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The Epic of Sidewinder
Author's note: I got the idea for Tabasco from a character I made on Guitar Hero, and the story just evolved from that. Also, her little lesbian run with Diane, she wanted to do that. Tabasco "told" me what to write.
The drummer, a young man of about sixteen who was large and bald, began the tribal-like drum intro to the Disturbed song “Down With the Sickness.” The rest of the four-person band joined in when they were supposed to, the singer coming in last. The next evening, the bassist, a young black man of seventeen, played the opening bass line to “Feel Good, Inc.” Next evening, the singer began the practice session with the chorus of “Bawitdaba.” Finally, on the fourth night, the guitarist, a young woman also of seventeen, started the song “Barracuda.” Later, as the band finished playing their original song “Epic Phail,” she went into a slow solo, but it fit perfectly with the song. As she let the music play itself, she memorized where her fingers were hitting so she could do it again. Finally, she strummed the final chord and let it fade.
The rest of the band applauded, and she gave them a little bow.
“Thank you, thank you, you’re far too kind!” she declared as the band continued to clap.
Michael, the bassist shouted, “Damn, girl, where’d you learn to play like that?”
The drummer, Cliff, started to chant, “Tabasco! Tabasco! Tabasco!”
Michael and the singer, Zac, joined in, all three shouting, “Tabasco! Tabasco!”
“Aw, shut up you morons!” Tabasco groaned, shaking her head, but she was smiling. Her watch beeped, and Tabasco declared, “Sorry guys, but I gotta go!” She gently placed her Gibson Flying V in its case, picked it up, and left.
Tabasco strutted down the street in all her God-given glory. She stood about five-foot-six with a kind face and medium-length brown hair. She always wore her glasses and a cowgirl hat. And it was constantly a mission to show off her body a little bit. This night, she wore a tight tank-top that showed off a bit of her chest, but left just enough to the imagination. What was showing was a tattoo of a dark purple heart with stitches on it and some barbed wire around it just above the neckline of the tank-top. Her skinny jeans showed off her wide hips, which were swinging slightly since Tabasco knew the kids paid other kids to film her walking, so she gave them their moneys worth.
Tabasco pulled open the door to her house and walked in, declaring, “Ma! I’m home!”
“Dinner in five, Suzette!” her Ma replied from the kitchen. Her Ma was the only person Tabasco let call her by her given name. If anyone else called her Suzette, she’d have to ask the music shop how to get blood off of a guitar.
Since she had time, Tabasco went into the small living room, got her guitar back out, sat on the couch, and practiced the new “Epic Phail” solo, and fixed the rest of the song to fit it. Just after she finished the solo a third time, her Ma called, “Dinner!”
Before Tabasco could even move, two blurs sped past her to the table. Tabasco rolled her eyes at her twin siblings, Ryan and Alexandra. Tabasco called them Salt and Pepper, respectively, since Ryan was rather pale with their fathers blond hair and Alex had a lot of freckles with their Ma’s brown hair. Tabasco set the guitar down and walked into the dining room.
On the table was a small stack of fast-food burgers with a bowl of green beans, an attempt to be healthy and really only there to give their ma the illusion the she had put some effort into the dinner.
Tabasco sat at the foot of the small table, grabbed two burgers, and spooned some green beans onto her plate. As she ate, the twins told their Ma all about their day at school. After they finished, their Ma asked, “Suzette, how was your school day?”
Tabasco shrugged, then finished chewing that mouthful of food. “Not too bad. Got a B on my math test,” Tabasco replied.
“Good job! Anything else interesting happen?”
“Well, Jason wants me to call him tonight.”
The twins made gagging noises since true romance still grossed them out, but their Ma, who was more up to date on matters, asked, “Are you going to?”
Tabasco snorted. “Why would I call that dumbass?”
Their Ma choked on a bit of green bean and coughed it out into a napkin. “Suzette, I will not have you swearing in front of your ten year old siblings!” she scolded.
“She does it all the time, Ma!” Salt declared, smiling.
“Yeah, she always says damn and ass and-” Pepper added.
“STOP!” their Ma shouted. The twins quieted immediately. She took a deep breath, then added, “I don’t want anyone here saying any of those bad words, okay?”
“Yes, Ma…” the three children chorused.
They went on eating and lightly chatting about various things, and finally, dinner was over. To prevent a repeat of that, Tabasco grabbed her guitar and went upstairs to her room, mentally deciding to stop swearing…at least at home. Their Ma had enough problems to deal with working two jobs. They weren’t in debt or anything, but their Ma wanted to make sure they had some extra cash, especially since Salt would be starting Little League this year, and Pepper was to start piano lessons in a month, right where Tabasco had begun her musical journey eight years ago. How she had hated the piano. But she had taught Pepper a few of the songs she knew, and Pepper had memorized them in seconds. The funniest part (to Tabasco) was that the last member of their family who had had any musical talent had fought in the Civil War (she still could not remember where she had heard that).
Upon reaching her room, Tabasco turned on her CD player and sat down to play along with it. One of the solos was giving her trouble, so instead of getting frustrated, Tabasco hung the guitar on its wall-hanger and picked her ESP Phoenix-II Bass up off of its stand. She switched CDs and played bass along with that one. Three CDs later, Tabasco put the bass back, took her hat and glasses off, then went to bed.
The next morning, Tabasco woke up at nine o’ clock, when she always woke up for work on a Saturday. But that was just part of the ruse. She even put on the “uniform” for the music shop she worked for on over her usual clothes. She left, locked the door behind her, climbed into the old truck she had gotten last year, and drove over to Zac’s house, where Cliff was waiting in an old Volkswagen van. She parked her truck, got out, and got into the van. As the van drove out of the cul-de-sac, Tabasco shed the uniform shirt (revealing another red tank-top), then looked at Zac and Michael.
“What’re you guys doing here?” she asked.
Michael replied first, saying, “If you’re gonna play piano for the band, we need to make sure you get a good one.”
Tabasco threw an empty Coke bottle at him and looked at Zac. “How ‘bout you?” she asked, another Coke bottle already in hand.
Zac held up his hands up in mock surrender. He said, “Hey, Salt and Pepper may as well be my siblings too, so I thought I’d tag along and maybe help you pay.”
