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SEPTEMBER

*


NINJA alert
EMC’s dropping a new NINJA track September 23RD!! Listen for Worthwhile (Ninja) on G103’s Local Smackdown

– billiam @ emc

*

Kevin isn’t expecting junior year to turn out any different than any other, so he’s not disappointed. He hugs his books to his chest, keeps his head down in the halls and still manages to piss off Lacey just by breathing.

On Wednesday, two weeks into the school year, Kevin’s late for lunch and Lacey comes out of nowhere – Kevin’s been on the lookout, he doesn’t see how he missed him – and grabs hold of his arm, swinging him into the lockers. Kevin holds his hand out to take the brunt of the impact, palm stinging against metal, wrist aching. He winces, and Lacey leans into him, grinning manically. It’s almost friendly, except for the death-grip he’s got on his arm and the hardness of his eyes.

Someday, someone needs to clue Kevin in on why Lacey hates him so much, because it can’t just be the purity ring thing. It hasn’t always been like this. Freshman year, they’d been sort of friends. Freshman year, Kevin had been friends with a lot of guys he’s not friends with anymore. Most of them don’t want to kill him, though. Most of them just don’t bother with him at all.

That’s just fine, because Kevin’s got Brendon and Patrick and Miranda and Bill. It’s not like he’s completely friendless here.

“What’s up, Jonas?” Lacey asks, grin sharp.

Kevin’s totally going to have a bruise later. He really wishes Miranda was there, because Lacey’s very obviously afraid of her. As he should be; Miranda’s his best friend, but she can be totally scary sometimes.

“Um.” Kevin bites his lip, fighting a grimace of pain.

Nolan’s shifting behind Lacey, looking uncomfortable. He gives Kevin an apologetic half-smile, but doesn’t actually stop Lacey from pushing Kevin harder into the lockers. There’s a padlock digging into Kevin’s left kidney, and all his books slip out of his hands, his papers slip-sliding under both their feet as Kevin unwisely decides to push back. Unwise, because Lacey’s fake grin morphs into a scowl, and he lifts a hand, like he’s actually going to punch Kevin, right in the middle of the hallway.

Kevin scrunches his eyes shut, but the blow never lands.

He cracks one eyelid, and then both of them fly wide, because Mike Carden’s got Lacey’s wrist, holding his fist back.

Carden, a senior, a totally cool senior, is—Kevin’s actually not sure what Carden’s doing, but at least he hasn’t been punched. Yet.

“Fuck off, Carden,” Lacey says, trying unsuccessfully to shake off Carden’s hold.

“Sure I will. If you want to get fucking suspended for fighting again, go ahead and punch the kid,” Carden says, and he lets go, and Lacey seems extra mad for the interference, so Kevin’s life is definitely over. This is it. He’s going to get a broken nose and hemorrhage to death; he always was a bleeder.

But Lacey just pushes Kevin again, and Kevin staggers and trips on his science notebook, falling to the ground, head glancing off the same padlock that’d been digging into his back.

Lacey laughs and saunters off and Kevin’s left with a healthy dose of humiliation and Carden gazing down at him blankly, eyes disinterested, mouth a flat line.

“Thanks?” Kevin says, pushing his hair back off his forehead. He’s really kind of confused. Carden barely ever acknowledges his existence, even though he’s sort of friends with Bill.

So it’s not all that surprising when Carden just shrugs and walks away.

*

“Lacey’s an asshole,” Miranda says. Her eyes are narrowed, like she’s plotting Lacey’s painful, messy death. Miranda’s a science wiz. She can totally come up with something that’ll hurt Lacey a whole lot, Kevin thinks.

“Totally,” Brendon says, then knocks his hand into his juice and spills it everywhere. Brendon’s wiping at his jeans, tongue between his teeth, and Patrick ducks his head further into his book, cheeks red.

This isn’t because of Brendon, Kevin knows. Brendon’s always a mess, they’re all pretty much used to it.

It’s because Pete Wentz is blowing kisses at him from across the lunchroom.

Wentz is an asshole,” Patrick says darkly.

“I dunno,” Brendon says in between licking at his sticky fingers – Kevin catches Smith staring, wide-eyed, and very carefully pretends he doesn’t notice; Smith’s new, and Lacey had snapped him up for his posse two days into the school year – “I kind of like Pete. He’s funny.”

Bill slides his tray onto the table next to Brendon. “Who’s funny?”

“Pete.” Brendon bobs his head, giving Bill a crooked smile.

Bill looks ridiculous in head to toe black – he says it reflects his tortured artist soul, but Bill’s got a goofy smile and a tendency towards hallway dancing, so it really doesn’t make any sense.

“Pete’s hilarious,” Bill says. He points at Patrick. “He loves you.”

Patrick sinks down lower in his seat. “Whatever.”

“And,” Bill presses his palms flat on the table, “we have a gig. Thanksgiving, if we want it, though they did offer something earlier. November will give us plenty of time to plan our grand unveiling.”

“Uh, no,” Kevin says, because that’s the deal. They don’t have gigs. Kevin’s parents would kill him, and he’s pretty sure Brendon’s would too. Plus, Kevin kind of thinks that if anyone knew he was in NINJA—well, they’d maybe lose a lot of fans. Kevin holds no illusions of not being unimaginably lame in real life.

Brendon bites his lip and looks torn, like he thinks playing a gig would be awesome, but maybe not worth getting disowned for.

Miranda says, “Where?”

“CarPort. They emailed EMC this morning. We’ll be up after Heartsore, it’ll be epic, gentlemen—”

Miranda clears her throat.

“—and beautiful lady,” Bill amends with a gracious nod.

Patrick says, “Huh,” and tips his hat down, staring at the lunch table, and Kevin feels his heart climb up into his throat.

“No,” Kevin says. “We really can’t.”

Patrick cocks his head. “We could,” he says slowly. “Maybe.”

Brendon snaps his fingers a lot and says, “Wait, wait. Disguises guys! We can, you know, not be us.”

“We’re never us when we’re out,” Miranda says. “Doesn’t mean people won’t recognize us if we’re, you know, right in their faces.” She wrinkles her nose, leaning towards Brendon across the table.

Real disguises,” Brendon says, batting her away, “like costumes. It’ll be fun.”

Bill hooks an arm around Brendon’s neck, tugs him in close. “Exactly, my friend. I’d call you a genius, except you seem to have wet yourself.”

“It’s juice,” Brendon says brightly.

Bill pats the top of his head. “That doesn’t actually make it any better.”

*

Brendon’s a folk singer at heart, and Patrick has motherfucking range so they maybe go a little crazy with Worthwhile (Ninja). Bill has a tambourine and the hook with Miranda – there’s a spicy thum-thum-thum on her rhythm guitar – and Kevin plays one bass part and hums another, laughing halfway through.

So one of the biggest problems with possibly performing live is that Patrick’s a musical genius and Patrick sings lead on half their songs, and Patrick’s the drummer.

“We’ll set up a mic,” Bill says.

He’s hunched over his laptop, responding to comments on Eat More Cats, their stellar music blog. They’ve got 953 friends, and no one knows who the heck they are - that they’re pretty much Randolph High’s resident losers; except for maybe Bill, he’s got too much flare. Kevin thinks it’s kind of awesome.

“That’s great,” Miranda says, “but what about the keyboard on Mean Street Highway and the one about Kev’s hair?”

Bill glances up. “I could ask Mike to take over Brendon’s guitar.”

“Or not,” Kevin says, because Carden makes him nervous, and the last thing he needs is Carden knowing he’s in NINJA, really and truly.

“That one’s not about Kevin’s hair,” Patrick says.

“It’s about Kevin’s hair,” Bill says. “It’s about how much you love Kevin’s hair, admit it, Stump.”

“I hate all of you,” Patrick says, disgruntled, and snags the laptop away from Bill. “We’re agreed that Tenderfoot rocked last night, right?”

“Tenderfoot fucking blew my mind,” Bill says.

“EMC’s giving it four and a half stars for effort and amazing-ness,” Brendon says, waving his hands around. “I deducted points for the obvious use of animatronics.”

“Ryan Ross is not a robot, Brendon,” Patrick says. It’s an old argument, though, so he doesn’t put much heart into it.

Kevin fiddles with the strings on his bass and tries not to think about how early it is in the year, and how this is the only thing that makes him happy, and how it sucks that he can’t just play, that his parents would flip if they knew he had anything to do with NINJA and Eat More Cats. It’s risky enough, sneaking out after dark two or three times a week. Sooner or later, Nick and Joe are gonna catch on, and Kevin’s going to have to come up with some hefty hush-money or something – Bonus already knows, but Bonus is, like, awesome and six and Kevin’s always been his favorite.

Kevin idly watches Brendon help Miranda with her make-up – she looks a lot older when she’s got gunk all over her eyes, Kevin’ll say that for it. And he’s going to have to flatiron his hair soon, if they want to get out of there by ten.

In a way, it’s kind of thrilling. No one would really recognize any of them unless they really looked – Bill and Brendon both lose their glasses, Brendon trades in his polos for girl-size band shirts, Patrick dons a fedora instead of a baseball cap, Miranda tarts up her eyes, long dark hair rolled into big, fat curls, and Kevin gets to wear tight pants and neckerchiefs, hair straight and falling over his face. He’s awfully fond of this certain pair of white pants. Kevin could never pull them off, normally, but at night, anonymous, he can wear whatever the heck he likes.

He smiles.

“What’re you grinning at, dork?” Miranda says, huffing her hair out of her eyes. She’s wearing an oversized, bright pink NINJA WHO? t-shirt, one side rucked up on her hip with a butterfly clip.

“Nothing,” Kevin says, still grinning as he ducks his head.

*

TENDERFOOT JUNCTION @ THE CELL
Ryan Ross is not a robot – no, for real, Bden [prove it! – bden] – but his first performance as solo artist Tenderfoot Junction was still damn near perfect. He’s got the range of a wolfhound with an unsteady, mellow pitch, and he managed to charm the pants off us last night with his knobby fingers, old blueridge acoustic, and sweet sassy lyrics about leather boots, hips and toothy smiles.

Old fans of Ross might miss the bitter showiness, the Casio beats, the misogynous dance-pop that defined the ironically named Summer Daze, and while Ross’s new stuff isn’t necessarily better, there’s a simple honest quality to it - discounting the abnormally large amount of nonsense; although even the nonsense, on some instinctual level, seems to take on a certain shape of truth.

Talking flowers, magical caves, peace, love and happiness in the guise of gumdrops and magnified multifaceted insect eyes: Ross has the good stuff, deep down inside, don’t let the sweater vests fool you. Think folksy blues with a solid rock background – jumble in (alleged) copious amounts of weed. If The Beatles ever adopted a gangly, too pale kid from Las Vegas and gave him a funny haircut, Ryan Ross would be it.

There are rumors of a collaboration with local pop-punk trio Samhell. Sharp eyes caught Walker stalking Ross in between sets - now that's something I want to see. Sean Van Vleet's eerie vocals, Walker's simple melodies underscored and amp'd by the relentless enthusiasm of Andy "Butcher" Mrotek, mixing and mingling with the oddity that is Ross - at the very least, it'll be entertaining as hell.

TENDERFOOT JUNCTION @ THE CELL: SEPTEMBER 16TH 10:00PM
Set list:
+ Wolves Are Held Back
+ Moontime Butterflies
+ Red
+ Count Your Charms
+ What's My Age Again
+ Spencer Bought Me This Watch (???? courtesy of Bden, we have no idea what the fuck this one's called)
+ Since She Says Tomorrow
+ The Song About Wax Statues And Having Sex (thank Billiam for this one)
+ Cool Run Home [aka the John Candy song - k2]
+ Biting Grins and Skeleton Bones
+ Absolute Mayhem

stay classy, omaha
- trick @ emc

*

The CarPort’s unusually packed for a Thursday night, mainly because Arma’s playing, and Wentz always draws a crowd. Arma Angelus is not Kevin’s favorite band, though, so he’s tucked into a corner, nursing a bottle of water. They’ve all got fake IDs, though the bouncers at the bars they frequent - all three of them - never actually look too closely, and Kevin’s the only one who only uses it to get into the bar; even Brendon usually snags at least one beer. Kevin doesn’t like the taste, or the way it makes him stupid.

His thumb plays with the soft, white band of flesh on his ring finger absently. He can see a flash of Miranda’s pink shirt through the crush of bodies, but everyone else has scattered. Patrick and Brendon have probably headed to the front of the stage. Patrick can claim he hates Wentz all he wants, but he’s never missed an Arma show.

“Hey.”

Kevin slants a look to his left. There’s a boy there, dark, v-neck tee exposing the prominent bump of his collarbone. He’s bright-eyed, even though his mouth is playing it cool. Kevin instantly likes him. “Hi.”

Still no smile, but he leans towards Kevin, their shoulders bumping, and Kevin follows the line of his mouth with his eyes, the corner of his own tugging upwards, a warm, fuzzy glow pooling in his belly.

This is another thing he wouldn’t normally do.

Kevin reaches out, tucks two fingers into the guy’s belt. It’s fun and easy, the way they fit up against each other, and Kevin doesn’t move away until Bill finds him later, hooking an arm around Kevin’s neck and pressing a sloppy kiss to his temple.

He says, “C’mon, loverboy,” and tugs him out onto the dance floor, laughing. Kevin easily slots himself in between Miranda and Brendon, arms in the air.

*

“I saw you Wednesday,” Smith says, and Brendon freezes, Capri Sun halfway to his lips.

“What?” he says and shoots wide, panicky eyes towards Kevin.

“Wednesday. At The Cell.” Smith shifts awkwardly on his feet, color high, like he’s embarrassed. He palms the back of his neck. “It was. You were at Ryan’s show.”

“Ryan,” Brendon says, then nods slowly. “Okay.”

Kevin shrugs and says, “I don’t think it was him. Sorry.”

“No.” Smith shoots Kevin a pissy look and flicks his hair out of his eyes. “Whatever,” he says, then huffs out a breath and stalks away.

“That was. Weird?” Brendon says, toying with his straw.

“He likes you,” Kevin says.

Miranda nods her head. “Yep.”

Brendon’s brow furrows. “Nah uh. He’s one of Lacey’s goons.”

“Not really.”

Miranda picks at her sandwich, and Kevin watches her fingers, mesmerized. She hasn’t taken off the sparkly blue nail polish from the night before yet, and Kevin’s getting flashes, like his other life is bleeding into this one – he feels like slumping down in his seat and giving the room a languid, confident smile, but that would most assuredly be a challenge to Lacey, and he doesn’t feel like getting his head dunked in a toilet today. It’s too nice out.

“He’s new,” she says. “He didn’t know any better, and now he’s stuck with Lacey. It’s pretty crappy, actually. You should be nice to him.”

Brendon makes a face. “I was.”

“He was trying to flirt,” Miranda says, and Kevin would ask how she could possibly know that, except the nighttime Miranda can flirt better than regular Bill – not nighttime Bill, he makes it an art form – even though she’s got a look that can slice any boy or girl in half, a look that’s caused Lacey to dub her Scary Ice Bitch and flinch whenever she goes near him.

“Badly,” Kevin adds. “He was flirting really badly.”

“Who was flirting badly?” Bill asks as he and Patrick take opposite seats at the table. Bill nudges Brendon’s shoulder. “Was it you? This must be remedied, you know, bad flirting should never be tolerated, especially in someone I hold so dear.”

“It wasn’t me,” Brendon says, lips pursed. “But thanks.”

“It’s Smith. He has a thing for Brendon,” Miranda says. She points her fork at Brendon. “Seriously, you should think about it, he’s hot.”

Brendon just looks really confused. “Okay. Except I’m straight.”

Miranda barks a laugh, ducks her head down to press her mouth against her arm.

Brendon frowns. “Hey.”

Miranda shakes a little, like she’s trying to get a hold of herself, then tilts her head sideways and takes a ragged breath. “Sorry,” she says. “Sorry, I didn’t think. I mean—you’re not serious, right?”

“I don’t get it,” Brendon says, still frowning.

The sad thing is, he really, really doesn’t get it, Kevin knows this.

“Spencer Smith is indeed a catch,” Bill says. “Also, if you’re going straight, Urie, you might want to reconsider the random boy make-outs. You’re sluttier than Jonas here.”

“Above the waist doesn’t count, right Kev?” Brendon says, and Kevin says, “Keep me out of this,” because Kevin is most definitely gay. He’s never said it out loud, maybe, but he’s never bothered to deny it.

“You sound like Wentz. It doesn’t work for him, either,” Miranda says.

Brendon huffs and says, “Wentz is dating a girl.”

“Wentz wants to marry Patrick, he has an entire blog dedicated to it,” Bill says, and Patrick palms his face and groans.

“I hate my life,” Patrick says.

“Oh, you lie, you love it—wait, wait, Spencer Smith?” Miranda says. “Wasn’t he the drummer for Summer Daze?”

Kevin thinks back, but all he remembers about Summer Daze is the costumes and face paint – he’s pretty sure the drummer had a tiny mustache and goatee.

Ryan’s Spencer, oh, that makes so much sense, he bought him that watch,” Brendon says, nodding. “He saw us at The Cell for Tenderfoot Junction.”

“Great,” Patrick says.

Brendon waves his hands around. “No, no, don’t worry, I cleverly deflected him with trickery—”

“He played dumb,” Kevin says. “I don’t think Smith bought it.”

“I don’t know, Brendon’s dumb is pretty convincing,” Miranda says.

“Stop picking on my tiny friend,” Bill says, wrapping an arm around Brendon and tugging him close. Brendon burrows his head under Bill’s chin and shoots Kevin a smile and an eyebrow waggle.

Kevin shakes his head. His friends are ridiculous.

*

POCKET THIEF AND THE CAB @ CARPORT
There’s truly nothing sweeter than Miss Greta Salpeter’s sugary piano pop (see Greta’s side project, Glitter Girls, with Heartsore keytarist VickyT), so it’s difficult to imagine - but no less awesome to witness - the kind of show Pocket Thief turns out.

Leading with Terrible Crimes of Terrible Beauty, they started off strong and got even louder, making the little-known opener, The Cab, pretty much forgettable (though not, we noted, through any fault of their own - their music’s solid - but way poor event planning by CarPort).

The biggest surprise of the night was how Iero’s manic energy – his spitting, stage writhing, habits of licking Greta’s neck and humping Nate’s kit - took a backseat [or a side seat, you can’t keep Frank down - bden; nor would you ever want to - billiam] to the performance of recent replacement bassist Gabe Saporta (formally of the disbanded Midtown). Saporta’s vocals meshed awesomely with Greta’s, bringing new life to old classics – Ripcord; Fuck You, Dynasty; Big Trouble; Break; Sympathy For Dead Mothers – and towering over everyone else in the band. Seriously, he’s got to be at least seven feet tall, and Pocket Thief lives up to its name, full of tiny, tiny people.

Even more fun: the visible dislike Saporta and Iero seem to have for each other. Instead of creating discordance, though, they just rocked harder – the push and pull, the unsaid dare-you making them both wilder, more unhinged. It’s a wonder Greta wasn’t squished right off the stage. Though Greta held her own, as usual, with heels sharp enough to slice your heart, wrapped in enough leather to choke a cow - her voice was husky and raw by the end of the second set, but it didn’t matter, because everyone was singing along.

POCKET THIEF AND THE CAB @ CARPORT: SEPTEMBER 19TH 9:30PM
The Cab’s set list: missing. It was Bden’s job, but he was too busy being spectacularly gay (yes, Bden, give it up) with many beautiful boys.

Pocket Thief’s set list:
+ Terrible Crimes of Terrible Beauty
+ Ripcord
+ Break
+ Mistaken For Gold
+ Big Trouble
+ Fuck You, Dynasty (now confirmed: yes, this is indeed about the show)
+ Sympathy For Dead Mothers
+ Signal Fires
+ Down
+ Lake Effect

- rand @ emc


*

OCTOBER

*


Kevin doesn’t understand it, but Joe, a lowly freshman, is widely known as being cool. He’s got the same brushed silver ring on his finger, goes to the same church every Sunday, but here’s Kevin, Loser, and there’s Joe, Popular Guy. It makes no sense, in any universe, especially since Joe doesn’t even actively try to fit in.

“I’m more handsome than you,” Joe says, leaning back against the dirty brick wall, just outside the gymnasium. “Is Brendon giving us a ride?”

Kevin rolls his eyes. He’d be offended, except they kind of look almost exactly the same. It’s weird. “He should be,” he says. Brendon has a minivan affectionately dubbed the Purple Beast. It’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s wheels, and Brendon’s the only one of his friends that’s mobile.

Joe bobs his head and says, “You have no life. You don’t do anything, and when you do do something, it’s with all your loser friends who also do nothing.”

Kevin knows better than to argue with that. “All you do is hang out at the roller rink every Friday.”

“Because the roller rink is awesome,” Joe says. “Duh.”

“I like Bonus best, you know,” Kevin says.

“Who doesn’t?” Joe says, fidgeting. “Seriously, where’s Brendon? The longer we stand here, the easer it’ll be for Lacey to spot us—dude, it’s like he’s got a vendetta against you, like you shot his dog or something.”

“I have a theory about that,” Smith says, appearing out of nowhere, and Kevin maybe jumps three feet in the air.

“Holy crap,” Kevin says, hand to his chest.

“Sorry.” Smith shrugs, like he isn’t sorry at all.

Joe looks at Smith curiously. “So you have a theory?” he asks.

