Blind to Love – Chapter One


It’s the first night of summer. I’ve got my guitar placed snugly into its travel case and I’m ready to go. Technically, I don’t even need my guitar, but it feels better than the one Malcolm has up for grabs. I won’t bring an amp or anything, though. Malcolm has better equipment anyway.

I leaf through the wad of cash in my hand. How much did I take out of my dad’s wallet this time? I don’t know because I didn’t count, but I’m sure it’s enough to get us into the Pit.

I pocket the cash and sling my guitar over my back as I hear the familiar growl of Duane’s old junker—a car that’s probably 40 years old or something. I don’t know. I just know the thing is ancient, but it gets us around.

Taking one last look in the mirror, making sure my platinum-blond and purple-streaked hair is in place, and that my makeup is perfect, I run out of my room and down the stairs. The house is dark, but I’ve run this route a million times in my life and don’t need the light to guide me. I reach the front door with ease, twist the doorknob and feel the warm air of a summer’s night brush past me. Then I promptly lock and close the door behind me. “Sneaking out” is easy when your parents are never home.

I slow my walk as soon as I can see Duane’s car and shining headlights. I let the heels of my black boots guide my legs into that elegant stride that drives the guys crazy, letting my hips swing back and forth, exaggerated by the tight leather pants I’m wearing… I can do it perfectly, even with my guitar on my back. Duane has told me himself that he loves this walk, and I’ve seen plenty of guys who can’t keep their eyes off me when I do this. I like the attention.

Duane honks at me, and I grin in reply. I stop screwing around and open the back door to place my guitar in the backseat next to his. Then I get into the front passenger seat. Duane’s leaning toward me, expectant. His black hair is long and constantly in his eyes. I want to brush his bangs back, but I don’t.

“What?” I ask coyly.

“C’mon, Ri,” Duane says as he leans closer and grabs my arm, pulling me to him. I turn my head so his lips meet my cheek. “Is that any way to ask me for a kiss?”

“Why do you have to do this all the time? It’s just a kiss, something we’ve done a billion times. It’s not even a big deal. What boundaries do we even have anymore?”

Well, as much as I love Duane, he’s not big on building the moment. He just wants to get in and get out.

“Fine,” I say, slightly annoyed as I lean in for that kiss. I’m expecting something nice, but Duane kisses me hard and it kind of hurts. His breath stinks too. I push him away. “Have you been drinking?”

“No.” He’s obviously lying.

“Get out,” I order. “I’m driving.”

“It’s not a big deal. I’m not drunk. We do this all the time anyway.”

“Just let me drive!”

I get out of the car and slam the door. After I open the driver door, I tap my foot at him and fold my arms. He slowly gets out and slinks over to the passenger seat.

I’ve always preferred being the one to drive, but since my parents have been too stingy to give me a car of my own, I have to take every chance I get to drive Duane’s.

Once I’m behind the wheel, I feel much better and in control. I’ve got this itch to go fast. It’s the same itch I always get right before a performance. Duane chooses to numb those feelings with alcohol, and I choose to revel in them while they last.

I back out of the driveway and speed down the street, as fast as I can go without spinning out whenever I take a turn. Duane holds fast to his seat, probably trying not to hurl. I make the most of my speed while I can. Once I hit the main road, I have to slow down because of traffic. Not many people sleep in Palaer, especially deeper inside the city. My house is located almost exactly on the city border, so my neighborhood is the exception to that rule—and the only “nice” neighborhood in the city, where people with money live. That’s what Malcolm tells me, and I’m inclined to believe him. I’ve seen enough of the city to see the drastic differences between the city’s heart and outskirts.

“Looks like we should have left earlier,” Duane comments after he’s finally got his motion sickness under control.“We’ll get there in time,” I say. “Trust me.”

***

The parking lot for the Pit looks more like a junkyard. Every time we come here all I see are junkers and more junkers. But I also see a lot of broken windows. Anyone who brings a nice car to this place would find it dismantled and every piece stolen. Probably.