“Aw, how sweet,” Tabasco crooned, then threw the bottle at him. “Except I already paid for Pepper’s and Salt’s is cheap!”
Tabasco started to throw all the other trash and paraphernalia at Zac until Cliff shouted, “Hello, guy who got his license a week ago trying to drive here!”
“Sorry!” Tabasco said, then chucked one final bottle at Zac. After a few minutes of driving, Cliff pulled into a parking space in front of Note-Worthy Music Shop. The four teens clambered out of the van and strolled into the music shop.
As Zac pushed the door open, a few little bells dinged, and from a corner of the store came the words, “I’ll be with you in a minute!”
“Take your time, Lily!” Michael shouted back.
“Oh great, it’s you guys,” Lily groaned, strolling out from behind a sheet-music display. She was the same height as Tabasco and had a similar build, but she wore baggier clothes. She was pale with black hair mixed with purple stripes that barely reached her shoulders. She was almost twenty, but remained good friends with Tabasco and her band, Sidewinder. She was also a fan, and owned one of the six Sidewinder demo CDs in existence.
“So, how can I help you?” Lily asked.
“I’m here to pick up Pepper’s present,” Tabasco replied.
Lily sighed. “Can you give me a hand, you picked the heaviest damn keyboard in the entire store.”
Tabasco rolled her eyes. “Fine…”
A few minutes later, Lily and Tabasco managed to get the keyboard into the van, with little to no help from the guys.
As they climbed back into the van, Lily said, “Tell them I said happy birthday!”
“You got it!” Tabasco shouted out of a window. The van started to back up, when all of a sudden it jerked to a stop, accompanied by the sound of metal and plastic cracking. The teens climbed out and went around back to find the passenger side of the rear bumper connected to the front bumper of a red truck.
While Cliff was Muttering, “Dammit,” over and over again, the other three went to talk to the other driver. The door of the truck opened and an older man, late forties or early fifties, stepped out. He smiled at the teens, then moved to survey the damage.
“Ah, it ain’t that bad,” he mumbled, smiling a little. He turned back to the teens and smiled. “Y’all alright?”
“Yeah,” the teens replied, nodding.
“What about him?” he asked, pointing at Cliff.
“Doubt it, since this is his van,” Tabasco added.
The man nodded, then walked over to Cliff and began to talk to him in hushed tones. Zac whispered to the other two, “Think he’ll press charges or anything?”
“God, I hope not, Dave’ll kill Cliff…” Tabasco observed, referring to Cliff’s dad.
“Yeah, and then he’ll kill us for having him drive when he’s only been doing it a week,” Michael added. Zac and Tabasco nodded slowly. Dave wasn’t a bad guy, but he did have a crazy guy’s temper.
Just then the man walked back over to them with Cliff, both smiling.
“Well, since this here young man just got his license, I’ll let y’all go with a warnin’,” he said to them in mock seriousness. “Just be careful from now on, alright?”
“Yessir!” the teens replied, smiling and nodding.
“On one condition,” he added, holding up a finger. “My kids love y’all’s music, and I was hopin’ I might get a few autographs off o’ ya.”
Thusly, the band signed a piece of paper the man happened to have with him, and it looked very much like this:
They returned the paper, shook the man’s hand, and everybody left.
The van pulled into a parking spot at a local fast-food restaurant and the teens strolled in. They walked up to the counter and ordered some lunch, then sat down to eat it. As they ate, the group discussed what to get Salt since Tabasco’s original plan had failed. Many ideas had been dismissed when Tabasco sighed.
“I have one last idea, but it’s a little outside of my intended budget…” she muttered. She told the others the idea, and they agreed that it was a perfect idea, and that it could be fairly expensive. After a moment of silence, Cliff declared, “I’d be happy to chip in a little.”
“Yeah, me too,” Michael added.
“Aw, thanks guys,” Tabasco replied, smiling. The three teens turned to look at Zac. He rolled his eyes and said, “Fine, fine, I’ll help you pay…”
Tabasco made a face at Zac and said, “Who says I want your dirty money?” Then she smiled again and added, “C’mon, party’s in an hour, so we’d better head out now.”
Suddenly, Cliff made a face like he had just been kicked in the shin. He muttered, “Well, we’d better do it fast…”
“Why?” Michael asked.
Cliff pointed at the door. “‘Cause Jason just walked in.”
Zac looked towards the door and saw a tall, well-built teen walk in with a few friends and his arm wrapped around a girl’s shoulders. Zac frowned. “Yeah, that’s Jason…” he also muttered.
Tabasco groaned and hung her head, hoping Jason wouldn’t recognize her. But with someone whose appearance may as well have been trademarked, she was spotted right away.
Jason walked up to the table and said, “Hey Tabasco.”
“Hey,” she replied simply, avoiding his gaze.
“You didn’t call me last night, I just wanted to talk.”
Tabasco snorted. “Who’d want to call your dumbass self?” she snapped, enough venom in her tone to kill an elephant. Michael, who was sitting next to her, placed a hand on her shoulder to hold her back in case she exploded. But that wasn’t how Jason saw it.
He saw the movement and sneered. “So, like your meat on the dark side now?”
Tabasco’s fists clenched and her knuckles began to turn white. She started to shake a little, visibly restraining her anger. Michael also tensed at the slur, happy that his dreadlocks hid the look on his face. Cliff stood up and got between Jason and the table, easily dwarfing Jason’s small frame. “Back off…” Cliff said. He had known Tabasco longer than any of his other band mates, and even though he was a little younger than her, Cliff might as well be Tabasco’s older brother. And his appearance made him a very effective bodyguard.
Jason took a step back instinctively, then smirked. “Forgot how to fight for yourself, Taba-” he began, but was cut off when a fist connected with his left cheek, sending him reeling backwards.
Cliff had been pushed back into his seat and Tabasco stood where he had been standing, shaking the feeling back into her right hand. As Jason spit a tooth and some blood onto the floor, Tabasco chuckled, but stopped when she heard a girl scream, “You b****!”
The girl that had walked in with Jason, who Tabasco recognized as a cheerleader, ran up and slapped Tabasco on the cheek. When Tabasco’s head snapped to the side, the girl grabbed her hair and pulled.
