!

Err…

Umm…

Failure is apparently an option…

Crap.  Screw it, I’m done fighting — it’s time for another snippet-post since I have been spectacularly unsuccessful at putting together a “normal” one.

The bit below appears nowhere in my outline for The Silence That Never Comes.  That is why, by the way, I don’t write in anything resembling a sensible, logical order.  That is why I work on whatever strikes my fancy at the time: sometimes you come up with an idea that wasn’t planned, that doesn’t fit, but is one you want to write.  You can either stick to your plan and try to write that idea later…or you can write it right then.

For me, there is no question — you write it…right fucking then.  You always write it, there’s no other answer…

The nerves were real.  They were very real.  Connor hadn’t felt this nervous about his playing, not to mention this powerless, since that first night he had auditioned to play at Peeber’s.  And just like then, he was certain he was going to fail…and fail badly.

He let fall the curtain from his hand, closing the tiny crack through which he had been looking.  It took what felt like forever to work up the energy and courage to turn around.  His stomach was churning in new and interesting ways, and his muscles felt like water.

Spog

“Urusai, Oz,” he muttered under his breath, “you can’t help with this.”

There were three people behind him.  Staring at him.  Expecting things from him.  Demanding things from him, things he wasn’t sure he was prepared to give.

His voice was harsh and accusing, but with his breath running so short he couldn’t manage anything else.  “For fuck’s sake, Mattie.  A moderate crowd, you said.  Nothing out of the ordinary, you said.  There has to be ten thousand assholes out there!”

If there was sympathy in her eyes, Mattie’s voice wasn’t in the least apologetic, “More like twenty thousand, actually.  You got a gig opening for the biggest band on this miserable planet…what did you expect?  Grow up, Connor.  That amphitheater, that crowd…they don’t change a damned thing.  It’s exactly the same as playing at Peeber’s, the same as that first night when you won me over.”

“The same thing?” Connor’s voice was near panic.  Far too near for his comfort.  “I played to, what, fifty people that night?  Shit, my biggest day was two thousand at the summer festival…”

“And now you’re playing for more.  Whether it’s two hundred, or two hundred thousand, doesn’t matter, Connor.  It still comes down to you and your guitar.  You’re not playing for that entire amphitheater, you’re playing for yourself…and for your ghosts.  Forget the crowd, forget the worry, and just play.”

A shake of his head, but his limbs seemingly had their own will.  His feet took him to the back wall, his hands reached for the simple guitar leaning there.  A glance at the others, at those who had hitched their stars to his, those who had agreed to play with him in front of that idiotic, monstrous crowd…

He swallowed, then, and wished for the whiskey he had denied himself earlier.

“Fuck it, let’s go.”

The lights were out when they stepped onto the stage.  The busy, distracted crowd didn’t notice their presence.In the dark, on that stage, the voices and jostling of twenty thousand people packed into a tight amphitheater seemed to drown out everything else.  No one noticed the band, no one noticed Connor’s shaking hands, no one noticed his wild, terrified eyes.

He gulped as all the hours of practice and preparation fled.  A look out over that ocean of faces and was he was laid bare and open, vulnerable in a way he had never been before.

Play for me, Connor.  Please.

Connor started to play, quietly at first but growing in volume, as he built into his opening.

The spotlights picked him out, threw his face into sharp relief, and the crowd began to quiet.  The jostling stopped.  The crowd listened.

Connor didn’t sing for them, he sang for himself…and for Oz.

The crowd cheered.

For the forty-five minutes Connor had been hired to sing — to warm-up the crowd for a much bigger act — that crowd cheered and screamed and poured back to him far more emotion and energy than he spent in his performance.

It was a sound he had never heard before, a feeling he had never experienced.  It was more, even, than the old vids he had watched of Vin and Marie playing in their prime.

It was every dream he had never allowed himself to have.

The music stopped, but the cheering continued.  The clamor echoed and resounded, overwhelmed him.  A final bow, then the lights faded and he was left blind.  He couldn’t have moved even in full daylight, however.  It was too much.  As real, and as debilitating, as was the physical exhaustion, even worse was the emotional exhaustion.  He was utterly spent.

A hand on his arm, then, and he finally did move.  The others — Mattie and Trey and Asa — were laughing and shouting in their joy.  It was Mattie’s hand that had touched his arm, had started him moving.  She guided him backstage, guided him through all those congratulating him, all those who wanted seemingly nothing more that to talk to him, to touch him.

In their small greenroom, crowded as it was with just those he actually knew, he finally started to recover.  Trey pressed a celebratory drink into his hand even as Asa began recounting every last detail of the biggest performance of all their lives.  The drink helped, and Connor began taking tentative part in the celebrations.

If it was hard for him, it was because, for the first time in a very long time, he wore no mask.  He could wear no mask, not after that performance.  To be anything — or anyone — other than himself in front of that crowd would have seen him fail spectacularly, of that he had no doubt.  It was hard, however, to actually be himself.  He had, for far too long, been anything and everything but.  Connor-the-person had lain for so long hidden under Connor-the-ikiryo and Connor-the-thief, lay still hidden under Connor-the-spy, that just who he really was a question he couldn’t really answer.

Still, the energy and enthusiasm in the greenroom drew him out, almost as much as did the pretty girl with the dark, curly hair who seemed to think he was the greatest thing ever.  He laughed and talked with her, and with the small handful of people in that room, and felt nothing of his fingers, bloody and battered from his guitar strings, nor of his voice, exhausted and hoarse.

A look around the room, the girl now nicely snuggled beneath his arm, and he grew puzzled — where the hell was Mattie?

A few minutes and his question was answered by Mattie’s hand once again on his arm.  He leaned close in answer to her motion, then leaned closer still to hear her low whisper, “Come with me, Connor.  Just for a few minutes.  I have someone I want you to meet.”

A lifetime ago, as a Dockside ikiryo, that short phrase phrase would have set alarms to ringing in Connor’s head.  Hell, a day ago, as a corporate spy, those alarms would equally have been ringing.  But just then, as a half-drunk singer after the biggest show of his life?  Just then the alarms were silent, and following his friend to meet an anonymous someone seemed the most normal thing in the universe.

Mattie laughed as Connor took a few moments to tell the girl under his arm to wait with a long, slow kiss and a grin that promised a great deal more.  With the girl dealt with, however, he joined Mattie in her laugh and followed the squat, square form of his older friend out of the room.

The sounds of the main act were thumping from the stage, accompanied by the screaming cheers of the crowd, as he followed Mattie through the horde of sycophants and hangers-on backstage.  Connor knew it was the whiskey talking, but a laughing, celebrating part of his soul was fairly certain those cheers and screams were no louder for the stars than they had been for him.

A turn, then, and Mattie led down a set of stairs he hadn’t realized were there.  The lights were lower, down here, but still he followed, until Mattie stepped through a door that led into a long, dim hallway.

Mattie kept walking, without looking back, but Connor stopped.  Those silent alarms, those habits of a lifetime — of survival — they started ringing with a vengeance.

“Mattie, what the fuck?”

She slowed, but she didn’t stop.  A turn of her head, and a wave of her hand, and she answered his reticence, “It’s okay, Connor, I just need you to come with me…”

There is, by the way, a second half to this scene.  As I was writing it, however, things started to evolve and move towards that final image: the daunting, threatening corridor, the friend who is so important to Connor-the-person (vice Connor-the-spy), and the threat and fear of uncertainty…it just seemed a far better thing to end the “chapter” here than to put everything down at once.

Nope, the second half, the half that makes such a difference to how Connor’s life progresses, just has to wait for another chapter — and another post.

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