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He arrived in town a couple of days ago. His family moved here and he seemed like he was all alone. It’s not easy being the new kid in town. But it was summertime, and school hadn’t started yet, so there was time to get himself acclimated to the town.

His father was starting a new job on Monday, and his mom was already meeting the neighbors. They were getting used to their surroundings. But not him. He seemed lost. For twelve years the place he used to call home was his home, until his dad learned he was being transferred here.

This was coming on the heels of the death of his grandfather Herbie. Him and his grandfather did lots of things together. Camping. Fishing. Tossing a baseball around. His grandfather also gave him pointers on how to play a guitar, though it was a little difficult since he was left handed. But he was very surprisingly good at it, even to himself. He could even sing a little bit.

There was talk about his grandmother Ruth moving in with them but nothing had been set in stone yet. Maybe once they all had settled in, she would join them.

It was Friday and he was looking for something to do. Since he arrived in town, he just stayed in his new room of his family’s new home, reading his books – mysteries were his favorite. Today, he sat on the sidewalk that afternoon as the sun was overhead. Nothing seemed to be happening that day, so he just got up and started walking. He was wearing his jacket, a deliberately torn gray shirt, and gray pants. Not exactly summer wear, but he didn’t care.

He walked down towards the center of town. He saw a moving van pulled by a car drive by him. He watched as the van drove off, then looked around to see where he was

He saw a group of kids – three girls and a boy – walk into the side door of a building. He noticed the building was a theatre of some kind. He looked up at the marquee. The name of the place was called The Palace. The neon illuminated the sign in red, but the first ‘a’ was burned out, so the sign said ‘The P_lace.’

A bunch of other kids, some no older than him, were filing into the place – P_lace? – through the front doors. He looked up at the sign again and saw the rest of the marquee.

Now Playing

Kids Incorporated? Who were they? he asked himself. He decided to go inside and find out for himself.

Inside The P_lace, there were kids sitting down at tables in front of a stage. They were drinking sodas and milkshakes, waiting for something to happen on stage.

He took a seat at one of the tables. There were some kids already on stage – a girl behind a keyboard setup, a boy on a bass guitar, and another boy behind a drum set. In front of the drum set, were two girls, both blonde. He thought the shiny blonde on the left looked really stunning, though the other one, the strawberry blonde, looked pretty good herself.

An older guy went up on stage. He wore a loud Hawaiian shirt, a soda jerk’s cap on his head, and a kitchen apron over his pants. He took up the microphone.

“Hey, did you hear about that new restaurant on Mars?” he asked the audience. “The food’s great, but there’s no atmosphere!”

The audience booed – he did too – as the two blondes congratulated the soda jerk on a bad joke that was well done as they left the stage.

“Okay, I can take a subtle hint,” he said. “Here they are, the band you’ve been waiting for….KIDS INCORPORATED!”

The soda jerk left the stage and the main attraction came on. It was the same four kids he had seen earlier, the three girls and the boy. One of the girls, dark haired, looked older than the other two. The brunette and the blonde looked the same age, maybe a year difference. The boy was African American and sported a cap on his head.

They sang as the audience cheered them on. He soon found himself subtly dancing in place, getting into the rythym of the show. Between songs, they said that show was for their friend Mickey.

The band sang a couple of more songs before taking a break. During the break, he saw the two blondes talking to each other. He went over to them, said hi and introduced himself. The girls were named Andrea and Wendy.

“So what’s the story here?” he asked the girls. “Who’s Mickey?”

“You must be new here,” Wendy said. He nodded.

“Mickey was our guitar player,” Andrea said. “He helped put the band together two years ago.”

“He was great,” Wendy added. “He was more than our guitar player. He was our friend. He even helped me get over my shyness.”

“You, shy?” he said. “I find that hard to believe." He then asked, "Who were the others singing?”

Andrea told him their names. Gloria, Renee, Stacy, and The Kid. And no, The Kid doesn’t tell anyone his real name.

“We’ve been going through a lot of changes lately,” Andrea said. “Our bass player Darren, and our keyboard player Gina, they’re new as well. They joined us last month.”

“Who was the comedian?” he asked.

“Riley,” Wendy answered. “He runs things around here at The Place.”

He looked at the stage. “So they need a new guitar player, huh?”

“Are you interested?” Wendy asked.

“I’ll think about it.” But he already knew his answer.

The band came back on stage, and did a couple of more songs, then thanked everyone for coming. The kids filed out of The P_lace. He lingered on before leaving.

He went around to side of the building, where he saw the four kids. They were talking about looking for someone else to replace their friend who moved away.

He walked up to them. “How about me?”

The four of them looked at him. The oldest one – he assumed she was Gloria – and the youngest one, Stacy, went over to him. Stacy poked at the holes in his shirt, then checked to see how spiky his hair was.

“Well, how about it?” he asked.

“Who are you?” Gloria asked.

“The name is Ryan…..”