A few things need to be understood about Tabasco. For one thing, she could care less about her hair. It was merely something on her head, and she much preferred her cowgirl hat. Secondly, she did not “fight like a girl.” Tabasco fought like a drunk biker you might see in a movie. If she has any advantage over her opponent, she’ll use it, by-god. And she hates losing.
When the cheerleader pulled on Tabasco’s hair, she had pulled down so that Tabasco was bent in half. Tabasco scowled and brought a fist up into the girl’s stomach. The girl released Tabasco’s hair and backed up, instinctively curling up to protect her stomach from further damage. Tabasco started forward, another fist drawn back, but a hand placed on her shoulder stopped her. She turned slightly to look at Cliff, who smiled softly and said, “Let’s not and say we did.”
Tabasco nodded, took a deep breath, then quickly walked out of the restaurant and got in to the van. Tabasco’s band mates apologized to the management for the disturbance, promising to give Tabasco a “stern talking-to.” Then the guys climbed into the van as well, and drove off to get Salt’s present.
Tabasco’s Ma stuck to a strict schedule when it came to birthday parties, so Sidewinder pulled into the driveway of Tabasco’s house just before one o’clock. As they strolled in through the door, the teens heard Tabasco’s Ma shout, “Time for presents!” The band mates carefully walked through the house, dodging the various decorations, and managed to get to the dining room, where the small army of fifth-graders stood around the table, watching Salt and Pepper tear the delicately wrapped presents open, which mostly consisted of movies, games, and toys. Once done with their friends’ gifts, the twins looked expectantly at the teens.
Tabasco smiled and gestured at the hallway, which was the signal for Cliff to walk in with the piano. He set it down on the table, the box having been hastily wrapped in the van. Written on the wrapping paper with a permanent marker were the words “TO: Pepper FROM: Sidewinder.” Pepper ripped off the paper and stared at the image of a keyboard printed onto the cardboard. She began to blabber thanks at the teens as Salt’s face slowly fell, wondering why he hadn’t gotten a present.
The doorbell rang. Following the plan, Tabasco declared, “We’ll get it!”, then walked towards the front of the house, Cliff and Michael close behind her. From the dining room, the party-goers heard the door open, followed by a hushed conversation. A moment or so later, Tabasco’s voice carried through the house, saying, “Hey Salt, c’mere a second!” Salt got up from his seat, a little confused but very curious, and went towards the front door. Another hushed conversation, then Salt exclaimed, “No way!”
The small crowd of elementary school kids leapt up and were all in the little entryway hardly a second later, gawking at Salt, who was standing next to a brand-new bike. No words were spoken, but within the next five seconds, all of the children were wheeling down the street on their bikes, Salt in a place of honor at the front.
“Well…” Tabasco’s Ma observed.
The band turned around to see Tabasco’s Ma leaning against a wall, a wrapped present in one hand. She continued, “That definitely topped all of the other presents. Way to go Suzette.” She pushed herself off of the wall, walked over, and held out the present to Tabasco. “Happy Birthday to you, Suzette.”
Even though she celebrated hers a day later, Tabasco in fact shared a birthday with her twin siblings. So, it if weren’t for the seven years’ difference, they would be triplets. Their Ma, ever the traditionalist, celebrated all three on the actual date, hence the present now.
Tabasco took the present and peeled the paper off, revealing a long, thin red box. She took the lid off and looked at what was inside.
A necklace. At first, Tabasco felt a little sad since she did not really like wearing jewelry (except for maybe an earring or four), but then she actually looked at the necklace. The chain was about as thick as a pencil and looked to be made of silver. Hanging from the center of the chain was an inch-wide metal circle with a highly polished, clear stone set into it. And, somehow, nestled inside that stone was a tiny replica of Tabasco’s Flying V.
Tabasco was left truly speechless, simply staring at the necklace with her mouth slightly open. To fill the silence, her Ma started to talk, saying, “I have a friend who’s a jeweler, and I asked him if he could do a special order for me, and he made that.”
Tabasco nearly leapt forward so that she could hug her Ma. “Thanks Ma…” she whispered, holding back tears. “It’s amazing…”
Her Ma smiled and returned the hug. After a few moments, the guys walked into the kitchen to pick at what was left of the food, letting Tabasco and her Ma have their touching mother-daughter moment.
A short time later, they broke the embrace and walked into the kitchen, Tabasco putting on the necklace as she walked.
“Happy Birthday!” the staff of Note-Worthy Music, and a few customers, yelled at Tabasco as she was restocking the music books.
Since her back had been turned to them and she had been focused on her work, Tabasco yelped and jumped, a few of the music books flying out of her hands. She rounded on the small crowd and scowled at them. “What the hell was that for?” she demanded.
“Ah-ah!” a fifteen-year-old customer who swore like a sailor exclaimed, then pointed at himself. “Language, young lady, there are children here.”
Tabasco made a face at him while the crowd began to sing the “Happy Birthday” song, and then the other members of Sidewinder carried out a cake with a small “Tabasco’s” written in icing at the top with a big “18th” in thicker icing in the middle of the cake with three candles strewn about.
“We only had three candles,” Cliff explained. “So each candle equals six.”
Tabasco shrugged, then blew out the candles one at a time, followed by a small cheer from the crowd. Suddenly, the cake vanished, replaced by a small, wrapped-up box, maybe two-inches-square. Holding the box was Tabasco’s friend Jack Owens, who smiled and said, “Presents first, cake later.”
Tabasco groaned and rolled her eyes. She should have known they would take advantage of her minor addiction to sugar, but she decided to suffer through it and gorge herself later. She took the box and peeled the paper off of it, revealing a simple cardboard box. She peeled the tape off the edge and opened it, pulling out a plastic sandwich bag filled with guitar picks.
“Michael told me how you burn through picks like mad,” Jack explained. “So I got you plenty of extra.”
It was true that Tabasco constantly needed new picks. At one memorable gig, she had been playing one of Sidewinder’s heavier songs, and the pick she had been using wore down to nothing. So Tabasco smiled and replied, “Thanks Jack.”
