“Don’t You Forget About Me”
Tell me your troubles and doubts
Give me everything, inside and out
Love’s strange / so real in the dark
Think of the tender things that we were working on
© 1984 Keith Forsey, Steve Schiff, & Simple Minds
Line after line of neatly printed poetry leapt up from the page. It had always been her sister’s dream to stay with their cousin Samantha in England, a stone’s throw away from Oxford and its prestigious colleges. She certainly had the talent and skill to be accepted into a program there, too, once she finished high school. So, in a way, Stacy couldn’t blame her for jumping at the chance to move one step closer to her ultimate goal. Still, there was something to be said for timing – and this turn of events couldn’t have come at a worse moment, as far as Stacy was concerned.
She’d always felt a little hesitant about starting high school – she’d long been the youngest of all her friends, lagging behind by whole grades in some cases, so she was acutely aware of the fact that only a precious few of them would still be around when she finally made her debut there. Now, over the course of four weeks, two of those closest friends had moved oceans away, and as a result, she felt more alone than ever.
So much had changed over the summer. Not only had Renee been busy packing for her dream trip to England, but the Kid – her absolute best friend in the entire world – was off to Africa on student exchange. It had been hard enough losing Gloria from the band, but now? It had almost been too much to bear, the idea of finding more new talent to fill the ranks of Kids Incorporated. Stacy could hardly believe she was now the second oldest member of the P*lace house band. She’d always been the baby, the youngest, the one who was coddled and sheltered – but now, with the rapid loss of three of the four older kids in just a few months’ time, she felt totally out of sorts trying to assume one of their roles.
Mercifully, she wasn’t yet the real leader of the band. Even with Gloria, Renee, and the Kid gone, that still left –
Stacy glanced up, unable to stop the tiny smile curling the corners of her lips as she spotted him across the way, waving excitedly to her. His grin was as big as his stride as he approached, folding his lanky body onto the bench across from her before she could blink. “I just got a postcard from Gloria,” he said excitedly, dropping his bag on the table. “Wanna see?”
“Sure,” she managed to choke out, ducking her head behind her own pile of books as she took the postcard from him. She could only hope that her face wasn’t as red as it felt. He was now a senior at the high school, and his reputation as a stand-up guy largely preceded him. He’d mellowed out quite a bit in the five years that she’d known him, his friendly smile and steady demeanor drawing others to him like bees to honey. He was smart, athletic, musically gifted…and sometime over the last year, had blossomed into his looks as well. Half the kids who came to watch their shows were adoring girls with eyes only for him.
The fact that she was rapidly joining that number made Stacy long for the comfort of her sister – and the companionship of the Kid – even more.
“Gloria must really love being at school,” she said wistfully, tracing her fingers over the image of the conservatory printed on the back of the card.
Ryan nodded. “She said she’s training in opera now,” he said, tapping the card with his finger, indicating that Stacy should turn it over and read the message. “Can you believe that?”
She giggled. “I find it hard to imagine Gloria singing opera,” she agreed. The Latina was vivacious and energetic, the exact opposite of the formal and staid nature of the genre. She quickly scanned the note. “It’s certainly not the same without her.”
“Yeah,” Ryan sighed. “Even though the new kids are great, the dynamic is just – different.”
Stacy found the courage to glance up at him again, quirking a brow. “Good different, or bad different?” It seemed too much to hope for, to share this same hesitancy about all these changes with someone else…
He shrugged. “Different different,” he replied. “No one can ever really replace Gloria, or Renee, or the Kid – or all those years we had together as a band. So, we don’t try to – we just do the best we can, with what we have now.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, though somewhat reluctantly. Could she really have expected him to say otherwise? He was the de facto leader of Kids Incorporated, the very backbone of the band. The others followed him without question – well, most of the time, anyway. And, she had to admit, he’d done a damn fine job of meshing together all their disparate styles into a quite pleasing sound. If the size of their audience was anything to go by, Kids Incorporated had weathered cast changes with relative ease.
“Speaking of former members,” Ryan continued, bringing Stacy out of her reverie, “have you heard from Renee or the Kid lately?”
She dropped one shoulder in a half-shrug. “I talked to Renee on the phone last weekend,” she told him. “She’s settling into life over there pretty easily, what with Cousin Samantha there to show her around. I couldn’t get her to stop talking about poetry, or prose, or whatever it is that Shakespeare wrote in – ”
“Iambic pentameter?” Ryan teased, interrupting her train of thought.
She flushed. “Whatever,” she mumbled, lowering her eyes to Renee’s writing journal again. English wasn’t exactly her strong suit. “As for the Kid…well, I guess it takes a while for mail to reach Africa, period. He promised he’d write me…” She trailed off, chewing on her lower lip.
“And he will,” Ryan assured her, reaching for the hand that was lying across the journal and giving it a quick squeeze. “I’m sure he misses us just as much as we miss him.”