Duane is still struggling with his seatbelt after I’ve already gotten out of the car. I hope he doesn’t act like that on stage. He’ll screw up the whole band. I open the back door of the car to retrieve my guitar and hand Duane’s to him after he finally gets out of the car.

“Give me my keys,” he says.

“Here.” I drop the keys in his hand and thrust his guitar into his chest when he’s taking too long to put the keys in his pocket.

“Let me lock the doors first!”

“Just manually push the locks down! Your car doesn’t have automatic locks. You don’t need the keys.”

Duane mutters something under his breath and I walk up to the chain-link that circles the perimeter of the Pit. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much. Past the chain-link is a black tarp, or something, concealing the building inside (and it probably acts as a barrier to stop a draft from coming in through all the broken pieces of brick walls). The Pit is easy to overlook because it only has a base floor and every building surrounding it is stories high. But, on the inside, the Pit is the best place ever. It’s party central, full of bizarre decorations, expensive vases and other weird modern arts, strobing lights, avant-garde costumes… And you can’t forget the people. The Pit is full of the most exciting people you’ll ever meet, people with actual stories, amazing feats, adventures that make my heart race and long to be one of them.

I look down the chain-link to my right and see an open gate with a really huge guy guarding it. Even being feet away from him, I can tell he’s not someone I’d want to mess with—or that anyone in their right mind would choose to mess with.

“All right, let’s go,” Duane tells me as he walks down toward the gate. I think he sees how huge the bouncer is, because he immediately steadies his walk, straightens his back to show his whole six feet of height. It’s a pretty sad demonstration though. Duane is still shorter than the guard and he doesn’t have half the muscle mass.

I follow behind my boyfriend. The bouncer has been watching us since we arrived. Now that we’re at the gate, he grins, showing gaps in his mouth where teeth used to be. “You two must be Ri and Duane. The rest of your band’s already inside.”

“Great!” I say, giving him my best smile.

The big guy bows down in one fluid motion that seems too elegant for his boxy frame. Then he gestures us inside with a hand. “We were afraid you wouldn’t make it in time, but you never let us down, do you? Welcome, and enjoy your time in the Pit.”

“Thanks,” Duane and I say in unison as we walk past him.

I notice Duane let out a huge breath like he’d been holding it too long. I bump into him playfully.

“Calm down, babe. We’ve come here a bunch of times already. I dunno why it still makes you nervous,” I say.

Duane shakes his head. “Just not into making big guys angry. That’s all.”

As we near a piece of the black tarp, I can feel the vibrations of bass frequencies hum from the building, pulsating a constant rhythm. Duane moves loose fabric aside and we’re bathed in flashing neon lights. There are girls wearing outfits that look like nothing more than fancy lingerie, serving drinks. Duane grabs one as soon as a girl walks by. She gives him a big smile when he brushes his fingers across her arm while retrieving his glass.

I smack him, making him drop his glass. The server gives me a disgusted look, and then walks off, probably to get someone to clean up the mess.

“Your girlfriend’s right beside you, idiot,” I inform.

“Damn it, Ri! You made me drop it!” Duane complains.

“You don’t need any more! We’re performing in just a few minutes. Now get your ass up on stage and let’s do this thing.”

I push him toward the stage. It pisses me off when he notices other girls. He always tells me I’m the only girl for him, but his wandering eyes tell me different.

We shove past wriggling bodies, trying to keep our guitars from getting smashed or snatched off our backs. I’m relieved when we can finally see the stage. I want out of this sweaty pool of people.

“Ri, Duane, glad you could make it.” In front of us, at the base of the stage, stands Malcolm. His bald head and distinctive tattoos make him easy to pick out in a crowd. He’s also wearing a custom-made white suit with gold pinstripes and a mess of gold jewelry. “Did you bring my money?”

I nod and fish inside the back pocket of my leather pants. I produce the cash I stole from my dad’s wallet. The money’s the only reason my band, Deep Down, is allowed to perform here at all. But I don’t mind paying Malcolm. He gives us the opportunity to perform in front of a large audience we wouldn’t be able to perform in front of otherwise. And everyone here loves us. I’m sure my dad has noticed money missing by now, but he hasn’t said anything to me about it, so I’ve decided I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now, I’m going to enjoy myself.