The following presents were also mostly guitar-related paraphernalia, interspersed occasionally with a book or DVD. Of course, some were music books and some of the DVDs were recorded concerts. Tabasco was a little surprised that she didn’t get any CDs, but one or two people simply gave her a card with some money inside, so the CDs would come.
Finally, only one gift was left, held by Jack’s sister Diane, who was also one of Tabasco’s closest friends. She smiled and held out the box. “I got you a new outfit!” she declared.
Slightly intrigued, Tabasco took the box, ripped off the paper, and pulled the lid off. She fished through the tissue paper and pulled out a dark-blue tank-top and a pair of jeans.
Big enough for a toddler to wear.
“I got the smallest size I could find,” Diane tried to say over the laughter of the crowd, then started to laugh as well.
Tabasco laughed too, but with the present ordeal complete, she walked over to the cake. She picked up the plastic knife someone had brought and cut a line about two inches in across the width of the cake, then cut that in half, and set those two pieces on a plate. She then grabbed a fork and walked over to a counter to enjoy her cake.
The rest of the partiers followed suit, and soon everyone had some cake. As they ate, most walked over to wish Tabasco a Happy Birthday, and she would reply, through a mouthful of cake, “Fank-hoo.”
Soon enough, the small party was over. Some people stayed, some left, and Tabasco returned to work (after finishing off the cake, of course).
The next morning, her fellow members of Sidewinder were the first to find out about Tabasco’s newest romance…with Diane. They learned this when Tabasco received a text message from Diane that said, “<3 u, babe. Last nite was amazing.” So, Tabasco told the guys that Diane had taken her to dinner as a real present, then she stopped speaking, allowing the boys’ imaginations to fill in the rest of the details.
At the end of the school day, she declared that was going somewhere with Diane, but would, without a doubt, show up for practice on time. True to her word, she showed up at four-thirty, ready to play. In fact, she seemed to play better than before, which her band mates would not have thought possible.
Then, one day at lunch, Michael asked, “So, Tabasco…”
“Yeah?” she asked back around a mouthful of sandwich.
“What’s it like kissin’ another girl?”
The other two guys looked at Tabasco slyly, and slowly set down their food, turning to listen to her response. Normally, another girl named Kris, who had kissed more girls than all three of the guys put together, would have done so as well, but she had stormed off when Tabasco had “switched over” and had not wanted her.
Tabasco didn’t pause and answered, “Iss jus’ like kissin’ a guy…” Now she paused to swallow her food. “But it feels different…” she added, wiggling her fingers suggestively.
“You hit any home-runs yet?” Zac asked.
When he asked this, Tabasco had begun drinking from a can of soda, and when the question registered in her mind, she started to cough violently and nearly choked. She coughed one last time, then punched Zac as he and the guys began laughing. “Where the hell did that come from?” she snapped.
Zac smiled. “Just wondering…”
It was another month before Tabasco “hit a home-run.” Afterwards, she was over at Diane’s house every Friday night, and would apologize on Saturday for missing practice, and then would do it again next week. Another two months passed in this fashion, and then she was suddenly at practice again. The guys pressed her for details, so she explained that she had talked to Diane, and decided that she “didn’t swing that way.” They had chosen to remain friends, and, maybe someday, they’d give it another shot.
With that out of the way, the band began practice.
The next morning at school, while Tabasco was at her locker, Kris walked up and said, “Hey Tab.”
“Hey Kris,” Tabasco replied, turning and smiling at Kris before returning to the task at hand.
“I just wanted to…” Kris began, then continued, “apologize for my little hissy-fit way-back-when, and I thought that maybe we could-”
“Let me stop you right there,” Tabasco cut her off, though not unkindly. “I know you’re trying to hit on me, but…” Here, she paused to slam her locker shut and turned to face Kris, smiling. “It turns out I’m not very good at being homosexual.: Then she turned around again, and walked to her next class.
Third period science class. Just late enough that most students were conscious, but still considered morning. Tabasco sat next to Michael at one of the ten or so tables in the room. They were arguing about bands smashing their guitars (Tabasco being all for it, Michael completely against it), when the morning announcements came on over the intercom. They put the conversation on hold to stand up and recite “The Pledge of Allegiance” (Michael, as usual, doing it in an accent, causing Tabasco to giggle), then they all sat down. Instantly, all of the previous conversations resumed, drowning out the various announcements, but everyone silenced when they heard this:
“Attention all musicians and bands out there,” the slightly distorted voice of their assistant principal said from the speaker. “Wanna perform live for your fellow classmates and maybe win a prize?”
“Done it,” Michael whispered, but Tabasco shushed him. She didn’t doubt that Sidewinder would win, but she wanted to hear what the prize was to see if it would be worth the effort. She ignored the runner-up prizes, then listened intently when the voice said, “And first place, grand prize is…a one hundred dollar Visa gift card for all performers in the winning band!”
Michael blinked twice, his eyes wide in surprise. He and Tabasco looked at each other and grinned. A hundred each didn’t sound as good to Tabasco as the concept of four hundred for Sidewinder did. A few seconds later, her phone buzzed softly, and as she pulled it out of a pocket, Tabasco felt it vibrate again. She opened the message window and opened the one from Cliff first.
It read, “400? we gotta do it.”
Zac’s next, which was, “Tab, we gonna whoop sum noob ass?”
She sent them both the reply, “hells yeah!”
“Tabasco!” Mr. Cook, the teacher, snapped. Tabasco jumped a little and answered, “Yes?”
Mr. Cook tapped the rim of his glasses. “I thought I saw a cell-phone, but these glasses are pretty old,” he said. “If I see it again, I might have to go over there and check.”
The rest of the class chuckled the way teenagers do when someone else is caught, usually while they are also doing the illicit activity. Tabasco shrugged and said, “Sorry, just playing a little air-guitar.”
Mr. Cook shook his head, but smiled slightly, then returned to the lecture.
As he turned his back to the class to write on the board, Michael slid a sheet of paper over to Tabasco. She glanced at it and smiled.
“-lights!” Tabasco sang into the microphone, then finished playing the guitar part to one of her favorite Evanescence songs. As it loaded onto the computer, Tabasco took a sip of her water bottle and shook her left hand. She had just recorded the guitar parts for all of the eleven songs destined for Sidewinder’s next CD in one go, so her hand was a little sore. The computer dinged and Tabasco clicked “Track 12-4” when it popped up in the menu. She listened as the song played and she started to smile, which grew bigger as the song progressed. When she reached the end, she dragged it over to the center of the screen, putting it with the other recordings made by the rest of the band.