“Yeah.” Smith cocks his head at Kevin, eyes him speculatively. “Pretty sure I’m right, too, Lacey’s kind of a social fuckwad.”

“I noticed,” Kevin says, even though he’s not exactly sure what Smith’s alluding to here. It’s not that hard to see that Lacey’s got some mental problems.

Smith nods, but doesn’t expound on his theory, just smiles wide and enigmatic and Kevin shakes his head. Whatever. It’s not like Kevin really needs to know Lacey’s motivation here, they’re never going to get along.

“I’m going to,” Kevin points towards the heavy metal doors leading back into the gym hallway. “Look for Brendon, make sure he didn’t get lost in the bathroom.”

“Check the one by the pool,” Joe shouts after him. “The last stall has a sticky lock, it’s where he was at lunch yesterday.”

Kevin bites his lip around a grin. And then the doors close behind him with an ominous clang, leaving him in the cool, dim corridor, smelling faintly of must and sweat. Kevin doesn’t have much of an opinion about gym class - he has it with Brendon, who’s a total fail at all athletics, but Kevin’s passable at just about everything – but the gym area after school always gives him the creeps, like something horrible is always about to go down. It doesn’t help that Lacey’s cornered him there more than a few times over the years.

Kevin checks the pool bathroom, finds it empty, then makes his way towards the wing that houses their lockers, upstairs and past the history classrooms.

It doesn’t honestly surprise him that he runs into Lacey halfway up the stairwell. It does surprise him that he’s hassling Brendon, though, pushing him up against the railing, fist curled in the collar of Brendon’s polo.

“Hey,” Kevin says.

Lacey’s face is pressed close to Brendon’s, skin bright red, and Brendon’s eyes are narrowed, one palm pressed flat against Lacey’s chest.

“Hey,” Kevin says again. “What’re you—” He reaches out and knocks Lacey’s shoulder, and Lacey jabs back with an elbow and whirls around, hand sliding off Brendon’s shirt but still balled in a fist. Kevin’s standing too close, and it happens too fast and unexpected for him to step out of the way.

His head snaps back as Lacey’s knuckles collide with the crest of his cheek, just under his right eye, and, the thing is, Lacey’s never hit him before. Threatened to, lots of times, but his fist’s never connected with Kevin’s face, something’s always gotten in between them. So maybe Kevin should’ve been expecting this, but somehow he really, really hadn’t been.

Ow,” Kevin says, hand cupping his cheek gingerly.

Lacey looks a little stunned himself – whether because he actually hit Kevin or because Kevin took it, Kevin isn’t quite sure.

“Holy shit, Kev,” Brendon says, voice tinged with awe.

Lacey flexes his hand. “Uh.”

Kevin thinks for a split-second he’s going to apologize, standing there, awkwardly shifting on his feet, big eyes locked on Kevin’s face, but then the bottom stairwell door slams open and Carden and Smith are there, Joe hovering behind them. This is exactly how Kevin had wanted to end his day. His head is throbbing; he just wants to get out of there.

“What the fuck,” Carden says flatly.

Smith shifts his gaze from Lacey to Brendon to Kevin and back to Brendon again, and his mouth gets tighter and tighter.

Brendon fiddles with his popped and rumpled collar. “So, um, no need to—”

“Are you kidding me, Jonas?” Carden says. “How the fuck do you manage to survive on a daily basis?”

Which, okay, is unfair. It’s not like Kevin walked into Lacey’s fist – although he kind of did, but whatever.

Lacey smirks.

Carden glares at him. “You better have a good fucking explanation for this, Lacey. I swear to god—”

“He walked into my fist!” Lacey says.

Brendon’s snort sounds like a giggle, and this is maybe the stupidest situation Kevin’s ever been in, and that’s including the conversation he had last week with Bill about shredded cheese.

“It was an accident,” Kevin says, though he’s not sure why he has to cover for Lacey – he just kind of gets the weird feeling that Carden’s ready to jump in and defend his honor or something. Which on one level is awesome – he’s a little giddy at the thought, though it could be the blow to his head – but on several other levels is just pathetically embarrassing. Kevin can take care of himself.

“And Kev took it,” Brendon says proudly.

“Thanks, Bren.” Kevin isn’t sure if he means that sarcastically or not, but Carden arches an eyebrow at him.

“Yeah?” Carden asks, and Kevin’s kind of glad his face is red already, so the blush traveling up from his throat is hopefully not noticeable at all.

Oh my god, Kevin thinks, I totally have a crush on Carden. This is going to suck so hard.

*

“Over nine hundred downloads in the first two weeks. That’s better than when we dropped Honorable Mention,” Patrick says, just as Kevin hits the landing of Bill’s basement.

Bill sighs dramatically and says, “We should be charging people, you know. Fund our nighttime excursions.”

“Which isn’t the point of NINJA,” Miranda says, then tips her head back and spots Kevin lurking in the doorway. “What the fuck happened to your face?”

Brendon pushes past Kevin. “He had a disagreement with Lacey’s fist.”

Patrick growls.

“No, don’t worry, it was awesome,” Brendon says. “Kevin didn’t even flinch.”

“I flinched a little,” Kevin says. He can see this whole thing getting wildly out of control with Brendon at the helm. He really hopes Lacey doesn’t feel the need to retaliate with something stronger to keep his rep intact. Like a shovel. “Plus it really hurts.”

“No, shit,” Miranda says, getting to her feet and stalking over to him. She cups Kevin’s chin and presses on his cheek with light fingers. “You shouldn’t get a black eye, though.”

“Wait, wait, I haven’t even told you the best part,” Brendon says, waving his arms around. “Carden made him apologize.”

Bill wrinkles his nose. “Mike made poor innocent Jonas apologize to Lacey?”

Kevin glances down at his shoes and mutters, “Other way around.”

There’s a weighty pause. And then a suspiciously Miranda-sounding giggle.

Bill says, “Well,” and, “It seems as though Smith isn’t the only boy out there having trouble with the whole flirting concept.”

Kevin’s cheeks burn. “That’s not what happened,” he says. There’s no way Carden had been flirting with him over that. Carden just feels sorry for him. He thinks Kevin’s a total, helpless loser.

“Anyway,” Miranda says. She pokes Kevin in the stomach. “Help me with my nails?”

“I’m not painting your feet,” Kevin says.

Miranda ignores him and says, “I’m thinking purple sparkles, to go with my kick-ass new eye shadow.”

“It disturbs me, Miranda,” Bill says. “This penchant you have for dark colors and heavy make-up. It’s like you’re Gerard Way circa 2007, back when he thought skeletons and zombies and Liza Minnelli were good ideas.”

“Gerard still thinks skeletons and zombies and Liza Minnelli are good ideas,” Patrick says.

Bill waves a hand. “Well, yes, but he’s much more fashionable about it now.”

Brendon frowns. “I don’t remember Gerard ever wearing any sparkles.”

“They were called Unicorns of Destiny,” Bill says. “It’s implied by the name.”

“They weren’t—” Patrick cuts himself off, tugging his hat down over his forehead with an annoyed huff.

Kevin shares a grin with Miranda behind Patrick’s back. It’d been mainly a joke, back when Frank Iero was in Virgil with both Gerard and Mikey Way – he’d introduce their second set as Unicorns of Destiny and make them all wear rainbow-colored painters’ caps. Personally, Kevin always enjoyed that a lot better than Virgil, but it might have had something to do with the giant crush he’d had on Mikey Way’s smile.

“Where are we going tonight?” Kevin asks. It’s Monopoly night at the Jonas household, so he’ll have to get ready at home instead of at Bill’s.

“We’ve got The Cab and Larry Says Hi at Bootstrap, or The Von Dangerfields at CarPort,” Patrick says.

“Oh, The Von Dangerfields, definitely,” Brendon says, nodding.

Kevin feels a little bad for The Cab. It’s not even that he doesn’t like them; it’s just that he likes all the other bands a lot more. “Von Dangerfields,” Kevin says.

“We haven’t seen Larry Says Hi in months, though,” Miranda points out.

The Von Dangerfields, Miranda,” Bill says.

“I’m just saying,” Miranda drops down onto the couch next to Patrick. “The Von Dangerfields’ll be at The Cell next week. And Zac Efron’s hot.”

“Which I’m certainly not denying,” Bill says. “In my purely heterosexual opinion, Zac Efron is smoking. He also wants into Kevin’s pants.”

“Uh.” Kevin does not see how that’s relevant or true. “What?”

“I’m overruling everybody,” Patrick says without looking up from Bill’s laptop. “I like The Cab. We’re going to Bootstrap.”

*

Bootstrap Ten is an over-18 club, and they generally let them all in without IDs as long as they don’t ask for an over-21 wristband. Bill always asks for an over-21 wristband.

Kevin lets Miranda drag him up front for The Cab, even though he isn’t thrilled about it. They’re okay, but Kevin’s overall opinion of them is that they have great hair, and that the bassist is douche. Kevin’s seen their newest guitarist, Crawford, perform before, though, back when he was in ZFF, and he’s nothing short of amazing. He nearly reaches Ray Toro infamy on his solo, and Kevin’s impressed.

Patrick clearly is, too, from the way he gushes afterwards, leaning against a wall near an open side door – the night is chilly and the inside of the bar is muggy hot; Kevin shivers but the fresh air feels good.

“I mean,” Patrick says, “technically, he could be better, so Toro’s got that on him—”

“You’ve got that on him,” Miranda says.

Patrick’s cheeks pink. “Well, um.”

Kevin thinks it’s funny, the way Patrick’s completely confident about everything he does except when someone else points out how awesome he is.

Patrick clears his throat. “Anyway.”

“Anyway,” Bill says, draping an arm across Patrick’s shoulders. “He gets three hundred points for enthusiasm. I think it’s the hair.”

“Well, hello there, friends.”

“Zac,” Bill says, making a face over Kevin’s shoulder, and Kevin freezes up when he feels a hand low on his back. “You’re looking—orange.”

“Can’t let the winter blues bring you down, dude,” Zac says, really, really close to Kevin’s ear.

Kevin relaxes incrementally into the touch. Zac is hot; Kevin’s not going to deny that. He shifts a little so he can give Zac a smile, and Zac smiles back, somewhat sexily – enough that Kevin thinks maybe Bill’s right. Zac’s been friendly with him before, but there’s always been a goofy edge to it – although there’s still a goofy edge, the guy’s orange.

Kevin doesn’t normally make out with people he knows. Mainly because he doesn’t hang out with people he knows, not outside of his little group of friends.

The bands are a little different, since most of them are older, and when they’re not older, they’re from different schools and different zip codes – even when he talks with them, they really don’t know who Kevin is. And they basically try to keep their distance from the handful of semi-successful band members from Randolph High – Wentz, three-fifths of The Cab, Kitty and Trohman from Heartsore. Everyone in the now defunct Virgil don’t count, since they’ve all already graduated, and they all knew who they were, anyway; it had been really tough for Patrick to keep his fan-boy self in check over them.

Zac’s part of a weird little group that knows exactly who they are, knows they’re NINJA and that they write the reviews for Eat More Cats. He knows he’s Kevin and K2 and that he goes to Randolph High, but he doesn’t know he’s actually a giant loser. Zac, apparently, wants into Kevin’s pants. It’s kind of cool.

Zac slides his hands around Kevin’s waist and leans heavily against his back. He widens his stance to catch Zac’s weight and firmly ignores Bill and Bill’s meaningful eyebrow waggles.

Zac digs his chin into Kevin’s shoulder and noses his cheek and Kevin’s stomach tightens.

“Let’s dance,” Zac says, and Kevin lets Zac pull him out onto the floor.

*

Kevin likes it slow. He likes it loose and meandering, shies away from anything intense, because this is just a little fun; a little something he doesn’t normally let himself do, but he’s not going to go wild. So maybe he’s dancing arguably too close to Zac, one hand on the back of his neck, the other curled into his collar – and maybe he lets Zac slip a hand up under the hem of his shirt, flat against his bare skin. It’s not a big deal.

Zac grins into the side of his jaw. “You’re really awesome,” Zac says, and Kevin thinks that even though Zac’s totally, unequivocally hot, he’s really just a big orange dork, and Kevin honestly likes him.

“Thanks,” Kevin says.

Vanessa taps her mic and says, “Paging Mr. Efron, please get your cute butt to the stage,” and Zac gives Kevin’s ass a friendly squeeze before bounding away.

“Catch you later, Jonas,” Zac shouts over his shoulder with a jaunty wave.

Bill slings an arm around Kevin’s neck. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that,” he says.

Kevin shrugs.

“You’re just lucky I spied Brendon sucking face with Corbin five minutes ago. It was hilarious. His hair was eating Brendon’s entire head.” He tugs Kevin around. “To the bar, my friend, I’ve got the tiny cell phone pictures to prove it.”

*

For approximately three days, it seems like Carden’s constantly watching Kevin in the halls and common areas, mouth pulled down in this scary, disapproving scowl. Kevin has no idea what’s going on, but it’s starting to unnerve him.

Patrick glares Carden down for him when they get to lunch. Kevin’s tried it, but Bill says Kevin’s got the glare of a baby Labrador, and it just makes him want to smush his face and cover his nose with kisses. Whatever. Bill’s weird.

There’s no doubt Patrick’s glare is more effective, though, since Patrick is already disgruntled eighty-five percent of the day due to Wentz. He’s had lots of practice.

“Why are we making mean faces at Carden?” Brendon asks.

Patrick huffs. “He’s bothering Kevin.”

Brendon bobs his head. “I see,” he says, and Bill says, “He’s doing nothing of the sort. He’s keeping an eagle eye out for Lacey, you realize. He’s sure to double-up his attacks on Kevin’s personage for being a hot-ass now that he’s got jealousy mixed in with all that raging homosexual denial.”

Kevin blinks. “What?”

“You didn’t honestly think Lacey hated you, Kevin,” Bill says. He steals some of Patrick’s fries, deftly avoiding Patrick’s punch towards his kidneys.

“Well, uh. Yeah.” Kevin figured that was the whole point of making his life a living hell for two and a half years. And also, “Jealousy?”

Bill rolls his eyes and reaches across the table to ruffle Kevin’s curls. “You are so dense, Jonas,” he says.

Kevin frowns and ducks away. “Whatever. I’ve been beaten up, you have to be nice to me.”

“I don’t have to,” Bill says. “Luckily, I like you enough to be nice to you anyway.”

Kevin risks a glance towards where he knows Carden is sitting with Michael Guy and Wentz and Trohman. Carden’s got a half-grin on his mouth, nodding at Michael Guy, and Kevin rubs two fingers over his forehead, sighing.

“In a totally unrelated note,” Miranda says, “we got an email from Blackinton.”

“The Von Dangerfields!” Brendon says. He dances a little in his seat and does some jazz hands that Kevin is totally embarrassed about; he covers half his face with one hand.

“He wanted to make sure we didn’t miss their show tonight.” Miranda looks pointedly at Patrick.

Patrick jabs a fork at her. “It was worth it,” he says.

“Completely worth it,” Bill agrees, “I’m posting blurry make-out pics on EMC, and what’s-his-name, the bendy blond dude who licked Zac’s face—” Bill gives a thumbs up. “Larry Says Hi knows how to entertain. It’s like if Virgil went Christian power-pop.”

Brendon pulls a face. “Ew.”

Miranda pegs Bill with a fry.

*

Kevin groans, leaning his forehead against the grimy bathroom mirror – if he was coherent at all, he’d be completely grossed out, but his head hurts too much to care. Kevin doesn’t drink, but somehow, someway, Ryland Blackinton had gotten him plastered the night before at The Cell. He’s magic. Sneakily evil and magic.

“Dude, you look like something my cat threw up,” Trohman says from behind him.

Kevin does not know what to say to this – yes, he’s pretty sure he feels like something Trohman’s cat threw up, but Joe Trohman doesn’t generally, under normal circumstances, speak to Kevin. Firstly, because he’s a senior, and secondly because he’s best friends with Pete Wentz, who doesn’t know Kevin’s an actual person. Or visible to the human eye. They’re never mean to him, though, so that’s a plus.

“Uh.” Kevin tries to straighten up, but it’s like his entire upper body weighs two thousand pounds.

Trohman pats his back. “Never figured you for a drinker.”

Kevin swallows down some bile. “I’m, uh, not—”

“Ryland’s magic and evil, I totally get it,” Trohman says, and it takes a minute for Trohman’s words to sink in, but then Kevin really feels like throwing up.

Darn it. Kevin presses his palms into his eye sockets and hisses, “Joe. You can’t—”

“Pete’s got me on Patrick watch, only reason,” Trohman says, hands up and open, placating. “I’m not gonna spread it around that you’re a lush.”

Which had not been Kevin’s immediate worry, but it’s nice to know. “Thanks,” he says thickly.

Trohman eyes him speculatively in the mirror.

“What?” Kevin finally asks.

“Nothing.” He cocks his head. “You just look totally different with your hair straight, you know? I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“That’s the point,” Kevin mumbles. They’re going to have to do major damage control here, he thinks, if Wentz is stalking Patrick to bars. He’s not all that surprised Wentz has gone that far, but it’s going to mess with all their plans. He’s not actually sure how they can fix this.

Trohman claps him on the shoulder and grins. “Next time, dude,” he says, “drink a fuck-ton of water before you pass out.”

*

“It’s not the end of the world,” Miranda says at lunch.

“Wentz is stalking me,” Patrick says. His words are muffled, though. He’s got his face buried in his arms, folded over the tabletop.

“That isn’t actually news,” Bill says. “The greater concern here is that our alter-egos have been compromised.”

“They just think we like bands. Which we do. It’s not a big deal,” Miranda insists, biting into an apple.

Kevin’s stomach growls at the juicy crunch of it, but he’s not actually up to eating anything yet. He sips at his water and keeps his eyes at half-mast, blocking out the harsh fluorescent overhead light.

“You look awesome,” Brendon says, settling down across from him.

“I hate you,” Kevin says.

Brendon makes kissy faces at him before digging into his lunch bag. “So what’s wrong with Patrick? Did Puppies And Kittens break up again?”

“Puppies And Kittens shouldn’t be together in the first place,” Miranda says.

Patrick’s head pops up, half his face red from the weave of his shirt. “Bullshit. Puppies And Kittens are underrated geniuses, there’s nothing more phenomenal than the chord progression at the beginning of Claustrophobia.”

“Let’s talk about how much Claustrophobia is a rip-off of Baba O’Reilly,” Miranda says smugly, crossing her arms over her chest.

Patrick looks apoplectic, mouth opening and closing soundlessly, hands flailing.

Kevin watches Bill arch an eyebrow at Miranda as Miranda arches one right back. They’re now in for an entire lunch period of Patrick ranting, but at least he isn’t moaning about Pete anymore.

*

THE VON DANGERFIELDS @ THE CELL
Like always, the crowd that showed up for The Von Dangerfields was collectively laidback. Decked out in board shorts and bare feet, despite the chilly weather, the quartet known for easy beats and surf rock settled cross-legged on the stage floor, encouraging the rest of the room to join them.

Blackinton and Suarez’s simple harmonies soared over Kennerty’s ukulele and Gaylor’s five million bongo drums. Throw in a shaker or two – Blackinton even picked up a throatier, deep-bellied uke to compliment Kennerty’s plinky strums – and maybe it’s a little early for summer, but no one was complaining.

These are the kind of performances I adore - The Von Dangerfields are excellent to sing along to, you can’t beat the rhythmic handclapping, and the crowd just seemed to reflect the good cheer that radiates off the stage - Kennerty’s smile alone has been known to light up an entire room.

The casual, relaxed vibe lasted through the whole first set, then they came back from a short break with their edgier tunes, their amps and guitars and bass and drum kit. It was no less fun, though, and even Trick got his groove on, singled out by a special lady [this is a boldfaced lie – trick; secret luuuuuuuvers! - bden] and, who was that? Travis McCoy of Heartsore? [shut your hooker mouth – trick]

While Trick was living it up on the dance floor, yours truly was getting the scoop on their rumored EP. With favored tunes like Beach Sandwich and Barefoot Boogie, look for the self-released The Von Dangerfields Live available at local shows next month.

THE VON DANGERFIELDS @ THE CELL: OCTOBER 22TH 10:00PM
set list:
+ Kitten
+ Beach Sandwich
+ Samson and Delilah
+ Listen Up, Betty, ‘Cause I Can’t Slow Down
+ Aquamarine
+ Blush a Little More
+ California Dreams
+ Barefoot Boogie
+ Damp
+ Hot Sexy
+ Make-out Club
+ Not Just a Pretty Wave
+ Single Combat Frisbee

- billiam @ emc


*

NOVEMBER

*


NINJA alert
Guess who’s coming to dinner? Mark your calendars, ladies and gents, for NINJA’s first ever live performance, Thanksgiving night at CarPort. Watch me rock my tambourine.

- billiam @ emc

*

Kevin doesn’t remember exactly how he ended up in woodshop – something to do with conflicting schedules, since he’d originally signed up for graphic arts - but he loves it. It’s hands down his favorite class, and he’s actually awesome at it, which is an unexpected bonus.

“That’s kind of ambitious,” The Jerry says, looking over his shoulder.

Kevin spreads his hands out to flatten the curling edges of his blueprint. “Only two more tiers than my last one,” he says. “I like a challenge.”

