It Was Meant To Be

Molly dreams of two things: getting into her first-choice university and finding true love. Music-loving slacker Zayn also dreams of two things:winning the battle of the bands- and winning Molly.He is determined to make her fall in love with him.

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31. The Only One

The Only One

21st November, 7.00 pm

Zayn's POV

I try to block out everything about the other bands playing tonight. MindFlame rules and we'll rule Battle of the Bands. It's simple. So what if Zack has a better guitar than mine or if Fred's jeans are cooler than Mike's. We sound better. That's the bottom line.

The gym has been transformed into a semi-cool space. It's all dark with lights changing patterns on the walls. This portable thing our school uses as a stage for stuff that's not in the auditorium is set up against the back wall. The bleachers are pulled out, and snack tables are set up near the entrance. When the bands start playing, everyone will cram in front of the stage.

Eddie comes rushing over to me with a flyer. "Check it out," he says. Eddie's the emcee tonight. He does all this underground rap that actually isn't too bad.

"E, I already have a flyer," I tell him.

"No, man. This one's revised. Check out who's playing last."

I take a look at the list. I see Marco's name last.

"How did he even get past the audition?"

"You got me," Eddie says. "Laters."

Marco is this Nas-Wannabe rapper who always says his vocab is scorching. I guess no one's told him that overusing the dictionary can be a bad thing. The other bands are your standard assortment of genres: Fred and Zach are in Jade Elephant and play indie house punk, then there's Julian's band called Zeitgeist who all worship Coldplay, another alternative-type band, a techno group, one band that does all unplugged stuff, a heavy metal band, us, and Marco and Overlord, with this kid George who's a genius on about five different instruments. There's usually ten bands selected to play, but the tent had to dropout because the lead singer has lost his voice. MindFlame is listed to go on fourth.

Mike's already tuned up. Now he's outside trying to convince his latest conquest that her life will be incomplete unless she agrees to dance with him tonight. Before the bands play, there's dancing for an hour. This night will rock. Dancing with Molly, then making the crowd go crazy, then winning when the applause for us is way louder than for any other bands.

Josh arrives during sound check. "What's good?"

"Same old. Fred ad Zack think they're wiping the floor with us."

We look over at them, sitting on the side of the stage. They both have these glazed looks of boredom. Like they're doing everyone a favour by being here. Just because they've got gigs at the under-21 club in the city centre doesn't mean they're better than us. The club owner is Zack's uncle or something.

"Whatever," Josh says. "That'll just make it more fun to watch how crushed they are after we finished stomping all over them."

We grab a spot to the side of the stage. Music plays. A few kids start dancing, but most of them sit in groups on the bleachers. People filter in. They reek of self-consciousness. Nervous excitement is in the air and there's that charge of hope I always feel at these things when I have a girl watching who's into me but now I have a girl I actually want to be with.

"Whassup?"

I snap out of my trance and there's Marco.

"What's good?" I say.

"What's real good, fam?" Marco mumbles. Then he gives Josh and me pounds. He's such a knob it's hard to take him seriously sometimes.

"How's Eddie gonna be dissin' me like that, yo?" Marco's medallion slaps against his chest. His jeans are so low and baggy I don't know how he keeps them on.

"Like how?"

"He's tellin' everybody how I'm some kinda lame-ass rapper. That's some cold shit!" Marco looks around like he wants to snuff Eddie.

"Yo," Josh warns. "Be easy."

"Nah, yo, he's gettin' me tight."

"Dude," I say. "He's just jealous of your skills."

Marco considers this. "Ya think?"

"Absolutely."

Marco smirks. "Peace out, homes" He shuffles off.

When Molly comes in, I forgot how to act like a normal human being.

Josh notices where I'm looking. "She's gorgeous, isn't she?"

"Yeah. Most definitely."

"I might ask her to dance," he says.

Not like I own Molly or anything, but what the fuck? "I don't think that's a good idea."

"You don't think she'd dance with me?"

"She's taken, OK?"

"Since when?" Josh looks confused.

"Uh...since me?"

Josh looks back at the girls. "Dude! I'm talking about Elizabeth, not Molly! Give me some credit here. I'd never horn in on your girl."

My brain starts to work again.

"Oh. I knew that."

"Do you think she'd dance with me?"

I'm so happy he's not talking about Molly that I say, "Absolutely. What girl would be crazy enough not to dance with you?"

"Yeah, right? Listen, I'm getting a drink. You want anything?"

"No, I'm good."

Then Mike comes back in. I watch him work the crowd. He eventually finds me.

"Hey, man," he says. "Why are you over here and she's over there?"

"I'm watching."

"God, you are so weird. Let's try me watching while you go over and ask her to dance."

Josh comes back.

I say, "Let's go."

"Go where?"
"Didn't you want to ask Elizabeth to dance?"

"Yeah, but I can do it myself, Dad."

"I'm asking Molly to dance, so I'm going over anyway. Come on."

Walking over, Josh says, "How's my hair?"

"Horrific. It'll give me nightmares for weeks."
No, seriously"

"Chill, you're fine."

Molly sees me walking towards her. She says something to Elizabeth. Elizabeth looks over. She doesn't look too happy to see me. I wonder what that's about.

"Hey," I say.

"Hey," Molly says.

"Hey, Elizabeth," I say.

Elizabeth steps away from us a little. "Hey."

Molly hugs me.

