BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

REGINAROADIE

You Can't Go Home Again: Chapter 8
Sunday, March 19, 2006

This is the all singing, no dancing chapter as River and the band play in public for the first time and tap into something big. The Tam's and Kaylee get wind of this and round two of the fight is interrupted by an unexpected source.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3240    RATING: 10    SERIES: FIREFLY

Author's notes: Well, here I am. It's 4 in the morning, I'm exhausted, but I finally managed to get the latest chapter done in my epic. Credit must be given to misskitten for helping me out in the latter part of the story.

This chapter has been the hardest one for me to write, so please be kind. This is dedicated to all the rock aficionados that visit the site. I'd have more songs on here, but I'm exhausted, and I'm saving the best stuff for later.

I ask that you be patient in regards to the next chapter. I have four major projects to work on to be done in the next few weeks and I don't have the luxury of churning out big chapters on a daily basis.

And if you're wondering about the songs, it's "Mercedez Benz" and "Piece of my Heart" by Janis Joplin, "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Gimmee Shelter" by The Rolling Stones and "Cryin'" by Aerosmith.

Enjoy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Well, we’re off to a bit of a late start, but I think this is going to be a good day.”

The Dude had proclaimed this as they were all sitting down. They had arrived at The State to get some breakfast for all of them before deciding to head back and rehearse some more. While The Dude was filled with enthusiasm, George was asleep. His head was slightly nodded as he was sitting up at the table. Cliff and Keith were rubbing their eyes and shaking their heads as they were trying to wake up. Johnny was lighting up another cigarette, clearly ignoring the NO SMOKING sign that was screwed into the wall. River sat next to him, just observing the gang and reminded of the similar dynamic between them and the crew.

“You think you can keep a lid on the morning attitude at least until we’ve had some coffee?” Johnny asked casually.

“What morning attitude? It’s 5 till noon, morning’s long gone.” The Dude replied.

“Be that as it may, we’re still a bit groggy from last night, so until we’re all fully awake, just keep the boundless enthusiasm to a minimum.” Johnny then took a drag and blew the smoke in the air.

“So should we be ordering for breakfast or lunch?” George chimed in inquisitively.

“Don’t matter. S’long you wash it down with a shot of vodka, you should be fully awake. Get some hair on your chest while you’re at it.” Keith answered this while shaking his head to wake him self up some more.

“Hey, if I want some actual hair on my chest, I’ll just lop off some of Cliff’s dreadlocks.”

“Don’t you be goin’ anywheres near me hair with that knife, boy.” Cliff responded. Then in a joking manner continued, “I’ll have Miss River hear remove your drumkit so you’ll miss out on our groupies.” George and Keith chuckled at this. “I’m serious, man. I got these locks here just the right size. Grow your own hair, ya lazy bastard.”

“You think we’ll actually get some groupies?” George asked inquisitively. ”Wouldn’t mind a groupie just to make up for the long hours and no pay. Is the singular for groupies groupie or groupi?”

“Hey,” The Dude replied. “When the economy picks up again, then you’ll get paid. Just keep in mind whose footing the tab and getting you guys breakfast. And as for groupies, just so long as you don’t let any bedroom gymnastics get in the way of your real job, you can call them whatever you want. Just not in front of the lady here.”

“Wouldn’t mind a boy toy.” The guys fully woke up upon hearing this. She looked back at them and read their stunned faces. “What? I’ve been on a ship for four years. Current toy goes through batteries too quickly. And I sure as Hell ain’t gonna screw that man-ape we got.”

Johnny was the first to break the silence with a snicker that turned into a laugh that turned into a coughing fit. “Baby-girl, you made my day. And we ain’t even started.”

Before River could reply, the bartender from last night came over to their table. “Morning guys, what’s it gonna be today?”

“You still have any of that pancake mix left?” The Dude asked.

“Just add water.” The bartender replied.

“We’ll have six plates of those, some simulated bacon, simulated eggs and some of those strawberry cubes, if you got any.”

“And your biggest strongest coffee for me. Black. No sugar or cream.” Johnny stated this nonchalantly, and then added, “Gotta watch my figure.”

“What figure?” Keith asked Johnny in a mock puzzled tone. “The only thing you consume is caffeine and nicotine. The shite you put into your lungs’ll kill you ‘fore the stuff you put in your gut.”

“Call it the rock diet.” Johnny said gleefully. “At least you’ll leave a good fucken corpse.”

The guys laughed while they continued their discussions about various things. A few moments later, the bartender returned with their simulated breakfasts, which everyone except River wolfed down. As the final fork clattered on the plate, the bartender came back to the table. The Dude was reaching for his wallet when the bartender stopped him.

“That won’t be necessary, Dude.”

“Oh c’mon. This is one of the best meals we had in a while. The least I could do is pay.”

“Well, if you insist, why not let her pay for it by doing a few songs?”

The bartender then turned towards River, ignoring the confused looks from all of them. “Miss, I gotta thank you for showing up last night. I don’t know what that was, or how you played it, but it really got the place going. It was the first time since the day before Blue Tuesday that I actually made a profit. And some of the folks that are here now have been asking me if you could go up there and play for us.”

