“DUDE!” Cynthia’s voice made Kyle’s phone crackle. Her excitement wasn’t lost on anyone… not within a four-block radius of either of them, anyway. “You won’t BELIEVE this!”
“Uh, hey Cynthia, what’s going…”
“We’re booked for a show!”
“Wait… what?” Kyle’s face lit up as if a nuclear warhead had just detonated inside his head.
“My dad, he does that improvisational jazz quartet thing every Tuesday, I told you about that, remember?”
“Well the singer of that band owns a restaurant on the Parkway,” Cynthia explained, referring to the Vestal Parkway that bridged Binghamton and Vestal. “He says this Friday, like, a week from yesterday, we can go in and play. They have live music every Friday night, and they always get three bands to play in the bar area of the restaurant. Dude! We have a show!”
Kyle hadn’t been on stage in something like six months. He’d forgotten just how exciting it was for a band to get booked for its first show, but in that moment, whatever degree of business acumen he’d gathered over the years decided to show itself. “Is this a paying gig? How long is the set?”
“It doesn’t pay anything… we’re the opening-opening act. We go on at eight, and we have to be off by eight-thirty. But dude, it’s our first show! My first show!”
“This is rad, we need to prepare for it!”
“I know, right? I’ll call Mark and you call Ben, can you hang out today?”
“Yeah, but it’s the weekend so we can’t jam.”
“I know, I know. I just want to get everyone together!”
“Okay, I’ll go call Ben, and I’ll call you back when I’m almost at your place.”
“Alright, see ya!”
“See you soon.”
The first show! Kyle would have jumped up and down, screamed, and played a tuba if he weren’t so reserved, and if he even owned a tuba. It didn’t sound like it would be the biggest or best show he’d ever done, but it was the band’s first-ever live performance, and if nothing else, it would get the band some exposure, and would give Cynthia her first stage experience, all in a setting that wouldn’t add too much pressure to her. Kyle phoned Ben, telling him the news before dashing off toward his car, quickly announcing it to his parents and little brother as well before hopping in his car and racing off to Ben’s house. Shortly after that, he picked up Cynthia, and together, the group drove to their favorite meeting place, the Skylark Diner in Vestal, passing by and commenting on the restaurant where they’d play, until they finally reached the Skylark, where they were greeted by the most exuberant version of Mark any of them had ever seen, his typical shyness and couth being passed over for an ear-to-ear grin and more body movement than any of them had ever seen, excluding when he was playing the drums anyway.
For the first twenty minutes, they chatted eagerly about how excited they all were. Everyone was looking forward to returning to the stage again, except Cynthia, who was equally ecstatic about going on stage for the first time in her life. As they drank their coffee and shared a community plate of french fries, the conversation gradually started to shift toward what songs they’d play. As much as Kyle had wanted them to play Loveless Summer , he knew he couldn’t bring it up, the band having only played it once, the day before, and as much as everyone loved the new song, it would be foolish of them to try it in front of a live audience before they’d all rehearsed it several times, and hashed out any changes it might need. Instead, the band focused on filling out their half-hour set with what they all agreed to be their best songs, carefully calculating how much time those songs should fill, and then putting the rest of their finished material at the end of the set, just in case they ended up playing longer than expected. With this out of the way, Cynthia started worrying about what she’d wear, while Mark tried verbally breaking down his drums to see what he could leave at Kyle’s house, and what he’d need to bring to the show. For the rest of the night, the four teenagers carried on in that fashion, exploring all of the different options they’d have for every facet of their upcoming gig, and exploring the possibilities, even the far-fetched ones, in regards to what they might get out of their scheduled performance.
The next morning, Kyle went through his Sunday-morning ritual of picking up his bedroom, the upcoming show, less than a week away, never far from the forefront of his thoughts. With an immortal grin on his face, he carried his hamper of laundry downstairs, through their kitchen and into the laundry room, where he haphazardly poured his clothes into the washer, dumped in an unmeasured but well-guessed amount of detergent, and pushed the start button, all before wandering to the fridge to get something out for breakfast.
