Status: complete.

Follow My Heart

A Brush with Fame

For the first time in as long as I can remember, the club is absolutely packed. Hell, more than that, there’s a line outside the front. A real line. Although never having faced such an obstacle before in front of Cloud, bless Freddy’s heart, I know the drill. I cut to the front and flash my pass without breaking a sweat.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time beforehand getting ready for the big show. As much as I abhor being compared once again to a pubescent teenage girl, I can’t deny that I tried on more than a few clothing combinations to find the perfect outfit. Eventually I found myself dressed in a pair of dark jeans and a gray plaid shirt, and even as I stood in front of the mirror fixing the buttons and smoothing back my shoulder-length, black hair, I chastised myself for putting in so much effort for one stupid concert. Eventually, knowing this was as good as it’s going to get, I threw on my black coat and locked the front door of the apartment behind me, though not before I heard Luke’s “Don’t fall too head-over-heels with Zeke and abandon me!”

Although you’ve seen more of my fangirlish, clothing-obsessed side, I don’t like to think of myself as “flamboyant”. Sometimes I don’t even like being called “gay”. Although I’ve never been attracted to anyone but other guys, I can’t say that I’ve found more of a connection with one of them than I could find with a female. Sure, I’ve had boyfriends—not a lot, but some. But, though I tend to be very choosey and only go out with people who really spark my interest, nobody has ever held my attention for more than a few months. I guess most of the problem is my simple lack of interest in having a love life. I enjoy my quiet evenings by myself, or just me and Luke, wrapped up in a blanket in my apartment with a Stephen King book or the first six seasons of Supernatural on Netflix. Luke has a habit of finding addicting new bands on the internet for me to listen to, and that’s enough to occupy my free time.

I’ve simply never felt the need for a romantic partner, not seriously, anyway. Most of my past relationships I only started because my friends and family were bothering me to, or because I found a cute boy and hoped that maybe he would be the one to make me see the light. I don’t know. No one ever did.

Once I’m inside Cloud, the smell of breathing and warm bodies and cigarette smoke and freshly-broken sweat and alcohol hits my nostrils. Trying not to be rude, I slip through the crowd and through a door in the back, once again needing to prove to security that I’m allowed, and find myself in a brick-lined, windowless hallway with a few heavy doors on the side leading to dressing rooms and offices. I don’t go through any of them, instead making my way around the corner and through a final door, and now I’m backstage. It’s almost as crowded back here as it is out in the club area, with venue workers and roadies running back and forth frantically, holding a broken amp or speaking into a headset or asking for an extra pair of drumsticks. The chaos is to be expected, since I’ve arrived only minutes before Automatic Gunfire is to go on, but I’m still a little overwhelmed. I’ve never seen so many people crammed into Cloud’s tiny backstage area before. I can hear the chatter of dozens of people out in the pit, like a bees nest waiting to be disturbed and release the monstrous force within, and I wonder for the millionth time just how Freddy managed to get Automatic to perform at this stupid little venue.

“Excuse me.” I hear a grunt from behind me and I step aside, apologizing, only to realize that the man now pushing past me towards a cooler of water bottles is Glen Mando, Automatic Gunfire’s drummer. I blink, suddenly feeling small and out of place. My eyes are glued to the retreating back of Glen until he disappears behind a stack of amps and the shock subsides.

I shake myself and press onward, avoiding the men doing their job and searching for the bleach blond head of my brother. I say hi to one of the sound guys I’ve men once or twice in the club before, and spot AG’s guitarist Joel Waldron, before I hear Freddy’s shrieking call of “Seth! Seth McMillan! SETH! Get over here! I have someone I need you to meet!”

My heart leaps in my chest at his words, hopeful suspicion locking into place in my heart, and turn this way and that, looking him. Eventually my eyes seek out the tuft of platinum blonde like the light at the end of a tunnel, and an arm waving me over, and I edge past a few scantily-dressed girls to meet up with my older brother.

“Seth!” Freddy cries once again as I finally reach him. “Dude, what took you so long, I’ve been waiting since seven for you to show up, you missed warm-up earlier, bro, I thought you weren’t gonna come . . .”

His stream of gibber-gabber ceases to register in my brain as I stare at the two men standing beside him; one gentle-looking, goateed and blonde, and the other smaller, with tattoos crawling up his arms like sleeves.

I immediately know the blonde to be Trevor Cale, the bassist of the band who always licks his picks before throwing them into the crowd at the end of the night. I’ve admired his skill, and ability to grow a beard seemingly overnight, for a while now, and when he says, “What’s up, man?” and shakes my hand, I can barely find the coherency to answer, “N-Nothing much, dude.” I pause for a moment, thinking fast, before adding in what I hope is a more confident tone, “Nice to finally meet you.”

He grins at me comfortingly and Freddy clears his throat from beside me. “Yeah, and this is Zeke Rutherford, Automatic’s vocalist.”