Everyone sat up at this info. Johnny took a long drag from his cigarette and exhaled. “You’re go se-ing us, right?”

“I go-se you not. And there’s no smoking in here.”

Johnny took another drag on his cigarette and dropped it to the floor. He stamped it out and looked at River, still surprised by this request. A few moments passed in silence as she thought about this. She looked over to The Dude and asked, “You think we’re ready to play publicly?” The Dude raised his eyebrows in surprise and shrugged. “We have to eventually.”

She turned to the bartender and stood up. “I’ll play, but on one condition. These guys have to play as well.” The bartender looked at her and shrugged. “Sure thing.”

River smiled and turned back to the guys. “How long would it take for you guys to get your instruments over here?” The Dude checked his watch and looked up. “If we leave now, we’d probably be back and set up in about an hour. We’ll go now.” They all stood up, but River interrupted. “George, you stay. I need someone on drums.”

George looked over to the drum set in the corner with a startled look. “Oh, uhh jeez, I dunno. Wasn’t really expectin’ right this minute to…”

“Go ahead, man.” Keith responded. “We’ll be fine. You need a little warm up anyways.”

“But in front of these people?”

Johnny patted him on the shoulder. “Trust me, all eyes are gonna be on her.”

George looked apprehensively towards the stage, took in a deep breath and exhaled. “Guess I got no choice.”

River smiled and the both of them walked towards the stage, while The Dude, Johnny, Cliff and Keith headed for the door. George stepped timidly onto the stage and took his seat behind the drums. River unfastened her guitar case and took her guitar out, as the bartender turned on the mike and amps and reintroduced River. She went to George and told him that the first song was just going to be her, but the second song was to start upbeat, but then go to common time. George nodded and clenched the sticks tighter. River then turned and went up the mike.

“I would like to do a song of great political and social import. Goes like this.” River then began tapping her foot loud enough to establish a beat, and then began singing in a different tone than from before. Her voice was husky and coarse, but had a hypnotic quality.

“Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a Mercedes Benz…my friends all drive Porsches…I must make amends…worked hard all my lifetime…no help from my friends…So Oh Lord, won’t you buy me…a Mercedes Benz.”

The reaction from the crowd was similar to that of last nights. But the words that she was singing had a greater potency to the crowd than before. Last night, she sang about herself. Today, she was singing of the disenfranchisement of the collective masses.

“Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a high def vidscreen…blue handed agents…are tryin’ to find me…I’ll wait for delivery...each day until 3..so Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a high def vidscreen.”

As River sang the lyrics, updating them to make them more contemporary, she added a little more to each line delivery. She emoted with her face as she crooned into the mike.

“Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a night on the town…I’m counting on you, Lord…please don’t let me down…prove that you love me…and buy the next round…Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a night on the town, everybody”

The people did not join in with her. She didn’t expect them to. But what she didn’t see, but could sense was the admiration that George was showing as he looked at her from behind. George might be a top hacker turned amateur drummer, but he sensed the signal that she was giving through her body right now. And all he wanted to do was to be a part of that.

“Oh, Lord…won’t you buy me…a Mercedes Benz…my friends all drive Porsches…I must make amends…worked hard all my lifetime…no help from my friends…So Oh Lord, won’t you buy me…a Mercedes Benz.”

She let the last note hang in the air, until she cut it off and said humorously, “That’s it” and then gave a small laugh as the crowd applauded. She then took the jack end of the cord leading to the amp and plugged it into her guitar. She grinned as she heard the familiar crackle over the speakers. She looked over to George and mouthed a quickened common time beat. Both of them then started. Her with blistering opening chords, and her with a fast yet underlying beat on the drum set. She riffed with intense energy as she wailed “Oh, come on, come on, come on, come on!”

She and George calmed down on a dime as she began to croon into the mike. “Didn't I make you feel like you were the only man?” She belted out a “Yeah!” then quieted down with the next line. “Didn't I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can? Honey, you know I did!” She then changed her delivery so that she wasn’t singing to herself, but addressing the audience, regarding the people in the bar as if it was an individual she was arguing with. “And each time I tell myself that I, well I think I've had enough. But I'm gonna show you, baby, that a woman can be tough.”

She and George intensified as she taunted the audience with the chorus. “I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take a...” River fired off a chord from her guitar as if it were a round. “Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!” She snarled it as if she were taunting a large man to try to violate her. “Oh, oh, break it!” BAM!! Another chord was fired. “Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.” George was feeling the intensity of her singing in his chest, even though her back was to him. “Oh, oh, have a!” A third chord was fired. “Have another little piece of my heart now, baby…” She relaxed slightly as she finished. “You know you got it if it makes you feel good, Oh, yes indeed."

She and George settled back down into their grooves as she sang the next verse. “You're out on the streets looking good, And baby deep down in your heart I guess you know that it ain't right.” She squeeze her eyes shut and shook her head as she wailed “Never, never, never, never, never, never hear me when I cry at night. Babe, I cry all the time!” She and George began to rise in volume and tempo as she continued on. ”And each time I tell myself that I, well I can't stand the pain, but when you hold me in your arms, I'll sing it once again.”

