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  • Home > S.C. Stephens > Thoughtless > Thoughtful     

    Chapter 1

    All in a Day’s Work

    I’d been playing the guitar since I was six. While I’d been with the D-Bags for a few years now, I’d been in one band or another since high school. My childhood hadn’t been the easiest, and music had been my saving grace. From the first time I’d held my guitar, I’d been hooked. It was the feel of the wood beneath my fingers, smooth, cool. It was the toughness of the strings, the reverberation deep inside the instrument. Even when I had been too young to really understand the impact music would have on my life, playing the guitar had spoken to me. There was something meaningful in that simple instrument that was dying to come out. There was something meaningful inside of me that was dying to come out.

    My parents had given the instrument to me as a gift, but even back then I’d known it was more for them than for me. It was a convenient way to keep me occupied and out of their hair so they didn’t have to be around me as much. My conception had been an unwanted accident, and my parents had never warmed up to me, never accepted me. I was a mistake that had forever changed their lives, and they’d never let me forget it. Whatever. The guitar kept me out of their way and I loved playing it, so it was a decent present, regardless of the ulterior motives behind it.

    They hadn’t bothered getting me lessons though, so I’d taught myself. It had taken forever on my own, but being an only child with no close friends and parents who didn’t want to have anything to do with me had afforded me a healthy amount of free time. My dad had liked to have the radio on whenever he was home. He would generally listen to talk radio, NPR and such, but when he put on music, it was almost always classic rock. I loved trying to mimic the songs, and once I’d mastered the basic chords, I’d played along with every song I could. It had irritated the hell out of Dad. He’d turn the radio up and order me to my room. “If you want to cause permanent ear damage with your god-awful racket, then do it alone so only you have to suffer,” he’d say.

    I’d go upstairs, but I’d leave my door cracked open so I could still hear the music. We had a big house when I was growing up, but if I strummed really softly, I could follow along with whatever was playing. For the next several years, “Stairway to Heaven” was my favorite song, but, then again, I think that’s everybody’s favorite song when they’re learning.

    For the first time in my young life, I’d found something that gave me complete and total peace, something I connected with, something with similar wants and desires. The guitar needed to be played. I needed to play it. It was a mutual, beautiful, symbiotic relationship, and for a long time, it was the only real relationship I had.

    Grabbing my beloved instrument, I closed the door to my house. “Home” was a term I used lightly when I was describing my place. Truly, it was my parents’ house, but they’d died a couple years ago and left it to me. I stayed there because it was a building with four walls and a roof, but I had no emotional attachment to it. It was nothing but wood, brick, glass, nails, glue, and cement.

    While I’d been living in Los Angeles, my parents had sold my childhood home and moved to a much smaller house. I didn’t know about it until they died. When I came back, I soon realized that they’d tossed everything of mine. It was confusing. They’d tried to scrub out my existence, but they’d still left me the house, the stocks, the retirement funds—everything. Sometimes I had a hard time understanding why they’d done that. Maybe they’d had a change of heart about me? Or maybe not.

    I turned away from their house to see my gorgeous black-and-chrome Chevelle Malibu shining in the late-afternoon sun. I’d gotten her dirt cheap in L.A., and I’d spent a decent chunk of my summer fixing her up. She was a thing of beauty, my baby, and no one drove her but me.

    Setting the guitar in the trunk, I headed to meet the guys for rehearsal. After easing my way onto the freeway, my eyes, as always, drifted to the unique cityscape of the Seattle skyline as it blossomed into view.

    I’ve had a dichotomous relationship with the Emerald City over the years, both loving and hating it at times. Bad memories lurked around every corner—the loneliness of my childhood, the rejection, the biting remarks, the constant put-downs, the daily reminders of how much of an undesirable burden I was. The emotional poison my parents had injected into me had left its mark, but I had a good thing going here now, and the band was a large reason for my changed attitude toward the city.

    Evan Wilder and I had formed the D-Bags together. With only my guitar on my back, a few dollars in my pocket, and dreams of a better life in my head, I’d left Seattle right after my high school graduation ceremony. Hitchhiking a ride wherever I could get one, I soon found myself at a bar on the Oregon coast. I’d stopped in for a drink and found Evan trying to convince the bartender that he was old enough to have a beer. He wasn’t. Neither was I, but I managed to wink my way into a pitcher. I’d shared it with him, and we’d bonded over our mutual love of beer and music.