I stop breathing and turn to face the second man, standing slightly behind Trevor with one hand clutching the opposite tattooed arm.

I recognize him, of course—who wouldn’t, after watching hours of interviews and concert footage in shitty quality on YouTube? But there’s something different about him, something a little . . . off. This isn’t the high-energy performer who moves his hips slightly too much on stage to be considered innocent; the man who holds the microphone so close to his mouth it looks like he’s having an intimate moment with it; the man who, until now, seemed the epitome of liveliness and charisma.

He seems reluctant to step forward and shake my hand, tossing his dark hair and shifting his eyes so look somewhere around my left shoulder. “Hey,” he says curtly, his hand soft and cool in mine.

Is it my imagination, or does he leave it there a moment past what would be considered normal handshake duration?

He steps back hurriedly after letting go, taking his place slightly behind the bassist, and then is immediately shoved forward half a foot as two men carrying an amp shoulder roughly past him.

“Hey, watch it!” Freddy barks as my brain fuzzily tries to comprehend the fact that Zeke is standing no more than a few inches away from me. I threw my hands up to support him when he stumbled. So did Trevor.

“You trying to kill our vocalist?” Freddy goes on to the two workers angrily, automatically guiding Zeke back to his place, as the singer mumbles, “It’s okay, forget it . . .”

They grunt their apologies, and by the blank looks they’re giving Zeke I can safely assume they work at the venue.

Freddy massages his temples, and I know from experience that his Bitch Mode has just been triggered.

“What are they even fucking doing, still setting up at this time?” he mutters through gritted teeth, standing on tiptoes to get a better view of the stage, which I realize is just a few feet away.

Now even Trevor looks uncomfortable and Zeke’s expression resembles someone contemplating whether a bullet through the head or hanging by the neck would hurt less. When Freddy rounds on them, demanding, “Where’s your manager?” I decide to make my escape.

“I’ll be . . . uh . . . over there.” I scoot hurriedly away, noticing how many less people there are now that the show is moments away. Many of the lights backstage have been turned off in preparation, and there’s nobody lugging amps around.

I grab a bottle of water from the cooler and lean against the wall, trying to concentrate on keeping the shakiness of my inhale and exhale to a minimum. I just met Zeke Rutherford. Hell, I’ve seen all four members of Automatic in person in less than ten minute, and spoken to three of them. (If you count the brief exchange I had with Glen, of course.)

But this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I spent the whole day going over it with Luke, who, if nothing else, is the perfect person to plan out impossible scenarios with. He’s a bigger dreamer than me, not to mention a good listener, and he lay on my bed for hours as I replayed my fantasies out loud over and over. I was supposed to sweep Zeke off of his feet; I’d planned to make a good impression, maybe quote one of his songs in my greeting, and then wink at him from backstage as he performed.

Maybe I didn’t plan on any of that actually happening. But I never expected to be . . . well, blown off by the man I’d dreamed about for months.

A smile would have been nice, I grumble to myself, taking a swig of water and closing my eyes against the stupid backstage crowds.

It was stupid of me to expect any different. He’s a star, after all. Yeah, maybe AG isn’t the biggest band in the world, but he’s used to all the attention and honestly it probably bores him, having people gush over him all the time. I’ve read the YouTube comments; I know what thousands of girls all over the country want to do to him. I feel stupid for even imagining the extra second he let his hand hold mine when Freddy introduced us.

Soon there are only a few people backstage as the venue workers go wait at the bar for the show to be over, except the sound and lighting people who retreat to their respective booth. The roadies stand off to the side, talking to one another and a man in a vest who could be Automatic Gunfire’s manager. I’m glad I have more space now, and simultaneously push myself off the wall and push thoughts of disappointment from my mind. I find Freddy, who’s now standing by himself right at the edge of the stage, watching the club fill up and chewing his lip.

“They going on soon?” I ask.

As if in answer, the lights in the venue suddenly dim to almost complete blackness; the crowd roars in anticipation. Freddy watches them anxiously, as though their satisfaction depends on him rather than the band that they’re here to see. I spot the band back in the corner, huddled in a circle, though I can’t pick out who is who in the darkness, which my eyes are slowly adjusting to. The man in the vest makes frantic hurry-up motions in their direction, and they break apart.

A final roadie runs offstage, and the members of the band line up by the entrance.

The manager ushers Glen onstage; the curly-haired man walks out confidently, twirling his drumsticks and making his way toward the drums as though he doesn’t even notice the crowd. He sits down by his kit and raps a quick roll experimentally; the fans go wild.

Joel and Trevor wait a few seconds before heading out, and I can’t help but grin foolishly as Joel immediately takes the audience captive. “What is up, Cleveland?” he prompts, to a reaction that hurts my ears. Trevor smiles faintly as he shrugs his bass around his neck. The audience members nearest to the band members in question practically kill each other for a spot right at the front row, each one hoping for a chance to touch famous flesh.