With every beat, the song intensified again as she wailed, ”I'll say come on, come on, come on, come on and take it!” The signature chord blasted from her fingertips. “Take another little piece of my heart now, baby. Oh, oh, break it!’ Bam! Another blast of music rang out. “Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, Oh, oh, have a!” Bam! ”Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,” River winked at the audience and finished the chorus. “You know you got it, child, if it makes you feel good.”

River then went into her guitar solo for this song. At first, the notes seem disjointed and random as she screeched them out. But as Georges beat continued, the notes began to take form and began to resemble the refrain of the song. The notes pierced the air for a few moments before she began singing the chorus for a third time. By now, the audience was even more enraptured under her spell. And when she dispensed with the final line of the chorus and replaced it with a banshee wail, everyone in the building went nuts. She and George repeated the chorus once more, and River ended the song by letting a note hang in the air. She smiled and nodded in approval as they applauded her and George again.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

River and George played for another hour or so before Johnny, The Dude, Keith and Cliff returned with their instruments. As the guys set up and did a quick sound check, she and George took a short break to catch their breath and have some water before going back on stage. When they got back onto the stage, they went into a huddle to figure out what they were going to play. After a few deliberations over the play-list, they went to their instruments. A second mike had been set up and Johnny stood in front of it. He was right to River, who had moved her mike off to the left side of the stage. Keith was behind her to the edge of the stage with his rack of various instruments. At the center of the very back, George was seated in front of the drum set, trying to twirl the sticks in his fingers, but not quite mastering them yet. And behind Johnny, Cliff was seated with his double electric piano. For all intents and purposes, they were a band.

Now they just needed a cool sounding name.

Johnny had imagined this moment for the longest time. Sure, he had played in a few smoky bars out on the Rim. That was where The Dude found him. But in those cases, the stained napkins on the table got more attention than him. This was the first time that the people in the bar were actually paying attention. And for the first time in his life, Johnny actually felt stage fright. For a few seconds, Johnny stared nervously out into the crowd. He swallowed and said simply, “Hello. I’m Johnny Goode, and this here is our band.”

Aside from some scattered polite applause, the place was silent. Johnny was starting to feel a nervous sweat come one. He glanced over at River for a second and saw her give him a look of faith. For some odd reason, it actually calmed him. Something in him told him that he was a great guitarist and that he had nothing to worry about.

Inspired by this, he looked over to Keith and nodded. Keith was holding a stick in one hand and a cowbell in another. Cued by Johnny’s nod, Keith began tapping the cowbell to a beat. After a few seconds, George came in with a similar beat. Johnny then started to play the melody on his guitar. He looked over to River, who was playing base this time around and got a wink from her. That one wink didn’t completely get rid of all his nervousness, but it certainly helped him to sing the following lyrics with meaning.

“I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Shadow,” He looked out to the slightly larger audience and swallowed before singing, “She tried to take me upstairs for a ride.” He looked over to River to gain some of his courage back. “She had to heave me right across her shoulder.” And oddly enough, it worked. “'Cause I just can't seem to drink you off my mind.” He turned the capping phrase into a sweet melody and then went into the chorus.

”It's the honky tonk women”. As he stretch the o in ‘honky’, he began to loosen up and groove to the music. “Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.”

As he heard the music they were creating course through his ears, he heard a few female whoops from the audience. He grinned as he realized that he was doing something right. This fueled him into singing and playing the next verse with a little more swagger and flair.

”I laid a divorcee in Lon-din City,” He began to move and bop his head along to the beat. “I had to put up some kind of a fight.” He looked over to River again and decided to make her the lady in the song. “The lady then she covered me with roses” He raised his eyebrows when she looked at him. “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.”

That same sweet phrase he was playing was now in tribute to her, his newfound muse.

They repeated the chorus, this time with River joining in on back-up vocals. As they went into the solo, a strange feeling was starting to spread through the room. The initial awkwardness was starting to fade away, and they started to sound like a band that had been playing for years. Johnny’s guitar playing was softer than normal, but still determined the flow and direction of the song. River was more than comfortable in just playing the base line over and over and letting Johnny move around in his own onstage dance that oddly enough resembled a peacock. Keith was now playing a saxophone in harmony with Johnny’s guitar. The bluesy notes added a much needed dimension and flavor to the song. Cliff was playing the piano, matching the harmony of the song alongside Keith and nodding his head along to the new groove they had uncovered. And George was keeping all of them in time with his drums.

As they repeated the chorus two more times, the crowd was starting to get larger and larger. People passing by on the streets were coming in to hear this new sound that was unfamiliar to them. They had no idea what it was, but it sounded better than anything they had ever heard before. It sounded commanding and dominant, but had a subversive and confident feel to it. It was as if they were hearing something that was finally saying what they were all thinking. The gal that was up there was good enough on her own. But with these three guys added into the mix, they became something greater than the sum of its parts. When they ended the song, the entire bar burst out into applause. People were on their feet, clapping and pumping their fists in the air, roaring and cheering as they rocked out.

“All right, all right then.” Johnny said into the mike and beginning to get a hang of it. “Let me re-introduce ourselves.” He cleared his throat and said with more confidence and showmanship, “Hello, I’m Johnny Goode. And this here is our band.” The crowd cheered at it this time around. It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea what they were gonna call themselves.