The Jerry grunts, then moves over to the workstation next to Kevin’s. The Jerry’s a huge bear of a guy, thick neck, barrel chest, with ice blonde hair that’s parted down the middle, falling past his ears. He’s like a Nordic god, Kevin thinks, a Viking, only without the beard. He’s a defensive tackle for the varsity football team, and for some reason he seems to like Kevin. Or have some sort of elevated tolerance for him, at least, and he’s always visibly impressed by Kevin’s birdhouses. As he should be, since Kevin’s birdhouses rock.

Besides The Jerry, Kevin has woodshop with a slew of sophomores and Smith, who’s completely hopeless. Mainly, Mr. Samberg doesn’t let him near any of the heavy machinery. Or even a hammer, since last time it slipped out of his hands and nearly hit Mr. Samberg in the face. Smith spends most of the period varnishing left-over bookshelves or TV stands and texting on his cell.

Mr. Samberg, on the other hand, spends most of the class beat-boxing and making up songs about how awesome wood is.

So woodshop would obviously be Kevin’s favorite class even if he didn’t happen to be great with his hands.

The best is that they have the class last period, so Kevin can stay late if he wants to. He usually does, since Brendon and Joe both have show choir – seriously, Kevin doesn’t understand Joe’s popularity at all. They wear sparkly vests and top hats, it’s ridiculous.

When the bell rings, Kevin has all the measurements he needs and he starts over towards the stacks of wood instead of following everyone else out the door. The Jerry ruffles his hair as he lumbers past.

“So.”

Kevin glances up to see Smith leaning against his work table. “Yeah?” he asks warily. He actually agrees with Miranda about Smith, but Smith is still pretty intimidating. His expression’s almost always stuck on a disgruntled default, which kind of cancels out the whimsical nature of all the sparkly t-shirts he likes to wear. But then Smith smiles at him and Kevin blinks, poleaxed, because that’s a heck of a grin. Kevin’s willing to bet it’s even more potent than Kennerty’s. Maybe even Gerard’s, too.

“Brendon,” Smith says, and Kevin finds himself grinning back.

“First of all,” Kevin says, “you should probably stop hanging out with Lacey.”

*

The problem with having Smith join them for lunch is that they can’t talk about NINJA or any other bands or shows or anything, really, and so the first few days are kind of strained.

Finally, Bill snaps and says, “If all of you don’t stop being incredibly boring, I’m going to go sit with Mike and Michael Guy.”

Patrick tugs his hat down over his eyes and sinks lower in his seat.

Brendon darts his gaze shiftily around the table. “Uh.”

“You realize I’m not actually stupid,” Smith says absently. And then, “My best friend is Ryan Ross.”

“Uh,” Brendon says again. He grabs hold of Kevin’s arm and digs his fingers in.

“For the record,” Smith says, looking up, blue eyes actually twinkling, Kevin thinks – Brendon squeaks a little in Kevin’s ear, startled - “he’s not a robot.”

Bill gives Smith a speculative look. “We’d explain everything, of course, but then we’d have to kill you.”

Smith nods, grinning. “Understood.”

Patrick makes disgruntled noises and scowls at Bill and says, “Seriously? This is how we’re playing it?”

Bill shrugs, bites into his sandwich, and gives Patrick a mangled, “Sure.”

Miranda sighs and says, “Well, whatever, we need to talk about tonight and how much Kill All Your Friends is going to rock.”

Kevin watches in fascination as Patrick’s face gets this dark shade of red that’s almost purple. His fingers are white-knuckled on his soda can. “I’m blaming you if Wentz finds out,” he says. “I can play all of your instruments, remember, I do not need you.”

Smith very nicely pretends that he’s not listening to their every word. Kevin notices the big grin Brendon flashes Smith and ducks his head to hide a smile.

*

KILL ALL YOUR FRIENDS @ CARPORT
While we still morn the untimely demise of Virgil, there’s no denying that Kill All Your Friends has that little something extra – namely, one Bob motherfucking Bryar. On point and strong-armed, ten times cleaner than anything Pelissier could have churned out - Trick totally has a new crush [one day I’m going to kill all of you – trick].

Skeptics of their fairytale theme – Billiam, for one – were eating their words by the end of the night. Kill All Your Friends brought just the right level of gore and despair, the right amount of the fantastical – remnants of the light-hearted Unicorns of Destiny, you can bet K2 was grinning all the way through both sets. But it was, unsurprisingly, the distinct lack of Mikey that left a strange taste in our mouths. Technically, Cortez is a fine fit, but the entire dynamic is different; just something we’ll all have to get used to.

Toro rocked harder than ever, though – with even more awesome rock-god thighs - and Gerard still tackles the whole show with arms, legs and mouth wide open. Kill All Your Friends is not Virgil part 2 - don’t show up expecting the simple hard rockin’ of Amber and Fall Home - but be prepared to have your face blown off.

Close friend of the band and former Virgil member Frank Iero of Pocket Thief was seen skulking around backstage in between sets, proving once and for all that while Virgil might have disbanded, Frank and Gerard’s rumored smackdown holds little to no truth. When broached with a Virgil reunion, Gerard wouldn’t rule it out, but made sure to note how dedicated Iero is to his current band – bittersweet news for fans of both.

KILL ALL YOUR FRIENDS @ CARPORT: NOVEMBER 12TH 10:30PM
set list:
+ Movement Of The Dead
+ Slander
+ Undertow
+ Let Left Alone
+ Paths of Twilight
+ Tuesday’s Gone
+ Singled Wolves
+ Rising
+ Aimless Heart
+ Fixed On Three Stars
+ Numberless

- rand @ emc

*

The buzz around NINJA is kind of surreal. It’s always been weird, but now with the announcement of their upcoming, actual in-person show, talk of NINJA has tripled, and Kevin’s starting to panic a little. Not only about the performance, but about the fact that a good portion of their audience will probably be from Randolph.

Patrick has a strange look on his face when he takes the seat across from Kevin. He dumps out his lunch and says, “Ashlee held me hostage for fifteen minutes in Chemistry while she rambled about how much Rand rocks.”

“Hell, yeah,” Miranda says.

“Then she made me play marry, fuck or kill.”

Kevin now recognizes the strange look as trauma.

Patrick stares at his apple.

Bill says, “Well,” and, “Inquiring minds, Patrick,” and taps his fingers on the table, grinning.

The tops of Patrick’s cheeks turn pink. He mutters something under his breath, and Bill jostles his elbow.

“What was that?”

Patrick narrows his eyes at him. “Kevin, Miranda, and You.”

“You don’t mean that,” Bill says airily.

Miranda says, “Sweet,” then, “Hey, wait, you’d marry Kevin?”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Patrick says, hunching low in his seat.

Kevin rubs his palm over his nape and ducks his head, then kicks a foot up against Patrick’s.

Patrick flashes him a tiny smile from under the brim of his hat.

*

“I thought we were ninjas, not cat burglars,” Miranda says, fingering her honest-to-goodness ski mask.

Kevin isn’t really sure he’ll be able to play his bass with a full face mask on.

“I’m going to sweat,” Brendon says, frowning.

“You’re going to sweat anyway,” Bill says. He’s got skin-tight black jeans and a black turtleneck on, which actually isn’t too different from his normal clothes. His mask is folded back across his skull and he strikes a pose with his tambourine.

“I’m going to pass out,” Brendon says. “I’m gonna lay down on stage and die in this. I need to perform in, like, scraps of clothing, with maybe a misting fan attached to my mic stand.”

Patrick grabs the knit mask out of Brendon’s hands and tosses it aside. “We’re not wearing ski masks,” he says. He’s got his brow furrowed and a mutinous twist to his mouth, and Kevin knows they’re definitely not wearing ski masks, because Patrick can be stubborn. When he digs his heels in he usually gets what he wants.

“We could—half-masks,” Brendon says. “Like superheroes, guys.”

“I’m really enjoying this debate on what we should wear,” Miranda says, flipping her hair over her shoulder and fiddling with her amp, “but maybe we should concentrate on the fact that we’ve never performed live before? I’m kind of worried about how Brendon isn’t actually an octopus, no matter how many limbs it seems like he has – what are we doing about the piano?”

“I know the guitar parts on Lefty Persuasion,” Bill says. “And there’s no reason why everything has to sound exactly the same, you know. We can improvise. Also.” He curls a finger over his upper lip, tilts his head back. “I’m going to wear a mustache.”

“Please don’t,” Patrick says.

“Too late. It’s decided,” Bill says. “I’m going to make Kevin wear one, too.”

Kevin blinks. “Uh.” He’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to wear a fake mustache, but Bill’s sort of hard to say no to.

Miranda strums a chord and messes with her pedal. “Kevin’s not wearing a mustache,” she says.

“Are you volunteering to be my mustache buddy then?” Bill asks Miranda, grinning. He saunters over and hooks an arm around her shoulders. “They’ll tickle when we kiss, like whiskers on kittens.”

Miranda elbows him in the side; Bill half-stumbles away from her with an oof, mouth still curved up in amusement.

“So if anyone’s interested,” Miranda says pointedly, “I’m going to play Weak In The Knees now.”

*

Out of all his friends, Kevin is closest to Miranda. He’s known her since kindergarten; they used to play in each other’s sandboxes, Miranda once made Joe eat a ladybug. He’s gotten the chicken pox from her, she was his very first kiss, and she’s the only one who knows about his completely inadvisable crush on Bill in the ninth grade. It’s really no good to ever have a crush on Bill – he’s flighty and mostly-straight and carries around a picture of Isabella Rossellini in his wallet, which makes him unexpectedly classy as well.

“There’s something up with you,” Miranda says, banging her locker shut.

Kevin straightens up from his slouch along the wall. “Well, yeah,” he says. He’s been steadily getting more and more freaked out about their Thanksgiving show.

“No.” She eyes him up and down, presses a finger onto her lower lip. “No, it’s more—you’re acting like that time, freshman year—”

“Don’t. Oh, please don’t.” Kevin grabs her arms and looks deep into her eyes and says, “That is something we never speak of.”

Miranda fists his shirt and leans in and says, voice low, “You’ve got a crush.” She’s grinning, right up in his face, like she’s exactly right, never mind the fact that she is.

Kevin has no idea how Miranda knows that, though, because it’s not like he runs into Carden very often, and he never stares at him at lunch and he never brings him up and he absolutely, positively never flushes when Bill talks about him. Really.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kevin says. He bites his lip and tries to look earnest.

Miranda has crinkles at the corners of her eyes, which means she’s completely delighted, happy, and in the mood to gossip. “I think you should call him.”

“I don’t—” He pauses, snaps his mouth shut, cocks his head, then says, “What?”

“He’s hot, he likes you, he’s fun,” Miranda says.

Kevin isn’t going to deny Carden’s hot, but he’s getting the feeling that maybe they aren’t thinking about the same guy here. “Um.”

“Zac’s pretty perfect for you, actually, and if you’re too much of a pussy to call him yourself, I’m going to tell Brendon to text Corbin your number and have Zac call you.”

“Zac,” Kevin says. “Zac Efron.” He feels like he needs to clarify this, not because he’s especially surprised by Miranda’s claim, but because he could use the time to switch gears. Zac, not Carden. This makes sense.

“Yes.” She’s got a stop-being-deliberately-dense look in her eyes, but it’s tempered with her you’re-so-cute-when-you’re-befuddled smile.

Kevin shrugs a little. “Okay.”

*

Kevin doesn’t really date. It’s not like he thinks his parents would mind – although there’d be rules and curfews and they’d all have to meet him and it’d be a nightmare - but he’s kind of got enough of a social life without adding dating into the mix. Even if his social life is largely a secret. He’s busy. And it’d be hard to have a boyfriend who he couldn’t see for most of the weekend. It’d be like leading an even more double life than he already does.

With Zac it’s a little different, since Zac can hang out with them during shows, even their own.

Kevin is quietly freaking out, because Patrick is loudly freaking out, and he figures they don’t need two of them hyperventilating into a paper bag fifteen minutes before they’re set to go on.

“This is the worst fucking idea you’ve ever had,” Patrick snarls at Bill. He’s pale and sweaty, gasping a little, his eye-mask pushed up under his hat, hands fisted on his thighs. He’s a curled-over heap on the floor in the hallway leading to the back of the tiny CarPort stage.

Bill doesn’t look very offended; he just pats Patrick on the head and says, “Breathe, my friend. In through your nose, out through your mouth.”

Kevin clutches the arm of his bass with white-knuckled fingers and follows Bill’s coaching, too.

Zac swings a friendly arm over Kevin’s shoulders and says, “You’re going to be totally awesome, guys,” grinning widely, hair flopping over his forehead.

Kevin relaxes into his side and Zac presses an enthusiastic kiss to his temple. Kevin has to admit this dating thing is pretty cool. Zac has, like, zero angst attached to him – he’s simple, like a puppy.

“Thanks,” Kevin says, low, so only Zac catches it.

Zac hip-checks him lightly. “Dude, crazy awesome, no worries. And even if you suck, you’ll have me, Corbin and Vanessa down front cheering for you, anyway. And Lucas, for what it’s worth.”

“I’m worth everything,” Lucas says, bouncing up behind them. “What’s going on? Panic attacks? Has anyone thrown up yet?”

“Alright, alright,” Bill says, clapping his hands. “Everyone who’s not NINJA, shoo. Band meeting, before Trick passes out.”

“I’m not going to pass out,” Patrick says, but his voice is weak and muffled by his arms.

Bill says, “That’s right, keep up those positive thoughts.”

“Good luck,” Zac whispers in Kevin’s ear, then slides away, tugging Lucas with him back down the hallway.

Brendon huddles close to Kevin’s side, vibrating. “I have never been so excited in my entire life, Kev,” he says.

Miranda catches Kevin’s eye over Brendon’s head. She grins, giving him a thumbs up. She’s wearing a billowy black shirt over black tights, but she’s bedazzled her half-mask with pink rhinestones. It matches the bandana Bill’s tied and knotted around his left thigh, just above his knee. They’re the only ones who bothered with color – Kevin has on dark navy jeans, but he doesn’t think anyone can tell.

They can’t hear anything from where they are. The club’s packed, Heartsore had been awesome, riling up the crowd, but right now there’s only the echo of their breathing bouncing off the thin linoleum tiles, and the occasional whimper from Patrick.

“We’re doing this,” Brendon says.

There are grooves in Kevin’s fingers from where he’s gripping his bass, soft, but calloused underbellies digging into the strings. It’s enough pain to ground him; he releases the strings backwards, the positioning a direct reverse of the beginning of In Front And Heavy. This is it. There’s no going back, even if one of the kids singing along in twenty minutes recognizes the curve of Miranda’s mouth, the timbre of Brendon’s voice, the strawberry blonde curl of Patrick’s hair under his knit cap; Bill’s splayed, spidery legs, Kevin’s wrists, fingers – the white band of skin that isn’t hidden by a thin band of silver.

We are your losers, your loud weirdoes, your science stars, your shy, retiring band geeks, Kevin thinks, and sets off for the stage.

*

It’s harder for Kevin to sneak out of his house than to sneak back in. So he maybe gets a little careless; the house is usually dead quiet, and everyone in his family is a heavy sleeper. He says goodnight to Bill as they split paths to their respective houses after Brendon drops them off, then practically trips over Nick’s feet on the front porch. He’d stopped using the tree outside his bedroom to come back home nearly two months ago. Clearly, this was a bad decision.

“Uh.”

Nick purses his lips and looks up at him curiously. He’s sprawled in the low-light of three AM, sky spangled with stars and a full moon, pajama pants hitched high – his pale, bony ankles are showing above his slippers. There’s a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

“Hey, Nick,” Kevin says, shifting awkwardly, holding his case up defensively against his stomach. Nick is twelve, but he has this thing where he occasionally makes Kevin feel five years younger than he is.

“I’m starting to think Joe’s an idiot,” Nick says. “You just missed him, by the way. He thinks you guys were awesome.”

Kevin doesn’t exactly know how to respond to that. He goes for a pretty dumb, “What?”

Nick rocks up onto his feet, grabs hold of Kevin’s wrist. “Bill is not all that discreet, is what I’m saying.”

Kevin knows this. Bill has been their neighbor for ten years – it’s probably the only reason they’re friends, considering the fact that Bill is so much cooler than him – and the entire Jonas family knows Bill doesn’t have a discreet or subtle bone in his body, with little to no shame. “Um.”

“You’re in a band. It’s, like, all Bill talks about when he doesn’t think anyone is listening,” Nick says. “It wasn’t all that hard to figure out it was NINJA.”

“Right,” Kevin says. He guesses it’s not worth denying it at this point - and he also thinks Nick’s probably known for a while, and hasn’t let it slip to their parents yet. He’s feeling marginally safe. “And you haven’t told Joe?”

Nick shrugs. “It’s kind of funny watching him hero-worship you, man. You’re his favorite. I can’t wait ‘til he figures it out.”

“Yeah,” Kevin says. There’s a little part of him that wants to tell Joe himself – Joe thinks he’s so lame, right, and maybe he is, but Kevin just rocked his ass off in a tiny, packed club, Kevin is living his dream, Kevin is secretly awesome. Joe’s going to be so jealous.

*

DECEMBER

*


Patrick and Kevin are both in jazz band. Jazz band is only marginally better than regular band, mostly because they don’t practice every day, and they don’t have to march. They’re both, basically, only in jazz band because of their parents.

Kevin repeats his new mantra, I am secretly awesome, in his head as he fits together the pieces of his oboe. He wishes he had a cooler instrument – Patrick gets to play tenor sax. It’s 1980s cool, but it’s still better than the oboe.

In third grade, back when they’d had to choose their instruments of social destruction, oboe had been a funny enough word to get him into this mess. At least he has the bass – secretly awesome, he thinks – to save him.

The Randolph High jazz band normally has two shows a year – in the spring, for Band-o-Rama, and their Winter Wonderland concert, right before the holidays.

“We are so going to rock Sleigh Ride this year, dudes,” Kent says, cleaning out his spit valve.

Patrick grimaces. Kevin gets it; Sleigh Ride’s a staple piece, they could probably all play it in their sleep – Kent’s a freshman, though, and Kevin’s pretty sure he’s just excited to do the horse bit at the end.

“Aw, hell,” Lindsey says. She points at the chalkboard across the room with her cello bow. “They changed the concert to the eighteenth.”

“No way,” Kent says, “that’s bullshit, man, we’ll miss NINJA.”

The hair on the back of Kevin’s neck prickles. He always gets a weird chill when people bring up NINJA around him. It’s only been a week and a half since Thanksgiving, but so far almost everyone seems oblivious to the fact that the entirety of NINJA sits at the table in the lunchroom that’s cradled between the theater enthusiasts and that loner who allegedly eats his own snot.

Pete Wentz has figured it out.

Patrick has expressly forbidden anyone to say anything, but Wentz has totally figured it out; he’s worn his TRICK NINJA shirt almost every day, and there’s epic winking going on, so he’s either figured it out or he’s developed an unfortunate facial tic.

“Wait,” Patrick says. He tips his hat back a little and widens his eyes at Kevin.

Stupid jazz band. This is maybe going to be a problem.

*

“This is tricky business,” Bill says, trying to balance one of Patrick’s drumsticks in between his nose and upper lip. “I predict wacky hijinks.”

Bill’s basement has become NINJA Central. Well, it was always NINJA Central, but now there are boxes of merch everywhere, since Bill’s decided they can turn a profit this way, instead of just having a Café Press account. They all chipped in for capital, and Bill’s dad invested, although everyone knows Bill’s dad isn’t going to ask for any money back. He’s one of their biggest supporters. Which is a good thing, considering he could just take five steps across their side yard and spill all to Kevin’s parents.

“How wacky are we talking?” Miranda asks.

“Speedy, inconvenient costume changes in the back of the Purple Beast,” Bill says. “Pete Wentz.”

“I don’t know if Pete Wentz can actually be called a wacky hijink all by himself,” Brendon says.

The drumstick falls to the thin rug with a clatter, and Bill arches an eyebrow. “I’m fond of Pete, you know, but he’s definitely a wacky hijink all by his lonesome. Let us not forget the spaghetti sandwich incident of ’07.”

“He’s the only one who came out of that food fight unscathed,” Miranda says.

Wentz had walked out of the cafeteria with zero mess on him, smiling toothily. Kevin had smelled like rotten tomatoes for the rest of the day and the entire student body had looked like they’d somehow miraculously survived some sort of chainsaw massacre; rumor has it Wentz fired the first shot, but he hadn’t even gotten a single drop of sauce on him.

Bill nods. “Exactly my point.”

“Look,” Patrick says huffily. “Look, we need to stop talking about Pete Wentz and, I don’t know, maybe figure out how to play two shows at the same exact time.”

“Magic,” Brendon says, and does some jazz hands.

Kevin would laugh, except Patrick cuts him a warning glare – Wentz really has him on edge, though Kevin doesn’t blame him; he’s seen Wentz’s blog. They’re just lucky Wentz has only stepped up his campaign to marry Patrick and raise Canadian babies on a miniature pony farm in New Hampshire, and that he hasn’t mentioned NINJA yet. “They’re not exactly at the same time,” Kevin says instead.

“Half hour overlap,” Patrick says, “they might as well be.”

“We’ll just have to push back NINJA,” Miranda says. “We’ll go on a little late, I can’t see that being a problem.”

“Speedy! Wacky! Costume changes!” Bill says, arms waving.

Sometimes Bill’s just as much of a cartoon character as Brendon. Kevin figures that’ll probably at least be good on stage.

