Eric nodded, still breathing hard. “It’s three weeks from this Friday, at Bendo. Five bands, all ages. Holy crap, I think I’m having a heart attack.”
“Dude,” said Irv, who was leaning against the truck, eating a bag of pretzels, “you seriously need to work out more.”
“Three weeks,” Mac said. “Not much time to practice.”
“Which is why,” Eric told him, “we need to go hardcore. Clear the schedule, pedal to the metal. This takes top priority, starting now.”
“Some of us have jobs,” Mac pointed out.
“And lives,” Layla added.
Eric just looked at them. “Are you serious? This is our shot. Our big chance! Winner gets to record a real demo with Hambone Records. That’s where Truth Squad and Spinnerbait started out.”
“Hate Spinnerbait,” Mac said.
“True. But the point is,” Eric continued, “nothing is more important than this.”
“Except my post-school meal,” Irv said. “So if you want a ride, you’re buying at DoubleBurger.”
“I can’t believe you go there,” Layla told him, shaking her head. “Their fries are greasy. And mushy.”
“Just how I like ’em,” Irv replied, and she rolled her eyes. “Come on, Bates. My stomach’s grumbling.”
As he said this, he was still eating pretzels. Irv’s appetite always surprised me, but at times like this, I was almost scared.
“Practice,” Eric said. “Tomorrow, right after school. Yes? I’ll tell Ford.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Mac said.
“Do what you have to. This is serious. There’s no gray area here. We win or lose. Triumph or go down in flames. Succeed or—”
“Why is there never a gray area with you?” Irv said. “Everything’s always brilliant or catastrophic.”
“Because,” Eric replied, “that’s the way true artists—”
“That should be your band name,” Layla, studying her phone, said.
Irv said, “True Artists?”
“No. Brilliant or Catastrophic.”
Silence. Due to experience, I was expecting immediate rejection of this from someone (probably Eric), followed by the debate beginning all over again. But then Mac said, “I like it.”
“It is intriguing,” Eric agreed. He thought for a moment. “Also, it fits the idea of our ironic take on the songs we’re doing as well as what they did for the larger community of music. So pop, total earworms: you have to give the songwriters credit. Even while acknowledging the damage they caused not just to the integrity of the music industry, but society as a whole.”
“Society?” I asked.
“I just like how it sounds,” Irv said, starting to walk away.
“I’ll sit with it awhile. Let you know what I think,” Eric told us, falling in behind him. Watching them go, all I could think was that they were the oddest of pairings.
“Huge Guy and Hipster Guy,” Layla observed, once again reading my mind. “They’re like superheroes. Without the, um, super part.”
I snorted, then looked at my watch. I was doing that these days. “It’s getting late. I better go.”
Mac looked down at me. “Already?”
The fifteen minutes or so I had here in the parking lot before I had to leave for Kiger always went too quickly. “I left my computer charger at home, and my mom’s bringing it to me. I need to be on time today.”
“Okay,” he said. But his arm stayed around me, and I didn’t budge. This usually took a couple of tries. As I thought this, I felt his phone, in his pocket, buzz against my leg. I extracted myself as he reached for it, glancing at the screen. “Shit.”
“What is it?” I asked.
On my other side, Layla, studying her own phone, looked up. “What’s going on?”
Mac was already typing something. “Shortness of breath, and she started to pass out. They called the doc. Meeting him at the hospital.”
“Crap,” Layla said. “Let’s go.”
She pulled open the truck’s passenger door, throwing her bag on the floorboard. Mac, however, stayed where he was, again scanning his phone’s screen. “We’re supposed to go to Seaside and stay there.”
“What? I want to go to the hospital.”
“Dad says no. He wants us to man the shop.” Mac started around the truck. “Rosie will keep us posted.”
“You know she’s terrible at that,” Layla said. “We’re lucky she even told us they were en route. I need to be there.”
“Are you not listening to me? I can’t take you. Now get in, we’ve got to go.”
“I’ll take her.” I said this without thinking. It was only in the next beat that I remembered I was already late leaving for where I had to be.
“You sure?” Mac asked me, climbing behind the wheel. “What about your mom?”
“It’s an emergency. She’ll understand.” I hoped.
“Keep me posted?”
“Yeah.” Layla grabbed her bag while he cranked the engine. “Thanks, Sydney.”
He backed out of the spot, kicking up a cloud of gravel dust all around us, and started driving out of the lot, dodging the familiar potholes. At the stop sign by the guardhouse he barely paused, prompting a shouted warning from the security officer there. And then he was gone.
“Which hospital?” I asked Layla once we, too, were on our way out.