Anticipating this, River said into the mike, “We’re still trying to come up with a name, so bear with us.” This got a few laughs from the crowd and a chuckle from Johnny.

“We’re an assorted crew from all over the verse, and we’re here to play some real honest to god music for ya.” The crowd applauded this as Johnny turned around and said quickly, “We’re doin “Gimmee Shelter” now. Just try to keep up.”

As the crowd quieted down, Johnny started to play the haunting melody of the classic tune. The tune started out softly, but began to rise in volume with every repeat. River began to croon into her mike the back-up vocals of the piece while George set the beat of the tune and Keith rapped his stick against the instrument with the ridges that the song needed. When Cliff finally joined in with the piano, the song fully emerged and the band regained its power over the audience.

Johnny began to move and swagger to the beat of the song as he sang to the audience. “Oooooh, the storm is threatening…my very life today…if I don't git some shelter…Oooh yeah, I'm gonna fade away.” The tone of this song was different from the last song. It had a more political edge to it as people sensed their own connection to the lyrics. Here was a song that wasn’t telling them what to think, but was saying what they were all thinking.

The chorus was being sung with a sense of urgency to the words. “War, children…it's just a shot away, it's just a shot away”. As they repeated the lines, the people were starting to nod their heads in agreement and groove along to the combined internal mantra of the disaffected people of the verse voicing what they were thinking. River sapped it off with a haunting “yeah” while Johnny channeled both legends that made the song what it was through his guitar and voice.

”Oh, see the fire is sweeping…Down through the streets today…Burning like a bright red carpet…another fool who lost the way.” Johnny and River repeated the chorus again with a more rhapsodic flair as the song became louder and louder. Whether it was the music, the lyrics, an unexpected byproduct of River’s telepathic abilities or a combination of all three, the song was putting the people in the bar under a spell. They were all enraptured by the music and were clamoring for more.

When the guitar solo kicked in, Johnny began to caress and wield his guitar over the crowd. River intuitively tuned into his wavelength and was awestruck at the amount of soul and energy he was putting into his playing. He was playing for the same reasons she was. To exorcize her demons and turn her abuse and torment into something positive. As she began to sing “Rape, murder, it’s just a shout away, it’s just a shout away” over and over again, she felt another thing. She felt a sense of purpose. She sensed that she was doing more than just giving entertainment. She was tapping into a collective consciousness and touching something that hasn’t been touched in a long time. Something that could lift them out of their lethargy and give them a sense of hope and inspiration.

As they repeated the verse and the chorus one more time before fading out to the applause of the building, the band started to sense what she was sensing. That they were doing more than just playing covers. They were on the pulse of the public and giving them the thing they needed the most. And like River did the night before, they all did what anyone in their position was taught to do.

They gave the people what they wanted.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was roughly 5:30 PM Osiris time when the bartender came up to The Dude. He had to fight his way through the immense crowd that was making the room almost impossible to navigate through. In the nearly six hours that the band had been up there, more and more people were coming in to listen to them play. The chatter was deafening enough, let alone the screams that came with the end of every song they did. They had an endless supply of song ranging from funny and hopeful to political and angry. They had only scratched the surface of everything they knew and they didn’t want to stop now. There were even people outside the bar that were clamoring to hear them. It was this reason that the bartender needed to talk to The Dude right away. The Dude was smiling in a Buddha-like manner as he was operating the sound board that controlled the volume of each of the instruments and River and Johnny’s singing. He still smiled when the bartender finally managed to get to him to tell him the news.

“Hey, man.” The Dude said energetically. “This is some wild shit here, am I right?”

“Yeah, definitely.” The bartender replied apprehensively. “Listen, I need to talk to you.”

“Sure. Then next time they do a slow song we’ll talk.”

“No, we have to talk NOW!!!” The last word was screamed into The Dudes ear in an attempt to be overheard the music and the crowd.

The Dude glanced over and saw the seriousness of the bartender’s face. The Dude turned away from the band and leaned in closer to hear the bartender.

“The manager says to have to leave. We’re past full capacity here. All these people are a potential fire hazard to the building. You have to stop.”

The Dude looked at him in astonishment. They were witness to the resurrection of a dead art form that could save billions of people’s lives, and they had to stop it because there were too many people? “You gotta be fucking kidding me!!! Look around you. Thanks to these guys, your boss if probably making the first profit since before Blue Tuesday. We can’t stop now!!!”

The bartender shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry, but that’s what he’s saying. We would be making a profit, but it wouldn’t begin to cover the property damage that all these people are causing. They’re literally tearing down the house.”

The Dude shook his head in frustration. “So where do you suggest we go? We can’t stop this, especially not now.”

“I dunno, but you gotta be out of here in half an hour.” The bartender then started to head back through the crowd. The Dude then began to fight his way through the crowd as the band was starting the final chorus repeat. As they finished and the crowd was cheering, The Dude finally got to the stage and got up onto it. He stepped towards one of the mikes and smiled to the audience.