*

As much as Kevin loves woodshop, Fridays and buzz saws don’t always mix, particularly when he’s had a late night. He’s yawning his way through a blueprint – a gingerbread cottage birdhouse, complete with little wooden gumdrops on the eaves; it’s going to be awesome – when The Jerry thumps a fist on his table.

“Twofer Love, right? Heartsore,” he says.

“Um. What?”

The Jerry shrugs. “You were humming.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah. Twofer Love.” Crap. Crap, crap, crap, Kevin thinks, he was humming Heartsore?

“Dude, their show last night rocked.” The Jerry swipes some hair out of his eyes, looks over at him curiously. “Were you there?”

Kevin grimaces. He’s pretty sure he should say no. He says, “Yeah,” and kind of wants to smash his hand with a hammer, but—yeah. There’s a part of him that wants to maintain some cool in The Jerry’s eyes, maybe foster it outside of woodshop. Being secretly awesome has limited appeal, and The Jerry seems to genuinely like him. Patrick is going to kick his ass when he finds out.

But The Jerry just says, “Cool,” and turns back to his own project.

Kevin’s fingers tap out the rhythm of Kansas City over the little lines that sketch out the cross-thatched, graham cracker roof.

*

GLITTER GIRLS AND HEARTSORE @ BOOTSTRAP TEN
This much sugar should maybe breed disdain – instead, Greta (of Pocket Thief) and VickyT (of Heartsore) pack you so full of sweet, you don’t even realize the roof of your mouth’s sliced open and stinging until hours later, when their lyrics hit you right where it hurts.

On the surface, it’s sugary pop. Take their words at face value and you’ve got love and puppies and rainbows. But clever twists, like in Rock’ell and Unicorn Moon, in Time Love After - deaf ears and cracked plaster sunshine - and Hug; the upbeat tempo and major chords trick you into thinking this is something simple, when underneath it all VickyT and Greta have got some mysterious bitterness going on.

Glitter Girls isn’t so much a stretch for them, then – Pocket Thief’s hard, dark themes, paired with Heartsore’s hip-hop, party, dance vibe. Though McCoy would probably argue the simplicity of that description; Heartsore is, and definitely always has been, McCoy’s baby.

While Glitter Girls warmed the crowd up, Heartsore lit a fire. Edging up on the harder side of pop-rock, mainly due to the skillful hand of Joe Trohman on lead guitar, Heartsore had everyone singing along, sampling from such fine classics as Superstition, Another Night in Bangkok, and Little River Band’s Reminiscing - plus a straight-up cover of Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know.

Pulling double duty didn’t seem to slow VickyT down, her energy never flagging, and Greta stepped up to the mic during Heartsore’s set for the hook in Seven Years Bad Luck – McCoy, alternately, came out and remixed the chorus for Glitter Girls’ Jelly Donut Boy. Two great tastes that taste great together.

GLITTER GIRLS AND HEARTSORE @ BOOTSTRAP TEN: DECEMBER 10TH 9:30 PM
Glitter Girls set list:
+ Time Love After
+ The Word
+ Ten Around
+ Hug
+ Rock’ell
+ Magnetize
+ Jelly Donut Boy
+ Peppermint
+ Unicorn Moon

Heartsore set list:
+ Another Night
+ Twofer Love
+ Knock Me Out
+ Kansas City
+ The Cheese Told Me To Write This Song (possibly not the correct title, but Joe kind of mumbles, and I could have sworn there’s a bit about muenster and pepper jack in this)
+ How Will I Know
+ Seven Years Bad Luck
+ Nothing Wrong With Afternoons
+ It’s Simple
+ Lock Your Doors, We Make No Promises

same bat channel,
- trick @ emc

*

When Lacey corners Kevin in the downstairs boys’ bathroom, Kevin realizes that Lacey hasn’t really bothered him since he’d accidentally punched him back in October. He’s made some long-distance faces at him, but he hasn’t been nearly so threatening as usual.

Of course, Kevin doesn’t usually use the downstairs boys’ bathroom, because Lacey’s often found slacking off in there, so Kevin isn’t exactly sure what kind of brain fart he had that made him decide to walk in right then, but he’s seriously regretting it.

“Hey, Jonas,” Lacey says, lips curled up maliciously, eyes narrowed.

They’re a good distance apart, but Kevin feels like he’s being pressed up against the grimy tile, anyway; there’s a weight on his chest, and he’s finding it hard to breathe. He’s not afraid, exactly, but it’s like his face remembers how much it hurt to have a fist jammed into it, and his body’s trying hard to avoid a repeat.

“Lacey,” Kevin says. He nods a little. He has outward calm in spades, only his insides are squirming. He really hopes his eyes don’t reflect his panic.

Lacey advances with a smirk, but Kevin doesn’t give him an inch – he holds his ground, right next to the line of urinals, sinks angled to his left, and then Lacey flattens his palm on Kevin’s chest and shoves him backwards.

It isn’t a very strong shove, but Kevin’s footing had been nervous to begin with, there’s a constant, mysterious, disgusting wetness on the bathroom floor, and he’s got old sneakers on, rubber soles worn traction-less – there’s a slow motion dawning of embarrassment and horror as he stumbles, and the last thing he registers, before the back of his head connects with a burst of pain on the porcelain rim of a sink, is Lacey’s wide, surprised eyes.

*

Kevin slowly regains consciousness, the harsh fluorescent light swimming into his vision, spotted by pulsing specks of black, and the first thing he notices is that Lacey’s propped up across from him, nursing a bloody nose.

The second thing he notices is Carden.

Carden is hunched down beside him and cradling the back of Kevin’s head with one hand – down low, right above his nape – frowning, and Kevin would be so totally mortified if his skull didn’t feel like it was in two separate halves.

“Ow,” Kevin says, slightly nauseous.

Carden says, “Yeah,” and uses his other hand to probe lightly through his curls, until a fresh spark of pain makes Kevin wince. “Nurse, Jonas. Let’s go.”

“What about me?” Lacey whines, voice clogged and nasally, fingers pressed up against his nostrils. “You fucking sucker-punched me, asshole.”

Carden ignores him and levers Kevin up onto his feet, arms around his back to keep him steady. He watches Kevin carefully, like he’s waiting for Kevin to black out again, like he doesn’t trust Kevin’s balance.

Kevin’s dizzy, but he’s ninety-five percent certain he’s not going to pitch over. He’s hyperaware of Carden’s hands on him, though, and it sucks, because Zac’s awesome and fun, but he doesn’t make Kevin feel this way – hot and short of breath and awkward. “I’m okay,” he says thickly.

Carden snorts.

“Seriously, I’m fine,” Kevin says. He just wants Carden to let go of him. There’s this weird tingling, tightening of his skin where Carden’s fingers are grazing, just under the hem of his t-shirt, and a puddle of guilt warms in his stomach – he shouldn’t like Carden manhandling him this much, or at least he shouldn’t like it more than the idea of Zac doing the same thing.

“Well, you’re not bleeding,” Carden says, but it doesn’t sound like an agreement.

I’m bleeding,” Lacey says.

“Shut the fuck up,” Carden says, but his words aren’t heated, he’s mostly just focused on Kevin.

Kevin drops his gaze to his shoes, face hot.

Dumbly, he lets Carden steer him out of the bathroom and into the hall; he doesn’t know how long he was out, or when Carden found them, but the hallway’s packed. He’d gotten a hall pass from Lit and his books are still in room 103, and he squishes up against the wall when Michael Guy and Siska jostle close to Carden.

Carden has a hold of his wrist, though, and he elbows Michael Guy out of the way. He says, “Fuck off, Chiz,” and Michael Guy eyes Kevin up and down and says, “You look green, are you gonna throw up?”

Kevin swallows and would shake his head if he didn’t think that would actually make him throw up.

“I fucking hope not,” Carden says for him.

If he threw up all over Carden, this would officially be the worst day of his entire life.

When he spots Brendon in the crowd, he almost passes out in relief. Brendon bounces over, grinning until he gets close enough to see Carden’s fingers shackling his wrist, and probably the gray cast to Kevin’s face.

“What happened to you, dude?” Brendon asks.

Kevin lurches into his side, arm wrapping around Brendon’s shoulders, and he’s not even a little disappointed that Carden’s grip suddenly slips easily off. “Can you take me to the nurse, Bren?”

Brendon darts his gaze back and forth, between Kevin and Carden, but then he shrugs and says, “Sure.”

*

The speedy, inconvenient costume changes actually ends up being kind of fun. Besides getting Patrick’s elbow jabbed into his still-tender head wound, that is.

The biggest problem, of course, is Kevin’s hair.

“This isn’t going to work,” Kevin says.

“What isn’t?” Brendon says, looking at him through the rearview mirror.

Patrick smacks the back of his head and shouts, “Eyes on the road, eyes on the road!” as they nearly side-swipe a Honda coupe by drifting lanes.

Kevin holds up the bottle of curl relaxant Miranda had gotten for him. “This hair stuff,” he says. His head’s dripping with it and it smells really bad and there’s no way this is going to work.

“Oh, wait, wait,” Brendon says, “check my bag, I brought you a present.”

“I’m not wearing a fake mustache,” Kevin says, but he obediently starts digging through Brendon’s messenger bag. His fingers catch on something soft under Brendon’s books, and he pulls out—a stretchy, black headband with WAKE UP written in white across the front, and NINJA around the back. “You want me to wear our own merch?” He’s not exactly sure how this’ll help with his limp, greasy curls, either.

“Exclusive, dude, just for you, ‘cause you totally seem like a headband guy, right? I made Bill a bandana for his Carpe Ninja song, too.”

Kevin kind of gets it. Maybe. He’d written most of Wake Up by himself, with a little help from Patrick, back when they weren’t even really a band yet. He doesn’t understand why Brendon thinks he’s a headband guy, though. “Uh. Thanks?”

“You’ll look like a sweaty rock star,” Brendon says, nodding. “No one’ll recognize your hair.”

Kevin tugs on the sweatband, pulls it down so it flattens the hair on top of his head, wet curls licking up around the bottom, curving over his neck and temples.

Next to him, Patrick isn’t making any sounds at all, but Kevin’s pretty sure he’s laughing at him.

“Shut up,” Kevin says.

“No, right, you’re definitely a headband guy,” Patrick says, grinning. He’s completely dressed and ready, half-mask dangling around his neck, a black newsboy cap on his head.

Kevin rolls his eyes, but he manages to finish changing, tugging on his boots – his really awesome dark brown leather boots, with square toes and wedge heels and fancy tooling down the sides - just as Brendon screeches into the back parking lot of The Cell.

Bill’s hanging out the backdoor, mask askew. He waves at them. “There’s approximately one million people in the audience,” he says when they stumble out of the minivan. “One million and one, if you count Zac.”

“The Cell fits two hundred max,” Patrick says.

Bill swings an arm around his shoulder and pulls him up against his side. “They’re all chanting for you, Trick, particularly this lad in the front with funny hair and too many tattoos. Pete something or other?”

Patrick punches him in the gut. “You’re not funny.”

“He’s got a Marry Me, Trick sign, it’s tragic and hilarious.”

“He does not,” Patrick says, horrified.

Bill hums a few bars of I Wish I Were A (Trick Ninja) while Patrick ducks his head, cheeks flaming.

Brendon bumps a shoulder into Kevin’s and says, “Hey, so, don’t we have a show to do?”

*

Kevin almost has a heart attack when he spots Carden in the crowd. His fingers fumble for a split-second and then Bill arches a concerned eyebrow at him, but everyone goes on, and everyone ignores it when he skips his next set of background vocals because his throat’s dried up – Carden’s staring at him.

Kevin is extremely conscious of the fact that he’s wearing a sweatband around his head, and that his eyes are stinging a little from the relaxant dripping down his face. He takes a deep breath and turns towards Patrick, giving the rest of the club his profile.

Patrick’s singing, tipping his face up towards the mic that’s set up by his kit. His eyes are half-closed and he’s completely oblivious to everything but the music. He’s not letting Wentz - who doesn’t have a sign, Bill was lying, but is still up front and center, arms in the air - distract or embarrass him.

Kevin’s heart stops rattling around erratically in his ribcage, slows down until it echoes the bass line and Kevin can breathe again.

He sees Zac when he swings back around. Zac, completely insane, trying to dance with Lucas and Vanessa but really just jumping up and down, waving his arms and grinning up at Kevin.

Kevin really likes Zac, he’s kind of awesome, but when Kevin closes his eyes, sings, “Go lucky charming, walk home with me,” underneath Patrick, it’s like he can still feel the weight and heat of Carden’s gaze, curious and interested, and he can still pinpoint exactly where he is in the room.

*

“I’m pathetic,” Kevin says.

Brendon’s squished into his side, head on his shoulder. “No, you’re not.”

“For serious,” Kevin says. He slumps down and shifts so his head tips into Brendon’s, rocks his forehead across Brendon’s temple. They’re sitting on the stoop out the backdoor, and Kevin doesn’t know what Brendon thinks they’re doing, but Kevin is definitely hiding. Pathetic.

The air’s cold, almost biting, and his sweaty stage clothes aren’t helping. He shivers, and Brendon presses even closer, threads an arm through his, grabs his knees and tugs their bent legs together. Brendon doesn’t ask him what’s wrong, which is a good thing, since Kevin has absolutely no clue.

Kevin breathes heavily and watches his breath condense into smoke and disappear.

And then the door clangs open behind them and Zac says, “Oh hey, there you are, what the fuck, it’s fucking freezing, you guys are crazy.” He moves in front of Kevin, grinning down at him, hands tucked up into his armpits. “Come on, dudes, inside.”

Kevin bobs his head and climbs to his feet, pulling Brendon with him. “All right, yeah, let’s go.”

*

Right around Christmas, Joe starts looking at him funny, and Kevin breaks down after about two days of it and finally says, “So you figured it out.” He doesn’t elaborate, because he doesn’t want to spill any info just in case Joe hasn’t figured out what Kevin thinks he’s figured out. Maybe he realized Kevin has a massive and embarrassing crush on Carden.

Kevin really hopes that isn’t what he’s figured out, though.

Joe nods very slowly. He says, “I have two Wake Up NINJA shirts.”

“I know.” Kevin had thought it was really funny too, when Joe had excitedly displayed his purchases for him to see two weeks ago. Really, really funny, in a that’s-so-freaking-weird kind of way.

“I can’t believe—how did you manage to hide this?” Joe asks.

Kevin shrugs. It wasn’t all that hard, really. There really isn’t any reason for anyone to suspect – no one would look at him and think, hey, maybe this loser’s in NINJA. If they bothered to look at him at all.

Joe suddenly grins; this wide, almost manic smile. “This is awesome,” he says. “I mean—”

“You can’t tell anyone,” Kevin says. “Dad’ll kill me if he knows I’ve been sneaking out. No one can know about this, Joe.”

Joe rolls his eyes. “What’s the point of being in an awesome band if you can’t tell anyone?” he asks.

Kevin ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck. “It’s not like I’m doing this to be popular or anything.” Sometimes he thinks it would be nice for people at school to know or whatever, but he’s really not—he’s doing this because it’s fun, and because he’s good at it.

Joe punches him in the arm. “You’re seriously an idiot, man.”

“Shut up,” Kevin says, but he’s smiling.


*

JANUARY

*


SAMHELL @ CARPORT
Just about four months after we first spotted Walker lurking around Tenderfoot Junction’s debut, Ross took the stage with pop-punk trio Samhell in what was heralded as a “special guest star” role, taking over lead guitar from Van Vleet on a couple tunes - Reminiscent of Your Eyes Five Days From Now, Behind That Summer, This Is My Small Heart – and layering in rhythm guitar tracks that honestly seemed to add something pretty phenomenal to Try Too Hard To and Downtime Is For Losers. What vocals he leant were mellow enough to emphasize Van Vleet, cozying up to share a mic with Walker - it’s always hard to tell with Ross, but I think I spotted a glimmer, a gleam, if you will, in his eyes. I’m gonna take a wild guess here and say Ross was having fun.

All in all, the music was solid, Samhell fare, something you can jump around and shake your rump to. Despite having sprained the ligaments in his right wrist a week prior, Butcher played the hell out of his drums one-handed. The arrangements were a little different to compensate, but no less awesome - Butcher remains one of the best drummers on the scene, and the short-shorts and bare chest certainly don’t hurt.

Of course, the shocker of the evening came when Walker gave the out-of-the-fucking-blue announcement that he’s leaving Samhell [wtf, jwalk? – bden]. We don’t know what he’s thinking, honestly, since Samhell’s one of the greats in a tri-county area full of marginally-known bands, but we salute you, Jon Walker, and wish you well - my money’s on Tenderfoot Junction magically becoming a duo, but there’s been no word, rumors or otherwise.

And if there are any hard feelings between Van Vleet, Butcher and Walker, they made sure not to show it.

SAMHELL @ CARPORT: JANUARY 9TH 10:00 PM
Set list:
+ Reminiscent of Your Eyes Five Days From Now
+ Try Too Hard To
+ Sometimes I’ll Say Yes
+ Locked Into Wide Open Spaces
+ Behind That Summer
+ This Is My Small Heart
+ A Little Bit Taller
+ Downtime Is For Losers
+ Apply More Pressure
+ Say Goodbye (The Ice Cream Sandwich Song)

too hip to be square
- rand @ emc

*

Kevin actually has no idea what Spencer and Brendon are doing. Or, really, Kevin’s pretty clear on what Spencer’s doing – Spencer isn’t exactly the open book Brendon normally is, but he’s pretty much got hearteyes for Brendon; it isn’t hard to guess his intentions. It’s Brendon Kevin’s clueless about.

It snows early in the month, and Kevin’s a big fan of snow.

Brendon is too, for approximately the first twenty-four hours, but then he starts whining about being too cold, and snuggles up on anything with a pulse. Currently, Kevin has Brendon practically in his lap. Spencer is sending him dirty looks across the basement.

“Maybe you should go warm yourself with Spencer, Bren,” Kevin says.

Brendon tugs on Kevin’s arm until he obligingly drapes it across his back, and Brendon squirms closer into his side. “Why?”

It’s impossible that Brendon hasn’t noticed how Spencer feels about him. Brendon’s sort of flaky, but he’s never been this completely oblivious. He pokes at Brendon’s stomach. “No, really, I think he’s trying to kill me with his brain.”

Brendon pulls back, glances quickly over at Spencer, then shrugs – tightly. He purses his lips and tenses up, and Kevin thinks it’s the weirdest reaction ever, considering the fact that Kevin knows Brendon thinks Spencer’s awesome; he tells Kevin that all the time.

“You think he’s awesome,” Kevin says, and he’s grinning, but Brendon just tenses up even further and shifts away from Kevin and stares at his hands.

“Whatever,” Brendon says.

Bill, who’s been blatantly listening in, leans over the back of the couch and flicks Brendon on the side of the neck. “Wee Brendon here is still under the delusion that he’s straight, Jonas, and not completely in love with a boy.”

Kevin doesn’t say anything, and Brendon doesn’t say anything, and then Bill flounces off with a huff, and Brendon doesn’t say anything some more.

“So,” Kevin says finally, drawing out the word.

“We’re friends,” Brendon says. “He’s just really cool, and we’re friends.”

Kevin nods. He’s not sure if Brendon really believes that or not, and he’s not sure which of those would bring Brendon the most grief. All joking protests aside, there’s no way Brendon thinks he’s actually straight anymore, not after—not after hooking up with Lucas last week, on top of the hundred and one boys he’s already kissed.

Kevin’s got his own messed-up boy issues, though, so he’s not going to badger Brendon about his.

*

Kevin’s really getting the hang of performing live. He wasn’t expecting to, but he loves the stage, he loves the attention, he loves getting to play awesome music that he helped create – and he loves that people actually love it, too. That they have fans. Fans who know all the words to their songs, that sing along and want to hug him and tell him how awesome he is.

The half-mask he has to wear itches, particularly after shows when he’s a complete and sweaty mess, but it’s worth it.

“Hey.”

There’s a hand low on his back, but Kevin doesn’t jump until he turns around. Because then he sees Carden. Carden, who’s standing really close and who’s looking at him with narrowed eyes, but doesn’t seem to realize who he really is. Which makes Kevin feel slightly disappointed and also super lame for feeling slightly disappointed.

Kevin takes a little sidestep and dislodges Carden’s hand. “Um.” Would he recognize his voice? “Hi.”

A not entirely uncomfortable silence draws out between them, and then Carden says, “You’re pretty good.”

Kevin knows he’s pretty good, but the compliment still makes his insides flutter, and he doesn’t realize Carden’s leaning in towards him until he slides a hand up his arm, their hips bumping together.

“What are you—?” He cuts off when Carden’s fingers skim over his cheek, sliding under his mask and rub a little, back and forth. It makes Kevin freeze up.

“This has gotta be uncomfortable,” Carden says, smirking.

Kevin licks his lips. “It’s fine.” His skin is tingling and Carden has calluses and Kevin has a boyfriend.

A boyfriend who is not there.

And Kevin’s a really horrible person, because he lets Carden slip in a little closer, and if Bill hadn’t chosen that moment to curl up next to him and push a slick, cool glass of soda into his hands, he doesn’t know what would have happened. He isn’t exactly sure what Carden had wanted, so.

Bill says, “Oh, this can’t be good,” and Carden holds up his hands, palms out, still smirking.

Carden says, “Sorry,” and Bill says, “You so are not,” but his voice is smiling.