"Hey, guys! Great music, huh?" Josh thumps me on the back and looks back and forth between Molly and me. "What's up?"

"Nothing now. You guys know Josh, right?"

Elizabeth looks like she just swallowed sour milk. "Unfortunately." She is so obviously way out of Josh's league. Then again, look what happened to me.

I look around. A lot more kids are dancing now.

"Do you feel like dancing?" I ask Molly.

"Yeah."

We walk into the crowd a little. She puts her arms around me. I rest my chin on top of her head. I breathe in her familiar smell, those flowers.

We dance like that for a couple more songs even though they're both fast ones. Then Eddie blows into the microphone.

"Testing...testing...Let's do this! First four bands, you're wanted backstage."

Molly gives me a big hug. "Good luck," she whispers in my ear.

"Thanks."

"Not that you need it."

Fred and Zack are first up. They have everyone slamming by the third chord. I start to feel intimidated on top of nervous. Mike watched the crowd's reaction with me.

"Don't sweat it," he says. "We're better that those fools."

The next two bands aren't all that. It seems like we have a  real chance of winning this thing.

Then I hear Eddie announcing us. "Give it up for MindFlame!" he yells. There's a loud applause.

I'm psyched.

When Josh clicks his drumsticks together for the beat. I look for Molly in the crowd. Her eyes lock into mine. Sweet.

The song starts out OK. Mike and I are totally on key with vocals. Josh is slamming on the drums like a professional. I scan the crowd for reactions. Most people seem to be in a trance but not in a  good way. Kind of like they're watching commercials. A bad feeling creeps over me that no one gets what we're doing but I'm sure I'm just being paranoid. We clearly rock. Everything's perfect so far.

I look back at Molly. She's watching me and moving to the beat. This encourages me near the end with the heavy drum-and-guitar jam session. I pour everything I'm feeling into it. Josh is crazy on the drums. I've never heard him sound so hard. I answer back with even more force. The power of it is almost better than sex.

Everything builds to this enormous crescendo. You can see the sweat flying off Josh's face. Mike's bass shakes the stage. When it's time for the last chord, I NAIL IT!

The last chord reverberates through the gym. I can almost hear it splat against the floor. It dies out.

No one moves. No one claps. No one does anything.

It's completely quiet.

What are we supposed to do now? Stand here looking like morons? Play it off like it was supposed to go down like that? Or get the hell off the stage as quickly as possible?

I vote for the last one.

Then I hear some clapping and other people join in and soon there's an official applause happening but it feels kind of forced.

W get our stuff together without talking. Backstage, Josh grabs a towel and mops his face off. He throws the towel on the floor.

"We are so under appreciated." Josh kicks the towel. "I was working my ass off out there!"

"I told you we should have done 'Heaven' instead," Mike says.

"But that is so standard," I say. "Anyone could pull it off."

"That's the point. At least we'd have a chance with something people would recognize."

"Bad Company rules," Josh says. "Just because kids nowadays have no appreciation for where it all came from..."

"We rocked," I say. "Everything was perfect. That jam?"

But Josh shakes his head. He looks at his towel on the floor.

"Nah." Mike wipes sweat off his forehead. "It was our one chance to show them who we are and we royally fucked it up."

Josh glares at him. "No we didn't."

"Whatever."

"Remember when Wild Mood swing came out?" I say. "And all the bad reviews it got? But The cure was still The Cure. We can't let a bunch of ignorant meatheads decide who we are."

Mike looks unconvinced. "Like we're anywhere near The Cure."

We hang out backstage, listening to the other bands. Zeitgeist is good, but someone needs to let Julian know that ripping off Coldplay can only get you so far in life. Marco is hideous. His lyrics don't make sense, and his flow gives me motion sickness. At the very least, we should come in third.

"Ok, peoples!" Eddie announces. "It's voting time!"

Now the audience votes by applause. The two bands that get the most applause will do encores for the title.

"Jade Elephant!" Eddie yells.

The crowd goes wild. I see Fred and Zack high-five each other in the corner.

Eddie announces the other band names in order. Maybe I'm paranoid, but it sounds like we hardly get any applause.

Then Eddie consults with some kids in the front row. He announces the results.

We come in last. Even after Marco.

*

"Well," I say to Molly. "We officially suck."

"You do not," she says.

We're sitting on the wall outside the front entrance.

"You guys were great." She holds my hand in her lap.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Everyone was just...shocked by your talent. They had no idea what hit them. It was like...like a delayed reaction."

I look over at Molly to see if she's serious. I expect her to start laughing at me any second now but she's not making fun of me at all.

"Thanks."

"Anytime."

"Molly!" Elizabeth yells from the car park. "Let's go!"

"Oh. I better go."

"You're sleeping over at Elizabeth's?"

"Yeah."

"Ok...well..." I put my hands on the sides of Molly's face and kiss her.

Molly sighs. She slides down off the wall. Then she does this crooked walk like she's dizzy from the kiss. I laugh. She's the only one who could make me feel good tight now.

Mike drove Josh and the equipment home already. I stick around for a while. I wonder where I'll be at exactly this time next year. What if the band bites? What if we break up? It's kind of inevitable, anyway. I mean, Mike and Josh might be in Manchester, but I am probably going around here somewhere. Then what?

I walk to the car park and think about Molly. The way she looked at me, even after we bombed...she makes me feel like I can do anything.

So I got the girl. If that's not proof that anything can happen, I don't know what is.

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