    After spending a little time with Evan’s family, the two of us had headed south, to L.A., City of Angels, to pick up some more band members. We’d found Matt and Griffin Hancock in the unlikeliest of places. A strip club. Well, maybe that wasn’t so unlikely. Evan and I were horny, fresh-out-of-high-school teenagers after all.

    The four of us had worked well together, even from the beginning, and were soon rocking bars and clubs in L.A. We’d probably still be there, except I’d dropped everything and rushed back to Seattle after my parents died. Surprising the shit out of me, the guys had followed, and we’d been playing here ever since.

    Traffic thickened as I neared downtown. We always rehearsed at Evan’s place, since he technically didn’t live in a residential area, so our noise wasn’t an issue. His studio was above an auto body shop. That came in handy when my baby needed servicing. Roxie was my favorite mechanic there. She loved my car almost as much as I did, and would often take a look at her while I was upstairs with the guys.

    Roxie was laughing with a coworker when I pulled up, but she still shot me a wave the second she saw me. Or, more accurately, my Chevelle; the girl only had eyes for my car. “Hey, Roxie. How’s it going?”

    Running a dirty hand through her short hair, she answered, “Good. I’m thinking of writing a children’s book about a monkey wrench who helps animals that are in trouble. I might have him drive a Chevelle.” She winked.

    “Sounds awesome.” I laughed. “Good luck.”

    “Thanks!” She grinned. As I headed for the stairs with my guitar, she shouted, “Let me know if the Chevelle needs anything! You know I’d make house calls for her, right?”

    “Yep! I know,” I shouted back.

    Griffin was in the kitchen, rummaging through Evan’s food, when I walked in. Playing always gave him the munchies. His pale eyes shifted my way, and smiling, I tossed him the box of Froot Loops I’d brought along with me. I’d picked them up while grocery shopping on an empty stomach, but they really didn’t sound that great, and I knew they’d never get eaten at my house.

    Griffin’s expression brightened as he caught the box. “Sweet!” he muttered, immediately ripping it open. He reached into the bag, grabbed a handful of the sugary cereal, and was loudly crunching on it before I’d even made it into the living room area of the one-room loft.

    Matt looked up when I set my guitar case on the couch beside him. He’d been staring at something on his cell phone that sort of looked like a website. I wasn’t entirely sure, I didn’t even own a cell phone, and probably never would. Technology kind of mystified me, and I just didn’t care enough to figure it out. I liked what I liked, regardless of whether it was out of date or not. My car still had a tape deck in it, for God’s sake, which Griffin continuously chided me about, but as long as it still worked, I was happy with what I had.

    “I think we should start playing festivals and fairs, and not just bars. It’s too late to get into Bumbershoot this year, but I think we need to do it next year. I think we’re ready.” With slim features, blond hair, and blue eyes, Matt and Griffin were physically a lot alike. Personality-wise, though, the cousins couldn’t have been more different.

    “Yeah? Think so?” I asked, not too surprised that Matt was contemplating our future. He often did.

    Behind him, I could see Evan wading through the rehearsal equipment that the band kept here at his place. His warm brown eyes were smiling at me beneath his close-cut dark hair as he approached the couch. “Definitely, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be, Kell. It’s time to step it up a notch. With your lyrics and my rhythms…we’re golden.” While Matt was one of the most talented guitarists I’d ever seen, Evan was the one who arranged most of our pieces.

    Matt glanced back at Evan with an eager nod. Looking between the two, I pondered whether we were ready. I supposed they were right, we were. We had more than enough songs, and probably enough fans. It could be a big step for the band, or it could be a giant waste of time.

    When Evan got to the back of the couch, he crossed his arms over his chest. All of my bandmates were littered with random tattoos—Griffin’s were a bit on the obscene side, naked girls and stuff, and Matt’s were classier, with meaning behind every twist and symbol. Evan’s though, his were like a living, breathing work of art. His arms alone were a museum-worthy masterpiece of fire, water, and everything in between.

    While Matt and Griffin were both on the skinny side, Evan was bulkier. My body type was middle of the road, not too bulky, not too lean, and in terms of body art, I was a virgin. I just couldn’t think of one thing I loved well enough to permanently scratch it into my skin. Nothing in life was permanent, so why pretend it was by immortalizing it? Seemed pointless to me.

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