It’s almost as though Carden knows who Bill is. They’re friends; Kevin thinks they hang out a lot. But Kevin really hopes Bill hasn’t come out and told Carden who they are. He doesn’t ask, though, because he kind of doesn’t want to know for sure.

*

During school hours, Bill has given up his sleek, bohemian chic, his emo black, for button-downs and carpenter pants. He sticks his pockets full of paint brushes and pens and wears a white cap with a feather in it, and Kevin has no idea why.

He’s got paint all over him when he wanders into Kevin’s house after school, so Kevin figures he forgot to wear his smock again.

“I’m working on my amazing and fantastic lunchroom mural, Kevin,” Bill says, “it’s all jungle cats and giant insects and sharks.”

Kevin says, “Didn’t Mr. Timberlake say you had to use our mascot?”

“Pfft.” Bill waves a hand. “Sheep are boring.”

Kevin has to agree. Sheep are adorable and fluffy, but they’re kind of boring as far as mascots go – he’s not sure how it’s possible that their football team is so awesome, since they have to put up with all the Fighting Sheep cheers.

“Now, tell me,” Bill says, hitching himself up on a stool at the kitchen island, “while we’re alone—”

“We’re not alone,” Kevin says. He glances pointedly at Bonus.

Bonus is quietly eating a Fruit Rollup – well, he’s kind of eating it; he’s sticking the cut-out pieces all over his face – sitting on the counter by the sink. He bangs his heels on the cabinet below him and grins at them.

“Frankie doesn’t count, do you, Frankie?” Bill asks.

“I’m not a real person yet,” Bonus says obediently, nodding, and it’s something Bill tells him all the time; luckily Bonus hasn’t repeated that to their dad yet.

Anyway,” Bill says, threading his fingers together in front of him. “Anyway, fill me in, how’s our wonderful Mr. Efron?”

“Fine,” Kevin says. It’s not like Kevin doesn’t want to talk about this in front of Bonus, it’s just that he doesn’t want to talk about this at all.

Bill bobs his head. “Uh huh, I see. You’re going to have to be more specific, though, or I’ll be forced to embarrass you in public by bringing this up with Zac.”

“Um.”

“Spill, Jonas,” Bill says. He leans forward, grinning. “You, my friend, have an unsatisfied air about you.”

“I really—this is really inappropriate, Bill,” Kevin says.

“Of course it is. Of course.” Bill eyes him speculatively. “You should really say something to him, though.”

“Bill.” Kevin rubs a hand over his forehead. He knows he should talk to Zac about it, but he’s sixteen – it’s not a big deal, they’re not going to get married or anything, they’re just having fun. It’s no grand love affair, but he wasn’t expecting it to be.

“Between you and Brendon.” Bill shakes his head, feather flopping over his left ear. “I truly don’t know how I ended up with such wretchedly stubborn and delusional friends.”

“Who’s delusional?” Miranda says, walking into the kitchen and dropping her school bag by Bill’s feet.

“Kevin. And Brendon. And Patrick too, come to think of it.” Bill presses a finger to his lips, expression thoughtful. “You and me, Rand, we’re the best of us.”

“Well, yeah,” Miranda says. She’s grinning at Kevin, though, chin hooked over Bill’s shoulder.

Kevin rolls his eyes.

“So are we going to work on our lit papers? Because ZFF’s on tonight, and we still have to write up a post on ASL, and Wentz actually talked to Patrick today, so we don’t want to miss that fallout,” Miranda says. “I think there was special touching, Patrick was bright red all through math. It was kind of amazing.”

“This is what I love about you,” Bill says. “We can tease Patrick together. It’ll be like a real date, we can even hold hands.”

Miranda says, “Exactly what I always wanted,” and Kevin’s not sure if she’s joking or not.

*

AMERICAN SWIMMING LESSONS @ THE CELL
One of our very favorites, the duo American Swimming Lessons finally took the stage Thursday night after a yearlong hiatus. We never realized how much we actually missed Gomez and Ritter’s special brand of folksy-pop until they brushed off their guitar and bass, their keyboard, their shakers, and wowed the crowd with a new number they called Next Time You Need To Run. I still don’t exactly get how they do it – how they manage to balance all their instruments with only four, supposedly-human hands – but all that just adds to the amazing.

Mixed in with their shiny new songs, definitely worth the almost-forever wait – breakup rumors started last spring and held on tight all through the summer - were some old favorites: Sometimes People Have Issues, Re-Quest, I Lit A Fire Fire Fire.

Selena Gomez was as cheeky (and gorgeous) as ever, and Tyson Ritter looked like he needed a couple more hours sleep, but you can’t deny their chemistry. Let’s hope they never sleep together; we all remember the fallout after the Cyrus fiasco [oh, that’s just gross – k2; we know you hate miley, rand, stop spreading nasty but hilarious incest rumors – billiam; I want to rip out her whiny little larynx, but other than that, we’re totally cool - rand].

ASL wrapped up the night with a quick and dirty a cappella round they taught the crowd, splitting the room down the middle – and you can’t shake the feeling, there’ll be too much time to say no, say yes – the words sweet and eerie. An odd, but not entirely low note to end on.

AMERICAN SWIMMING LESSONS @ THE CELL: JANUARY 21ST 10:00 PM
Set list:
+ Next Time You Need To Run
+ Sometimes People Have Issues
+ Re-Quest
+ At The Sound
+ Jingle
+ Whatever That Says About Me
+ I Lit A Fire Fire Fire
+ Old World Stories
+ Then Last Year Ended
+ Get Tired
+ For You (Or Not You)
+ Can’t Shake The Feeling

- rand @ emc

*

“The problem with ZFF,” Bill says, staring at the stage with what Kevin thinks is fascinated horror, “is that they’re like Menudo, only with a markedly less melodious sound.”

“I don’t think they kicked Crawford out for being too old,” Patrick says. He doesn’t seem completely convinced of his words, though. “Or Wheeler, either.”

“Or Lyn-Z,” Miranda says. She chews absently on her stirrer straw, then twirls it around in the air, flicking sticky drops of rum and Coke over the bar. “Hey, wasn’t Gerard in this once?”

“I think Gerard was a founding member, back when they were actually, you know, good,” Bill says.

“They’re not that bad. They’re just kinda, um, loud?” Brendon sticks a finger in his ear and winces when Musso hits a high, incomprehensible note.

He’s not a bad singer – though his older brother’s better, and Kevin’s pretty sure Mason had been in this band once upon a time, too - it’s just that everything’s really, really loud, and the kid they replaced Crawford with kind of has no idea what she’s doing.

“I don’t remember them being this terrible before,” Miranda says.

“Crawford,” Patrick says.

“Yeah.” Kevin nods; Crawford made up for a lot of the mediocre music ZFF has been churning out over the years. “And I don’t think Osment and the drummer are actually playing the same song.”

Miranda cocks her head and narrows her eyes. “You may be right about that.”

“I need to be much drunker for this,” Bill says. He downs his drink and rattles the ice in his glass. “Much, much drunker. Who’s with me?”

Ryland Blackinton’s evil magic aside, Kevin really, honestly doesn’t drink that much. “I want something sweet,” he says. If he has to sit through another hour of this, he needs something that’ll muffle all the sound to his brain.

The problem with ZFF, Kevin thinks, is that they’re one of the oldest names around. They’ve got a tried and true fan base, and instead of being put off by the rotating members, most of them tend to think it’s cool – or maybe just reliable. Other bands split up, dissolve, disband, but ZFF just keeps on chugging along – the tides turn, the earth spins, animals die, trends fade, but ZFF is always there, whether you want it to be or not.

So the crowd’s not huge, but it’s respectably-sized and raucous, and it takes five minutes for Bill to flag down the bartender.

Kevin ends up sharing a couple somethings that are fizzy and fruity with Brendon, and spends the rest of the night leaning into Bill. He thinks, this is my life, and there are moments when he’s sort of in love with it.

*

On Saturday, Kevin crawls out of bed sometime after noon, and then he lays sprawled on the floor, still exhausted, thinking that he’d probably feel more rested if he’d woken up at eight instead of sleeping in. There’s a muted thump in his head, not quite a headache, something that’ll probably disappear after he chugs a big glass of water.

Eventually, he pulls himself up and drags his body into the bathroom – the house is quiet, he thinks everyone is out until he stumbles across Nick in the living room. Nick just pauses his video game and arches an eyebrow at him.

“I’m going over to Bill’s,” Kevin says.

Nick’s eyebrow goes higher. “In that?”

Kevin shrugs and scratches the strip of belly exposed by his slightly shrunken sleep shirt and downward slide of his pajama bottoms, the elastic at the waist stretched from too many washings. Bill’s seen him in worse than his pajamas, and Bill’s house most likely has Bill’s dad, and Bill’s dad makes really good pancakes. Plus, Bill’s dad loves him. He thinks Kevin’s a good influence.

It isn’t until Kevin’s halfway down Bill’s basement steps that he remembers something about Bill working on a history project that afternoon, and it isn’t until he hits the bottom that he remembers who Bill’s history project partner is. Wonderful.

Kevin isn’t all that great at pretending, but he tries really hard to act like he isn’t wearing a tumbling kitten motif on his lower half. He crosses his arms over his LIFE AFTER NINJA t-shirt and says, “Um. Hi.”

Bill smirks. “Jonas.”

Carden gives him a bland look from where he’s lounging – that’s the exact word for it, lounging, like a big careless cat or a deceptively sleepy bear or something – on the couch, a text book open on his lap. He says, “Nice pants.”

Kevin feels his cheeks flush. “Thanks,” he says, because he’s polite, even though he knows Carden’s making fun of him. He fidgets, not sure what to do, and it sucks, because this is his turf, this is where he’s comfortable, and Carden’s making him squirm, making him feel awkward and intrusive.

Annoyed with himself, Kevin huffs out a breath, ignores Bill’s amused eyebrow waggles, and drops down onto the couch. Next to Carden. And he’s totally fine about it. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m interrupting.”

“We can take a break,” Bill says.

“For lunch?” Kevin asks brightly. His stomach feels hollowed out and fluttery. Because he’s starving, and not because Carden’s shifted so his knee’s folded up, resting a hairsbreadth away from Kevin’s thigh.

Bill taps his pen on his chin. “Linner, maybe. Lupper?”

Kevin can sense Carden’s hard gaze on the side of his face, but he refuses to look away from Bill. “I don’t care what you call it if I can have some of your dad’s pancakes.”

“Well, I’ll just go see if he’s willing,” Bill says, and he winks at him and flounces over to the stairs before Kevin can yell, wait, stop! and, don’t leave me alone with Carden! Which is probably a good thing, if only because Kevin doesn’t actually make a fool out of himself by begging Bill to take him with him.

Kevin stares fixedly at the orange tabby on his knee. His fingers twitch a little where they’re resting over a red ball of yarn.

Carden continues to not say anything to him, working on a truly impressive scowl. Kevin can feel it heating the side of his face.

When Bill stomps back down the steps, Kevin gives him a strained grin and Bill darts his gaze back and forth between him and Carden. “I suppose I shouldn’t have even bothered,” Bill says, exasperated.

Kevin says, “What?” and Carden says, “Shut the fuck up,” and kicks at Bill’s ankles when he strolls past and collapses back onto his armchair.

“No, seriously, this is getting ridiculous,” Bill says, then flicks his fingers at Kevin and says, “Dad’s not home.”

“Right.” Kevin nods. “I’ll just, uh,” he gets to his feet, hitches his pj bottoms up from where they’ve slipped down over his hips, “get out of your way then.”

*

FEBRUARY

*


“Valentine’s Day is lame,” Brendon says.

Patrick says, “Amen,” and holds up a fist for Brendon to bump, but Miranda frowns and says, “You don’t mean that.”

“It is,” Brendon insists.

Miranda shakes her head. “Seriously, any holiday where you get candy? There’s no way you think that’s lame.”

Love is lame,” Brendon says. He slumps down on the couch and crosses his arms over his chest. “And any holiday about love needs to take a shot to the gut and be buried six feet under. And then danced on. By a man-goat.”

Kevin sighs. Brendon’s been like this ever since Spencer started hanging out with Haley. Haley’s kind of really pretty and sweet, but Kevin doesn’t think it means anything – Haley’s in Spencer’s Spanish class, despite being in a grade below them, and they usually spend half the lunch period talking in badly accented Spanish and giggling.

“You’re depressing me, Urie,” Bill says from his sprawl on the floor. “Rand, darling, you should sacrifice yourself for my good cheer. Be my Valentine?”

Miranda chucks a pick at him, but then she grins and says, “Let’s go ice skating. I’ll buy you hot chocolate, and we’ll Eskimo kiss in front of the snack bar.”

“Fav-or-ite,” Bill sing-songs.

Patrick makes a growly sound, hunched over a guitar.

“Oh, you’re just grumpy because Pete’s wooing Ashlee this week. And speaking of wooing.” Bill shifts up onto his elbows and arches an eyebrow at Kevin. “Three rose requests came across my desk for you, Jonas.”

Kevin blinks. “Three?” Kevin never even gets one.

“I thought I’d warn you,” Bill says. “You’ll turn atomic in embarrassment anyway, but at least you’ll be somewhat prepared.”

For two dollars, anyone at Randolph High can buy any other student a rose, to be given out on Valentine’s Day – or what passes for Valentine’s Day when the actual day falls on a weekend. Kevin has no idea who at school would give him roses, not unless Zac got someone to buy them for him by proxy. But Zac really isn’t a buying flowers kind of guy. They really don’t even have any Valentine’s Day plans; Kevin’s just going to go watch Larry Says Hi play. He promised Joe he’d sneak him into Bootstrap. So, basically, Kevin’s spending the night with his brother. And probably, the way things are looking, Patrick and Brendon, too. It’s not a big deal.

“What do the notes say?” Kevin asks.

“I can’t tell you that,” Bill says, mock-aghast. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

*

It’s raining.

It’s raining and it’s cold, the end of Kevin’s nose is numb, and for some reason Kevin had thought it was an awesome day to take his bike to school. Of course, it had been crisp and refreshing out that morning. It’s the rain, basically, that ruined everything.

And now he has kittens.

Kevin has three kittens and he has no idea what to do with them, but he can’t really just leave them there. They’re tiny and gummy-eyed and soaking wet, and Kevin’s just trying to figure out how to stuff them all down his shirt and keep them there while biking home.

He’s sitting by the equipment shed off the side of the soccer field; he figures his jeans were already a lost cause, the wet grass isn’t going to hurt them. The kittens, two orange tabbies and a calico, are a squirming, mewling mass on his lap. He’s hunched over a little. There’s an overhang, but it’s not big enough to keep the water from dripping off onto his head. Kevin is fully expecting to get sick from this.

“There is something seriously wrong with you.”

Kevin jerks his head up. Carden is looming above him, half under the overhang. He’s got an army jacket on, rain beading up on the canvas. Carden’s fingers are pinching a cigarette, hand half curled over the tip to keep it dry.

Carden stares down at him. He shifts a little, gaze dropping to the kittens in Kevin’s lap, then he rolls his eyes. He flicks his cigarette out into the rain and grabs the handlebars of Kevin’s bike from where it’s leaning up against the side of the shed. “Come on,” he says, and then he starts off across the field without looking back.

“Uh.” Kevin scrambles to his feet, juggling the kittens. Two of them have fallen asleep, lumped together. The third paws at his sweatshirt, and its mouth opens in a soundless, pathetic meow. “Yeah, I know,” he whispers, then follows Carden up into the parking lot. He at least needs to get his bike back.

When he gets to Carden’s car, though – an old, beat-up Bronco – Carden’s already trying to stuff his bike in the backseat.

“It, uh—there’s a lever to make it fold up,” Kevin says.

Carden gives a noncommittal grunt, but he steps back and lets Kevin move forward – and Kevin drops the squirmy, awake kitten in Carden’s hands on his way past, and when he turns back around again, Carden’s sort of—grinning down at it, and Kevin’s heart hitches, then starts pounding. It’s almost painful, being this breathless, but Carden is grinning at a kitten, and Kevin’s pretty sure he’s never seen that look on Carden’s face before.

Kevin takes the kitten back and Carden gets his bike into the truck, and then Kevin’s sitting in Carden’s passenger seat and he has no idea what to say.

Carden isn’t helping. He just turns the heat up to high and taps his fingers in time with the radio.

He thinks it’s weird that Carden doesn’t ask for directions, but then he remembers that Carden knows he lives next to Bill, and then he panics, because he suddenly realizes there is no way his parents are going to let him keep three kittens. Darn it.

Carden slants him a glance. “I can hear you freaking out, Jonas,” he says.

Kevin breathes and thinks, okay, and thinks he can get Bill to take one, because Bill’s a pushover for tiny, fuzzy animals, and if he gives one to Bonus, his mom’ll totally give in, and then he ends up saying, “Do you want one?”

Carden doesn’t say anything.

He pulls up in front of Kevin’s house ten minutes later. He twists so he’s looking steadily at Kevin, one hand draped over the steering wheel.

Kevin says, “I’ll just, uh,” and pops the door open, leaving the kittens on the seat as he struggles to get his bike out of the back. He pushes it into the garage, then hustles back to the idling Bronco, and when he ducks back inside again, the two orange tabbies are blinking sleepily at him, leaning into each other. He can see just the tips of the calico’s ears in between Carden’s legs.

Kevin bites his lower lip. “Um.” He scoops up the two remaining kittens. “Thanks? For the ride.”

The continued silent stare makes a weird mixture of terror and want pool low in his belly, and Kevin hastily scrambles back out onto the sidewalk and shuts the door.

*

Bill calls his kitten Steve.

“Steve is clearly the smartest kitty to ever be a kitty,” Bill says. He kisses the top of Steve’s head and then snuggles him into the corner of the couch before picking up his laptop. “Now,” he says. “Puppies And Kittens, yay or nay?”

Miranda sticks her tongue out and waggles a thumbs-down.

“I don’t know, I kind of thought they were amazing,” Brendon says.

Patrick opens his mouth, but Bill cuts him off with, “We all know what you think, Stump, which is why you’re not allowed to write this review.”

“I liked them,” Kevin says. Kevin usually really enjoys Puppies And Kittens. They’re pop-y and fun, no matter what Miranda says.

Miranda says, “No, for real, it’s like I dropped acid and ended up at a Glenn Miller concert,” and Patrick turns fuchsia, mouth pinched. The skin under his eyebrows is a contrasting bright white.

Kevin’s never actually sure if Miranda hates Puppies And Kittens that much, or if she just enjoys seeing Patrick lose his temper. He accidentally punched Bill out once. Bill had gone down like a broken doll - they all probably shouldn’t have found it as funny as they had, but Bill’d barely been unconscious, and the stunned look on Patrick’s face had been priceless.

“You know what I enjoy?” Bill says. He’s got his hands resting nonchalantly one over the other on his stomach, but his eyes are sharply teasing, zeroed in on Miranda. “I greatly enjoy Miss Maja’s legs. They’re the main appeal of PAK, don’t you agree, Kev?”

Miranda’s making unhappy faces at Bill.

Kevin wisely says, “No comment.” He’s staying out of this one. He really doesn’t get why everyone always insists on sticking him in the middle of their fights and arguments. It’s really unfair.

Bill leans forward, bent over his laptop, and starts typing - exaggeratedly, with two fingers – and narrates, “While my sweet, delicious Rand calls them lame—”

Miranda throws an empty can of Coke at Bill’s head.

*

PUPPIES AND KITTENS @ BROWNIES 10TH AND MARKET
While my sweet, delicious Rand calls them lame and pretentious, the self-proclaimed ‘music collective’ [music collective my ass, they’re like if Chicago ever decided to become a shitty Who cover band - rand] known as Puppies And Kittens played to a packed house last night - they had to turn late-comers away, and crowds were lingering in the parking lot, listening in through the open doors.

Boasting an impressive brass section, a classically trained pianist, and front woman Maja Ivarsson - best known for her work in the late, great hardcore band, Greyskull - Puppies And Kittens has pizzazz, flare, and, okay, so the British Invasion influence is readily noticeable - Chad & Jeremy, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who. It’s garage rock, early punk, only with a trumpet, trombone and sax. It probably shouldn’t work. According to Rand, it doesn’t.

Trick can talk your face off about the beautiful melding of progressive rock and 60’s punk, about how they’re innovative geniuses, and that Claustrophobia is one of the best songs of any kind out there today - I suspect he just has a stunning crush on guitarist Cassadee Pope [I don’t even know why we’re friends - trick].

You can’t deny they know how to entertain, though. Keep up those high kicks, Maja. Keep ‘em up.

PUPPIES AND KITTENS @ BROWNIES 10TH AND MARKET: FEBRUARY 5TH 9:30PM
set list:
+ Looking Glass
+ Forgiven
+ Claustrophobia
+ 10
+ Red Zone
+ Glad To Be
+ Can’t Change A Dollar
+ Snapped Bones
+ You Call This
+ Aching Underneath

billiam @ emc

*

Disaster strikes in the form of student teacher Gabe Saporta.

Or, okay, not actual disaster, since Saporta just stares at them a little weirdly and grins wide, creepily-knowing grins. And it’s Mr. Timberlake’s sci-fi lit class, so it’s not like anyone pays attention. He just makes them watch B horror movies while he locks himself in the Randolph High Rag room with Mr. Samberg and that really weird French teacher, Hader.