She smiled again as Michael’s heavily distorted bass began the intro, which was originally for a cover of another Evanescence song that Tabasco had decided to put on this song, then Tabasco’s guitar part kicked in. She had just reached the solo when she heard from downstairs, “Suzette! Dinner!”
“Just a sec, Ma!” Tabasco shouted back. She dragged the little arrow back to the beginning of the solo and hit pause. She laid the guitar on her bed, went to her door, and down the stairs to the dining room. She sat down at her seat and noticed that the only things on the table were four drinks and four empty plates. Tabasco looked toward the kitchen just as her Ma walked out of it, a large pan of what looked like jambalaya in hand. Her Ma looked a little frazzled, with some of her make-up having run and her hair resembling a bird’s nest. She set the jambalaya on the table and nearly fell into her seat, sighing heavily.
“Ma, are you okay?” Tabasco asked, her confusion more apparent than her concern.
Her Ma sighed again. “Well,” she began, “I decided yesterday that I’d surprise you kids with a genuine, home-cooked meal. I was thinking of ideas when I remembered how much I loved my Ma’s jambalaya.”
“Uh-huh…” Tabasco said, nodding. She had never made it herself, but from what she had heard from kids in Home-Ec, jambalaya was not easy to cook. She looked down at the jambalaya, which looked pretty good, though she had no idea what jambalaya was “supposed” to look like.
Mostly for her Ma’s benefit, Tabasco put a large scoop onto her plate. Once everyone else had served themselves, Tabasco ventured forth to try it.
Since she did not know what to expect, Tabasco was surprised when the rice and a piece of shrimp hit her tongue and her brain screamed, “HOT!” Her face flushed red and she began to sweat as she grabbed her glass of soda and drank the whole thing in one go, flushing the spicy food down with it. Once it was all down, Tabasco squealed, “Damn, that was hot!”
Salt and Pepper looked at her skeptically, so they each took a bite of their servings. Instead of freaking out like Tabasco had, the twins smiled and positively shoveled the food into their mouths. Their Ma took a few tentative bites, then also began to eat it in earnest.
Once her tongue had recovered, Tabasco took another bite, and realized that it was delicious, especially the sausage.
There was no further conversation, each mouth too busy chewing their Ma’s jambalaya.
“So, are there any legit rules to the Battle of the Bands?” Cliff asked the others.
“I think it’s really just ‘don’t drop the f-bomb every line,’” Tabasco answered him, almost perfectly imitating their principal. She continued in her normal voice, saying, “Which isn’t much of a problem for us unless we cover one of Zac’s favorite songs.”
“Hey, those are amazing songs!” Zac said back defensively. It was true that he loved listening to songs where the “f-bomb” was dropped constantly, so he didn’t even try to deny that.
“Whatever. We’re doing Epic Phail anyway, so there’s no problem with that,” Michael declared. He reached into his backpack and pulled out the new-and-improved lyrics to “Epic Phail” and passed them to Zac. “It’s pretty much the same, but the chorus has been changed a bit,” he added.
Zac scanned the sheet, then pulled a folded-up piece of paper out of his pocket. He handed it to Michael and said, “I like mine better.”
Michael raised his eyebrows in mild surprise, then took the sheet, unfolded it, and read it. A minute later, Michael shouted, “Damn, boy, where’d this come from?”
Tabasco plucked the paper from Michael’s hands and read it over as well. She looked at Zac and added, “Why you been holding out on us?”
While Zac was the singer, Michael was the head-songwriter, with Tabasco acting as his deputy. Usually, Zac’s original songs were terrible, so this was rather surprising.
“So, what’s it called?” Cliff asked after taking his turn to read it.
“Topsy-Turvy,” Zac answered, smiling. “And I have a great idea about how we should play it.”
“Let me guess,” Tabasco began. “I have to play naked.”
The band shared a laugh over that. Once it died down, Zac answered, No, but it might be a little hard to do.”
“And why is that?” Cliff ask.
“Because we’re going to mix it up a bit.” Zac pointed at Cliff, “You on bass.” Michael, “You on drums.” Himself, “Me on guitar, and Tabasco will sing it,” he concluded, pointing at Tabasco.
Who sighed. “Couldn’t have made it east, could you?” she asked.
The next day, school was out, so Tabasco decided to spend the day working. She had been restocking the display of guitar straps when someone tapped her shoulder. “Ma’am?” a slightly older voice asked.
Tabasco turned around and smiled, declaring, “How may I help you?” She found herself facing an older man who was maybe in his late-forties or early-fifties…and he looked really familiar.
He didn’t answer, but looked at Tabasco for a moment. Just before it got uncomfortable, he asked, “Aren’t you friends with a big bald guy who drives an ol’ Vee-dubya?”
“Yeah, and he bumped into this really nice guy’s truck a few months ago,” Tabasco replied, having recognized the man.
“I thought I recognized you,” he said, smiling. He held out a hand to Tabasco. “The name’s Steven Jacobs, nice to meet’cha.”
Tabasco smiled back, grasped the hand, and shook it. “Tabasco Smith, likewise.”
“Tabasco? Now that’s an interesting name…”
Tabasco shrugged a little. “It’s a nickname, really. Real name’s Suzette.”
“Aaah, I understand completely. My first name’s really Eugene, but I like Steven better.”
Tabasco laughed a little. “Yeah, I do, too.” They were quiet for a moment, then Tabasco asked, “So, how can I help you?”
“Oh, right!” Steven exclaimed. He thought for a moment. “I’m lookin’ for some instruments for my kids, and I have no idea what I’m lookin’ for.”
Tabasco’s smile grew. “Then you’ve come to the right place!” she exclaimed, then guided Steven towards the center of the store, asking, “So, what instruments are you looking for?”
“Well, Ellie wants some drums, and Brad wants a guitar.”
Tabasco nodded. “Are you on some kind of budget?”
Steven shrugged and said, “Not really, but I don’t really wanna leave here broke.”