“Good morning sweetie,” Kyle’s mom announced as she made her way toward the coffee pot. “Is your brother up yet?”
“Not sure, haven’t seen him though.”
“Oh, okay. So, big show this Friday, huh?”
“Yeah, can’t wait!” Kyle recognized that his own exuberance might give his forever-skeptical mom cause for trying to deflate the importance of the show, not that he would have cared if she did. Nothing could kill the mood he was in.
“Well, I wanted to talk to you about that.”
Great… here it comes . “Sure mom, what’s up?”
“You know how you were saying the other day that the band still doesn’t have a name?”
“Yeah, we were talking about that last night. We agreed that this week we’d come up with something before the show. Otherwise, we’ll each write down our favorite band name idea and pull the lucky winner out of a hat.”
Barbara Winters let out a loud belly laugh, and if Kyle’s brother wasn’t awake yet, he probably was at that point. “Well, I was thinking about that for the past few days. What do you think of the name Superhype ?”
Kyle nearly dropped the bagel he’d just grabbed from the toaster. “Superhype? That’s awesome! Where’d you get that from?” Before his mom could finish, Kyle was able to fully and vividly imagine how using the name his mom came up with, however good it was, would probably end up putting the band in debt to her in some way. But before he could continue that thought, his mom answered.
” I was watching that two-hour special about Led Zeppelin, the new one that aired on the History Channel , you know?”
“Yeah, I have it on my DVR in my room but I haven’t watched it yet… it’s been a busy couple of days.”
“Well, they owned a company called Superhype, which allowed their manager, Peter-something…”
“Peter Grant, mom.”
“Yes, that guy. Anyway, it let them own the rights to everything, and have control over everything band-related. When I heard that name, for whatever reason, I thought about you guys.”
“It’s a really great name, Mom!” Kyle couldn’t help but show his genuine surprise. His mom wasn’t exactly the band’s biggest fan, or so she kept convincing him with her attitude towards their music, which she had barely ever heard, but this name was a slam-dunk. “I’ll run that past the band, thanks!”
Kyle and his mom started chatting about other things for a bit, before Kyle headed back to his room to grab his cell phone. His first call was to Ben, who attempted to make one final effort toward naming the band “Tartar Mafia,” but as soon as he heard the name Superhype, he was sold. Next up, Cynthia, who also excitedly accepted the new name. Last but not least, he phoned up Mark, who seemed less excited about using the name, but was happy with it nevertheless. It was starting to seem like every day had some radical new thing happening. Thursday, Kyle and Tara broke up, or whatever you’d call what happened that day, and he wrote the best song he’d ever written. Friday, he found out Tara moved away. Saturday, they’d gotten booked for their first-ever show. Sunday, Kyle’s mom came up with the band’s new name. What could possibly happen on Monday?
“Kyle?” the female voice asked, breaking the silence in the cafeteria study hall. Kyle turned around to see Jennifer Mays, Tara’s best friend and a notorious stoner. “Kyle! I tried finding you on Friday but, like, didn’t know how, and stuff.”
“Oh, hey Jen,” Kyle began, noticing her bloodshot eyes almost as quickly as her wreaking patchouli smell. If you picture a stereotypical hippy stoner girl in your mind, you’re probably imagining what Jennifer Mays looked like. Sandals, a brown corduroy ankle-length skirt, a Grateful Dead t-shirt… she even had very literal, very real flowers in her hair. The only thing missing was a hemp necklace with a wooden peace symbol on it, but as Jen pushed her hair back, yes, there it was. “What’s going on?”
“Dude, like, Tara called me. She’s like, really upset, man. Like, really.”
“I know. I tried leaving her messages, but she apparently erased them. I wanted to say goodbye to her, but she didn’t come to school on Friday.”
“Well, like, I have her email address, but the Internet is wrong, you know?”
“Um… wrong?” Great, here we go, Kyle thought to himself. This should be good for a laugh.
“Like, I was reading somewhere that the government keeps track of everything you do on the Internet, and like, if you spend time on the Internet they can like, track you down and know what you’re gonna think before you think it.”