“I think he’ll keep his mouth shut about it,” Miranda says in a hush. They’ve got their desks pushed together in the back of the room. The lights are off, they’re watching Rocket Attack, USA, and Saporta’s a dark outline, white teeth gleaming from the black and white screen, sneakers propped up on Mr. Timberlake’s desk.

It makes Kevin nervous, but he thinks Miranda’s right. Saporta’s kind of crazy and sadistic, but he’s respectful. In his own weird way, anyway.

That isn’t to say Kevin’s all that surprised when Saporta pulls him aside after class and says, “Someday, I will ask you for a great favor. And you will grant me this favor, young Jonas, for being so very awesome in this moment, right now.”

Kevin nods. “Uh huh, okay.”

*

Kevin usually doesn’t mind Valentine’s Day, but that’s because he’s never part of the madness that is the Student Council rose fundraiser. Mainly, it’s just Bill skipping through the halls with baskets of flowers all day, humming My Funny Valentine. That’s something Kevin has always enjoyed watching.

Not this year.

Apparently, for an extra five dollars, you get serenaded.

By the time Bill and his Student Council cronies catch up with him, Kevin’s in Mr. Timberlake’s sci-fi lit class. Kevin figures this is karmic retribution for something he’s done in another life. Like maybe he ate babies or assembled a robot army to take over the world. Something horrible enough to deserve Bill, Wentz and Siska singing Air Supply to him while Saporta claps his hands with glee in the background. Bill’s the only one who can carry a tune, and Kevin’s bright red by the time they’re done, he’s hiding half under his desk.

And then the roses come, and then they’re moving on, thank god, because apparently someone paid them to sing Too Close to Keltie, so. Some of the weighty embarrassment is shifting off Kevin there, and moving towards the front of the room. Wentz even does some grinding. The teachers should probably stop them, but Samberg, Timberlake and Hader are peeking around the doorjamb of the Rag room and giggling.

Miranda has one rose. “From Bill,” she says, cheeks pink.

Two of Kevin’s are from SA, and one is completely blank. “Who’s SA?” he says.

Miranda gives him a bland look. “Secret Admirer,” she says. “Duh.”

There’s applause as Wentz, Bill and Siska finish up, giving out the last of their flowers. Bill ruffles Kevin’s hair as he sweeps past him again and blows a kiss at Miranda.

Miranda’s face gets even redder, and Kevin eyes her curiously. “What’s going on with you two?” he asks.

“Nothing,” she says. She’s smiling, though. A dreamy kind of smile, and Kevin is mildly horrified. They’d made a pact. A pact about Bill, and how Bill’s the sort of guy you love, but not love - and Miranda had been the one to point out how having a crush on Bill was fruitless and dumb, and they’d pinky sworn never to get into that mess again. Granted, it helps that Miranda’s a girl. Kevin figures that was one of the bigger stumbling blocks for him back in freshman year.

“Really?” Kevin says.

Miranda tucks the stem of her rose into her copy of Death Rat. “Really, what?” Her innocent tone is a little too innocent. She knows exactly what.

Kevin stares at her.

She makes faces back at him until he cracks up, because Miranda is so ridiculous sometimes. He laughs and drops his head into his hands and then Miranda tips her forehead onto his shoulder and sighs.

He slumps down more in his seat so he can whisper, “You’re spending Valentine’s Day with him.”

“I know.”

“Bill’s a bad idea.” Bill is one of his best friends, but he’s a definite bad idea.

“I know,” she says. “He named his kitten Steve. He gave me a fake mustache.” She waves a hand around. “He made out with Lovato at the ASL show, then told me I looked like a sexy version of Courtney Cox.”

Kevin doesn’t really know what any of that means, in the grand scheme of Bill and Miranda. He nods, though, and says, “Just be careful.”

*

Patrick is a tense ball of sullenness. He didn’t even bother with contacts – he’s got clunky back frames on and the same trucker hat he wore to school. Patrick is always really conscious of his NINJA persona - of keeping the nighttime version of himself separate from Patrick Stump, High School Student - so Kevin’s kind of at a loss.

Joe’s bopping around excitedly next to them, but he freezes when Kevin feels a pair of familiar arms wrap around his waist.

“Uh,” Joe says.

“Hey there, handsome friend,” Zac says. He digs his chin into Kevin’s shoulder, then waves to Joe and Patrick. “Handsome friend’s handsome friends.”

Kevin bites his lip. He sort of forgot about this, and how Joe doesn’t exactly know about his whole dating Zac of Larry Says Hi thing. “Zac,” he says. “This is my brother, Joe.”

“Family!” Zac says. He lets go of Kevin and holds a fist out for Joe to bump. “All right, dude.”

Joe looks a little bemused, but he says, “Hey.”

“I’m glad you guys came,” Zac says, slinging an arm across Kevin’s shoulders. He tugs him in close and presses a kiss to his cheek. “I gotta go help set up, but we’ll hang after, okay?”

“Yeah,” Kevin says, and ducks his head a little to avoid Joe’s stare as Zac bounces away.

“You and Efron,” Joe says after a long, thoughtful pause.

“Yep.” Kevin nods.

Patrick rolls his eyes and says, “Can we get drunk already?” which is kind of very un-Patrick-like. Patrick drinks, but he’s never as single-minded as Bill is about it.

“So are you, like, having a bad day?” Joe says before Kevin can stop him, because, oh my god, you don’t just come out and say stuff like that to Patrick.

Patrick scowls at Joe. “No.”

Joe screws his face up and leans towards Kevin and stage-whispers, “Seriously, Patrick’s so having a bad day.”

“And you’ll be having my foot up your ass if you don’t shut up,” Patrick says, but then he just huffs out an irritated breath and says, “I’m going to find Brendon,” and stalks away.

Kevin is pretty sure Patrick’s bad mood has to do with Wentz, and the fact that Patrick didn’t get any roses at school. He could be wrong, it’s not like Patrick’s ever welcomed Wentz’s advances before, but he doesn’t think so.

Joe looks at him with a funny smile on his face.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he says, shrugging. “It’s just that—it’s like you’re secretly awesome, right? Zac Efron?”

Kevin has always thought that Joe thought he was a gigantic loser dork. Joe’s the cool and popular one and Nick’s the level-headed, self-confident one and Bonus rounds them out by being super badass awesome, even when he colors all his fingers with magic markers or glues his socks to the basement wall. Kevin never thought Joe would admire him – he’d figured the accidental hero-worship would fade once Joe knew he was K2 of NINJA.

It’s nice. He’s the big brother – it’s nice to actually feel like one for once.

*

LARRY SAYS HI @ BOOTSTRAP TEN
While we’re inclined to like Larry Says Hi simply because of the hot ass that is lead singer Zac Efron, there’s no better band to spend the holiday of love with. Sappy to the core, the power-pop they usually churn out is good enough to warm even Trick’s bitter soul [fuck. you. – trick].

Full of pep and verve, Larry Says Hi bucked convention and spent the hour and a half they were on stage this past Valentine’s Day taking requests from the crowd, never skipping a number, even if it meant making up half the lyrics. Hudgens stepped forward to take on Love Stinks, Grabeel and Efron managed to mangle Let’s Get It On – much to Trick’s horror [there’s no excuse for not knowing that one – trick] - and even Tisdale bent a mic over her kit to try her hand at Puddle of Mudd’s Control. One word for that: masterful.

Of course, Grabeel clung to Bleu like a limpet for half the set – which this fella is not bitter about at all, folks, no sir. I even got my hands down K2 Junior’s pants [seriously, bden, :( – k2]. Love was totally in the air.

LARRY SAYS HI @ BOOTSTRAP TEN: FEBRUARY 14TH 10:00 PM
Set list:
+ Love Is A Battlefield (pat benatar)
+ Love Will Tear Us Apart (joy division)
+ Love Stinks (the j. geils band)
+ I Don’t Want To Be In Love (good charlotte)
+ Let’s Get It On (marvin gaye)
+ I Don’t Wanna Think About You (simple plan)
+ Control (puddle of mudd)
+ Don’t You Want Me (the human league)
+ Supermassive Black Hole (muse)
+ You Oughta Know (alanis morissette)
+ Escape (The Pina Colada Song) (rupert holmes)


- bden @ emc


*

MARCH

*


Jesse Lacey has very obviously lost his mind. He’s completely unhinged. There’s no other explanation for it.

“Um. What?” Kevin is not entirely sure he heard him correctly.

“Yes or no, Jonas, do you want to go to the prom with me?” Lacey is frowning, one hand on his hip, fingers jittering, the other curled into the strap of his messenger bag.

It’s like one big mental disconnect.

“I.” Kevin hugs his books to his chest defensively. “I don’t think so,” he says.

Lacey narrows his eyes and clenches his jaw. “Right,” he says, and then he shoves Kevin backwards.

Kevin stumbles over a half-deflated volleyball, bangs up against a rack of basketballs before losing his footing over a battered catcher’s mitt and dropping down on the floor of the athletic supply closet. Lacey gives him a tight, evil smile before slamming the door shut. Kevin has a really horrible feeling – mainly from the, “Go to hell, Jonas,” Lacey shouts through the thick wood - that it locks automatically.

He struggles to his feet, kicks his books aside and isn’t surprised when the door won’t open. Great.

His cell has one tiny bar, but he manages to send off a text to Bill. It says, trapped in ball closet, send help pls

Bill doesn’t even ask. He just texts back, hold on, bb, and Kevin settles back down on the floor to wait.

He figures it’ll be a while, since Bill’s still working industriously on his lunchroom mural – he’s adding dinosaurs now, velociraptors with huge claws and crazy eyes, and Mr. Timberlake keeps signing off on all his revisions, so Kevin’s pretty sure the vodka rumors about him and Samberg and Hader are true; it’d also explain those Laser Cat videos going around YouTube – so he jerks a little when the door rattles only five minutes later. It could be Lacey, coming back to yell at him some more.

It isn’t Lacey, but it isn’t Bill, either.

Carden leans a shoulder up against the doorjamb and says, “Huh.”

Kevin tries for a smile and slowly gathers up his books. “Um.” Carden has never been mean to him – the exact opposite, in fact, even if he always acts like it’s physically paining him to help Kevin out – but Kevin’s extremely conscious of his crush, here in this small, hot, stuffy room, so he thinks it’s best if he uses caution in all his movements. He doesn’t want to end up stumbling into Carden or something. He doesn’t know what would happen then, but it probably wouldn’t be good.

“I thought Bill was joking,” Carden says.

Kevin very carefully gets to his feet and dusts off his jeans. “Nope.”

Carden arches an eyebrow. “Want to tell me what happened?”

That surprises Kevin, trips him up a little. He blinks. “Not really?”

“Wrong answer,” Carden says. He says it lightly, but he’s also blocking Kevin’s way out of the closet, and Kevin doesn’t think he’s going to move until he gets what he wants.

Kevin swallows hard and curls a hand over his shirt collar, absently scratching the hollow of his throat. He says, “It’s nothing. Lacey, uh, just doesn’t like hearing no, I guess.”

Something scary flickers in Carden’s eyes and he says tensely, “What did he want you to do?”

Kevin feels like maybe they aren’t on the same page here. The I-will-fuck-someone-up tone of his voice is pretty thrilling, though.

“Prom,” Kevin says.

“Prom,” Carden echoes incredulously. “He. He asked you to the prom? Lacey?”

Kevin nods.

“That’s fucked up,” Carden says.

Kevin doesn’t necessarily disagree, but he can’t help being a little insulted. So he got asked to the prom – it’s not unheard of. He’s not completely unappealing, he doesn’t think; he’s just sort of unnoticeable. That doesn’t mean someone asking him to prom is, like, ridiculous or anything.

“Yeah,” Kevin says stiffly. He clutches his books and stands in front of Carden, waiting for him to move.

Carden crosses his arms, eyes narrowed, and says, “What?”

“What?”

“You’re pissed.”

“No, I’m not,” Kevin counters automatically, even though, yeah, he’s upset. Obviously.

“You are.” A sneaky smile blooms across Carden’s face. “You’re totally pissed.” Carden seems especially gleeful about that.

Kevin says, “I’m not pissed.” He almost stamps his foot. It’s a close call. “Can I leave now?”

Carden steps aside, sweeping a hand. “Sure thing, kid,” he says, still blatantly amused, and it’s weird, seeing an actual animated expression on his face, something that isn’t bored or irritated.

“Thanks,” Kevin says. He can hear Carden chuckling behind him as he stalks off down the hall.

*

“I think I’m going to ask Audrey to prom,” Brendon says, pushing sweaty hair off his forehead. They’ve just finished practicing Hey Sunshine.

Kevin presses his lips together and carefully doesn’t look at Miranda. He can see her making faces out of the corner of his eye.

Bill huffs out a breath, unfolds himself from where he’s been perched on Kevin’s amp, and grabs hold of Brendon’s arms. “Listen to me,” he says firmly, bending down so their noses touch. “Girls completely frighten you. Girls are pretty and soft, so this baffles me about you, but you’re utterly and totally uncomfortable around any girl except for Miranda. You are gay.” Bill shakes him a little, and Brendon’s eyes go wide. “You are incredibly, hugely gay, and you’re in love with Spencer. Just go with it, Urie.”

“I’m.” Brendon open and closes his mouth, then says, “What?”

“Gay.”

Brendon shakes his head. “No, I’m—”

“Gay,” Bill insists. “Not even bi, my friend. You are so, so gay, and if you ask Audrey to prom I will slap you.”

“I just—”

“Slap! I’ll take my open palm to the baby-soft skin of your face, Urie, carefully heed my warnings.”

Brendon pouts.

Miranda snorts a laugh into her hand, and Kevin still refuses to look at her. He can feel Patrick glaring at them all from behind his kit.

“Well, I’m not going to ask Spencer,” Brendon says petulantly.

“Spencer’s going to ask you,” Bill says, and Kevin doesn’t know whether he has insider information or if he’s going to make Spencer ask Brendon – he doesn’t think it matters. “And when Spencer asks you, you are going to say yes.”

“You know how much I love talking about the prom,” Patrick says, tipping the brim of his hat back with one of his sticks. “But if you guys want to see The Upstanding tonight with all your limbs intact, you might want to shut the fuck up.”

Bill says mildly, “You seem to be getting angrier lately, Patrick. I think you need to get laid.”

“I will end you,” Patrick says through his teeth.

“Patrick,” Bill says, “sweetheart—”

Kevin lunges forward and claps a hand over Bill’s mouth. There’s Patrick-baiting, and then there’s having a death wish. “Let’s just, uh, finish practice, okay guys?”

Brendon says, “Yes, please.”

Bill’s eyes are dancing at Kevin over his palm. When Kevin lets him go, he says, “I know what I’m doing, Jonas,” grinning, and Kevin says, “I’m sure you do.”

Bill’s probably the only one of any of them that actually does.

*

THE UPSTANDING @ CARPORT
We here at EMC have always been big fans of Jenny Lewis - she’s unassuming, she’s beyond talented, she’s adorable - but the musical freak-show that is The Upstanding has us completely baffled.

While she’s on lead guitar as well as behind the mic, the vocal stylings of Miss Lewis were—we hesitate to say complimented, but there’s certainly something unique in the duet that is Lewis and McCracken. McCracken’s fresh off a stint as front man for the aptly named Thrasher; we don’t exactly know what he’s doing here.

Joining them on stage last night was everyone’s favorite ex-Cyrus member, Trace, and rounding out the unlikely group was baby-faced Wilson (who has a myspace dedicated to surprisingly awesome experimental drum solos).

It all came together in one amazing and bizarre show that we’re still not quite sure whether we want to see again or not. McCracken harmonized on tunes that could only be described as gentle. Lullaby For No One’s Daughter was exactly what it sounds like - wistful, mellow-bodied, full of soul. Even the fast-paced Lost Your Temper had round edges, and What I Do To Kill Time was eerily beautiful - it was like a head trip, seeing this play out on stage.

All that we’ve ever loved about McCracken - and even Trace, with his spider-like limbs and disturbing fixation on underage sex - was obscured by an indie rock haze with folksy undertones. Weird.

The Upstanding has one more date at CarPort before the end of March. Come see the softer side of Bert McCracken.

THE UPSTANDING @ CARPORT: MARCH 13TH 9:30PM
Set list:
+ Seismic
+ Pretty Thief
+ Lullaby For No One’s Daughter
+ Sara Ann’s Coming Home
+ Catch Me Up
+ Lost Your Temper
+ What I Do To Kill Time
+ Past The Garden of Eden
+ Those Bells Weren’t Ringing
+ Last Time

- billiam @ emc

*

Kevin doesn’t really talk to Zac a whole lot. They make plans to see each other, they hang out, but their relationship is almost a non-relationship. Kevin knows it’s not serious, so it doesn’t really bother him.

He’s kind of confused, though, when Zac calls him up and says, “I talked to Bill. No hard feelings, okay?”

“Okay,” Kevin says - it’s a reflex; he actually has no idea what’s going on.

“Good. That’s good.” Zac sounds marginally upset; the usual smile in his voice isn’t there, Kevin can tell.

He doesn’t really want to ask, “What are you talking about?” so instead he says, “Okay,” again, and it’s not until Zac hangs up on him that he realize that they—they’re broken up. And that, somehow, this mysterious break-up involves Bill.

Kevin hits speed dial six.

Bill answers his phone, “Go for Beckett,” and Kevin says, “Did you break up with Zac for me?”

“Well, someone had to,” Bill says, “and you certainly weren’t going to do it.”

Kevin doesn’t get angry very easily or often, and especially not at Bill. Bill always has his back. There’s a tightening in Kevin’s chest, though, and he thinks he should maybe find it wrong that he’s more upset that Bill broke up with Zac for him than the fact that he’s broken up with Zac at all.

“Bill, you can’t. You can’t just do that,” Kevin says. Zac’s a great guy, and now he’s probably never going to talk to him again. At least, maybe if Kevin could’ve done it himself they could still be friends.

“I did you a favor,” Bill says, but for once he doesn’t sound sure.

“It’s—” It’s not okay, but Kevin doesn’t know how else to deal with this. It’s not like he’s never going to forgive Bill or something. “It’s fine,” he ends up saying.

Bill’s quiet. Finally, he says, “It’s not fine, Kevin, and I’m sorry.”

Kevin lets out a noisy breath. “Yeah.”

“I didn’t even mean to do it,” Bill says, and, yeah, Kevin can see that happening accidentally. Bill doesn’t always filter his mouth. He embraces his mistakes wholeheartedly, though; there’s no point in getting upset with what can’t be changed, he always says. Bill clears his throat. “It’s for the best, Jonas, you’ll see.”

*

“The Cab broke up,” Bill says, frowning at his computer screen. “Or, well, Crawford left, and then Singer apparently had a big blow out with Colligan, and Colligan’s a douche, so of course Johnson and Marshall sided with DeLeon.”

“They should just get a hold of Greenwald, name themselves The Alexes, and call it a day,” Miranda says absently.

“Do you know this for sure, or are you basing this off their twitters?” Patrick asks.

“I know this for sure, because I’m amazing,” Bill says. He shifts on the couch and swings an arm over Kevin’s shoulders.

Kevin leans into him automatically, and Bill flashes him a smile. For Bill, the smile’s practically tentative; he’s been tip-toeing around Kevin for the past couple days, but he doesn’t really need to. It’s pretty impossible for Kevin to hold any sort of grudge.

“Anyway, Wentz just emailed us,” Bill says.

“Uh oh.” Miranda leans forward and snatches the laptop off Bill’s knees. “What’s he want?”

“Patrick,” Brendon says, then ducks out of the way, giggling, when Patrick chucks a drumstick at him.

“He wants NINJA to play the senior prom,” Bill says.

“Fuck no,” Patrick says.

“Um.” Kevin thinks playing the senior prom would probably be an even worse idea than playing their usual haunts – at least there’s a limited amount of kids from school who see them in bars, just those with fake IDs or secret ins, but the entire senior class would be staring them down at the prom. If they did do this, though, there’s a good chance Bill won’t bug Kevin about attending his own junior prom. Even if he’d still been dating Zac, that’d be totally out of the question.

“Oh, come on, it’ll be fun,” Bill says. He pokes Kevin in the stomach. “One last hurrah, before I head off to college.”

That’s kind of a sore point. Bill’s the only senior in NINJA. Kevin says, “We’ll have the entire summer together,” but he doesn’t put much heart into it. It always depresses him to think of playing without Bill, and then it depresses him some more to think maybe NINJA’ll just stop being NINJA entirely.

Patrick tugs on his hat and won’t meet anyone’s eyes - Kevin thinks he’s probably thinking the same thing as him – and finally he says, “Tell him we’ll do it.”

Bill eyes him warily. “You’re sure?”

“Yes,” Patrick says, and then his mouth curls up at the corners. “Hell yes; we’re NINJA. And if you go off to college and forget about us, you motherfucker, I’ll hunt you down and kill you.”

“Always threatening death, dear Patrick,” Bill says brightly.

“It’s his way of saying he cares,” Miranda says. She purses her lips, staring down at the laptop, and then her eyebrows shoot up and she grins over the screen at them. “So if we’re really playing prom, guys, we totally need new costumes.”

*

Just about the only times Spencer has ever really talked to Kevin was when they were in woodshop together. It’s not that they don’t get along, but Kevin thinks they’re both a little too conscious of the days Spencer spent in the company of Lacey, and how mostly he didn’t do anything to stop—whatever the hell Lacey thought he was doing with Kevin. After the whole prom thing, Kevin’s not as sure as he used to be about Lacey’s complete and total hatred of him.

