Chapter 3: Battle of the Bands



Outside, a steady March downpour flattened the early tulips. Streetlights shone dimly past the dripping windowpanes. Janet gazed dolefully at the driveway.

"Jan, are you sure you don't want me to take you over to the Barn? I know how you hate to drive in the rain."

"What you mean is, you know how badly I drive in the rain. But I'll be OK. It's not very far, and I think it's letting up. Kind of."

"All right, sweetheart. Want a safety pin for your nose?"

"Very funny. From what I hear, I think they're a thrash band, anyway. Maybe some earplugs? Nono, this is research.... Have fun, fellas, I won't be late. Bye, Nick. I'll want to see that drawing when I get home - it looks very promising." She kissed Dirk, patted Nick on the rear with her bare foot, tugged her coat over her ample hips, and stuffed her feet into her scuffed loafers. Lowering her head determinedly, she dashed knock-kneed into the raw wind.

The parking lot at the Barn was full of cars and bottomless potholes. She skirted both cautiously, cringing at the scrape of her undercarriage when one particularly innocuous-looking puddle captured her rear wheel. Parking hastily in the first available space, Janet hurried towards the Barn, putting her foot in the same hole that had caught her tire. "Shit," she muttered.

"Oops!" a voice replied.

"What?" said Janet.

"Ear!" said someone else. In the gloom, Janet made out a group of boys unloading a van.

"Hey!" said one.

"Not like that! Put it over there!"

Ah, she thought, feeling better. Rob. She strode through the field house door, into the blasting, overheated Barn.

"Two dollars, uh ... Mrs. ... uh ... Dr. ... uh ... that'll be two dollars," said the vaguely familiar girl selling tickets. "Hope you have a good time," she added insincerely.

"Thank you, "Janet replied. "I hope so, too."

She looked around. These were the same kids she saw every day at school. They looked sleek, comfortable, with the smooth finish of high-quality plastic. Their faces were untroubled, their gestures unrestrained. Janet shivered. Who's next? she thought. Who'll be Case 020? 045? If I'd seen Brian here, would I have known? How many of these kids right now are thinking, "Nobody cares about me at all?" "I care," she said firmly, but just then the band onstage finished its set and her words were smothered in crowd noise.

Janet studied her ticket and wondered which of the names belonged to this group. How much had she missed? Was Rob's band done already? No, not possible, she had just seen them unloading in the parking lot.

Janet craned her neck to see over the crowd. Was that? Yes, it was, there was Rob shambling across the stage. Standing to the left of the drummer, that must be Ben, with the guitar. Abruptly, without preamble, they began to play. The crowd seemed happy. The racket was deafening. Janet could almost discern music but the words, if any, were entirely incomprehensible. "Powermad riffsters," she muttered. "How instructive." After half an hour of cacophony and stale air, her head began to ache. She was drifting toward an exit when the noise stopped and the band left the stage. The crowd cheered, as before, augmented by a great shout of enthusiasm from a group to the left of the stage.

Janet rubbed her forehead. She turned to the girl next to her and asked if there was going to be any more music.

"Huh? No, now we have to vote. Mark your ballot. It's on your ticket. I thought Restless was awesome."

"I see. Thank you very much. I'll do that. What did you think of that last band?"

"Them? The Gland Puppies? They're kind of dorks. No one likes them because they're so weird. But alot of their friends are here. So they'll probably win anyway. What a ripoff."

"Thank you. I think I'll just step outside for a moment." Janet found an exit and rested against the door. The rain had stopped, and the parking lot smelled of worms and cold mud. Janet longed for her home, and her bed, and her novel. She rummaged in her purse for a Motrin, but could only find a lollipop and a matchbox car. She was about to go home when she heard the crackle of static from the stage. Janet returned to the auditorium in time to hear the words "First place." The youth group claque roared with delight while the rest of the hall shouted perfunctorily. She turned to her previous informant.

"Pardon me," she said. "I seem to have missed the announcement. Who won?"

"Those assholes. The Gland Puppies won. It's not fair. It's because they brought their whole stupid church group with them. You can tell. They all dress like dorks. They are dorks. I'm outta here."

Janet found the stage door and wandered backstage. Almost immediately, she discovered Rob and Ben putting away their equipment.

"Hello, Rob, Ben. Congratulations! Ear!"

Rob looked up and smiled tentatively. "Ear? Oh. Hello. Ear! Hey, did you hear us? We were awful." Ben scowled and walked off with his guitar case.

"You were awful?"

"Yeah. I'm so embarrassed."

Another boy ran up to Rob holding a camcorder. He seemed very excited.

"Rob Sullivan! You just won The Battle of the Bands!!! What are you going to do now?"

Rob smiled for the camera. "I'm going to kill Felix, and then I'm going to work at Disney World. Ear."

The camera turned to Janet. "And you, ma'am. What did you think of tonight's incredible performance?"

"This is Adam, he's our media whiz. What an - ah - ass," explained Rob.

"I don't know. I guess it was OK. It all kind of sounds the same to me. The audience seemed to like it."

Rob looked pleased. "It was exactly the same as the other bands. I don't know why we won. I guess it was determined. Who cares. Would you like to meet the rest of the band, Dr. Er..."

"Why yes! I'd love to."

Adam followed close behind as Rob walked to a group of boys packing up equipment and winding up microphone cords. "Hey, Rob! Do something funny for the camera. Come on, stretch your face again."

Rob ignored Adam. "These are our drummers. That one plays guitar." Rob indicated the taller of the two. "Dr. Um ... er, this is Eric, and this is Craig. What fiends."

"A pleasure to meet you. I'm Dr. - that is - Janet Dawson. Do you go to Eagle Hills High?"

"Nope." They walked off carrying pieces of a drum kit.

Adam zoomed in.

Rob looked over Adam's shoulder, "Hi, Kathy! Ear!"

Adam whirled and thrust the camcorder in Kathy's face. "Kathy! Hi! I'm so glad to see you, I was afraid you'd miss it! We won!"

"How nice. Maybe you can take me to dinner now." Kathy smoothed her perfectly shaped hair.

"Yeah, OK. Let's go. I'll see you tomorrow, Rob." Adam turned off the camcorder and took Kathy's arm. "Where do you want to eat?"

"Some place nice." Kathy turned to Rob, "Is that your mom?"

"Oh. Um. I mean, No! This is Dr. Uh." Rob stammered.

"Hello, I'm Janet Dawson. Dr. Dawson, from the high school. Kathy, that's a lovely sweater. The color is perfect on you."

"Thanks. Adam got it for me. At Saks. It's hand knit from France."

"Yeah, it cost a lot, but she's worth it," said Adam.

Janet scrutinized Kathy. Her perfect makeup, perfect hair cut, perfect sweater, perfect body, perfect teeth, perfect complexion, designer jeans and Italian boots bespoke Eagle Hills at its wealthiest. Janet sighed a little and surreptitiously pulled her sweatshirt a little farther over her hips.

Kathy tugged on Adam's arm. "Are we gonna go? Or what?"

"Yes, we have to go now. Nice to meet you. See ya, Rob. Dr. Um."

"It was nice meeting you. I have to be getting home now. I'll see you at school on Monday and congratulations again."

Kathy hastened Adam toward the exit. Janet turned to Rob. "Please remember what I said. My door's always open. I'm very happy for you. Goodnight. Ear."

"Ear? OK. Bye."