Ryan gave herself a mental shake as she got her guitar out. It was Saturday, and in seven days, they'd be headlining at the 9:30 Club. She thought she must be excited; she kept telling herself the butterflies in her stomach meant she was excited.
She chatted with Lara and Mitch as they got ready. Nate came in a few minutes later, and Ryan was surprised not to see Jason with him. Mitch and Nate started talking, and Ryan turned to Lara.
"Where's Jason?" she asked. "He and Nate usually come together."
Lara rolled her eyes. "Nate told me yesterday that Jason was coming with Allison. That's why Trout's not here. Well, that and he had to go help his dad."
Ryan nodded; Trout and Allison didn't mix well. "But he'll do the sound for us at the show, right?"
"Yes, relax." Lara chuckled. "He'll be there."
"Why is Allison coming?" Ryan couldn't blame Trout for staying away. Although she appreciated Allison's efforts with the band—she usually handled the merchandise sales at the band's gigs—she could only take Allison in small doses. She wondered how Nate had managed, as he was Allison's older brother. Then again, maybe that was why he'd moved into his own apartment right after high school.
"I don't know." Lara shrugged. "I guess she spent the night at his place or something."
"I'd say I'm surprised he's late, but I'd be lying, so I won't."
"If he showed up on time, I think I'd have a heart attack.
With that, Jason and Allison walked in. Ryan nodded and was surprised when Jason leaned his guitar, still in its case, against the wall. She waited, but when he made no move to begin setting up, she forced the issue. "Jason, what are you waiting for? You're late and we need get started."
"We need to talk about some things first." Allison stepped in front of Jason and met Ryan's gaze.
"We do?" Ryan didn't care for that. Allison wasn't part of the band.
Nate frowned. "Allison, what are you talking about?"
"It's not me, it's Jason."
Ryan stiffened but made an effort to stay calm. "What about Jason?"
"You need to make some changes. He's a fantastic guitarist, but you're holding him back and he's tired of it." Allison crossed her arms over her chest.
This time Lara spoke up. "So why doesn't Jason tell us what he wants?"
Ryan and the others turned to him. Ryan had no idea of what he might say, but she had a feeling it wasn't going to make her feel any better.
Jason stood and shrugged. "Allison's right. I opted to join you guys when you needed someone, but I'm tired of being kept in the background."
It was on the tip of Ryan's tongue to remind him that he wasn't a full member of the band yet. They'd agreed on a six-month trial period, and there were still six weeks left. She decided not to say anything yet.
"So what do you want, Jason?" Nate's voice was low, which Ryan knew meant he was pissed, even if Jason didn't.
"I want control of all
the guitar parts. First off, that means I do all the solos from here on out. I'm way better than Ryan is, so I'm the one that should be out there."
Nate snorted, and Ryan grabbed Lara's wrist when her friend moved up to protest. She wanted to hear the rest.
Jason obliged. "Next, I get to say how long the solos last, not Ryan. And if I want to add something in on my own, it stays in, whether she likes it or not, and
I get partial song-writing credit for it."
He want them to remove the brown M&Ms next, Ryan thought. "Anything else?"
"Yes." Allison gave her a spiteful smile. "If you don't agree, then Jason quits."
"Is that so?" Ryan nodded. Well, that made up her mind.
"Jason, what the fuck is this?" Mitch got up from behind his drums. "You're threatening to quit a week before our headlining gig? What the hell's the matter with you?"
"I'm just laying things out. The rest is up to you guys." Jason leaned against the wall, as though he had all the time in the world to wait for their answer.
"Okay." Ryan took a few steps back. As Nate, Mitch and Lara moved to join her, Jason scoffed.
"See, this is what I mean. You guys can't do anything without talking to her first."
"Shut up, Jason." Mitch glared at him, then turned to the others. "I don't believe this shit."
"Me neither," Ryan agreed. She felt calmer than she might have expected to, and put it up to the surprise. "So, what do we do?"
"I say we toss his ass out on the street, and her with him." Lara glared and then realized what she'd said. "Sorry, Nate."
"Mitch?" Ryan turned to him. "What do you think?"
"Do you even have to ask?"
She took a deep breath and looked at the other three. "So we're good with this? I mean, the gig is next Saturday."
Mitch snorted. "Are you kidding? Do you know how much we'd suck if we gave in to any of this? We'll be better off without him."
Ryan smothered most of a laugh. "Okay, then."