“Interesting. And where’d you read that, Jen?”
“Dude, on the Internet. There’s a lot of really cool websites about stuff on the Internet…” she paused, staring past Kyle at a bulletin board on a far wall, before continuing. “You know?”
“Uh… sure… so, you were saying?”
“I was?” Jen started to giggle, abruptly stopping and straightening her face before continuing. “Do you ever find yourself talking, but like, you don’t know why? And like, how do I know English? Like, one day, I could just talk it, you know? But I never learned English!” She started laughing again.
“You mentioned an email address, Jen. Tara’s email address?”
Just then, the bell rang. Study hall was over, and Kyle’s next class was four floors above them, and in the opposite building. “Dude, I have Tara’s email address, and she wanted me to like, give it to you, you know? But if I’m late to this next class my parents will like, I don’t even know, man.”
“Okay, I’ll find you at lunch, and you can give it to me then. Sound good?”
“I can give you what?”
“Tara’s email address… at lunch… okay?”
“Oh, sure man, no problem-o.”
With this, Kyle darted off to his next class, his mind racing about Tara again. There seemed to be a trend developing here. Each time Kyle convinced himself that he was over Tara, or that at least he could get over her, she showed up and drew him back in. Not that he could really determine much of anything from Jen Mays, or that she herself could determine anything from Jen Mays, for that matter. Ben had once joked that Jen Mays’ head was spacier than the Apollo missions, and as hilarious as that statement was, there was a good chance that an Astronaut would fully agree with him. For all Kyle knew, Tara had instructed Jen not to give Kyle her email address, or wanted Kyle to email her so she could yell at him some more, or maybe she wanted Jen to get Kyle’s email address, so she could email him on her own time, at her own pace. There were too many variables to measure, so until lunch rolled around, there wasn’t anything Kyle could really do about the situation.
When lunch finally came, Kyle explained the situation to Ben, who volunteered to talk to Jen, confident in his ability to speak “stonerese.” With instructions in hand, Kyle dispatched Ben like a general sending a soldier off on a clandestine mission, before driving to a fast food place to buy lunch for both himself and Ben, a pseudo-concession he made in return for his friend’s favor. But when he returned to the school, and headed to the courtyard where he and Ben typically stood around during their lunch, Ben was nowhere to be found. By the time Kyle had finished eating his lunch, he was starting to wonder what exactly had happened to them, and when the bell rang and their next class was about to start, he started considering the possibility that Ben and Jen had gone off to get high together, which posed the risk that Ben’s “Mission” had been compromised.
“Syphilis,” the health teacher announced, provoking most of the students to vocally display their disgust at the image being projected onto the screen ahead of them. “We wouldn’t want to catch that, would we?” He moved along to the next image in his incredibly disturbing slide-show presentation. “Gonorrhea. That one is always a crowd- pleaser.” He paused again, giving everyone an opportunity to process what they were seeing, before hitting the button that moved along to the next slide. This one appeared to be a woman’s vagina, but there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. Just before he started to talk, the teacher looked out into the hall. “I’ll be right back, gang.” Without turning off the projector, the teacher walked out of the room, leaving the guys in the class to start making the comments you’d expect them to make, and the girls to start rolling their eyes and countering their suggestions. A few minutes later, however, the teacher came back into the room. “Sorry about that, folks. Here we see a male after a successful sex-change operation.” You could hear a pin drop, until a few seconds had passed, and a girl in the class started laughing quite loudly, eying down the shame-ridden males in the classroom. “Always a gas!”
This was Kyle’s favorite class, not because of the subject matter, but because of how engaging the teacher was. He approached everything in a playful, comical manner, always finding a way to talk to his students in a way they’d understand, without the corny overuse of slang and the typically-horrendous efforts to relate that most older people tried. Mr. Meier was probably the best teacher in the school, and was as far as Kyle was concerned. Maybe he’d have some advice about the Tara situation? It seemed to work that way in movies, didn’t it? This was Kyle’s last class of the day, so this was as good a time as any to ask. After allowing ample time for all of the other students to file out of the room, Kyle approached his teacher, knowing full-well that this could end up being one of those “movie of the week” moments.