“Now that was something, wasn’t it?” The crowd cheered in answer to this. “Let me introduce you to the hardest working band in the ‘verse.” He took the mike out of the stand and started walking around. “On keyboard, we got Cliff “ Keys” Robertson.” Everyone cheered at his name as Cliff stood up, bowed slightly and sat back down. “On drums, we got George “Sticks” Henley.” George raised his hand clenched drumsticks into the air as the crowd cheered some more. “On woodwinds, brass, cowbells, bodhrans and just any instrument we can find, we have Mr. Keith “Lover-boy” McCann.” All the women in the bar seemed to scream at a higher pitch as he stepped forward and beamed to the audience. The Dude stepped in between River and Johnny and said in his best showman voice, “And last, but certainly not least. On vocals and guitars, two musicians whose presence it is an honor to be in. Ladies and gentlemen, “Rushing” River Tam and Jonathan Brian “Johnny B.” Goode!!!”

The crowd exploded after this proclamation. River and Johnny looked over at each other, amazed by this incredibly enthusiastic response. As soon as the crowd died down, The Dude piped up again. “I’m really sorry to do this, folks. But I’ve been told that we have to stop now.” The crowd immediately started yelling and booing at this proclamation. “I know, I know. I hate to have to stop this now, but we’ve been deemed a fire hazard.” The Dude was about to continue when River stepped next to him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Uhh, just a sec, folks,” The Dude said before cupping his hand over the mike. “What, River.”

“Why don’t we just move?”

“There’s about three times as many people outside as there are inside. I don’t think any bar would be able to hold that many people.” “Then we don’t go to a bar.”

The Dude frowned in confusion. “You got any better ideas?”

River thought for a few seconds and then smiled. She knew the perfect place to go to.

“We go to the Metro.”

The Dude raised his eyebrows in surprise at the suggestion. “You’re joking, right?”

She shook her head. “No joke.”

The Dude thought for a few moments about the implications of the suggestion. He did a few quick calculations and then grinned back at her. “Well, we’ve come this far. Might as well go out swinging.” He took his hand off the mike and spoke to the audience. “New plan, ladies and gentlemen. We are going to continue this at another place. We will be moving to the Metro.” The crowd cheered at this announcement. As The Dude began giving directions to the Metro to the crowd, River, Johnny and the other guys huddled in the center of the stage to discuss their plan of action.

“We should do one more before we go, just to tide the audience over.” Johnny said to them all.

“What should we do? We’ve already done a lot of the classics.” Cliff replied in query.

“We’ve done a lot of the basics. And our last few songs have been a bit overly political. We should do something fun, but still with a ‘fuck you’ attitude.” Keith said this knowingly from experience.

“We haven’t touched any Aerosmith yet.” River said in a suggesting manner.

Johnny gave a short nod in agreement and went along with it. “OK, sure. Which one do you guys wanna do?

“Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing?” George asked timidly.

Everyone but George scoffed at this. “That’s not a ‘fuck you’ song. That’s an overwrought power ballad.” Johnny responded.

“Walk This Way?” Cliff mentioned.

“Too short.”

“Janie’s Got A Gun?” Keith suggested.

River shook her head at this. “Don’t really want to do that. Too obvious.”

All the guys nodded their heads in sudden agreement. Johnny then said “How about ‘Cryin’?”

Everyone considered this for a split second and then agreed. They broke off and went back to their instruments. Johnny quickly asked River, “You wanna take this one, or should I?”

“Let’s make it a duet.”

“’Cryin’ isn’t a duet.”

“You take the first verse, I’ll take the second, and we both do the third and the chorus.”

“OK” Johnny said quickly before stepping back in front of the mike, picking up from where The Dude left off. “We got one more to do before we go. So let’s do this right.”

The crowd cheered at him as they took their stances. Keith grabbed his baritone sax, George loosened his shoulders and tightened his wrist, Cliff set his piano to the right setting, and River primed herself to take the base line. The band was silent for a brief moment before all four of them burst out in volume at the exact same time. They all played the exact same chord deafeningly before Johnny came in with the lead guitar. If they were disorganized before, then they were all in perfect harmony as they went into their final song at the bar.

“There was a time,” Johnny sang into the mike with a confidence that River admired. ”When I was so broken hearted…Love wasn't much of a friend of mine.” He played the repeating scale with a strong tenderness that seemed newly discovered. “The tables have turned, yeah…'Cause me and them ways have parted…That kind of love was the killin' kind.” George interrupted the smooth flow with a perfectly timed drum beat. “Now listen...All I want is someone I can't resist” Johnny began raising his vocal pitch as this and the following lyric went on. “I know all I need to know by the way that I got kissed.” Along with his guitar playing, Johnny lung capacity seemed to increase with the chorus as he sang in his broken angel singing voice.

Both of them sang the chorus as they complimented each other with their guitars. ”I was cryin' when I met you…Now I'm tryin' to forget you…Your love is sweet misery.” The guitar refrain doubled by the baritone sax at that moment was the sweetest thing anyone in that room had ever heard. “I was cryin' just to get you…Now I'm dyin' cause I let you…Do what you do - down on me, yeah”

The ba-da-dum-buh of the baritone sax got louder and louder as River took over the song. “Now there's not even breathin' room…Between pleasure and pain…Yeah you cry when we're makin' love” At this moment, the gals in the room gasped and laughed in surprise at this while Johnny just shrugged at the implication. “Must be one and the same.”