At that moment, her mind couldn’t be further from thoughts of her effervescent friend as she stared down at their joined hands, Ryan’s last words tumbling around in her brain. ‘Us’? ‘We’? Her heart gained traction in her chest. His fingers were long and slender, curling over her closed fist in perfect measure. She liked that he didn’t let go right away, but at the same time, it made her wonder why he was lingering. Could it possibly be – ?
Oh, get a grip, Stacy, she reprimanded herself silently. He’s seventeen to your fourteen, and there is a line of girls a mile long that he’d consider dating before you. She blinked. Waitaminute – dating?! This is Ryan we’re talking about here, the same dork you’ve known since you were nine years old. He’s just being considerate, that’s all.
Really, really considerate…
“Earth to Stacy, Earth to Stacy – !”
Another flush stole across the back of her neck as she registered the smirk on his lips and the teasing glint in his eye. “Come in, Stace, let me know you’re still here and not circling the clouds…!”
She pulled out of his grasp. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “What were you saying?”
His smile waned. “I was asking you about the songs we should go over in rehearsal this afternoon, and how you think the Saturday set should shape up. How confident are you feeling about the guitar part from ‘Who Will You Run To’?”
“I – I think I need more practice, don’t you?” she replied, still a bit distracted by the warmth that lingered on the back of her hand from his touch. “It’s the first time I’ll be singing lead and playing lead.”
He frowned as he continued to study her, his assessing gaze almost unnerving in its intensity. “Is everything okay, Stacy? I know it’s been tougher for you than any of the rest of us, what with starting a new school and all… Is something else weighing on your mind that you maybe wanna talk about?”
“Well…” She hesitated, but figured he had the right to know. “There’s this assignment in English that’s kinda getting me down. We’re supposed to write a daily journal, and use one of the entries to write a short story for the midterm.”
“Ahhh.” Ryan nodded sagely. “I remember that assignment. Mr. Moritz?”
Stacy nodded before throwing up her hands. “I have no idea where to even begin. I was hoping that maybe looking through some of Renee’s old notebooks would give me inspiration, but…” She shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Don’t sweat it, Stace,” he replied. “Just start with the daily assignments. He still gives prompts for those, right?”
“Your response doesn’t have to be anything major. Just write whatever comes to mind,” he advised her. “After a few days, just look back over your entries – you never know what might ultimately inspire you.”
“I don’t know, Ryan,” she hedged. “This has always been more my sister’s thing than mine.”
He graced her with a patient smile. “And if Renee was sitting here instead of me, would she tell you anything different than what I already have?” he challenged gently. Before she could respond, he barreled on, pushing a hand through the thatch of black hair falling over his brow. “If it’ll make you feel any better, I’ll dig up my old assignment from that class and let you look through it, how’s that? I mean, this doesn’t have to be a masterpiece or anything.”
“Spoken like someone without a big sister like Renee,” Stacy muttered good-naturedly. “I’ll never be able to top what she’s done.”
“So don’t try to,” he responded with an encouraging smile. “Your friends already know you as someone other than Renee’s little sister – give your teachers the same chance.”
At that moment, Stacy couldn’t help but wonder – what did he see her as, beyond Renee’s little sister? Fellow bandmate? Friend? She pushed the thought down almost as soon as she realized it had floated, unbidden, into her mind. We are friends, she reminded herself. And, now that we’re suddenly the leaders of Kids Incorporated, maybe we’ll become even better friends than we were before.
And anything beyond that…?
Whatever moment was brewing between them was suddenly broken, as both turned to see a tall, thin girl with long, dark hair rapidly approaching their table. “Oh, Ryan, can I speak with you for a moment?” she asked breathlessly, dropping a gorgeous smile on him almost as soon as she arrived.
“Sure,” he returned, with equal pleasure, before turning to Stacy once more. “I’ll see you later, at rehearsal?”
“Right,” Stacy nodded, standing abruptly and gathering her books. Here was that epic Ryan charm, about to work its magic on another beautiful classmate. She turned blindly, taking a wide step to clear the bench, none too keen to watch this girl flit and flirt around him. He was still Ryan, after all, the same kid who had spent most of his first year in town playing the tough punk, trying to impress everyone who crossed his path.
Sometimes old habits die hard – and now, that sort of rough and tumble charm probably landed him more dates than he had days of the week.
She cast a glance over her shoulder as she left the park, but almost immediately, she regretted it – whoever she was, it was clear to one and all he had eyes only for her, this dark-haired beauty. Stacy frowned. She was much more used to being the center of her own whirlwind, not on the outside looking in. But with her best friend and only sister gone to far-flung parts of the globe, is this what she had to look forward to?
Could she really count on Ryan to fulfill those roles left behind by their former bandmates?
Did she even want him to try?
Her heart was heavy as she turned towards downtown, heading for the band’s rehearsal space at the Garage, across from the P*lace. Only time would tell what was to come in her future – and luckily (or, perhaps, unluckily) for her, it was worth half her English grade this semester to chronicle the journey.