Kevin’s working on a sweet little bluebird house, nice and simple. He’s making it for his mom. He’s not actually in woodshop anymore - his counselor said he couldn’t take the same class for two semesters – but Mr. Samberg still lets him use all the supplies after school, because Mr. Samberg admires his dedication to the craft.

“Nice,” Spencer says. Spencer isn’t in woodshop anymore, either, but they all know where to find Kevin when the bell rings.

Kevin shoots him a thumbs-up before turning on the sander. He could probably do it by hand, but the electric sander is pretty awesome. It only takes a few minutes, and then he pushes up his goggles and finds Spencer still standing there, hip up against his worktable. “What’s up?” he asks.

Spencer rubs the back of his neck, a strange look on his face. “So I, uh, might have kissed Brendon.”

Kevin waits for something more. When Spencer just shifts awkwardly on his feet, Kevin says, “And, um, what?”

“Nothing, just. He said he wasn’t gay?”

“Oh. Oh,” Kevin shakes his head, “Bill’s going to freak out,” he says, and then bites his lip to keep from giggling, because it’s not funny. Completely not funny.

“What?”

“Brendon has some issues,” Kevin says, but, despite everything, he doesn’t think Brendon’s issues are so much about Brendon not being gay, but about Bill not being right. Especially considering how easily and often ‘Bden’ hooks up with random guys. Brendon’s pretty happy-go-lucky, but he really hates being told what to do. That’s the main reason why he doesn’t get along all that great with his parents.

“Yeah, I kind of figured that out already,” Spencer says. The tops of his cheeks are red. Kevin can’t tell if he’s angry or embarrassed.

Kevin’s not all that great at heart-to-hearts. He doesn’t really know what to say to people who aren’t Miranda or Bill. And Kevin doesn’t actually know what Brendon’s thoughts are about Spencer, but he can make an educated guess. Still. Brendon can be stubborn and contrary – it’s just that his proximity to Patrick hides it well. “Look, um, this might not be great advice, but you should probably not push him about this.”

Spencer gives him a resigned nod. “All right.”

“Not the, uh, kissing,” Kevin says, feeling his face heat. “You can do that all you want, just don’t argue about—”

“Semantics,” Spencer says, eyes smiling like he finally gets it.

Kevin swipes his thumb along the recently-smoothed eaves of his birdhouse. “Right,” he says. “And you might want to avoid talking about prom.”

*

“How do you feel about crashing a house party?” Bill asks, leaning up against the wall next to Kevin.

They’re squeezed into the hallway behind the stage at Bootstrap; Pocket Thief is playing, Kevin can feel the vibrations in his teeth. He adjusts his mask with nervous fingers and says, “Uh, whose house party?”

“Pete’s,” Bill says, grinning winningly.

Patrick looks up from where he’s sitting on the floor, fidgeting with his drumsticks and trying not to throw up; he’s pale and sweaty. “No way.”

“You’re going to have to face him sooner or later, Trick,” Bill says.

“Wait, wait,” Brendon says – he’s got his mask pushed up into his messy hair; he’s been trying to grab the exposed pipes above their heads for the past half hour, and he’s got his arms stretched out, poised in a half-crouch - “you mean, like, as ourselves?”

Bill adjusts his bandana so the NINJA runs along the inside of his thigh. “Yes, as ourselves. We’re not playing, Brendon, you’ll just be—welcome, unexpected guests.”

Kevin’s not so sure about the welcome part. Especially since this will very obviously be a senior house party. If he has to go, he’d kind of rather go as NINJA. “Are you sure we can’t wear our masks?”

“First of all,” Bill says, wagging a finger at him, “That’s lame. And secondly,” he goes on, “how many people do you think we’re actually still fooling?”

Kevin thinks that’s a stupid question – if everyone really knew who they were, they wouldn’t have half as many followers. Kevin’s still invisible at school.

He also thinks Bill’s up to something. He’s grinning far too brightly at them; it’s exactly how he looks when he’s just slipped Kevin the Old Maid.

Miranda says, “I’m in,” and shrugs. “Wentz has been throwing these things for years, I’m curious.”

Patrick has a pinched expression on his face, but he nods.

Brendon does jazz hands before jumping for the pipes again – the universal Brendon-signal for okay, yes.

Bill looks at Kevin expectantly. “House party?”

Kevin shifts on his feet. “Yeah, okay,” he says. “When?”

“Spring break, the ultimate booze-fest. Pete’s parents won’t even be in town.”

“Great,” Kevin says. It sounds truly fantastic. He hopes Joe doesn’t beg him to bring him along.

When Pocket Thief stumbles offstage five minutes later, Saporta bursts through the back door and says, “Students of the Cobra and young Mr. Beckett,” arms flung wide. He’s sweat-soaked and ten feet tall and he crushes Kevin to his chest before reaching next to him for Bill.

“It’s a fucking amazing crowd out there,” Saporta says. “Go forth and rock the fuck out.”

*

Kevin’s fingers are tingling. His arms are sore, there’s an ache in his thighs, and his chest’s tight, like he can’t breathe too deeply, like his heart’s three sizes too big. Adrenalin, he thinks, a giddy thrill pumping through his veins.

Before shows, he’s usually just as freaked as Patrick, nauseous, shaky with nerves, but afterwards—afterwards, he feels like he was born just for this. It’s amazing, that high, the light-headedness, the glow, and he doesn’t even notice Carden until he’s right in front of him.

“Jesus,” Carden says. He grabs hold of Kevin’s arms and pushes him back – the wall by the bathrooms is probably disgusting, but all Kevin notices is the edge in Carden’s eyes as he leans in, says, “Christ, you drive me fucking crazy.”

Kevin has a split-second to think, wait, what? before Carden’s digging his fingers into Kevin’s biceps and slicking his mouth open with his tongue, teeth scraping his lower lip. He breathes out through his nose – he’d gasp if Carden was giving him any sort of leeway here, but Carden just pushes closer, and Kevin’s mind goes completely offline.

Kevin has absolutely no idea what he’s doing, but when Carden breaks off with an obscene groan, Kevin realizes he’s twisted further in, a hand up the back of Carden’s shirt, hips touching, and Carden’s grinning at him, sharp, like Kevin’s tasty dessert after a skimpy meal.

And then Kevin panics, grasping at his face to see if his mask’s moved, if Carden has any idea, and Kevin’s usually okay with people liking him because he’s K2, but he thinks maybe if Carden figured it all out now – if he looked at Kevin with any sort of shock or disgust after nearly sucking all the breath out of his body, Kevin doesn’t think he’d survive that, heart intact.

Carden’s still got him trapped, though, and every breath Kevin takes presses their chests together. Carden mouths at Kevin’s jaw, hand smoothing up along Kevin’s arm to curve over his shoulder, under his t-shirt.

Kevin says, “Um, what are you—”

“Do you know,” Carden says softly, “how fucking sexy you are up there?”

This is amazing, Kevin thinks, and, this is horrible, Kevin thinks, and it’s embarrassingly similar to some of his more risqué daydreams about Carden. Only in those, Carden actually knows who he is, and he doesn’t care. Which will never happen, because Carden thinks he’s an idiot who gets knocked out by sinks and locked in closets and stuck in the rain.

And then he thinks, so what? and sneaks his hand up farther, so his whole arm’s hot along Carden’s spine, and he tugs on the ends of Carden’s hair until he moves up to kiss him again.

*

NINJA Alert
Attention Randolph High seniors: if you pay us, we will come. Senior Prom ’10.

- billiam @ emc



*

APRIL

*


I ATE MOE @ THE CELL
Fittingly, think early All-American Rejects, before Ritter turned poet, before Gaylor and Kennerty learned to surf that metaphorical wave – I Ate Moe has that simple flare, brought to the table not only by the lyricism of former AAR guitarist Nick Wheeler, but by whippoorwills and slow-dying mums and Blake Sennett.

If you’ve been to an I Ate Moe show before, you know you’re in for plenty of high school angst, first loves, bent-wing butterflies, and backstabbing best friends. If you’ve never seen them, watch out for Sennett’s smoky baritone. It gets in your brain, makes you whimper like a homeless puppy, crave cheap cigarettes and Jack and Cokes. It’s like alt-country for the bubblegum crowd, emo without the shoe-gazing shuffle [it’s M83 without the long-ass electronica solos – trick]. It’s kind of addicting.

Unfortunately, Faller and Luciani still look like they’re simply filling in holes, despite having joined I Ate Moe over three months ago. Technically fine, they just don’t seem to love what they’re doing; the same heartfelt earnestness portrayed by Sennett, eyes closed and voice burning, isn’t reflected back by anyone but Wheeler and his trusty guitar. It’s only cheese if you think it’s cheese. We’ll give them a little longer to settle in, but it won’t surprise us if Sennett and Wheeler give them the boot – I Ate Moe deserves some dedication.

It helps that Sennett and Wheeler are sweethearts, on and off the stage.

I ATE MOE @ THE CELL: APRIL 9TH 10:00 PM
Set list:
+ Over You
+ Clouds Hanging On
+ Persistent Memory
+ From Center City
+ No Time For Sunshine
+ Leslie
+ Love Is
+ Slow Dance
+ On A Whim
+ Counting Blades of Grass
+ Whistler

shine on, cats and kittens,
- rand @ emc

*

“Nathan asked me to the junior prom,” Miranda says, sitting across from Kevin at their lunch table.

Bill’s head snaps up from where he’s been hunched over his sketchpad, but he doesn’t say anything. Which is weird, because Bill usually has something to say about everything.

“Nathan,” Kevin says. “Nathan Kress?” Nathan’s a little guy with big smiles; Kevin’s always liked him.

Miranda nods. “I said yes.”

Kevin notices the way she’s not looking at Bill. He feels like Miranda’s just put him in the middle of a war zone, but he’s not exactly sure why.

“I don’t know why you’d want to go to our prom and the senior prom,” Brendon says, jamming his straw into his packet of Capri Sun.

Kevin watches Spencer freeze behind Brendon, make a face, and then slip into a seat next to Miranda.

“You’re going to the senior prom?” Spencer says. Carefully. With his eyes focused on unpacking his bag lunch.

Kevin’s starting to feel really uncomfortable with all this tension pinging off of everyone but him. And Patrick, except Patrick hasn’t shown up yet.

Brendon flicks a glance at Spencer and says, “Well, I’m definitely not in a secret band, so I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be playing in a secret band at the senior prom.” He waggles his eyebrows at Kevin. “Check that,” he says. “I’m smooth.”

Spencer bites his lip, corners of his mouth twitching.

Patrick stomps over and drops his tray onto the table with a clatter. He’s got—Kevin’s pretty sure that’s a giant hickey on the side of his neck, and Patrick doesn’t look happy. He says, “I don’t want to talk about it,” and avoids everyone’s eyes. He sounds gruff and angry, but he’s pink in the cheeks.

Because Bill has problems, he says, “Are you aware you have a—”

“Bill,” Patrick says, staring very intently at his sandwich. His hands are white-knuckled around his soda can.

“Did you get attacked by a vacuum?” Bill asks. He reaches out to poke at Patrick’s neck, but Patrick slaps his hand away.

Patrick sighs, though, some of his anger deflating. He sounds more bewildered than anything when he says, “He has a girlfriend.”

“Pete has a friend who is a girl,” Bill says.

Patrick shrugs, shoulders tight.

It’s weird, because Kevin could have sworn Patrick really didn’t like Wentz at all. Kevin’s apparently not very good at reading people, though - Lacey, case in point; he’s still not exactly sure what happened there - so he doesn’t let it bother him.

“You know what I’m excited for that isn’t prom? Band-o-Rama,” Brendon says, waving his hands around. “It’s like Carnival for your ears. Also, corn dogs.”

“You only say that because you’re not in band,” Patrick says. He looks relieved at the change of subject, though, and they all know Band-o-Rama is kind of fun. Better than their winter concert, at least, with the added bonus of games and food.

And it’s gonna be extra cool this year because Patrick convinced Mr. Mayer to let them do a Puppies And Kittens cover.

“Spencer’s gonna win me a goldfish,” Brendon says.

Spencer blinks. “I am?”

“Yes.” Brendon nods. “And we’re going to name it Sam.”

*

The only things of note that happen at Band-o-Rama is that Saporta shows up with Greta and VickyT - there’s a minor stampede to give them hugs and tell them how awesome they are – and Kevin ends up in the tuba closet. He’s starting to see a theme here.

Saporta says, “Pimpin’ ain’t easy,” when he wanders up to Kevin. And then he fingers Kevin’s oboe and makes some vaguely obscene facial expressions. “What’s this fine looking instrument?” he asks.

“An oboe.” Kevin’s oboe is not a fine looking instrument. Saporta’s just crazy. And then Kevin freezes up a little, because Lacey’s strolling towards them.

“Jonas,” Lacey says.

Kevin starts inching backwards, because the last thing he wants to do is talk to Lacey. “I need to, uh, put my oboe away,” he says, and it’s the truth, because he doesn’t want to lug it around for the rest of the night, but he still knows he’s running away. There is no part of Kevin that feels like standing up to Lacey, he doesn’t care how pathetic that makes him.

He should’ve figured Lacey would follow him, though. It seems like a really stupid idea now, getting cornered in the tuba closet.

“Look,” Lacey says, hands up and palms out.

Kevin forces himself not to clutch his oboe case to his chest. His back’s up against a shelf, though, as straight as he can make it, and Lacey’s just inside the door – if Kevin makes a break for it, he can probably get past him with maybe only a fist in the kidney.

Lacey says, “Look,” again, and then, “I’m sorry.” He actually sounds sincere. Not like that time he’d punched him and then Carden’d twisted his arm up behind his back and told him to apologize or else.

Kevin blinks. “Uh. What?”

“I’m sorry for, you know,” he waves a hand, stepping further into the closet, “everything.”

Kevin nods very, very slowly. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Lacey echoes. He’s starting to get a little too close for Kevin’s comfort.

“Right, so.” Kevin tries to sidle past, but Lacey grabs his wrist to stop him, then twists a fist in the front of his shirt, and—and then he’s kissing him, and Kevin wants to know when this happened, and why. He’s not too stunned to struggle, though, and he elbows Lacey in the stomach and jerks away to say, “Oh my god, what?” He swipes at his mouth with the back of his hand.

Lacey’s got wide, dark eyes. He actually looks a little panicky, which is weird, since Lacey’s had no compunction against bullying Kevin before, and this is—well, to Kevin it’s almost worse, but he doesn’t think Lacey should see it that way.

And then Lacey says, “I’m going to, ah, go,” and takes off down the hall.

There was a time not too long ago, Kevin thinks, when his life actually made sense.

*

When Bill calls him up and very carefully pronounces, “Why don’t you come over, Jonas?” Kevin knows he’s drunk. This isn’t so surprising. It’s a Sunday, but it’s a spring break Sunday, and it’s still kind of early, but it’s after dinner – he doesn’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary until Bill meets him at the door, leaning heavily against the knob, eyes half-mast and shadowed and mouth a soft frown.

Bill’s a happy drunk. Bill loves the world when he’s been drinking; he sings songs about rainbows and presses sloppy kisses on foreheads and declares himself an equal opportunity snuggle bunny.

Bill, right now, is morose.

He’s also not alone; there’s laughter and music drifting up from the basement as Bill waves him inside.

Kevin tries not to let it bother him – that Bill has friends over, friends who aren’t Kevin and the rest of NINJA. He knows they’re close, but Bill’s got a year and some on him; he’s got senior friends, people who don’t even know who Kevin is. So Bill can have a party without him, it’s not a big deal. Kevin’s actually not so sure he should take the invite and join them.

Bill grasps his arm and pulls, and all Kevin can think to say is, “I hope you hid the NINJA merch.”

“It’s all cleverly camouflaged, Kev,” Bill says, a finger to the side of his nose, “don’t you worry.”

Bill pushes him ahead of him down the stairs and calls out, “I’ve got a present,” and Kevin feels his face heat.

The basement is smoky. Sweet-smoky, and Kevin’s not really familiar with it, but he suspects it’s weed. Michael Guy and Carden are sprawled on the sofa, and Siska’s on the floor, head propped up on Conrad’s thigh. They’ve got Motor Storm on demo on Bill’s PS3 – no one’s playing, though there’s a controller in Michael Guy’s lap.

Siska waves at him.

Whatever they’ve been smoking is gone now, from what Kevin can see, and he takes a shallow breath before moving further into the room, Bill hanging all over his shoulders. He’s slumped into the back of Kevin’s neck and he snuffles against his nape. It’s just weird. He really hopes Bill isn’t crying on him.

“Stop being a pussy, Bill,” Michael Guy says.

“Fuck off,” Bill says, voice muffled. He sounds really sad and it’s starting to freak Kevin out. Bill’s Together Guy. Nothing ever fazes Bill; this has shattered Kevin’s entire worldview.

“Bill,” Kevin says, kind of softly, “what’s going on?”

Bill straightens and slinks around Kevin. He drops down into the armchair and his jaw’s a hard line as he says, “Kress.”

“Kress,” Kevin echoes. He scratches the side of his neck and tries to ignore Carden. Carden totally has a staring problem – Kevin thinks Carden does it just because it very obviously unnerves him, and Kevin fights off the urge to snap at him. Unfortunately, even being in the same room as Carden makes him jumpy, makes him think about his mouth, and how—how Carden had licked the corner of his lips and called him princess, and somehow managed to not make it sound like an insult at all. Kevin clears his throat.

“Nathan Kress. He’s poaching,” Bill says. “I’ll need accomplices to help hide the body.”

Kevin wrinkles his nose. “Nathan’s all right, though,” he says. If Miranda has to date anyone, Nathan’s probably a safe choice.

Siska laughs, pressing his face into his arm.

“I hate to be redundant,” Bill says haughtily, “but fuck off.”

“Um.” Kevin thinks about retreating back up the stairs, but Bill would probably take that as abandonment and hunt him down and lecture him about loyalty, using Harry Potter references and Gerard Way’s speech at the last Virgil show – he’s done that to Patrick and him before, before they were NINJA and he’d assumed they were way more dedicated to jazz band than they actually are.

Carden snorts, and Bill wags a finger at him. “D’you really want to go there, Carden?” he says.

Carden glares at Bill, and it’s like an invisible weight’s lifted off Kevin’s shoulders; his insides loosen.

Kevin says, “So you like Miranda,” because occasionally he catches on quick, even when Bill’s being cryptic.

“Miranda is my soulmate,” Bill says, nodding solemnly.

“Why don’t you tell her that, then?” Miranda likes Bill, Bill likes Miranda – it seems all pretty straight forward to Kevin, even though Bill’s normally got the attention span of a gnat when it comes to relationships.

“Because he’s a fucking pussy,” Conrad says.

Kevin feels like pinching the bridge of his nose, but he doesn’t. Seriously, why does everyone put him in the middle of these things? The only person Kevin’s ever dated was Zac, and, looking back on it, he’s not sure that even counted.

Anyway,” Bill says, “I need a plan.”

“Stop hooking up with skanks,” Siska says. “That’s a plan.”

Kevin is feeling really out of place. He loves Bill, but not high with all his senior buddies. And Carden’s back to looking at him – looking at him like he wants to take him down with a well-placed bite to his flank. Kevin thinks maybe Siska’s the only one of Bill’s friends who actually likes him.

“Maybe I can talk to Miranda for you?” Kevin says. It’s a desperate ploy to get out of there. He can feel the disapproval roll off Conrad in waves, but Kevin’s pretty sure that’s because Conrad wants into Bill’s pants. He’s not entirely comfortable knowing that, either.

“You, dear Kevin,” Bill says grandly, “are a champion,” and then he’s distracted by Siska howling – Kevin is not even going to ask – and Kevin makes a strategic retreat up the stairs.

He briefly catches Carden’s gaze before he turns, but Carden just sketches him a slightly mocking salute.

*

Kevin doesn’t actually want to talk to Miranda for Bill, but he doesn’t have much of a choice at this point. He’d offered and Bill is one of his best friends, so he has to do something, even if he suspects Bill doesn’t even remember their conversation now.

He says, “So, um.”

Miranda pauses mid-pull on her knee-high boots, sitting on the edge of her bed. She’s got a black mini-dress on, long strands of shiny obsidian beads looped around her neck. “What’s up?”

Kevin tugs on the hem of his Police shirt. “Bill’s jealous,” he says.

Miranda grins and stretches back on the mattress. “I know.”

“You know.” Kevin worries his thumbnail between his teeth, watching her. Finally, he says, “You’re doing this on purpose.”

“Well, not really. I mean, Nathan asked me out and I’d hoped--”

“Bill’s a mess, Miranda,” Kevin says. He knows Bill kind of deserves it, though; Bill gets drunk and latches onto anyone with breasts and then he searches out Miranda and sloppily professes his undying love. They never took him seriously before.

Miranda gets to her feet, shimmies her dress in place and tugs her hair back in a low, messy knot at her nape. “Bill and I are friends.”

“You like Bill,” Kevin says. He didn’t imagine that Valentine’s Day conversation. There’d been pining going on there.

She narrows her eyes. “We pinky swore. We pinky swore, because Bill’s a cartoon character.”

“Yeah, um,” Kevin rubs fingers along the base of his throat, “except I think Bill’s serious about this.” He hates this. He hates getting in between his friends, and it’s none of his business and if this all blows up, everyone’s going to be miserable. He sighs. “Never mind.”