As they had done before, Johnny and River switched their guitar parts so that River was now playing the main melody of the song while Johnny was now playing the base line. “It's down on me…Yeah I got to tell you one thing…It's been on my mind…Boy I gotta say.” Her guitar roared during the pause. “We're partners in crime…You got that certain something…What you give to me…takes my breath away.” The last two lines and the next part of the verse was sung by her with complete sincerity. “Now the word out on the street…Is the devil's in your kiss…If our love goes up in flames…It's a fire I can't resist.”

The two then sang the chorus together again. This time, there seemed to be a connection forming between the two. As if the act was starting to become real. And when the chorus was done and the guitar solo came in, instead of just one of them playing, they went off the music and began to riff to compliment each other as a musical mating dance. While it only lasted a few seconds, it was enough to give them a jolt.

Both of them got back to their mikes in time to sing the same part together. ”'Cause what you got inside…Ain't where your love should stay…Yeah, our love, sweet love, ain't love If you give your heart away” They were so in sync with each other that both of their aways turned into a wail.

As they repeated the chorus once again, the crowd got even louder. In retaliation, the band began to crescendo. They did this until they reached the “dyin’” part. At that point, Johnny raised his fist to silence the band as he held the high note even longer than was normally required. The crowd then quieted as he kept that high note going for an insane amount of time before bringing down his fist, causing both the band and the crowd to explode in volume. River and Johnny finished up the chorus, calling each other “baby” before wailing to Cliff who dispensed with the piano briefly and produced a harmonica. As he did his short solo, River and Johnny caught their breath as they played their guitar parts, all the while exchanging glances at each other.

They both sang the chorus one more time and then faded out slowly until they couldn’t be overheard the crowd that was making the place deafening. When the song finally ended, they all got up to the front of the stage and bowed to the audience. Johnny then took the mike and said to the crowd, “We’ll see you in a bit.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Kaylee was helping Regan up the hallway when she heard the ringing of their Cortex link. Kaylee had Regan’s one arm draped over her shoulder as Regan had her other arm bracing her up against the wall. They were taking baby steps back up to the main hall where it would be easier to get to a place to make her comfortable. After the first few rings, she looked over to Regan.

“Go answer it.”

“But Mrs. Tam-“

“Answer it. No one’s called here for a long time. Might be important.” Kaylee looked at her, wondering about her condition. “I’ll be fine. I need to rest anyways. Go get it.”

Kaylee quickly but considerably helped Regan sit down against the wall and then went as fast as she could to the kitchen. She quickly picked up the phone and said "Hello...?" Immediately, she realized that she was still in The Core and uncertainly added... "um... Tam residence...?"

Even though she had no idea who was calling, she certainly did not expect to hear River’s voice excitedly asking over the phone, “Kaylee, is that you?”

Kaylee was both startled as to who was on the other end and unsure if it was actually her. There was a lot of background noise on the other end of the phone. "River...? What...uh... hi?"

River talked louder into her end of the phone. She was nearly shouting. “Kaylee, you're going to have to talk louder and faster. We're moving out real quick here to beat the crowd.”

Kaylee suddenly had a confused look. "Crowd...? What crowd?"

River suddenly realized that they didn’t even realize she had left the house. “Didn't Dad tell you I'd gone?”

Kaylee just shrugged. "Haven't seen 'im today. When did you go out?"

River was too excited to care about this miscommunication and kept on going. “I left last night after the fight. Didn't want to be there so I took the subway to Downtown. Ended up playing at The State and met The Dude. Told me that he wanted me to lead this band he was putting together. They're all real good, 'specially Johnny.”

Kaylee was getting more and more confused with every word River was saying, and not for the normal reasons. But upon hearing her mention Johnny, she found something to latch on. "A guy...? He cute?"

River paused for a moment. Up until then, she hadn’t payed attention to Johnny’s looks. But as she thought about it for a first time, she shrugged. “Kinda, I guess. Pretty good for a burn victim. He's a guitarist like me. And he can really play. Anyways, we got to playing here again to pay for breakfast. And we just kept playing and playing and all these people kept coming in to listen to us and really liking what we're playing. And there are so many people here that we have to move to a bigger venue so all these people can hear us.”

Kaylee blinked and raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Wow, that sounds real neat. So it'll be like a concert or sumwat? Where you headed?"

Over at the bar, River smiled like a Cheshire cat and replied, “It's bigger than any concert you've ever seen.” Before she could continue though, The Dude came up to her while hauling one of the instruments and yelled to be heard over the crowd, “River, we gotta go now if we wanna beat the crowd and set up in time.” River yelled back into the phone. “I gotta go, Kaylee. Tell Simon, Mom and Dad that we'll be at the Metro. They'll know where it is.”

"When... like now?" Kaylee had more questions than answers, but before she could get an answer, the line went dead.

Kaylee hung up the phone in astonishment. She didn’t know what she was expecting to happen when they were here, but this was clearly not what anyone had in mind. As she stood there, trying to put all the pieces together, Simon walked past the kitchen and notices her standing there with a confused look. “Kaylee?”

Kaylee looked up at Simon and asked in an unsure voice, "Did everyone go out today and not tell me?"

