Forever Grayson - Chapter One
“Why do you look like a raccoon just yanked your dick off?”
Leave it to my best friend and bandmate, London Kerr, to not only notice that I was feeling off, but to make it sound so colorful.
Every night we told ourselves that this could be the night our lives changed, but it never was. It always turned out to be another night of playing in a shithole bar for drunk people. Usually, it wasn’t a lot of drunk people either.
London insisted that it didn’t matter how many we played to. We were playing which meant when someone finally wanted to manage us, we’d be ready. He called these nights our practice for when we made it big. According to him, we could make all our mistakes now and get them out of our system. That way when we were huge, we’d be legends.
Big talk that we all wanted to believe, but there was a problem with the way he continued to hype us up.
Dreams of hitting it big sucked when they never came true. For us, they hadn’t.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told him without meeting his eyes.
“Sure, you don’t.” He snorted. “But I’ve known you long enough to know when something’s going on, and it better not fuck this up for us.”
I shook my head at him. As if I’d ever let anything get in the way of the band or my part in it. Though, if we did fuck up, there wasn’t a single person out there that would notice.
The five of us were in this small room down the hall from the restrooms that for some reason smelled like corn chips. I didn’t know why and probably didn’t want to. Maybe it was because five men in a sardine can tended to funk things up and we weren’t the first band in this room. Not by a long shot.
Cody’s might’ve been a dive bar that drew people in with their cheap beer and easy lays, if that was what you were looking for, but they kept a steady stream of music flowing right along with the alcohol. No one wanted to drown their sorrows in a beer while in complete silence and dive bars could bring a crowd. Just not for us and not tonight.
Lennox Weaver, Thatcher Hoffman, and Jamison McCall were dicking around on one side of the room while I was still getting dressed. Hadn’t even noticed London coming my way.
“Those guys are idiots,” London told me as we watched the other guys pushing each other around like we were all in fifth grade.
They were just having fun.
London and I tended not to participate in their antics right before a show. They might’ve needed to let off steam but he and I preferred getting serious.
I gave him a wide grin. “Yeah. Who isn’t?”
He shook his head and sighed like an exasperated parent. Of all of us, London acted mostly like the dad of the group probably because this whole thing was his idea—the band that is. He and I’d been messing around one day when the idea came to him. We’d been best friends since elementary school so there was no fucking way I’d let him do this without me. Luckily, it turned out that I could sing.
Since we didn’t have a manager, London took on that role as well. He booked the gigs and set the schedule. We followed his lead. Well, most of the time.
“You guys ready?” he called out to the others, bringing them all to a sudden stop.
“Tonight’s the night,” Jamison called out. “I can feel it in my bones.”
His bones have been wrong before.
Every time we played, there was a chance that someone important would hear us. Though as the months passed, I thought I was the only one admitting to himself that those chances were dwindling.
“You know this is our biggest gig yet, right?”
I furrowed my brows. That couldn’t be right. When we played here it was to maybe ten people total.
“Moneywise,” London corrected. “They’re paying us a bit to be here.”
No idea why they’d do that, but we’d take it.
London was surer than the rest of us that we’d eventually hit it big. As the founding member of Forever 18, he took his job very seriously and we made some cash out of it, at least.
But we needed a manager. Climbing the ladder wouldn’t happen without a real manager and so far, that was a bust.
We played gigs around Detroit for a while, even though we lived two hours north. Once there was a nice little hum about us locally, we started to expand. Chicago, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, and a few a little further away got us more gigs. We vowed to continue hustling until something happened, but I was thinking the time was getting very near for us to hang it all up.
Sure, we played dive bars that paid OK and sometimes we played some nicer places that somehow paid worse. Even with all of that, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there had to be more. Maybe I should’ve been grateful for what we have accomplished, but my eyes were always on the next step.
“Let’s do this!” Thatcher howled right after getting us all hyped up for this show.
Each of us contributed our voices to the preshow routine though I held back compared to the others. As the lead singer, I needed to save that for later.
There were several faint calls from the sparse audience when we first settled in and those beginning thumps from Jamison’s drums alerted everyone that we were starting. Lennox added his rhythm guitar for a couple of bars before we all joined in.
The energy of the crowd amped us up as we began to play. There may not have been a lot of them but at least they were paying attention.
I belted out the first lyrics of our opening song. One that people could dance to if they wanted to and apparently tonight, they did. They might not have been dancing well but they were having fun. Every show, no matter the size of the audience, we played like this was the Garden in New York. Like these people were here to see us and not to get their drinks on.
At least they enjoyed the music.
A few drunk people hooted and hollered when we finished the first song then slid seamlessly into another. This one, six of them were on the floor to dance.
When we were done, I felt like I was on top of the world and based on the other guys' expressions I could tell they did too. That’s what happened whenever we played well.
It wasn’t the crowd that gave me this feeling. It was the music. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long, and the crash was harsh. The reality of the fact that we were in a hole in the wall bar in Detroit slapped me in the face.
“That was an amazing set,” Jamison said as he dropped his arm around me. “You were really feeling it tonight, weren’t you?”
“Are you saying that I don’t always feel it?”
He snorted and took his arm back. “From what I hear, you feel it a lot.”
I chuckled but gave him a light shove. “Fuck off.”
He wasn’t wrong though. I did feel it a lot and he wasn’t talking about the music. All of us enjoyed how much women loved musicians, even shitty bar playing musicians.
“Seriously, though,” London interrupted our ribbing once we were all inside the room that smelled like corn chips. “I think this was pretty epic.”
“You say that every time,” Lennox called out.
“I do.” London nodded. “But it’s always true. I think we get better and better all the time.”