Without waiting for a cue from the man in the vest, Zeke runs out last. The noise in the venue at this point makes me wonder vaguely whether I’ll ever be able to hear again, but at this point I don’t care because the first chords of “Blurry Atmosphere” are starting, and it’s my favorite song because every song on their first album is my favorite song.

I have to make a substantial effort not to start screaming and dancing and crying like the teenage girls in the audience. The most I allow myself to do is bend one knee with the beat of the drums, at least until Zeke starts singing, which should be a while since the intro is so goddamn long. I watch the vocalist, looking so tiny in the middle of the stage in front of all those people. He stands at the back, facing the drums, the mic held loosely in both hands on his chest like he’s praying.

He stays that way as the first lyrics of the song unfold:

“I know everything about me is wrong
And everything happens for a reason
But living with myself is getting hard to bear

Bad habits are hard to break
Addiction is a piece of cake
Setting off panicked reactions to the mundane,”

I can’t breathe.

I cannot even bring myself to inhale as the words peal through the speakers like a heavenly host had descended from above, to sing the Lord’s love through this crappy club in Ohio. Each note is like a ray of light against darkness, a white streak on a black canvas of noise and commotion. As the guitars screech and the drums thunder, nothing can hope to overwhelm or surpass Zeke’s voice, high and clear and worthy of an audience of kings.

I’m aware of nothing but Zeke as the show goes on. “Blurry Atmosphere” comes to a close and the next song begins, and it must be off of their new album because I don’t know it but I don’t even fucking care because Zeke is singing and that’s far more than any of us deserve.

Watching him onstage is almost as good as listening to him. He struts back and forth because he knows he has every one of us hanging on his every word, occasionally resting one boot on an amp or shaking his dark hair like a dog or falling on his knees as he belts out the last, strained note of a more emotional song. And then he’s back on his feet, wrapping the microphone cord around his arm and grabbing his hair and jumping around to with the rhythm of the music. Every once in a while the entire band pauses in the middle of the song while Zeke holds the mic out to the crowd, letting them finish the lyrics where he left off, and then he’s right back into it.

There is only one thing that mars the beautiful experience of watching him perform, and later I feel stupid for not seeing it coming; after all, I have watched the live videos on YouTube, and even through the crappy quality and angles that were the best most concertgoers could do, I could see that Zeke wasn’t shy about getting a little . . . friendly with his band mates. So I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am when, during the intro to “Smokers Cough”, the singer doesn’t hesitate to plant a big one right on Joel’s mouth, to the delight and encouragement of the audience.

I try to shake off the shock of seeing him do that in front of everyone, and I especially shove any traces of jealousy to the back of my mind, to be rehashed later with Luke. I don’t own Zeke; I don’t even know the guy, though I realize now I may have fantasized a little too much during my months of obsession, and perhaps convinced myself a tiny bit that, in some way, Zeke was mine.

He is in my mind, all right? And watching him put his arm around his guitarist, sweat making his T-shirt cling to his back and his hair clump together in strings on his forehead, makes me curl my hands in to fists at my side.

The kiss is over in a heartbeat, just in time for the vocal part to begin, and even though the show is three quarters of the way through the angelic sound that Zeke is making is as clear and flawless as ever, not a bit of roughness beginning to taint the perfection that is his voice.

Three more songs and an encore and it’s all done. When Zeke has belted out the last shrill note, which takes its time fading away into the atmosphere, it is now the crowd’s turn to make all the noise. They try briefly for another encore, but the band is offstage for good now, and the lights in the venue go up and it sinks in that the concert has reached its close. I don’t realize until now that there have been tears running down my cheeks for at least the duration of the last song, “Bones”, which had always had an impact on me. I reach up a shaking hand to wipe the wetness from my face, and almost jump out of my skin when Trevor is suddenly beside me.

“Thanks so much for having us,” he says briefly, and I realize with some relief that he’s talking to Freddy, who hasn’t left my side since the show started.

“No problem,” my brother answers as the bassist shakes his hand again.

Trevor then quickly turns to me and shakes my hand too, probably just to be polite, with a, “Nice meeting you, man.” Then he’s off, disappearing through the door that leads back to the hallway. I think I see a glimpse of Zeke’s small form before the door closes behind them, and the band is gone. Back to their dressing room, probably.

Freddy whistles lowly beside me. I glance at him; he has one hand tangled in his hair, staring around the immediate area as though in a trance.

He meets my eyes. “They sure do put on one hell of a performance, don’t they?” he says in a quiet voice. I’ve never seen my brother in this much awe of a musician before, though I can’t blame him of course.

I sigh, looking longingly toward the back door before agreeing, “That they do.”
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Sorry it's been a few days; I've been away on a trip to Michigan for a concert. Also I'm sorry that I'm so terrible with chapter names. Comments are appreciated and I love you.