* * *
“Listen up,” Eric announced. “I have big news.”
I was the only one who looked at him. Eric was a fan of both announcements and pronouncements: never just information, always an exclusive. Everyone else had been around long enough to know not to fall for his conversational hype.
“Is this about the señorita?” Irv asked.
Eric looked at him. “Who?”
Mac, on the bench eating a Kwacker and doing his history homework, swallowed. “The girl from your Spanish group? The one you’re sure is obsessed with you?”
“Oh, no.” Eric flipped his hand: señorita, forgotten. “Bigger. This is about the band.”
Now, at least, he had Mac’s attention, if not everyone else’s. “The band?”
Eric, smiling, slid onto the end of the bench where I was sitting. “Well, it’s kind of about Layla. But also the band.”
“Huh?” Layla asked from my other side. As always, she had her phone in her hand, determined not to miss a possible midday texting opportunity with Spence. Cell phones were banned on the W. Hunt campus, and yet more days than not at this time he still managed to contact her. “What about me?”
Now that Eric had the floor, he was determined to keep it as long as possible. So we all had to watch as he pulled a paper flyer from his pocket, then unfolded it slowly before holding it up. “We’re going to enter this. And you’re going to help us.”
LOCAL YOKELS: A SHOWCASE, it said in large black type. FIVE BANDS, ONE PRIZE. ACCEPTING ACTS NOW. BENDOVENUE .COM/LOCALS FOR DETAILS.
“That’s the big news?” Mac asked. “We’ve done showcases before.”
“This isn’t just a showcase,” Eric told him. “It’s a competition, with a record demo deal as a prize.”
“What does that have to do with me, though?” Layla asked.
“I’ll tell you.” A pause. Mac looked at me, then sighed, as we waited for him to do just that. Finally: “You’re our secret weapon.”
“Since when?” she said.
“Since I did my research and realized how few of the groups around here have girl singers, or girls at all, for that matter. Everyone’s like us, totally dude-centric. With you up front, we’ll stand out. Better our chances.”
“Wait a second.” Layla put down her phone, which meant she was serious. “Are you saying that you’re going to let me sing lead? Because that does not sound like you. Unless you have a head injury I missed.”
“I resent that implication,” Eric protested. “I am a team player, all the way.”
Irv laughed out loud at this. Mac said, “What’s the catch?”
“There isn’t one. I want to win,” Eric said. “Anyway, Layla wouldn’t be singing lead. She’d solo on one new song, in between two of our standards.”
“So I’m a guest vocalist?”
“You’re a member of the band! Just like everyone else!”
“Except that I’m not,” she told him.
“But they,” Eric said, shaking the paper at her, “don’t know that. Nor do they need to. We win this, get the deal, and then record what we want.”
“I don’t know,” she said, picking up her phone again. “I’m not much into the singing thing lately.”
Eric just looked at her. “You have to help us.”
“Actually, I don’t.” She scrolled down, tapping her finger on the screen. “Ask Rosie. She’s got the voice, anyway.”
“I don’t want Rosie. I want you.”
Now he had all of our attention. It didn’t matter that he was, ostensibly, still talking about the band. The fact that Eric still pined for her months after their short relationship and ensuing breakup was as much known to the rest of us as his ego and penchant for showboating. This was the first time I was aware of, though, that he’d said anything close to it aloud. He realized it, too: color was already flooding his face.
“You’re assuming we’ll be ready,” Mac said, breaking the awkward silence that followed. “We only just got back to a regular practice schedule. We don’t even have a name.”
“It’s three songs,” Eric said. “And only one new one.”
“When’s the tryout?”
“No tryout. They want a recording.”
“What?” Mac shook his head. “Then this is a moot point anyway.”
“Because we don’t have one? Or any way of paying to produce one?”
“It can’t cost that much.”
“It’s not cheap.”
“Well, I’ve got some birthday money. You work. And I bet Ford’s parents might chip in . . .”
He trailed off, though, obviously less sure of this aspect of the plan. Layla, who had gone back to her phone, gave him a sympathetic look.
The bell rang then, and we all started gathering our stuff together. Eric remained on the bench, glum, as everyone else got up to head off in their different directions. “There’ll be another showcase,” Irv said, clapping him on the shoulder. “With an audition. I promise.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Eric said, shrugging.
I grabbed my bag, then started—slowly—toward the steps that led up to the arts building, where my next class was. Mac’s sixth period was in the same direction, so he joined me and we started climbing the stairs. Eric, who had a free sixth, was still on the bench, his guitar case at his feet.