“Mister Meier,” Kyle began, noticing that his teacher was hurriedly packing his bag, and appeared to want to leave just as badly as any of his students did. “I had a quick question for you, if you have a minute.”
“Oh, sure Kyle, what’s up?” He completely paused his efforts to pack, which Kyle took as a sign that perhaps this wasn’t going to be a total waste of time.
“Well, I’m having this problem…”
“E-D? Hey, it happens to a lot of people Kyle, talk to a doctor, they can probably sort you out.”
“Wait, what? No, Mister Meier, not that… nothing like that. You see, there’s this girl…”
“Tara Janowitz, right?”
Kyle was absolutely floored. “How did you know that?”
“The health teacher knows everything, Mister Winters.”
“No, seriously though, how did you…”
I’m a part-time psychic. It helps make ends meet, and gives me something to do on the weekends.”
Mr. Meier nodded slowly, but soon, his game face wore off, and he broke out in laughter. “Come on Kyle,” he replied, giggling and shaking his head. “No, really, Tara came to talk to me about you last week, before she moved away.”
“Yes sir. I guess I’m just that guy, huh?”
“What did she ask? Or can you tell me that?”
“I’m not a priest or a doctor, Kyle. I’m not sworn to confidentiality or anything. But there is something I could use your help with. Fair trade?”
“Uh, sure, Mister Meier, anything!”
“Well, this Friday night, there’s this teacher’s function thing going on. We’re all supposed to bring a few students along to share what they think of our classes. It starts at eight, so if you could come to that, it would really help me out.”
Kyle felt like a tiny supernova had just burst in the back of his mind somewhere. That was the exact date and time that his band’s first-ever show was taking place. There was no way they could cancel their first gig, but at the same time, he had to know what Tara had asked Mr. Meier about. If she was upset or confused enough that she’d turn to one of her teachers for advice, then whatever information he had was destined to be important… vital, even.
“Oh, sorry Mister Meier. Um… this Friday, at eight?”
“Yes, can you make it?”
“I’m kidding, Kyle. That was fun though.”
“Your pal Ben is also a student of mine. Just after lunch he was telling everyone in class about the show you guys are doing this Friday, so I couldn’t resist!” Mr. Meier paused for a few moments of laughter, slapping Kyle on the back with one hand as he wiped a tear from his eye with the other. “I wish you could’ve seen your face just then, that was priceless!”
“Oh, that was a good one,” Kyle remarked, letting out a slight giggle in the hopes of masking how utterly relieved he was, and how he didn’t find this to be nearly as amusing as his teacher did. “So, about Tara…”
“Right, well, she came to me last week. Apparently you’d left her a note or something? It was a real eye-opener for her. She said something about how you were a nice guy, and how she needed nice guys in her life, or something like that. She didn’t know how to talk to you, so I suggested she write you a note in response. Did she ever do that?”
“Yes,” Kyle replied, the sheer stun on his face being incapable of being lost on anyone. “Small world, or something.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty funny how you’re coming to me, and she came to me. Not as funny as that `Friday night’ gag, though. Priceless.”
“Oh, one more thing, Mister Meier, about Ben…”
“You aren’t in love with him too, are you? He’s a regular space cadet.”
“No way! Wait, what do you mean by `space cadet’… was he high or something?”
“As a kite. I’m not a narc or anything, but I did pull him aside and tell him to straighten up and fly right. If you really want to do me a favor, and I’m serious this time, you should have a talk with him about his drug use. I always knew he was a pothead, but I’ve never seen him stoned in class before. He’s not getting out of control, is he?”
“No sir, he’s… well…”
“Hey, I have to run Kyle, but yeah, talk to him about it, and if you ever need advice, about that, or Tara, or anything, feel free to stop on by.”