“Thanks, kid. You always were my favorite,” Malcolm says as he takes the cash and places it safely inside the inner breast pocket of his suit. “Go show these people a good time.”

I nod at him. Then Duane and I rush past and behind the stage, concealed by big black curtains.

“Nice of you guys to finally decide to show up,” Janel greets us with her usual sarcasm. She’s messing with her short bleached-blond hair, spiking it up and stopping only when she’s satisfied. The light blond looks really unnatural against her dark brown skin, but, like the rest of us, she does it to stick out. And even though she’s the shortest of us, she’s probably the toughest looking—which is great, since she’s our singer.

“We ran into traffic,” I say simply.

“Sure.” Janel nods her head. “But I think we all know you and Duane were fu—”

“Have you warmed up yet?” Duane interrupts.

“I was about to. I couldn’t do anything with my hair.”

I let Janel and Duane fight it out as I turn my attention to our other band members. Scottie leans over his bass, jamming in his own little world while his mid-back-length oily hair falls over his face, blocking out the rest of the world.

“Hey, Scottie,” I say.

He says nothing back. I grin. He’s in the zone. That means he’ll play well tonight. Then I turn my eyes to Horace. He’s twitching, tapping lightly on one of the smaller drums of his drum set. I know he wants to pound the thing with all of his might, but he’s keeping it down for our sake and so his playing doesn’t clash with the pulsating music sounding through the speaker system outside.

I would say Horace is the most normal looking out of the five of us, but that’s not really true. He doesn’t care about appearances like we do. He keeps his natural brown hair color and keeps it short, but he’s got a bit of a violent tic. Piss him off and there’s no telling what he’ll do. He’s got the scars to prove it. But I love his enthusiasm.

“You ready to show them what we got?” I ask him.

He gives me that fiery look of his. “I dunno how much longer I can wait.”

“You don’t have to wait any longer. We’re starting right now.” I cue one of Malcolm’s guys hanging in the back with us. “Get in your places, everyone! Let’s get started.”

In a blur of motion, we’ve all set up our instruments, taken our places on stage, and stand ready. The curtains will move any minute, and I can feel electricity undulating down to my fingers, itching to play my guitar. I’m stuck on rhythm since Duane is arguably better at playing than I am, but I’m working my way up. One day I’ll play solos the world won’t believe. I’ll play solos that take this electricity and blast that energy out through the amp to shower down on all the people watching me.

The curtains move. I start our first song, setting the pace. Duane joins in, and it’s just two guitars rocking and singing together until Scottie and Horace join in. Then, last but not least, Janel lets out her power vocals, me on harmonies, belting and screaming into the microphone. Lights are flashing around us and the crowd is already cheering. Everyone is jumping up and down in time with the music.

This is it. This is what makes me feel alive.

We’re building up to the climax of our first song. The Pit is humming with our music, drowning out everything else—except the sound of sirens. They’re growing louder too. At first, I try to ignore them. Sirens go off all the time in Palaer, but why do they keep getting louder?

My fingers slip and I screw up a chord. The sirens grow louder. I try to ignore them and pick myself up from my mistake, but I can’t get into it. All I can hear are those sirens. I think they’re coming from… just outside.

BOOM.

A blast of light shoots through the Pit’s entrance. I plaster my hands to my face. My eyes are burning and I’m seeing spots, even with my eyelids closed. There’s a horrible ringing in my ears, and I must have fallen to the floor because I’m practically kissing dirty concrete. I move my hands to my ears, desperate to stop the ringing.

Someone is yanking me to my feet. They pull at my arms and I stumble backward. It’s Duane. His mouth is moving. I think he’s saying something, but all I can hear is that damn ringing. He must realize I can’t hear him, because he starts pointing, out toward the audience. I attempt to clear my head by shaking it. Then I look to where he points.

Cops are everywhere, and people are running with their mouths wide open. That’s when I start to hear it: the screaming.

“Ri!” I’m sure Duane’s shouting, but it sounds like a desperate whisper amid the ringing of my ears. “We have to get out of here!”