“Alrighty then!” Tabasco declared, walking over to the corner of the store with the drum kits. She gestured grandly at an electric set, a mass of metal poles and a variety of round pads.
“I’d recommend an electric kit. Ours aren’t too expensive, and they’re virtually silent.” She sat in the little stool behind the kit, checked to make sure the headphones were plugged in, and played something, but all she or Steven heard was the “tick, tick, tick” of the drumsticks hitting the pads.
“I’ll take it!” Steven declared.
Tabasco smiled, said, “Okay!”, then pulled a small sheet of “PAID THANK YOU” stickers out of a pocket, placing one on a drum pad, and wrote a “T” on it.
“Alrighty then!” she declared again, rising out of the seat. “Now, for my specialty…” she added, heading towards the left half of the store, which was devoted entirely to-
“Guitars!” Tabasco exclaimed, once again gesturing grandly at the huge selection of guitars, ranging anywhere from worn-out, pre-owned Fender Stratocasters to brand new Gibson Les Pauls.
Steven scanned the selection, then sighed. “And I don’t know a single thing about any of ‘em.”
“That’s why you got me!” Tabasco said back cheerfully. She also scanned the selection, but with a more thoughtful air about her. After a moment, she selected a Jackson Dinky, strummed it a bit, then put it back, shaking her head a little, then looked some more. Suddenly, her face lit up and she smiled as she picked up a Fender Starcaster, the blue paint chipped in places, completely worn down in others. She held it out to Steven.
“This was my first guitar, I sold it to this store a few years ago ‘cause we were broke,” she said almost dreamily. “I’ve always planned to buy it back-”
“Well then, I couldn’t possibly buy it from you,” Steven interrupted.
But Tabasco went on, saying, “But I think she could use some love from someone besides me.”
“She?” Steven asked.
Tabasco shrugged. “Well, some guitarists nickname their guitars, and I named this one Lily, after my Gramma.” She chuckled a little. “I know this really great player who just moved here from West Virginia, and he has a guitar named Moonshine and a bass named Harper’s Ferry.”
Steven chuckled a little too, then declared, “Alright, I’ll take ‘er!”
Sidewinder decided to do something different for their Battle of the Bands practice. For one thing, Zac had completely mixed up the band, putting himself on guitar, Cliff on bass, Michael playing the drums, and Tabasco singing. Another change was that, instead of painstakingly writing each individual part until perfection, they were just going to start playing and hope for the best. Luckily, everyone knew how to play all the instruments present (some, obviously, better than others) so, as Tabasco had said, “They might bleed a little, but our eardrums won’t explode.”
Cliff started out on the intro, a slow, almost sad melody on the bass. He suddenly started to pluck the strings with so much force that the band heard the strings clacking against the instrument over the sound of the notes. Michael joined in, positively stomping on the foot pad for the bass drum and pounding on the snare with both sticks, then began a loud tattoo on any surface that would make noise. Zac simply started to strum the strings while he muted them with his right hand.
“Okay, stop, stop!” Tabasco nearly shouted at the guys. After a moment, the instruments grew silent. She frowned a little and added, “Can we maybe take this a little seriously?”
The guys sighed, but nodded. After a moment of silence, Cliff played his sad melody again. This time, though, he repeated it a few times. After about two repeats, Michael hit the bass drum, paused, then hit the snare twice and repeated, so it was BOOM, pause, TUNK, TUNK, BOOM, and so forth. This carried on for a short time, then Tabasco whispered harshly, “Topsy-Turvy,” at the same moment when Zac slid his pick on the guitar strings.
And then, “Topsy-Turvy” was born.
The next day at lunch, Tabasco was filling out a packet for the Battle of the Bands that each participating band had to turn in. The first page was just a letter describing the event, the second asked for the name of the song to be played, or the lyrics if it were an original song. And then Tabasco flipped to the last page, and grew a little confused by what she found there. Half of the page had a bunch of lines on it with the words “Parent/Guardian Signature” below each line. Confused, Tabasco flipped back to the first page, which she had completely ignored, and skimmed through it. Towards the end, Tabasco discovered the reason.
“Looks like we’ll be playing at the Barrel again,” she declared to her band mates.
“Om a’an?” Cliff asked through a mouthful of pizza. He swallowed it and asked, “Come again?”
“I thought they didn’t want us back ‘til March,” Michael observed.
Tabasco tapped the packet. “That’s where they’re having the Battle of the Bands,” she replied. Shortly afterward, she grinned, “And it’s people’s choice…”
The Barrel of Monkeyz, or just “the Barrel,” was a well-known bar in the area, “famous” for encouraging bands of teenagers to play there. Sidewinder was a crowd favorite, so they played there once, maybe twice a month. The Barrel and Sidewinder had “worked together” so much that they had a sort of contract, which promised fifty bucks for each performance. Sometimes, when the band had nothing to do, they would simply go to the Barrel and play for free.
Michael grinned as well. “People’s choice? Ha, ain’t no way we’re gonna lose now!”
But Tabasco shook her head and held up a finger. “Not quite. If Cory enters, we may be sunk,” she said with a sad smile.
After a moment, the rest of the band nodded slowly. If anyone at their school was better than Tabasco at guitar, it was Cory Torres. He was a Hispanic boy, not very large, with a million unruly curls on his head, but he could get almost any sound out of a guitar. He was also a crowd favorite at the Barrel.
“Don’t worry, he ain’t doin’ it,” Cory Torres declared as he walked past Sidewinder’s table, a tray of food in hand, then he just kept walking.
“Okay…” Michael observed, then smiled again. “So, we’re in the clear.”
Tabasco suddenly noticed something. “Hey, where’d Zac go?” she asked her friends.
Cliff and Michael both looked at the empty seat usually occupied by Zac, and they too realized it was empty. They were both about to shrug when Zac suddenly appeared and slumped into his chair. He sighed, then declared, “Well, I’m single again.”
Tabasco rolled her eyes. “Oh, the drama…” she muttered, while Michael, trying to be a little more sympathetic, asked, “What happened?”
Zac sighed again. “I just told Kim that I’ve got a lot of crap to deal with right now, so I can’t really go out with her anymore…I tried to be as nice as possible, but she still took it a little rough,” he explained, then smiled sadly. “But it isn’t like she hates me now, she did let me hug her a bit before I came back here.”