“Okay, thanks Mister Meier!” With this, Kyle smiled, nodded, and headed off to his locker to get ready for his trip home. His conversation with Mr. Meier wasn’t exactly worthy of being developed into a scene for a Hallmark Channel film, but it certainly gave him a tremendous amount of insight into the whole Tara fiasco. It also answered all of his questions about what had happened to Ben during the lunch break. Shy of George W. Bush, Kyle couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to hang a Mission Accomplished banner over Ben anytime soon. But just as that thought started evaporating from his mind, Kyle approached his locker, where low and behold, a note was protruding from the frame.
The note was from Jennifer Mays, who explained how she’d be seeing the band on Friday at the show, and how she was worried about leaving notes in public spaces, for fear that the government might be able to better track her. She then went into a lengthy spiel about the mysteries of toaster ovens, and her theories that in ancient times, dragons would have made toast for people, her final evidence that dragons weren’t all that bad, but were seriously, like, misunderstood. Her bizarre ramblings continued like that, until she apparently got bored and signed off. Luckily for Kyle, she somehow managed to remember the whole point of her leaving the note, and dropped Tara’s email address and new phone number into a postscript at the bottom of her insane manifesto.
An hour later, the band had gotten together for the first of their many rehearsals leading up to their big show on Friday. After Kyle chatted with Ben about the concerns Mr. Meier had, all while Ben crammed stale french fries, several hours old at that point, into his mouth, the group ran through their full set, with a stopwatch running to measure how long their songs ran, and how long the complete set ran. They then repeated this process, timing everything once more, and finding very few discrepancies between how long the set ran each time. They were performing their full set nearly perfectly every time, to within about two minutes of the thirty-minute mark, and when they ran the set for the fourth time that day, they had gotten it down to exactly twenty-nine minutes and thirty-three seconds. After calling an end to their rehearsal, the band headed up to Kyle’s living room to chill out and chat with each other a bit before everyone headed home. Ben and Mark had each spent their full day in total publicity mode, spreading word about the upcoming show to anyone and everyone who’d listen, though in Ben’s case, chances were there was an inclusion of everyone who wouldn’t listen, to. Kyle hadn’t told anyone about the show, and neither had Cynthia, though Cynthia’s home-schooling was a better excuse than Kyle having spent his entire day reeling through the Tara situation. Kyle found himself promising that he’d try to do better during the week, and after everyone finished their soft drinks, or tea in Cynthia’s case, Mark headed home, and Kyle drove Ben and Cynthia to their respective homes as well.
After dropping off Cynthia, Kyle headed to work, arriving a few minutes late, and four hours later, he finally got home, where a pile of homework awaited him. After that, he had to eat dinner, and then his mom pulled him aside to get help with the dishes. Finally, after what seemed to be a day that simply refused to end, Kyle was at last ready to sit down and write an email to Tara. He felt as though he was totally fried from his incredibly-stressful Monday, but nevertheless, he went on to write the longest email he’d ever put together in his entire life. It was probably a solid four or five pages long, talking about everything he could think of writing, from the horribly confusing situation that happened the previous Thursday, to his odd discussion with Mr. Meier, to the band’s new name and upcoming show, to Jennifer Mays’ bizarre theories revolving around dragons serving the role of medieval toaster ovens. He closed the email out with a few paragraphs where he tried his best to express how badly he wanted to talk with Tara before she’d left, and how as hard as he’d tried, he couldn’t stop thinking about her, especially since everything that had happened at the Oakdale Mall on that fateful Thursday. He re-read the email three and a half times before finally clicking send, a rush of anticipation overcoming him as the lengthy message raced off into cyberspace. There was nothing left for him to do at that point. All he could do was wait for a response… and sleep like a rock.
Kyle checked his email the next morning, before school, but Tara hadn’t responded yet. Not that he was entirely surprised, with her being several time zones behind. He eventually sent the email at two in the morning, which would have been eleven PM for her. But he couldn’t help but wonder how Tara might reply, or how long it might take her to respond, or if she ever even would. Tara Janowitz was probably the least-predictable person Kyle had ever known. There seemed to be an equal chance that she’d delete the email outright, without ever reading it, as there was that she’d read it and reply, or read it and never reply. By the fourth period, Kyle started to realize that nothing he could tell himself would speed things along, and when a girl approached him after that class to ask about the show, he decided to devote the rest of his day to cheerleading for Superhype. Even if Tara didn’t respond that night, or if she never responded, at least the band’s upcoming show would have a bigger audience.