I nod and force my legs to stop shaking. Janel and Horace have already got Scottie under the arms and are dragging him out while Duane and I follow after. I don’t know why the Pit is being flooded with cops, and it doesn’t really matter. The fact is, the Pit is an adult club, and we teenagers aren’t supposed to be in here. We have to disappear.

We have an advantage since we should be able to slip out the back of the stage. Or at least, that’s what I think until I see Malcolm standing in front of us, grinding his teeth together. He looks like he’s seeing red… and he’s looking right at me.

“Stupid kids! You brought the cops right to us!” My ears are still ringing, but I can hear what Malcolm is saying loud and clear. He storms up to us and pulls me right out of Duane’s grasp by the fabric of my tank top. “It’s because of your damn parents, Moriah,” he practically spits my full name, making the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. “You told me they didn’t know about what you were doing.”

“They don’t!” I insist.

“Then what are the cops doing at my doors?!”

I struggle to look behind me, silently begging my friends to help. They all look petrified besides Horace—who looks like he’s getting ready to punch Malcolm in the face.

“Put your hands up and don’t move.” I hear a man’s voice from behind me, but all I see is Malcolm’s angry face in front of me—though he’s looking past me now. His tattoos look all distorted since his skin is bunched up into the wrinkliest scowl I’ve ever seen.

“Put the girl down,” the man continues. I know it has to be a police officer. I can see the light of his flashlight shining on Malcolm’s face. Since Malcolm hasn’t moved, I assume the cop has a gun.

Malcolm slowly turns his gaze back to me. Then he lets go of his hold on my tank top, allowing me to regain my footing. Horace pulls me away from Malcolm right away. Duane gathers me in his arms, and I turn into his chest, letting myself take a moment to steady my breathing. Then I push away from him. I’m ready to face whatever I have to. Head-on.

I see the cop nod to a couple of comrades at his side. They go to restrain Malcolm and take him away. I’m surprised when I don’t see Malcolm put up a fight. But what could he really do on his own right now? Surrender is probably the best option. Still, I want to run. We are fast, young. We could give the cops a good chase. I see Horace is thinking of a more hands-on approach. He’s walking toward the cop.

“Don’t take another step,” the cop warns.

Horace doesn’t listen. He launches himself at the cop, arms swinging. But he doesn’t connect. The cop sweeps him out from under his feet and then turns to the rest of us. “You’re all coming with me. You’re in a lot of trouble.”

“We haven’t done anything.” Janel folds her arms and sneers.

“No? Underage drinking, underage and entering an adult club—not to mention this place is a drop-off.”

“For, like, drugs?” Scottie asks.

The cop replies mockingly, “‘For, like, drugs.’”

Scottie grins. “Awesome.”

“Why do you think we’re underage?” Duane asks.

“I know at least one of you is, and the rest of you will need to come with me anyway. We’ll get this all sorted out, whether you’re underage or not.” The cop turns to me. “Moriah Schaper. I know your parents.”

“Well, I don’t know you,” I scoff. I’m especially pissed off hearing Moriah. I hate my name.

“It’s unfortunate I have to relay bad news to your parents after what they’ve done for me.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about. But my parents help a lot of people all the time. That’s the point of their jobs. It’s what they do.

“Then just let us off with a warning,” I say.

“Nice try.”

The cop doesn’t take his eyes off us as a few more officers come over and urge us from behind. Whatever. We’re teenagers. We’ll just get sent to juvenile court or something. I’m not worried.

“What about my guitar? Is it coming too?” I complain and look back at the stage. I wonder why I’m the only one out of my group worrying about this. It’s like the rest of them don’t care anymore. My band’s gone dead quiet.

“If you’re lucky, we’ll pick it up for you later,” the cop says.

“Did you follow me here?” I ask as we’re marched through the emptying Pit back toward the entrance along with everyone else who was caught. I want to know if Malcolm was right about this being my fault.

“No.”

After I pry a little more, he makes it clear that he isn’t going to tell me any more than that. I want to lean into Duane, breathe him in and reassure him, but the cops keep marching us forward. They even handcuff us. It’s going to be a long, boring night.