Miranda nods, bites her bottom lip. “Are you wearing that tonight?”

Kevin looks down at his t-shirt and tight black jeans. “Yeah?”

“It’s This Is Thunder, Kev, we at least need to,” she cups his face with warm hands, “glam up your eyes.”

“Oh, no.” Kevin doesn’t like the speculative way she’s looking at him. He never should’ve said something about Bill.

She’s got an evil little grin on her glossy mouth. “Eyeliner. Something shimmery for your skin.”

Darn it. She’s probably going to make him dance with her, too.

*

Kevin absolutely does not want to be at Pete Wentz’s spring break house party. He really doesn’t. He’d rather be home or at Bill’s, writing up a review of last night’s This Is Thunder show. Playing Brendon at Guitar Hero, even though he always loses. Letting Miranda paint his toe nails, even, or mess up his eyes again.

He’s pretty sure Patrick doesn’t want to be there, either. He looks miserable, squished on a couch next to a couple of seniors Kevin recognizes, but he can’t remember their names.

Kevin absently crunches his soda can between his fingers. He’s leaning against the living room wall, trying to blend in, but he doesn’t think he’s very successful. They’ve been there for about an hour - Bill had disappeared soon after they’d arrived, and Brendon, Spencer and Miranda are over in a corner with Trohman and Kitty, laughing. They seem comfortable, at least.

And then Wentz swoops out of nowhere and grabs Patrick’s cup, downing the contents in three big gulps. Patrick stares up at him, and Wentz says, “Rickster, dude, come with me, you need a tour,” and waggles his eyebrows at Kevin - Kevin would find it funny if it didn’t mean he was totally alone, after Wentz drags a strangely unresisting Patrick off, with - Dallon? - Dallon giving him a drunken grin.

“I don’t get you.”

Kevin jumps before he can help it. He slants Carden a glance. “You don’t?” he manages.

Carden shifts, one shoulder leaning against the wall, so he can look right at Kevin. He takes a sip of his beer, and Kevin’s rigid, keeping careful inches away from him.

“This,” Carden says. He lifts a finger off his cup, gestures to the space between them. “I’m picking up some mixed signals.”

Mixed signals? Does he know about Kevin’s stupid crush? Oh, that would suck; he can feel a blush start up from his chest and sweat beading up under his shirt. There’re tremors in his fingers; he keeps them firm around his Coke can.

Carden reaches out with his free hand, and Kevin jerks back, banging his elbow into the wall, and Carden drops his arm, curses under his breath.

“I’m, I don’t—”

“Whatever, Jonas, I can take a fucking hint,” Carden says, and then he straightens up, shakes his head and stalks off.

“Well,” Bill says, popping up in front of him. “That was a lovely little scene. I’d like to say I’m surprised, but the level of social ineptitude exhibited by the both of you right then was all too expected, considering this past year.”

Kevin scowls, because he’s pretty sure Bill just insulted him, but he’s still kind of confused by everything - Carden’s upset with him, that much is apparent.

“I told him to be more straight-forward, but does he listen? Of course not.” Bill sighs and pushes his hair back off his forehead. “Kevin,” Bill says, “Mike likes you.”

“What?” The music’s loud, Kevin’s not entirely sure he heard Bill right.

“Carden? Hot body, crazy eyes?” Bill hooks a thumb over his shoulder in the direction that Carden had disappeared. “He wants to marry you and adopt obscene amounts of Cambodian babies.”

“No.” Kevin shakes his head. Carden thinks he’s a moron.

“You do recall all those times you made out with him, right?” Bill says.

“He—that was after NINJA,” Kevin says. In a dim dark bar, and it was only once, and every other time he’s seen Carden, Carden always looks about ten seconds away from declaring Kevin the biggest waste of space in Randolph High. He scratches in between his eyes. “That wasn’t me.”

Bill looks at him curiously. He curls a finger over his bottom lip, cocks his head. Finally, he says, “We really should work on your self esteem.”

*

THIS IS THUNDER @ THE MANSION
Lambert has some impressive lungs on him, with flamboyant outfits to match. It doesn’t much matter who’s backing him - he’s been in bands before, musicians utterly forgettable in the wake of the force that is Adam Lambert, performer - but there’s no denying the awesome that is This Is Thunder: pocket-sized Allen on lead guitar, the queen of cute, Allison Iraheta [I’d like to squish her and keep her as my very own - billiam], on drums, and Desai, who makes up for being a half-assed bass player by being quirky and lovable onstage.

They’ve only been playing together for the past two months, only been out there performing live for three weeks, but there’s a camaraderie between them that’s refreshing. And while Lambert very well could drown them out, it’s extremely telling that he doesn’t. He even duets a few new tunes with Iraheta - No More Sunshine, Wandering Down - and Allen and Dasai’s vocals are just as sweet harmonizing backup.

We foresee many more This Is Thunder shows to come; it seems like Lambert’s finally settling down with a family of his very own.

THIS IS THUNDER @ THE MANSION: APRIL 22ND 10:00PM
set list:
+ Over and Over
+ Session 5
+ No More Sunshine
+ Except Tomorrow
+ Told You So
+ Chances Are
+ Wandering Down
+ Shake It Up
+ Sometimes
+ Listen Close

- rand @ emc


*

MAY

*


The theme for the 2010 Randolph High Senior prom is the wild wild west.

“Are we talking Will Smith, metal spiders, long-ass boring wild wild west?” Miranda asks, flopping back on top of one of the lunch tables.

Bill switches out paintbrushes, tucking a blue-tipped one behind his ear. “I’m not entirely sure, but I think Pete’s thinking tumbleweed, spurs, six-shooters and brothels. Whether or not the faculty will go for that remains to be seen.”

“Oh, come on. Timberlake’s letting you paint—is that a flying dog?” Miranda tilts her head, purses her lips.

“It’s a luck dragon,” Bill says.

Bill’s almost entirely done his mural. Kevin thinks it’s awesome, but he also thinks Principal Walken’s going to flip out when he sees it. It’s kind of gory, what with all the feasting dinosaurs.

“I’m not wearing a cowboy hat,” Miranda says.

“Noted,” Bill says absently, which is weird, for Bill. Bill should’ve said something about sheriff badges and ten gallons and Patrick’s mouth. Instead, he flicks his brush, splattering red paint over what looks like an ewok.

Miranda makes a face at Kevin.

Maybe Bill’s just really into getting his mural done - he graduates in a few weeks, after all.

*

Wentz shows up at their lunch table right when they’re gathering their trash and declares Patrick his very best boyfriend forever and ever. “Seriously, Pattycakes,” Wentz says, threading his fingers through Patrick’s. “I’ll be, like, your sexy sidekick, it’s gonna be sweet.”

Patrick grumbles and says, “You’re not a sidekick, you’re a frontal kick to the groin,” but he doesn’t shake Wentz off. He’s pink in the cheeks, and for once doesn’t seem furious with the world at large, so that’s nice.

Brendon and Spencer look cozy, too, arms brushing.

And Carden’s ignoring Kevin, which Kevin really hadn’t thought was possible - he didn’t realize before that apparently Carden actually did pay a lot of attention to him at school. The sudden lack of this attention is kind of weirdly disconcerting. He knows Carden’s mad at him for whatever happened at Wentz’s party, but he’s still confused. It’s not like—it’s not like Kevin’s the kind of person that Carden would actually want to hang out with, right?

Kevin sighs and follows everyone out of the lunchroom.

Bill hooks his chin over Kevin’s shoulder and leans into his side. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Kevin says.

Bill pulls back, stops him just outside of the doors with a hand on his arm and gives him a surprisingly shrewd look. “I’m well aware of what nothing looks like.” He pokes the wrinkle of skin in between Kevin’s eyebrows. “This isn’t nothing.”

Kevin presses his lips together. “Lacey kissed me,” he says, and Bill’s chokes out a laugh.

“Well. That’s kind of hysterical. Does anyone else know about this?”

“No.” Like Kevin’s going to tell anyone; that’s crazy. Anyone other than Bill, at least.

Bill shakes his head. He mutters what sounds like, “Lacey, Mike, half the girls’ rugby team, that Viking Gerald,” under his breath - Kevin’s pretty sure he didn’t hear him exactly right - and then says, louder, “I know you’re shocked, Kevin, but you’ve got this innocent baby lamb aura that seems to attract wolves in fucking droves.”

Kevin blinks. “What?”

“Self-esteem, Jonas, I believe I told you to work on that.” Bill throws an arm over his shoulders. “Come on, I’ll walk you to your sixth period class. I’ll wax poetical about your strong bassist forearms and you can carry all my books.”

*

Brendon is thirty times more hyper than usual when they’re setting up for the prom, and there’s a chance Patrick might kill him if he doesn’t stop fiddling with his drum kit. Patrick’s face’s red and his jaw’s clenched and he doesn’t look all that happy to be wearing a huge black cowboy hat, either.

Bill had passed them out - only Kevin got a white one, and Miranda didn’t get any kind of hat at all.

“We’ve got a half hour before everyone starts showing up,” Bill says, clapping his hands together. “I suggest we use this time to get very, very drunk.”

“Bill,” Patrick says.

Bill flicks the brim of Patrick’s hat. “This is prom,” he says. “I’ve come prepared with a flask, Trick, and Michael Guy’s in charge of spiking the proverbial punch.”

“If you’re drunk on stage, Bill, I will punch you in the throat,” Patrick says.

“Prom’s no fun if you’re not three sheets to the wind,” Bill says. He waggles his flask in the air.

In the throat,” Patrick says tightly. Then, cryptically, “Also? That thing that you wanted me to do? Do you really want me to still do it?”

“You’re a wee dirty fighter,” Bill says, pouting, but he tucks the flask back into his jacket pocket.

*

It’s weird, but Kevin didn’t really expect to see Carden there. His heart flips into his stomach when he spots him by the ballroom doors, and it’s not until Michael Guy and Siska and Conrad stumble laughingly into him that the moths kick up. He realizes he’s relieved; relieved that they seem to have all come stag. Carden, standing arms crossed in a dark gray suit over a worn t-shirt, has a sullen cast to his face.

Kevin can tell when he spots him by the stage, the hitch in his shoulders, and Kevin lifts his hand in a little wave. Carden’s eyes narrow before he turns away.

Kevin frowns. He slips a hand over his face—yep, mask is firmly in place. He’s got his ten-gallon hat on and his dark suit pants. He’s got his Big Texas belt buckle and his fitted vest, and a sheriff’s badge pinned over his breast pocket.

“Huh.”

“What?” Bill asks, bumping their hips together.

“Nothing. Just, uh, Carden’s—” Kevin bites his lower lip. “He looks—” he cuts himself off. What’s he going to say? Carden looks mean? Pissed? Bored? Like he wants to kick Siska’s ass? Like he wants to kick Kevin’s ass?

Bill sighs. He clasps Kevin’s shoulder and shakes him. “You are so dense. You’re incredibly, impossibly dense, I honestly don’t know how you’ve survived sixteen years with all your healthy parts.”

“I’m not—”

Bill gives him a little shove and says, “Go talk to him.”

The room’s steadily getting more crowded, there’s a DJ set up in the corner, already pumping out tunes, and the entire room looks like an upscale saloon or cat house, with lots of heavy brocade and dust - Kevin isn’t sure how Wentz pulled this off.

He settles on going to get a drink, and if he happens to bump into Carden along the way, well. Ashlee catches him first, though, pulls him into a hug and tells him how much she loves his boots and presses a kiss to his jaw. And then he’s talking to Trohman and Marie and by the time he gets to the drinks he’s pretty sure he’s going to have to turn right back around and head for the stage - which is when he gets jostled by a flailing - dancing? - Siska and stumbles into Carden.

Kevin hopes his mask hides his blush. Carden’s got his hands banded around his upper arms, holding him steady, but then he drops them like Kevin’s burning hot and backs up, scowling at him.

Kevin rallies with a, “Oh, hey, thanks,” and a wide grin, stepping into Carden’s space almost involuntarily.

Carden doesn’t move away, but he doesn’t look particularly inviting either, and Kevin’s grin falters.

“Um. Hi?” This is usually the part where Carden gets in his face and calls him sexy. Granted, NINJA hasn’t played yet.

“Yeah, okay, I’m not up for being jerked around tonight, Jonas,” Carden says. He doesn’t look at Kevin when he says it, either.

And Kevin isn’t jerking him around, what does that even mean? “What, wait, I’m not—” Kevin trips over his words, freezes when all of Carden’s actually sink in. “Jonas?”

Carden barks a laugh, but he doesn’t sound amused. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Kevin winces. He says, “I’m, uh—” but then Brendon’s bouncing over and he rings an arm around Kevin’s neck and says, “Show time, K-bird,” and Kevin’s not sure if he’s relieved or not when Brendon drags him away.

*

Kevin plays on autopilot until Bill hits the back of his head with the flat of his palm and says, “Smile for your public, Jonas,” into his ear.

And then he lets the music ripple through him and he doesn’t forget about Carden, but he can push it back - he can concentrate on Bill and on Brendon and the way Brendon dances during Three Feet Under. He can grin at Miranda, press their shoulders together, share a mic during (Ninja) Lessen. He lets Bill shake his tambourine in his face and drape across his back and mouth Patrick’s part on High And Mighty into the skin of his throat.

Halfway through their second set, right when they’re set to play All But (Ninja), Bill turns to Patrick and gives him a mysterious nod. Patrick salutes him with a drumstick and slips out from behind his kit. He picks up the guitar Brendon uses on Going Back To The Future.

Kevin shoots Miranda a questioning look, but she just shrugs.

Patrick adjusts his hat and strums a chord. It’s all very suspicious.

And then Bill says, “This is for my forever love,” into his mic. “My mustache pal, the NINJA temptress of my dreams.” He takes Miranda’s hand, presses a kiss to the back of it, and Kevin can see Miranda fighting off a smile. “You are,” he starts singing, “my fire.”

Miranda groans and covers her face. That doesn’t stop Bill from singing an acoustic version of I Want It That Way, though.

*

“When I told you to talk to Mike, Kevin, I didn’t mean stand around stammering while Mike glares little pieces off your body.”

Kevin fiddles with his water bottle. “That isn’t what happened,” he protests. It’s kind of what happened, but it’s embarrassing, so he’s totally okay with denying it.

Bill arches an eyebrow. “I have very keen observational skills,” he says. “Also, Saporta saw you. He’s chaperoning for laughs.”

Kevin’s seen him. He’s wearing a fringed vest and a handlebar mustache and he keeps cutting in on couples on the dance floor.

Bill sighs. “I see that I’m going to have to actively intervene now.”

“Please don’t,” Kevin says. He doesn’t want to be humiliated any more than he already has been. Carden’s figured out who he is, and he’s not impressed. “It doesn’t matter. He only liked me when I was—”

“I’m not sure whether I’m more amused or frustrated,” Bill says. He jabs a finger into Kevin’s chest. “There is no was here, Jonas. Suppose for a second that our costumes were fooling anyone.” He leans in close, all teeth. “Mike’s a very close friend of mine. I know you’re overly cautious about this, Kevin, but I never actually felt the need to keep any secrets from him.”

*

Carden finds Kevin outside. He’s on the wall around the hotel garden, heels kicking into the smooth stones. He’s not hiding exactly, but he’s thinking himself down from a mild panic attack - Carden knows. Carden has known all along. He can’t help the butterflies that are tumbling around his insides. It’s weird, and he’s a little terrified that he’s messed everything up because he’s even more dense, really, than Bill accused him of being.

Kevin doesn’t know what to say, either. He never knows what to say around Carden – he doesn’t know why Carden isn’t totally turned off by that. Kevin’s completely bewildered by Carden’s apparent—thing for him. Even more than he is about Lacey, in some ways. Lacey’s a douche. Carden’s as cool as Bill, maybe cooler.

Kevin pulls at his mask, elastic digging into the back of his neck. He blows his hair off his forehead with a half-exasperated breath. Carden’s not looking too hostile, so Bill probably talked to him, and Kevin’s torn between embarrassment and relief.

“You’re fucking strange, kid,” Carden says.

Kevin bobs his head. “Okay.”

Carden tugs on his sleeve until Kevin turns his head, looks over at him. Carden’s smirking. “You realize,” he says, “all you do is straighten your hair and slip on this.” He flicks the mask. “You’re fucked if you think that really changes who you are.”

Kevin flinches. “I know.”

Carden snorts, says, “Seriously, you drive me fucking nuts.” He slides a palm over Kevin’s nape, ducks in and presses their mouths together.

Kevin stops breathing, lips parted.

Carden says, low and amused, “This is where you kiss me, Jonas.”

Kevin shakes the tentativeness out of his limbs, swallows Carden’s chuckle, lips buzzing. He reaches up and grasps the collar of Carden’s jacket and ignores Carden’s grin in favor of slicking his tongue along the curve of it – Kevin is an awesome kisser, he just needs some good motivation.

“Shit,” Carden breathes. “You’re a little dangerous.”

Kevin feels dangerous. It’s pretty cool.

“Bill told me subtle doesn’t work on you,” Carden says.

“I’m kind of dense,” Kevin says. He doesn’t actually mean to say that, but the smile Carden gives him is worth it; genuine, reaching his eyes, happy - which is weird, coming from Carden, but also really awesome.

“Yeah.” Carden nods, curls a fist into Kevin’s vest, tugging him even closer. “So let’s make sure we’re seeing this the same way now.”

Kevin presses his forehead to Carden’s and says, “I think we are. But we might have to make out some more. You know, just to be sure I’ve got the right idea about everything.”

“Secret trysts are frowned upon, lads.”

Kevin jerks away from Carden, looks up at Saporta looming over them.

“Not by me, of course,” Saporta says, twirling one end of his mustache between his fingers, “but it’s my duty to mete out punishments for such unsuitable prom behavior.”

“Fuck off,” Carden says.

Saporta eyes Carden up and down. “Young Mr. Beckett warned me about you.” He points towards the doors. “Back inside.”

Carden scowls but grabs Kevin’s hand, urging him to his feet.

Saporta winks at him when they walk by. And slaps his ass. Kevin manages to hold back a yelp, but only because he’d been expecting it.

*

Kevin’s not even sure of the time when he hops out of the Purple Beast and waves goodbye to Bill. It’s early, and he thinks it’s lighter than it was when they left the after party, but morning isn’t creeping into the horizon yet.

“You look smug.” Nick’s sprawled across the rattan love seat, legs hooked over one arm.

Kevin pauses mid-step. “Um.” He doesn’t feel smug. He feels kind of blissed out; like it’s the end of an amazing night.

Nick grins at him, then shifts on the couch, curling up his legs to make room for Kevin.

Kevin drags himself up the rest of the porch steps and drops down next to Nick with a tired sigh.

“Did you get laid or something?” Nick says, pushing at him with the flat of his bare foot.

Kevin shoves him off and Nick pushes back and they tussle a little, until they’re both slumped back, panting, and Kevin grins up at where the sunlight’s just fanning out from behind Bill’s house, purple light dulling stars.

“Bill goes off to college in the fall,” Nick says. He lets the statement hang, then rolls his head towards Kevin’s and grins at him. “You know Joe’ll be angling for that open spot on NINJA.”

Kevin groans. “No way.”

“He was singing All Night Ninja in the shower earlier, he did Trick’s high parts and everything.” Nick nudges his shoulder. “Send him home past the twenty-four hour, small voices, loud places, in early—”

Kevin claps a hand over Nick’s mouth, feels him finish the verse, laughing, against his palm.

Nick reaches up and tugs him off. “It’s either that or he’ll start noise about the Jonas Family Singers again, Dad’s gonna love it, we can be a praise band!”

“If I tell you about my awesome night, will you shut up?”

Nick mimes locking his mouth and throwing away the key.

*

NINJA @ RANDOLPH HIGH SENIOR PROM
A glorious tribute to prom’s everywhere, and much to the obvious affront of stick-man Trickster, NINJA started out the night with a true classic, the anthem of all hep youths, The Four Season’s December, 1963. I danced my tight, supremely fine ass off, and you can bet Mr. JT was busting his own move in the hotel foyer, as sentinel of the front desk -no teens were getting laid on our watch.

NINJA brought the glory, my pretties. They fought for my honor.

Never underestimate the power of Billiam; the tambourine’s a sassy, temperamental instrument, and there’s none better at harnessing that awesome as the unofficial NINJA frontman. Rand, his forever love, improv’d a scorching guitar solo in the middle of This Is Your (Ninja) Story - granted, I might’ve been blinded by the little number she liked to call a dress, and all those lovely flashes of thigh.

Trick’s the magic man, the puppet master, the sultan of swing, and he even came out from behind his beloved kit to help Billiam woo his lady. Rand had a special gleam in her eyes during the entirety of BSB’s I Want It That Way, like she was gearing up to kick Billiam’s ass later - yes, I agree, he’s one lucky, lucky man.

Everyone’s favorite stage capuchin, Bden - cute as a pony and just as likely to lip your hair - revved up the crowd, not only with NINJA hits, but with timeless classics such as Shout and Mambo #5. And let us not forget the abnormally stoic K2, he of the strong, rock-god thighs - do I smell a heart-clench? Never fear, young ones. I’m a student teacher - I’m pretty sure I’m licensed to take care of this shit.

Oh, what a night.

and when the dawn sky is dark, children, look to the Cobra
- gabriel @ emc