I’ll never forget the first time I saw him -- the wild shock of black hair, the beautiful blue eyes, the full lips with that perfected pout. Such a diva, even from the beginning. I was entranced, smitten, mesmerized. He had the face of an angel, and the voice of one, too. And almost from the start, I began the pattern of losing Nicholas. I was good at that. I guess I never believed I really deserved him, what he would bring to us both. What we would experience because of him. What we could be because of him. What I could be because of the strength and belief he had in me.
Denial denial denial.
Damn, I was good at that.
* * * * *
Murrieta, California -- The Past
“Thanks for taking us, Brandon.”
“No problem,” I said, glancing at my cousin Jenny. She sat in the front seat of my Volkswagen, her three friends giggling in the back seat. Every time I looked in the rearview mirror, one or all three of them would look at me, then go into another giggle fit.
“This is for a class, right?” I asked Jenny, trying to ignore her friends.
She nodded. “Yeah. We have to see two plays a semester and write a report. Turn here.”
“’Kay.” I glanced at the rearview mirror again, and once more her friends looked at me, then burst into laughter. I sighed and glanced at Jenny. She rolled her eyes.
“Sorry about the idiots, Brandon.”
“Hey, we’re not idiots.”
“Is it our fault your cousin is so cute?” the redhead said.
“Yeah, you could’ve warned us,” the third one said. “He’s hot.”
Fits of laughter again. My face burned and I shifted uncomfortably, wishing I was anywhere but around these girls. Later, I would look back at that moment and realize my reaction to female attention never did change. As Dream took off, those same friends of Jenny’s were even more unmerciful whenever I happened to be around them. I was theirs
they’d claim. I, the
Brandon Ashwood, actually took them to a play.
Jenny told me later one of them -- or maybe all of them -- claimed to have been my girlfriend for a time. They were all cute, I guess, but definitely not my type. I didn’t refute their claims, though. It came in handy, having a lot of “former” girlfriends when fans went digging into my past. And dig they did.
I glanced at Jenny again and she shrugged. She mouthed “sorry,” then winked. I grinned back. It wasn’t her fault, after all, that they thought I was cute (though as skinny as I was then, I sure didn’t see what they saw).
More hushed talking in the back. Things like “You ask him” and “No, you, you’re the one who wants to know.” I took a deep breath and tried to make myself relax. This was going to be a long, long evening.
The dark-haired one -- Missy -- finally said, “Is it true you dropped out of school, Brandon?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Last year.”
“Why’d you drop out?”
“To play music.”
More hushed whispering. Snatches of “He’s so quiet” and “Doesn’t say much” and “Yeah, but he’s cute.” Jenny snickered at me. I vowed to get even with her for this. I sighed again -- I’d cornered the market on that this evening, it looked like.
“Oh, wow, cool. What do you play?”
“Guitar, keyboards, drums.”
“Wow, all that? That’s awesome. You have a band?”
“More or less.”
“Their singer has mono,” Jenny said.
To tell the truth, it was worse than that. Reggie, lead singer for our band, Ashwood, was seriously unreliable. Good, but unreliable. I’d had to cancel several gigs I’d worked hard to put together, including that night’s. The mono incident was the last in a long string of reasons why things hadn’t been going so well. I was beginning to wonder if I’d made a mistake by dropping out of high school. Not that I missed it; I wasn’t that good of a student, except in band and math.
It looked like I’d just traded homework nightmares for other, even more complicated worries. First Reg broke an arm, then broke up with his girlfriend -- he was useless for a month after that -- and now, mono. So he claimed. I didn’t know for sure; he hadn’t shown up for rehearsal in over five days, or called. If it’d been just me who had a say in the matter, I would’ve fired him months ago.
As it was, here it was a Friday night, and no gig, another missed opportunity. So when my cousin had called, begging me to take her and her friends to the high school to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
, I had no reason to refuse. Besides, I like my cousin Sprout. I still call her that. Like me, she’d inherited the blond hair, green eyes, and the long and lean genes that somehow had skipped our mothers. Sprout and I could’ve almost been twins.
“I don’t care if he is. He’s adorable.”
“Adorable? He’s beautiful!”
“And his voice, too. It’s so sexy. He should’ve been Joseph.”
“Probably thought he’s too short. You sure he’s gay?”
I choked, then glanced in the mirror, but for once the girls didn’t catch me. Who were they talking about?
More laughter in the back. “Oh, yeah. They broke up, though. They went to the senior dance together and got kicked out and that was that.”
“That’s sad,” Jenny said, glancing at me.
I jerked my gaze back to the mirror. Missy was nodding her head. “What’s sad is he could have any girl he wants, and he doesn’t want them.”
“Why would a guy want to … you know … another guy, anyway?”
Who were they talking about?
“I mean, how do they even … you know … do it?”
Another fit of giggles. I gripped the steering wheel and swallowed hard, wondering what all I’d missed while my thoughts wandered. My face burned as the conversation continued as if I weren’t even there -- or maybe because I was
there. I let my breath out in a whoosh. Jenny looked at me, her eyes showing a curiosity that made me uncomfortable. She kept looking at me like that. I looked back at the road.
“Um, who are you guys talking about?” I finally asked, cursing myself.
“The guy who plays Jacob.”
“Nicholas Kilmain.” All three girls in the back sighed.
And that was the first time I heard his name, in a car full of giggling, sighing ninth-grade girls. In the coming years, I’d see a lot of that kind of behavior directed toward Nicholas. I’d watch him eat it up and run with it as I drowned in horrible want and envy, but right then I had no idea how Nicholas Kilmain would irrevocably change my life. Would I have done anything different if I’d known? Would I have dropped the girls off, disappeared for two hours, and missed the most important revelation of my life?
As I write this now, and watch Nicholas as he sleeps in his hospital bed, I have to answer no. No, despite all the pain and heartache … No. I wouldn’t have done anything different, at least not about the early years. Later, though …
I pulled into the high school parking lot and after a few minutes of searching finally found a spot. The lot was jam-packed with cars. All for a high school play? I got out of the car and looked around as I held the seat for the girls to get out. They were giggling again about something and, arms linked, headed for the auditorium. I locked my car and followed, realizing then that Jenny had stayed behind.
“What’s up, Sprout?” I asked her, looping my arm around her shoulder. I really liked Jenny a lot -- over the years she would time and again be the one I’d turn to whenever things got really rough. No other woman knew me like Jenny did. Not even my mom.
“Not much. You okay, Brandon?” she asked, sliding her arm around my waist.
“Yeah. Why do you ask?”
She shrugged as we followed after her friends. Missy looked over her shoulder, a wistful expression on her face.
“Watch out, Missy has the hots for you.”
I grimaced and pulled her closer. “Missy’s out of luck. You’re my date tonight.”
She laughed. “Don’t worry, I won’t let her sit next to you.”
“Thanks. So why’d you ask if I was okay?”
She shrugged again. “I don’t know. Mom says things aren’t going so well for you. She’s worried. She thinks you guys should fire Reggie.”
I grinned. “Yeah, my mom’s told me that a lot lately.”
“So, why don’t you?”
Now it was my turn to shrug. “Finding a decent singer is hard. It’s everything. Reg has a great voice, but --”
“But he’s never there.” She paused. “I have a confession to make.”
“I have an ulterior motive for asking you to take us tonight.” We joined the end of the line, and I dropped my arm from around her shoulder. We stood a few feet from her friends. Their heads were bowed over a program. Giggling again.
“And what would that be?”
Her eyes danced. “I want you to hear this guy. Nicholas Kilmain. He’s incredible, Brandon. I just know he’d be perfect for your band.”