***

I’m sitting in the police department’s lobby. My friends were all taken somewhere else—which is weird. We were all brought here together, but they were taken in back, to holding or something. What’s up with that? Shouldn’t I be with them? I don’t have handcuffs on anymore either—even though I have a cop babysitting me.

“Thanks, Sherry. I’ll take it from here.”

The cop babysitting me walks away without acknowledging me, and the cop who said he knew my parents sits down in the chair across from me. He places his elbows on the small wooden table in front of us and laces his fingers. He’s giving me this expectant look like he assumes I’ll say something.

He states, “I called your parents.”

“Duh.” I sit back in my seat as far as I can to get away from him and turn my head to the side so I don’t have to look at him.

He doesn’t take my bait. “So the EtG test showed your boyfriend, Duane, was intoxicated. You, however, came up clean.”

“Mhmmm,” I mumble.

“Some of your other friends have worse things going for them.”

I know he means Scottie. Scottie’s been into harder stuff ever since I first met him. He likes to feel spaced out.

“Why are you telling me this?” I ask as I glance at him. The cop looks different without the armor he was wearing before. He has cropped brown hair and nice blue eyes. His face is cleanly shaved and strong. I don’t want to admit that he’s handsome.

“I’m telling you this because they’re your friends and you care about them, don’t you? I’m also telling you this because they’re not getting off as easily as you are.”

“Why the hell not? We were all in the same place, doing the same thing. I’ll take whatever punishment they get.”

The cop sighs. “Look, Moriah, this is your first offense. For your friends, it’s at least their third, and even higher for some of them. What are you doing hanging out with these kinds of people? Your parents want better for you than that.”

I feel the rage that Horace must feel constantly because I want to punch Mr. Handsome-Cop in the face. So what if my dad is a pathologist and my mom is a cytotech? That has nothing to do with me. And so what if my friends have crappy families, moms and dads who have been in jail? None of us have a happy home life. My friends and I are perfectly matched. They saw that since the beginning and welcomed me. They’re my real family.

“Screw you,” I say. “You don’t know anything about me or my friends.”

He doesn’t get a chance to reply to me, because the front door flies open, revealing my mom and dad. It’s like three in the morning and my parents still look wide awake. I wonder how many cups of coffee they drink a day to keep up these kinds of hours at work; they practically never come home to sleep. That’s what it feels like anyway. I can’t remember the last time I’ve talked to them for more than two minutes at a time.

“Moriah!” my mom exclaims as she walks over to us. I can’t tell if she’s happy or upset to see me. I think she partly wants to yell at me and partly wants to hug me. She settles for hugging.

“Let go!” I push her away from me and hug the wall.

My dad just gives me this cold, dispassionate look, like he never imagined he’d have to come pick up his only child from the police station after being arrested.

“Thank you, Kal,” my dad says at last, focusing on the cop. “I won’t forget what you’ve done.”

“Least I could do after what you did for my wife.” The cop pulls my cell phone out from one of his pockets and hands it to my dad, who pockets it again.

“It was the right thing to do,” my dad says.

“So is this, but I’m not going to be able to let her off with just a warning next time. Remember that.”

“Thank you,” my mom says with tears in her eyes.

“Dad, I’ve been stealing from your wallet. Have you noticed?” I ask.

The cop, Kal as my dad called him, turns to look at me, his face going hard.

“Moriah,” Dad says as calmly as he can, “I gave you that money, remember? I just didn’t know you were using it on…”

“If you need me, you know my number,” Kal informs as he gestures toward the door. “You’re free to go.”

“You know my dad is lying just because he doesn’t want me to get into trouble, right?” I ask the cop as we walk by him.

Kal says nothing, just gives me that same blank look. I’m not satisfied, but I walk out the front door with my mom and dad.

“Why are they letting me leave?” I ask. “What about my friends?”

“Get in the car,” Dad says in his I’m-not-in-the-mood-for-this voice.

“Moriah, just be grateful,” Mom tells me.

