Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 21

We broke apart, both breathing a little heavily, having found a quiet, kind of secluded section of the park to continue our already amazing date.

Sydney gazed at me earnestly and said, “I just realized, we need to go back to your house. Those notes I gave you two weeks ago, I need them for a project and it’s due on Monday. I’ve been putting it off because I was too afraid to face you, and I’ve waited too long. I have to start and finish it tomorrow.”

“That is what you’re thinking about right now?” I blurted out.

Okay, so she’d asked me something serious, but considering what we’d just been doing, I would have thought her mind would have been on that and not a project she needed to work on.

“No, that wasn’t what I was thinking about. At least, mostly it wasn’t. It kind of just popped into my head just now, but I was really worried about it yesterday. I kept meaning to mention it to you, but then we’d talk and I’d remember how great you were, and I’d kind of forget about it again. This is really not like me. I’m usually a lot more responsible than this, but us being apart and then back together has my brain all twisted up.”

“I couldn’t help but notice all the flattery you just put in there. I don’t suppose that was to butter me up so I’d agree to stop making out with you and drive you to my house to get your paperwork.”

“Is it working?” she asked with a sly smile, before pushing me as I gave a fake pout. “No, I wasn’t buttering you up. I really kept forgetting. And after we get it and I don’t have it distracting me, we can always pick this back up.”

“Kat and Mrs. Phillips are there,” I pointed out.

“Okay, maybe not, but our date isn’t over yet. I just want to be able to focus on you, and I can’t do it while I’m thinking about this and worried I might forget again.”

I groaned and dropped onto my back, looking up at the clouds, mostly for dramatic effect.

“Fine, we can go. After, though, how about a movie? It’s still early. We could make it to Asheville, see a movie, and be back by six.”

“Works for me,” she said, lying on top of me and giving me another kiss. “Thank you for humoring me.”

We collected our stuff and went to my car. It was just before lunch, so there were more people out and about than when we got to the park, but it was still quiet. It took a major community event to make our little town actually busy.

When we got to Hanna’s house, the garage was closed, but both Kat and Mrs. Phillips’ cars were in the driveway, which wasn’t where they were when I’d left that morning, which meant I had to park out on the street. I didn’t mind since that’s where I normally parked when Hanna was home, but Mrs. Phillips almost always put her car in the garage.

Normally, Kat would already be off at swim practice by now, so it was also odd that her car was there.

“If we’re going to make it to the movie, we gotta hurry,” Sydney said, interrupting my train of thought.

She practically dragged me to the door as I fished out my keys. The lights were all out downstairs, so they must both have been in their rooms, I thought as I pushed open the door.


I backed up in surprise, bumping into Sydney, who pushed me forward back into the room.

The lights flicked on, revealing the crowd filling the living room. Mom, my bandmates, Chef and Willie, even Hanna, who I thought was still away at school. They’d attached streamers and balloons to the walls, and a sign that said “Happy Birthday” hung down from the ceiling, across one wall.

“Surprise,” Sydney said softly into my ear behind me.

I turned to find Sydney grinning at me, clearly pleased with herself for pulling off the surprise. I shook my head, a smile spreading across my face as the initial shock wore off.

“You little sneak,” I said, nudging her playfully with my elbow. “This is really why you wanted to come back to the house, isn’t it?”

“Guilty as charged,” she replied, tapping the tip of my nose with her finger. “And the look on your face was totally worth it.”

I gave her a look that got a giggle out of her, and we made our way into the living room, accepting hugs and pats on the back from my friends. They’d done this last year, so I should have seen it coming, but being with Sydney, especially after everything that had happened, had thrown me off. It was touching to see all of my friends and family, and even Marco, had come to wish me a happy birthday. Hanna was particularly a surprise since neither Kat nor I had spoken to her since our fight just after the Raleigh show. I was happy to see that she’d been smart enough to leave Troy behind.

It was weird. I’d been so stressed about my fight with Sydney, and now it felt like everything was perfect. It was quite the emotional whiplash.

Mom found me and pulled me into a tight hug.

“I hope you don’t mind, I wanted to throw you a little party. I know this year has been ... challenging, to say the least, but I’m so proud of the man you’re becoming.”

“So this was your idea,” I said, squeezing her back.

“Only that we do it. Katherine and Mrs. Phillips did a lot of the work to pull it off. It was Katherine’s idea to get your girlfriend involved. Maybe sometime in the next few weeks, the three of us can have dinner. I haven’t really met her, but she seems like a sweet girl.”

Sydney, always thoughtful, had moved away from me once I’d started talking to people, giving me space to say hello, and was over standing next to Kat.

“Yeah, I’d like that. I’ll talk to her. And thanks for this,” I said, indicating all the people in the room. “It means a lot.”

“Good. Now, go enjoy your party.”

She was smiling, and for the first time since Dad had come back, the smile reached her eyes. I hadn’t spent as much time as I should have with her over the last two months. We’d reconnected some on the New Year’s trip, but with school, the stuff with Mr. Packer, my music, the stuff with both Marco and Warren, and the drama with Sydney, not to mention baseball, I’d kind of put her on the back burner while I dealt with life. I needed to fix that.