That afternoon, Kyle raced home to check his email, but there was nothing waiting for him. After band rehearsal, he ran upstairs to check again, but still nothing. After he drove Cynthia and Ben home, he again checked, but still, Tara hadn’t responded. It was starting to feel as though she’d never write him back, and after his chores and eating the Chinese food his parents ordered for dinner, he finally decided to give up hope on her replying, heading into the basement with a pair of headphones to rehearse the band’s set by himself. It was a fairly therapeutic exercise, and by the time he’d finished the last song, he realized that he’d been thinking about Tara the whole time, but was able to comprehensively run the full set with a distraction in the back of his mind, or at least it seemed that way, and the stopwatch told him that he was probably right about that. With this, he figured he’d head upstairs to check one last time before going to bed.
The discovery of a new email from Tara was as shocking and exciting as if he’d found the Holy Grail, or the Arc of the Covenant, or the Gibson Les Paul that was stolen from Jimmy Page in the 1970’s. His mind didn’t want to open it immediately, hoping to savor the moment for a few seconds, but his hands had other ideas, and moments later, he was reading through an email from Tara Janowitz, one that was easily the same length as the initial email that Kyle had sent her, if not longer. She explained, in tremendous detail and with a degree of passion Kyle had never seen from her, how their hooking up over the summer was “completely random,” and how she didn’t really think about him much after that. But before Kyle could really process the sadness he was feeling somewhere within himself after reading that line, she continued to explain how the note he’d left her was “the most beautiful thing” that she’d “ever laid eyes on.” She said it made her feel something she’d never felt before from any other guy; it gave her a sense of being wanted, of being genuinely cared about. She “didn’t feel like a disposable sex toy,” and it made her realize that Kyle wasn’t the typical sort of guy she’d had encounters with in the past. She felt like Kyle was a genuinely nice person, a great guy, the sort of person she’d want to have a proper relationship with. After several pages of espousing her new-found love for Kyle, she finished by saying that she wanted to chat with Kyle about what college he’d be going to. They may need to spend a full year apart, but she was thinking that maybe they could go to the same school, bringing them together once again.
Kyle felt moderately lightheaded after reading Tara’s email. It was everything he’d ever wanted to hear from her, and any ounce of doubt he’d had about his relationship with her prior to that was completely eradicated before he started feverishly hammering out his response. At that moment, he was convinced that Tara Janowitz would one day become Mrs. Tara Winters, not that he wrote anything like that in his second email to her. And after he finally finished his lengthy response, he clicked “Send” and let out a sigh, but unlike his previous sighs that regarded Tara, this one came off the end of a very large, very genuine smile.
The next day, Kyle floated through school as if he was about to burst into his own rendition of the song Walking on Sunshine at any possible moment. He promoted the band’s upcoming show with a renewed vigor, and after school, he charged into rehearsal and played with more passion than he’d ever put into his music before. He literally “whistled while he worked” at his job after that, and when he finally got home, his energy hadn’t subsided.
That evening, Kyle checked his email, discovering that Tara had already talked to her mom about the possibility of attending Binghamton University, well before Kyle had left her the note. She wanted to go to school in Binghamton so she could be with her friends, so Kyle’s decision to attend the same school was, of course, interpreted by the both of them as a sign from a higher power that they were destined to be together. She then encouraged him to call her after he sent his next email, which he did. The two of them chatted on the phone until nearly three in the morning, covering everything and anything that came to mind. Kyle wasn’t sure of when he’d see Tara again, but he was absolutely positive that this was love. Real, proper love, the sort that made him question whether or not he should change the title of Loveless Summer. Tara Janowitz was everything he wanted in a girl, and the mere thought of his earlier confusion and paltry attempts toward convincing himself otherwise made his stomach churn.