This was just a break for us between sets. We had to do another one in half an hour and right now, I really fucking needed a beer. Plus, we’d have this conversation again after the second set.
While the guys did whatever the fuck they were doing, I headed out to the bar and slid onto the first stool I came to and asked for a beer. Chances were, they wouldn’t charge me, because I was playing tonight. They didn’t usually and it was hard not to take advantage of that when I was feeling proud, like we’d really done something tonight. Some sets were like that.
“Beer in a bottle. I really don’t care what kind,” the sweetest voice said from beside me just as my own bottle touched my lips.
I took that first pull as I glanced over at her so she wouldn’t notice me noticing her. Her long dark hair hung down her back in waves of chocolate. That was the problem with also being a songwriter. Sometimes I thought shit that one of the guys should’ve kicked my ass for thinking.
The bartender pushed the bottle over to her and I noticed he hadn’t checked her ID. She looked young as in possibly not quite of legal drinking age, but maybe he knew her and didn’t need to. Who was I to question it?
The gorgeous woman beside me sucked down half the bottle before she took a breath and set it back on the bar with a thud.
“Bad night?” I asked, causing her to finally see me sitting there. Have to say, that usually wasn’t an issue with women and me.
She tucked a piece of brown hair behind her ear as her hazel eyes took me in. I was just glad that there was enough light in here for me to really see her.
“Nope,” she deadpanned. “It’s fucking fantastic.”
I snorted. “Same.”
She took another drink before speaking again. “What makes yours so wonderful?”
“I’m with the band playing tonight.” She glanced behind us like she wanted to confirm there was actually a band playing tonight. “And as you can see, it’s a sold-out crowd. I’m beating the fans off with a stick.”
“You any good?”
I snorted. “No. I obviously think we suck.”
“Hey.” She held up a hand. “Not all bands are good.”
“We’re good. Being good isn’t the problem.”
“Then what is?” She took another drink, and I was seriously considering pouring my heart out to this complete stranger. Say things to her that I haven’t even said to the guys.
“Not sure. We just can’t seem to make any progress.”
“So, you play shithole bars, but really want to be the next Kissing Cinder?”
Shit. That was quite the reference. Everyone knew Kissing Cinder and could probably name at least one song. Those guys had been around for decades though they’d recently taken a break. “I would take being Kissing Cinder every day of the week. But I just want to play for more than twenty people. Maybe have a few sing along when we perform.”
“Hmmm…” She tapped her nails on the glass of the bottle. “So, it’s the size that matters.”
I bit back a smile. “Size always matters, doesn’t it?”
“No,” she said honestly. “It doesn’t, but I can see what you mean. You want it to be your career. Make actual money. Be famous.”
I shook my head. “I don’t care about being famous, but I would like it to be my career. Make a living from it. Can you imagine working at something you love forever?”
Her eyes darkened. “I can actually. It’s not always what it’s cracked up to be.”
So many questions swirled in my head, but I didn’t want to overwhelm her. “I feel like there’s a story there.”
Now she snorted and took another drink. “Everyone has a story.”
“You know mine.” I raised an eyebrow at her.
She sighed and said, “Fine.” The bartender set another bottle in front of her and she took yet another long drink before she continued. “I just dropped out of fashion school because it sucked balls.”
“Big, huge gorilla balls.”
“Yikes. You really didn’t like it?”
Her hazel eyes settled on mine. I could just see the hints of green in this lighting. “I love fashion. I love designing, but those teachers have no vision. I just couldn't figure out how to make myself fit into their mold. So, I left.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t try to fit into their molds.”
“Exactly, but who’s going to take me seriously if I don’t have that degree.” She shook her head and sighed again. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’ll figure it out. Most of my family already thinks I’m a flake. This just makes it worse.”
“Why do they think you’re a flake?” There was something about this woman that said she absolutely wasn’t a flake and I wanted to know more.
Being drawn to her this way was surprising. Usually if I was drawn to a woman and wanting more from her it was sex. Don’t get me wrong, this mystery woman was sexy as hell. Curvy in all the right places. Pair those curves with that face, a smattering of freckles over her nose and soft mouth, and she was enough to make any man drool.
I wasn’t drooling, at least not yet. Yeah, the idea of fucking her had crossed my mind, but this was different. I wanted to know what she was thinking about.
“They just do. It’s another mold that I don’t fit into.” If I knew her better, I’d say there was some sadness there that she didn’t have when talking about not fitting in at school. Shaking herself out of her own thoughts she added, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I don’t even know your name.”
“Grayson,” I told her quickly.
She smiled shyly. “Lilah.”
The corner of my mouth ticked up. Shy wasn’t how I would’ve described her up until this point, but I had a feeling that Lilah had many sides to her. I suddenly wanted to get to know every single one of them.
“Grayson!” London called out. “We’ve got to do this.”
“I have to go,” I told her, though it was the last thing I wanted to do right now.
“Go. Make all your dreams come true.”
After glancing around the bar again, I said, “That is highly unlikely, but I might be forming a new dream that I’m hoping is a little more attainable.” I gave her a wink. Deep down I thought it was corny to wink at a woman, but I’d had more than one tell me that it made them swoon.”
Pink crept into her cheeks like she’d just come in from a brisk winter day.
“You staying for the second set?” I asked her so she wouldn’t have to respond.
She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, her teeth scraping over her red lips. The bold color of her lipstick seemed to match her personality, at least until I made her blush.
“I think I will.”
Now I gave her a real smile and told her I’d see her in a bit.
I didn’t think there was any confusion over why I asked if she was staying or why she said she would.
I wanted to see Lilah after the set and hopefully see a whole lot more of her before the night was over.