Simon now gave a confused look as well. “I was just walking around the estate. What do you mean everyone?”

Kaylee giggled at the realization that they’re all pretty much in the dark. "Sorry, I jus' hadn' seen you all mornin' an' now River jus' called an' said she's been downtown playing all night."

At the mention of River being downtown, Simon suddenly snapped into his protective mode as he realized that she was gone. “Riv...She's not here!?! Where is she? What's happened?”

Kaylee smiled as she saw how overprotective he could be even when there’s nothing to be worried about. "She's fine, she jus' needed to get out last night, so she went downtown. She was speakin' a mite fast on the phone, something 'bout a dude an' a fella called Johnny... or maybe Johnny was the dude... I ain't sure..."

Simon relaxed slightly as he realized that River wasn’t in trouble. “Oh, for a second I thought she was taken. What else did she say?”

Kaylee leaned against the table island in the middle of the kitchen and continued. "Well she said something 'bout playin' at some place and there bein' lots an' lots of people comin' to hear'em, so they're gonna hold a big concert at this place... I think it was called the Metro or sumthin'..."

Simon suddenly blanked at the mention of the location. “The Metro?”, he asked in an even more puzzled tone.

Kaylee looked up when she realized that he knew what she was talking about. "Yeah... 'least that's what I think she said...She said you'd know where it was...What is it anyways?"

“It's the Metropolitan Opera House that's downtown. Our family used to go there all the time to see the operas.” As he remembered the countless times they’ve been there, a grin came over him as he realized the significance the place had for River. “River once said she always wanted to dance there.”

Kaylee chuckles at this as well "Maybe she finally will..."

Simon inhaled and looked at her. “Well, what do we do? I don't know how we can get there.”

Kaylee gave him a weird look. "Well don' look at me... I dunno where it is."

“Well I know where it is and how to get there. I mean, do we walk or take the subway? We were always chauffeured there, but even a taxi would be too expensive now.”

Kaylee pondered for a few seconds before remembering her pending quest for the keys. "Well... when I was walkin' round the place, I found this old car of theirs..."

Simon blanked again. He was finding out about stuff too quickly. “There's a car?”

"Yeah... real pretty too, but wasn't workin', an' I couldn' jus' leave somethin' so pretty jus' collect dust like that, so I fixed it. Before the phone rang, I was gonna look for the keys..."

Simon’s demeanor suddenly darkened as he realized who would know where they were. “I imagine he'd have them.”

“Damn right I do.” Simon and Kaylee’s heads turned to the sour angry voice, and saw Gabriel leaning against the door frame. “And I'll be damned before I let you take em.”

Simon crossed his arms and got on the defensive. “Dad, she's not a teenager. She can take the car if she wants. Especially if it's to see her sister-in-law play.”

Gabriel responded nonchalantly. “Call a cab if she's wants to go out. I'm not lending her what's mine.”

Kaylee looked down and mumbled, "Was jus' gonna test drive it, make sure I did right"

Gabriel caught this last bit and stood up in attention. “Did right? What are you talking about?”

Kaylee looked up and decided to tell him what she did, hoping that maybe this would cheer him up. "That car of yours in the underground garage wasn't in workin' condition when I found it, so I spent the afternoon fixin’ it up for ya."

Kaylee smiled, hoping that with this news Gabriel would start treating her with a little more respect. She knew from experience that fixing something broken just out of general goodwill always made people happy. But instead of easing him up, this news seemed to make him even more angry. He had a look on his face that reminded Kaylee of the look her mom made when she was angry at her brothers for ruining her flower bed. He seemed more disgusted than pleased.

“You touched that? You just went and messed with an antique car without my permission? Without my knowing? Did I ask you to do that? Did you even think of asking me?”

Kaylee was taken aback by this reaction to her doing something nice for him. "Messed with...?” Her hormones then kicked into overdrive as she got good and angry towards him again. “What's the point in a car if it ain't workin'? Thought I was doin' ya a favor."

Gabriel responded venomously, “If I wanted your gorram charity, I would have asked for it. I wouldn’t have stuck my nose into business and things that didn't concern me.”

Simon stepped in between the two and directed his anger towards his father. “Bi zuie, dad. She did a nice thing for you and all you can do is yell at her because she didn't ask your permission to turn some junker into a working car.”

Kaylee snorted as she looked at Simon. “Don't bother yellin’ at him for that. It's the only thing he can do.” She looked directly into Gabriel’s eyes and went on the offensive. “That and ignore everything going wrong around him and drink like a fish.”

Gabriel’s anger shot through the roof as he stepped towards her with a wild and vengeful look in his face. Simon stepped forward to block her and stared at him. With a forceful tone, he asked him, “Have you been drinking?”

“Don't you believe her?” Gabriel incredulously asked him.

“I'm not asking her. I'm asking you.” He asked the question again in the same tone Mal would have asked him. “Have…you…been…drinking?” Gabriel stared back at Simon for a few moments, before breaking away and walking in a huff out the kitchen through the dining room and out into the main hall.

Simon, and then Kaylee followed him, determined to continue the fight. As he stepped into the main hall, he yelled at him, “Were you drunk last night? Is that why River isn't here?”