But I’m not grateful. I want to stand with my friends, my real family. “This is stupid! So much for the law, huh? So kids with families who have run into bad times and parents who have records don’t catch breaks like rich kids with parents who work in a hospital? How’s that fair?!”

“Get in the car!” Dad repeats, yelling this time. He never yells, so I know he’s pissed.

When I fold my arms and look at him defiantly, Dad comes over and literally forces me into the backseat. I fight back, kicking and screaming, but Dad manages to get me inside. I consider jumping back out, but I’m too tired to fight anymore. It’s been a hell of a long day. So, I sit in back and pout, refusing to let frustrated tears fall from my eyes.

***

My eyes are about to close for good, but I force them to flutter open again when we pull up to our house. Same nice house, same quiet neighborhood, same boring life. I hate it here. I hate being told I should be better than I am. I’m not my parents, and I can do whatever I want with my life. It’s my choice.

Mom and Dad haven’t said a word since we got in the car, and they keep up the silence as we park in the driveway. We file our way into the house, and I immediately walk to my room. I lost my friends and my guitar. The best thing to do now is to sleep. I don’t know when I’ll get to see my friends again and if I’ll ever get my guitar back. What a crappy start to summer vacation.

I don’t know how long I lie on my bed, but when I’m about to fall asleep, my door slams open and my light is turned on, washing away the comforting darkness. “What are you doing?” I demand, my words muffled by my pillow.

When no one answers me, I roll over and see both my mom and dad throwing my things around, stuffing clothes and hygiene items into suitcases.

I sit up. “What are you doing?!”

“How long have you been hanging out with these friends of yours, Moriah?” Mom asks calmly as she continues packing. “What else have you been doing that we don’t know about?”

“I don’t know. Drinking, smoking, having sex, and trespassing probably,” I say these things with as much venom as I can. “You’d know or at least have a clue if you actually came home once in a while!”

Mom flinches at my words and absentmindedly blows at the loose strands of wavy brown hair that have fallen out of her always tidy bun. “You’re right, Moriah. We had no idea you were doing any of this, and that’s our fault as parents.”

Finally, something we can agree on.

“We thought changing your hair, your clothes, was just a phase, a need to stick out in the crowd a little, but it’s more than that. Isn’t it? And until we figure things out, you’re going to be staying at Grandma and Grandpa Delmont’s.”

My mouth drops open. “Are you freaking kidding me?”

“It’ll be good for you. Besides, you’ve proved we can’t trust you to stay home alone anymore. Your grades this last semester before summer were atrocious, too. This isn’t what we want for you.”

“What about what I want?! Maybe I don’t want to grow up and have a career in the medical field!”

“That’s fine, Moriah! We just don’t want you to ruin your life!” Mom’s crying again. “So we’re going to take you away from the city to discourage you from doing anything else reckless and to protect you from whatever you’ve gotten involved with in Palaer. Give us time, baby. We’ll figure it out.”

“It’s too late to figure it out! And stop calling me that! I hate my name!”

Dad has already filled up a suitcase and helps Mom fill up the one she’s working on. He grabs my backpack too. Then he takes everything, without looking at me, and carries it all downstairs.

“You’re not allowed to have your cell phone either,” Mom informs.

“Why not just take my whole life away while you’re at it?”

“Get in the car and we’ll grab something to eat on our way to your grandparents’.”

“You’ll have to make me.”

And make me, they do. Dad comes back up the stairs and has to physically pick me up, restrain me, and throw me into the back of the car. I can’t believe how strong he is for being so skinny. It makes me mad that I can’t do anything about it. I could run out of the car, run far away from my parents, but then what? They’d instantly call the police, and I wouldn’t get very far. With my friends all in a mess, getting punished and forced to do who knows what, I have no one to turn to. Even if they weren’t in trouble, I don’t have my cell phone, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to overpower Dad and grab it.

No. I’ll wait. I’ll go to my grandparents’. They’ll be easy to sneak away from since they’re old and probably senile by now. I’ll get a head start, find a way to contact Duane, and then get the hell out of there. We’ll live life on the run, get the band back together. It’ll be perfect.

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