Tabasco patted his back, smiling at him. “Don’t worry, ‘cause you’ll always have us!”
Cliff smiled as well and patted his shoulder. “You always have a shoulder to cry on here!” he declared, pointing at his own shoulder.
Zac rolled his eyes, but it was obvious he was in a better mood now. “You’re all insane…”
“Hey Kim, are you okay?” Tabasco asked into her home phone. After a small sniffle, Kim answered, Yeah, I think I’m over it now…”
Tabasco smiled. “So…anything you wanna talk about?”
Kim was silent for a moment, then asked, “How’s the band doing?”
This question surprised Tabasco a little, since Sidewinder was the main cause of Tabasco and Kim’s friendship getting messed up; once Kim started going out with Zac, she almost instantly disliked Tabasco since Zac spent so much time with her. This had made Tabasco sad since she and Kim had been good friends for a few years.
Tabasco shrugged, pushing the memories from her mind, then replied, “Well, we’re gonna win the Battle of the Bands next week.”
“Really?” Kim asked, genuinely curious.
“Yup,” Tabasco said, then added, “unless Metallica shows up or something.”
Kim laughed a little. “Yeah, ‘cause that is so gonna happen.”
Tabasco laughed, too. “Sweet, that means I’ll get to meet Metallica!”
Another half hour passed, the two old friends simply chatted, when at last Kim said it was her bedtime. So, Tabasco said. “Bye,” then hung up.
The next morning, Tabasco was sure that she had slept with a smile on her face.
Sidewinder stood in the parking lot of the Barrel, waiting. A few other bands stood around them, the occasional person moving to chat with a friend in another band.
It was eight o’clock at night, and there was a slight chill in the air. Tabasco, in her trademarked outfit and Flying V necklace, rubbed her arms a little to keep them warm. She sighed and shouted, “What the hell are we waiting for?!”
“The last band,” a random guy from a different band replied. He added, “They’re supposed to play first.”
Tabasco groaned; Sidewinder was scheduled to play last. Someone else groaned, and then a guy with a beard asked, “Anyone know some Native American band summoning dance or something?”
A few people chuckled, but most continued to simmer. As more time went by, one band unloaded some of their gear and began to practice. At long last, an older looking van pulled up, and Tabasco joined a few other people in a salute, raising their middle fingers to the band.
“Turns out they call themselves The Knights of Never,” the bearded guy from earlier told Tabasco. “Never On Time sounds more accurate…” He shifted his bass to the side a little and held out a hand. “I’m Ryan, by the way, the bassist of Will We Remember?.”
Tabasco shook his hand and replied, “Tabasco. I’m usually the guitarist for Sidewinder, but tonight I’m singing.
“Why is that?”
Tabasco shrugged. “Well, our normal singer wanted to mix it up a bit for the song we’re doing tonight, and he made me the singer.”
Ryan chuckled a little. “Thanks God we’re not doing that, our singer can’t play anything.” He paused to gesture at himself. “I’m the only one in my band who can play more than one instrument.”
“Really?” Tabasco asked, smiling. “What all can you play?”
“Well, bass obviously,” he replied. “Then there’s guitar, piano, violin, cello, and I pretend I can play drums.”
Tabasco sighed. “Well, I just have guitar and bass, so you got me beat.”
“Bah!” Ryan exclaimed, waving a hand dismissively. “Doesn’t matter how many you play, it’s how well you play ‘em.” Then he stood up and added, “Well, I’m up. You should listen to us, we’re gonna mess with people’s head.”
Still smiling, Tabasco also rose. “I think I will!”
“Damn,” Tabasco whispered as Will We Remember? left the stage. She made sure to give Ryan a smile and a thumbs up when their gazes met.
“What are you damning?” Zac asked.
“Dude, were you listening?” Michael asked back harshly. “That girl just sang a Metallica song!”
“So?” Zac asked, shrugging.
“So, she sounded just like James Hetfield!” Michael almost yelled.
“No problem,” Zac replied, shrugging. He turned to Tabasco. “Okay, now you have to play naked.”
Tabasco punched his arm, then pointed at the stage, where the manager of the bar now stood. “Alright you lot. Last, and certainly not least, we have the one, the only…Sidewinder!” he shouted, gesturing at the ceiling.
The band walked out onto the stage to thunderous applause. After a few moments of set up, Tabasco looked out at the bar, which was filled with people. Her heart began to pound loudly since, contrary to popular belief, Tabasco had horrible, horrible stage fright, but she was so afraid of screwing up that she never did. Heart continuing to pound, she said into the microphone, “Hey!” A small cheer was her answer. “If you’ve seen us before,” she continued, “we mixed it up a little tonight.” She jerked a thumb in Zac’s direction. “All his idea, by the way.” Cliff then started in on the bass intro while Tabasco added, “Now, this song might sound a little messed up, but it is about being messed up…” Michael joined in on the drums, and Zac mimicked Cliff’s melody, but a few octaves higher. At last, Tabasco began to sing:
“Twist my mind, wreck my brain,
Time to go against the grain,
In and out, up and down,
Gotta listen for the sound,
To tell me what I can gain.
You can’t take anything from me,
Without giving something back,
‘Cause everything’s Topsy-Turvy!
It has begun
Not all is said and done
I’m in charge around here
And I can hear your fear
Nothing is right
When day is dark as night
You can’t break free from me
When everything’s Topsy-Turvy
The harps of war play loud,
Three is fine, one’s a crowd,
Feet smell while noses run,
Green is the moon, with a purple sun,
How can this be allowed?
You’re running on the sky
Making the oak trees cry
Still everything’s Topsy-Turvy
There’s nowhere you can run
‘Til it’s all said and done
I’m in charge around here
And I can taste your fear
Nothing is right
When day is dark as night
You can’t break free from me
When everything’s Topsy-Turvy
Pu gnieb nwod ot deneppah tahw
Su rof tfel emit on s’ereht
Pu dekcol erew ew yhw eb thgim
Su htiw gnorw s’gnihtemos
Why are you chasing me?
Why can’t I just be free?
Why’s everything back to normal?