Gabriel stopped and turned around. “She is not here because you and your "family" has taught her to bail on her responsibilities and high tail it at the first sign of anything going wrong.”

“And exactly what responsibilities was she bailing on?”

Gabriel began to point and wave his hands as he dug himself deeper and deeper. “To THIS family and to OUR legacy that you're so determined to drive into the ground.”

Simon and Gabriel were now entering round two of their verbal smackdown that had started 24 hours ago at the dinner table. The same venom and intensity that was between them was going into overdrive as they did everything to verbally destroy each other. “There are more important things than this facade you call legacy. And had you paid more attention to other things than dinner parties, balls and heiresses, then maybe you wouldn't be drowning yourself in wine right now.”

“Oh it is easy for me to make the wine cellar the only thing in my ‘verse when I see my life’s work knocking up mechanics and screwing around with loser Browncoats and musicians. If that's what you call legacy then you can just-“

“GABRIEL, STOP IT!!”

The commotion between the three of them stopped as soon as they heard the banshee wail. All three looked and saw Regan slowly making her way up the corridor towards him. Like a freshly buried corpse rising from her grave to exact revenge, Regan had an angry look that Simon had never seen in his mother’s eyes before. Gabriel was even more shocked at this development than anything in the last few weeks.

“What are you doing out of bed?”

Despite going at a very slow pace and looking at times like she was about to collapse, Regan maintained a pissed off eye contact as she made her way to them. It was definitely one of the scarier things any of the three had seen in their lives. “I am not going to spend what few remaining moments I have alive watching you make an ass of yourself.”

Gabriel swallowed his sudden insecurity and continued. “No more so than River playing karaoke and Simon breeding with this-“

“This what? This nice, intelligent useful girl who has far more good sense about her than an entire room full of dumb blonde heiresses?” Regan was now on par with her husband’s wavelength and was not going to take his shit anymore.

“Those heiresses had connections that would’ve advanced our standing and elevated us more than ever.”

Regan scoffed and sneered at the pathetic rationalization. “Oh don’t give me that fei yu. You keep talking about sublimity this, and legacy that. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe it would’ve been better if we just left our children’s futures to chance?”

Gabriel was not about to lose his ground. “Chance leads us nowhere.”

As Regan got closer and closer, her speaking became more intense and forceful. “Chance is what brought Simon and Kaylee together. Chance is what saved River from succumbing to the destruction we’ve wreaked upon them. Destruction that you’ve caused with your fucking arrogance.”

Gabriel was speechless at the sudden expletive that she said to him. Simon was shocked on so many levels, one of which was the fact that the sickest person in the building was the strongest one in the room. Kaylee was equally surprised to see this frail woman holding her own against her husband and admitting the truth that had poisoned them.

“In the last four years, you’ve let these hundan’s hunt our two children down across the galaxy all in the name of sublimity and properness. It’s about time you knew what constitutes just behavior. Just behavior is doing what you know in your gut is the right and honorable thing to do. And in this life, it could be anything.” She was inches away from his face when she said intensely through her teeth, “I could peel you like a pear and it would be called just.” When she said it, they actually believed she could. “Now, unlike you, I don’t want my son’s last memory of me being some weeping willow in denial. You are going to take those keys and get the car. We are going to take the car and go to the Metro and see our daughter perform and be the parents we should be. That, Gabriel, is the proper thing to do.”

The silence that filled the hall was as loud as Serenity’s engine on take off. Simon and Kaylee were staring at the elderly couple intensely as Regan maintained a hard gaze into her husband’s face. After a few intense breaths, Gabriel reached into his right pocket and produced a set of keys. He palmed them in his hand, with the key to the car pinched between his index finger and thumb and walked away, muttering “Bring it out front” to himself, but loud enough for all to hear. When his footsteps finally faded away, Regan looked back at Simon and Kaylee.

“Never too late.”

She smiled softly at them, and then collapsed onto the floor.

“REGAN!!” Kaylee screamed as the two rushed towards her. Kaylee helped her to sit up while Simon checked her. “She’s too weak. Must’ve used all her remaining strength to stand up. We have to get her back into bed.”

He and Kaylee were already preparing to move her when Simon felt a weak grip on his arm. He looked and saw Regan with a determined look. “No.” she grimaced through her teeth. “We…are…going!”

“Mrs. Tam, couldn’t we at least-“

“No.” She looked over to her daughter-in-law and then to her son. “I don’t care if I break every bone in my body. I am going to be the parent I should be and see my daughter perform. If I can’t even do that, then I have no right to call myself a mother.”

Simon and Kaylee looked at each other and then to Regan. Very slowly, they helped her up and began moving towards the front door and the driveway where Gabriel was waiting for them.

COMMENTS

Monday, March 20, 2006 9:22 AM

ARTSHIPS


Always wonderful, how you describe performing. And I love how this is going. Excellent storytelling!

Monday, March 20, 2006 1:34 PM

LEIASKY


Very much enjoying the story. Hope you don't take too much time in posting the next chapter.

Hopefully, Gabriel will come to his senses and realize that his attitude will only drive his children away.

My heart breaks for Regan and Simon can't even help her.


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