The next people I ran into were Seth and Willie, which was an odd pairing. They’d met at the Blue Ridge, of course, but I hadn’t ever seen the two of them having an extended conversation or anything, so it was odd to see them together talking now, laughing about something as I walked up.

“Thanks for coming, guys. I really appreciate it.”

“Are you kidding?” Seth asked. “We wouldn’t miss your birthday.”

Willie chuckled and clapped me on the back. “Happy birthday, kid. Seventeen, huh? You’re growing up too fast. Seems like just yesterday you were hobblin’ up the steps of Chef’s place, for the first time, on your crutches.”

“I know, it’s been wild,” I said, glancing around the room at the gathering of friends and family. “It’s worked out okay though, I think.”

“Yeah, I’d say it has. ‘Course, I’m just about ready to retire, and I thought I could hand the Ridge over to you, and here you are, getting famous. You’ll be heading off and playing at stadiums and whatnot before long.”

“I don’t know about that. Besides, you’re too young to retire.”

“God,” he said, followed by a loud laugh. “I don’t know about that. We’ll figure out something though.”

“We will,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. “Thanks, Willie, for everything.”

He gave me a nod and I excused myself and made my way across the room to where Hanna and Kat were talking. Our friendship had really been tested over the last several months, and her being here was the first sign that we might be able to repair things.

Kat saw me approaching and nudged Hanna with a smile. Hanna, for her part, looked equally shy and embarrassed, which was a weird look for her. Of the three of us, Hanna had always been the most sure, headstrong one of us. It really showed how weird things had gotten. Apparently, she and Kat had had time to make up, and they seemed to be getting along well when I walked up, which was a good sign.

“Hey,” she said, only making the briefest eye contact.

I surprised her when I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her into a tight hug. “I’ve missed you so much.”

After a moment’s surprise, she hugged me back just as tight and said, “Me too. I’m so sorry I ghosted you guys. I feel so awful about everything that happened, everything I said.”

“It’s all water under the bridge,” I said, pulling back and putting a hand on both her and Kat’s shoulders. “What matters is we’re all together. Let’s just promise to never fight like that again. Okay?”

Hanna wiped away a tear that had been forming and nodded.

“Agreed,” Kat said.

“Thanks, guys.”

“So, you’re here by yourself,” I said carefully.

What I was really asking was if she was still with Troy, but I didn’t want to start any more fights.

She read me like a book, nodding before saying, almost shyly, “Troy and I are still together, yes. I don’t want to talk about him though, okay? I know you guys don’t like him, so I’ll keep the Troy stuff with Troy and my stuff with you guys just with you guys, the two never to meet. Okay?”

“For now,” I said. “We don’t want you to have to hide part of your life from us, and we’ll work on getting along better with him. Right?”

The last part was directed at Kat, who nodded, although extremely reluctantly.

“We’ll figure out a way to make this work. The important part is we don’t let anyone get between our friendship.”

“I can work with that,” Hanna said.

We pulled into a three-way hug, just happy that we’d managed to get over this hump.

The party went strong for several hours. There weren’t a lot of us, so I got a chance to really talk to everyone who’d come, with the exception of Marco, who always seemed to go out of his way to be somewhere else when I came to talk to someone he was talking to. For a while, I kind of ignored it, since I didn’t want to deal with his nonsense and I was having so much fun. I was surprised he even came, to be honest. We’d been pretty friendly when I’d first started getting the band together, but as soon as it became clear he wasn’t the front man, he’d started being a problem.

As the party was winding down, I found myself standing with Lyla and her girlfriend, Tabitha. We made casual small talk for a few minutes before Tabitha, as usual, excused herself. I hoped that at some point she might consider being friendly, if not friends, considering how much time Lyla and I spent on tour, playing or practicing. I wasn’t going to push it, though. Their relationship was still only about four months old, and I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable.

“I listened to the interview again. You did so well,” Lyla said.

“I did okay. It was short and we spent most of it talking about the fire.”

“Yeah, but you managed to mention our next two shows and the album, and in a way that made it funny and not too annoying. With the number of people listening, we’re sure to pick up some audience from it.”

“I hope so. How did Marco take it? He changes the subject every time it comes up.”

“He took it how Marco takes everything that isn’t directly about him. You know how he is.”

“I’m starting to get very tired of this.”

“I know, and you know I back your play. My concern is still with Seth. If we boot Marco, Seth will leave too. The only way we keep Seth and get rid of Marco is if he does awful enough that even Seth has to see it as a dick move, instead of making apologies for it. Until then, any move will basically break up the band.”

“I know. That’s why I haven’t pushed anything, but I’m not sure if I can wait for him to do something big and stupid. All the little stuff is starting to add up and get on my nerves.”

“Well, I’ve got your back whichever way you go. Should I start looking for a replacement drummer in case Seth leaves?”

“No. I know it will hurt us to have to find someone if Seth leaves, but I don’t want him to find out we’re looking for a replacement for him. If we’ve been letting Marco get away with his shit to keep from breaking up the band, doing something like that would guarantee it. Plus, it isn’t fair to Seth. We need to give him the chance to make a real choice.”

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