Am I gonna have to crawl?
What happened to Topsy-Turvy?
There’s nowhere you can run
‘Til all is said and done
I’m in charge around here
And I can smell you fear
Nothing is right
When day is dark as night
You cant break free from me
When everything’s Topsy-Turvy
But now it’s not.”
Once Tabasco finished singing, Zac played for a few more seconds, then dropped out, followed shortly by Michael. This left Cliff’s melody, which slowly faded away. The crowd began to applaud loudly, occasionally whooped and cheering. Tabasco grinned and held up both of her fists in victory.
And she also yelled, “WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Five bands stood on the stage, awaiting the results of the voting. Tabasco looked a little nervously at the other bands, then met Ryan’s gaze. She gave him a small smile, which he returned, then turned to talk to a friend of his. Still smiling, Tabasco decided that she wouldn’t mind losing to Will We Remember?. A moment later, their assistant principal, a thin, white-haired man in his early fifties called Mr. P. walked onto the stage.
“Well,” he said into the microphone. “We have the results.” Here, he paused to hold up three fingers. “In third place, we have…Prank Call From Sweden!” He clapped with the audience as a band of four girls and one guy bowed a little. He held up two fingers. “Second place…” Here, Tabasco’s heart began to pound as he paused dramatically. At last, he declared, “Will We Remember?!”
The band raised their hands in victory as the crowd cheered for them. Once finger. “And the winner is-”
“Hold up!” a boy who was larger than Cliff and heavily muscled shouted. He walked up and on to the stage, a struggling figure held firmly in his grasp. “Sorry, sir, but this guy had a few drinks and was trying to start some trouble in the parking lot,” the guy said, nodding slightly at his prisoner.
“What kind of trouble?” Mr. P. asked, instantly switching into “teacher-mode.”
“He was starting fights and-”
“And I waz trying to smash that…bwitches car…” the prisoner yelled in a very familiar voice.
“God dammit, Jason, what the hell are you doing?” Tabasco yelled back at him.
Back when Tabasco had broken up with Jason, she had told everyone it was because he had cheated on her, which was part of it. But the main reason was the fact that Jason was an alcoholic and had started taking a few drugs. Upon discovering this, Tabasco had snapped, “I’m not gonna deal with this shit!” Then she had stormed off, hoping to never see Jason again.
Well, she saw him constantly, and she apparently still had to deal with him.
Jason finally managed to escape his captor’s grasp, but could only sway slightly. “What I’m doin’…” he said, then belched. “What I’m doin’…is showin’ ev’ry…buddy…how shick I am of you, mizz Soo-zeh-tah!”
And then Tabasco’s right fist connected with his left cheek bone, the punch fueled by a year’s worth of rage at him and countless other things that had been milling about at the back of her mind. She was sure she felt the bone in his face crack, but she merely enjoyed the satisfaction of finally releasing her anger.
As he crumpled, one of the more intoxicated women in the crowd shouted, “Girl power!”, and then lifted up her shirt so everyone could see her breasts.
The male members of Sidewinder looked away, but Tabasco, who was shaking felling back into her hand, smiled and said, “Aw, go ahead and look at them, they ain’t a half-bad pair.”
A few people laughed, including Mr. P. As someone dragged Jason’s limp from off of the stage, Mr. P. walked back up to the microphone and said, “Sorry about that.” He coughed a little. “The winner is-” he began, the smacked his forehead. “No, wait…Sidewinder got second place.” He coughed again. “Will We Remember? is the winner.”
A moment of silence as the alcohol-addled brains processed this. Then the crowd erupted in applause as the members of Will We Remember? jumped around, shouting and cheering. Sidewinder simply stood there, Zac’s mouth hanging in surprise.
“Huh…” Cliff mumbled.
Zac rolled his eyes. “See, if you’d have played naked, we would’ve won,” he said to Tabasco.
“Now that would’ve been something to see,” Ryan declared as he walked up, prize in hand. He smiled and added, “Good game, Sidewinder. You were a worthy opponent.”
Michael smiled back and shrugged. “Eh, they’re all drunk out there, so I don’t think it really counts.”
Ryan chuckled a little, then spoke to Tabasco, and asked, “Hey…are you free for the rest of the evening?”
Tabasco shrugged. “Yeah, probably. Why?”
Ryan blushed a little, then asked, “Well, I was wondering if you maybe wanted to grab a bite to eat or something?”
Tabasco was surprised by this, so she didn’t respond right away. Instead, she saw Cliff step forward and say, “I don’t know if Tabasco’s Ma would want her going out with a guy she met at a bar…”
Tabasco shook her head, then moved to stand next to Ryan. She smiled and said, “She doesn’t have to know that part. And who knows, maybe he’ll teach me how to play the violin.”
Ryan smiled. “I just might!” Then he turned around and escorted Tabasco to the parking lot.
Tabasco woke up late the next morning, but it was okay since there was no school and she had the day off from work. Just as she was regaining consciousness, she heard her cell phone buzz against her nightstand. She grabbed it and answered without looking at the number. “’Ello?” she asked through a yawn.
“Morning Sunshine,” came Zac’s voice in answer.
She finished yawning, then said, “Oh great, it’s you…” She heaved herself out of bed and asked, “so, what the hell do you want?”
Somehow, Tabasco heard his eyebrows wiggle suggestively as he replied, “Just wanted to ask about your date last night…”
Tabasco groaned softly and rolled her eyes. She was going to respond, but a yawn interrupted her, so she said, “’Erv.” Then she tried again. “Perv. We just had dinner at a little diner, chatted a bit, then we both went home.” She caught a glimpse of knotted hair in a mirror, so she began to hunt for her cowgirl hat. She found it a moment later and set it on her head. She glanced at her alarm clock and then asked, “You guys wanna meet up for lunch?”
“We would be honored,” Michael’s voice answered.
“Good,” Tabasco replied, then stretched. “I know the…perfect place. I’ll get dressed, then text you the address, ‘kay?”
“Alright,” Zac answered. After a short pause, he began, “Hey, Tabasco…”
“I’ve always wondered this…why do you call yourself Tabasco?”
Tabasco smiled a little, then said, quite simply, “Because…I’m pretty freakin’ hot.”