They separated and Ryan raised her voice. "Jason, we've talked it over."
He looked over, his expression smug and confident, matching Allison's. "So, what's it going to be?"
"We wouldn't want to 'hold you back.' You're out." Ryan kept her face neutral as Jason gaped.
"Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out," Nate added. His delivery was dry and Jason's face darkened.
"Nate, what are you doing?" Allison shot her brother an angry look. "You should be on our side; I'm your sister!"
"Don't remind me," Nate snapped.
"But you had a trial period! It’s not over!"
Ryan allowed herself a quick glare at the other woman. "Allison, he offered us two options. We took one."
"It's all right, Allison." Jason recovered from his surprise and affected a look of nonchalance. He grabbed his bag of gear, his amp and his guitar. "It's their mistake. Last chance, guys. Once I'm out the door, I'm not coming back."
Allison turned and glared at them as she walked to the door. "You guys are going to be pathetic next week. Good luck getting a replacement in seven days
." She stalked out and Jason followed; the door slammed shut behind them.
Lara broke the silence that lasted a few minutes after their departure. "Oh, my God. Did he really think we were going to agree to any of that?" She was incredulous. "I mean, honestly, did either of them think that would work? Total, epic fail."
"I bet it was Allison's idea." Nate dragged a hand over his face. "She thinks he's the best guitarist ever and probably figured that with the gig next week, there was no way we'd say no." He looked at Ryan. "You know you're a better guitarist, right?"
She laughed. "Thanks, Nate. Part of me knows I should be upset about this, and I am, but really, I'm just relieved."
"I know what you mean." Mitch nodded. "Give it fifteen or twenty minutes; then we'll be plenty pissed off."
"Allison thinks if she comes in with all the drama, she'll cow people into submission." Nate shook his head.
"I'm going to leave any cow and submission jokes alone," said Mitch, prompting a round of laughter.
"We do appreciate your restraint," Ryan said once she could talk again.
Nate flashed a grin. "Now I could say something about Mitch and restraints. I was talking to his girlfriend the other day and—"
"No! Stop! TMI!" Ryan held up her hands. "Very funny, but we need to get serious. Time to revisit the arrangements we used last year, before Jason. You still have your guitar, right, Nate?
"We've done it before, Ryan. We'll be fine," Nate assured her. "And yes, I do. It's right over there; I left it here last week. I must have known something was coming."
"You know, guys." Mitch tapped a stick on his knee. "We've gone back and forth on this for a while. Do we really need a second guitarist? I mean, how many times have we gone through this?"
"He's got a point." Lara sat on one of the folding chairs scattered in the room. "We've done all right with just the four of us in the past."
"But when it works, when we have a guitarist that fits, I like the extra depth in the sound." Ryan dropped into another chair. "It gives us more options, more possibilities."
"I see that, but still, do we really need it?" Nate asked. "We sound fine as a four-piece, we all know that. I think I like us better that way; the sound is more basic, more stripped-down, more . . . I don't know. Honest, maybe."
"I'm with him." Mitch nodded. "Not to mention, it would save us the hassle of interviewing and auditioning and then trying out any more Jasons."
"Ryan, you're right, but the truth is, no one has fit since Alex." Lara cocked an eyebrow at her friend and Mitch and Nate nodded in agreement.
Ryan rested her elbows on her knees and dropped her head in her hands. Mitch had a point, and so did Nate and Lara; no other guitarist except Alex, Nate's roommate from college, had fit in with them. Since he'd left, they'd performed a number of times as a four-piece unit, and no one had ever complained. Was looking for another guitarist worth it, or necessary?
She looked up. "You guys all have good points. Let's put it aside at least for now, though, what do you say? We can talk about it again after the gig. It's not like we're going to find someone this week anyway."
"Sounds like a plan," Mitch agreed.
"Works for me," said Nate.
"Oh, hey! I forgot to tell you guys!" They all turned to Lara, who was bouncing with excitement. "I got a call back from a concert promoter just before I left to come here. They'll have an A&R guy in the audience!"
"Excellent!" Mitch beamed. "Nice work!"
"Way to go, Lara!" Nate hugged her.
"Wow." Ryan felt her anxiety level jump up several notches. "So we just lost a guitarist a week before our first headlining gig, at which there'll be an A&R guy in the audience."
"Yep!" Lara grinned. "Cool, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. Way cool." Ryan's stomach was in knots. "Okay, guys, let's get started."
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