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Courtney can't recall whether it was her or her cousin, Alice, who thought it a sensible idea to venture into light-specked Boston from the safe haven of the surrounding suburbs for an Autumn Skullcaps concert at midnight. "Crank it, baby!" dark-haired Alice yells, competing with both the wind coming in through every window of the maroon Saab and the already deafening car radio. Courtney twists the black knob until the bass is sending vibrations so heavy they can be heard three cars over along the highway.
She is wearing blue jeans, a long, plain teal shirt, and a scarlet-cobalt scarf tied like a noose that reaches further even than her strands of curly orange hair. At fifteen, she hasn’t driven a single mile, although in her opinion, she could do a far better job than seventeen-year old Alice, who swerves in and out of each lane like a madwoman mistakenly released without proper medication from a secluded mental institution. Courtney is guessing, from the way her heart sends a pounding thrum into her head every time a car nears theirs, that it must have been Alice who thought this a sensible idea. Alice, with her short black hair that has caused some confusion about her gender when seen from behind. Colorful green-blue patches on the elbows of her bare arms. Pink skirt not quite reaching past her knees.
The city outskirts are illuminated by angry red car lights, hazy, golden streetlights, and similarly lit square buildings. The driver who had the misfortune to abruptly stop in front of Alice’s car is subsequently vehemently honked at and flipped off. “A**hole!” Alice yells. It is the fourth time she has reached this conclusion about a driver since she rolled down Courtney’s driveway a half-hour ago. Courtney has been counting.
“There it is,” Alice shouts over the radio, indicating with her right hand a neon-lit, triangular building whose wide, glass doors have been overrun by a crowd reaching the block’s end. Courtney feels she should keep both hands on the wheel, but does not voice this opinion aloud. Something in her face, however, must have gave it away, for Alice says, with more than a touch of sarcasm, “Are you frightened of my driving? Poor, sad little Courtney.”
“Can you just drive and keep your comments to yourself?” Courtney says. To her surprise, Alice complies, and soon they are turning into the nearest parking lot.
On the roof of the lot, Alice, looking decidedly disinterested, swings one leg over the ledge and takes a long drag on her cigarette. Cassie sits down next to her. “Hey!” a mousy voice shouts.
Alice turns to see a copper-haired girl who appears to be her age ambling towards her. “Got any more?” she asks, staring pointedly at the cigarette in Alice’s mouth. Without moving her gaze from the elevator wall in front of her, Alice forcefully tosses the pack to the girl. Despite the sudden unexpectedness of the movement, the girl displays a surprising amount of litheness in catching it as it bounces off her left shoulder. “I’m Priscilla,” she says, directing the statement towards Cassie.
In Cassie’s opinion, the two have a lot in common, in that neither of them look like they’re dressed for the right concert -- the girl looks as though she would find more suitable company at a tree hugging convention, Birkenstocks and all -- or even particularly keyed up for the show.
“Cassie. And this,” she says, nudging her as she says her name, “is Alice.”
“Got a lighter?” she asks. Cassie hands it to her and says, “So, are you with anyone?”
Although the movement is slight, Cassie sees Priscillaâ€˜s left fist clench tightly by her side. “My boyfriend. Well, I was, anyway. He ditched me for some purple-haired tramp.”
When they at last descend the parking lot’s eight levels, Alice in lead and Cassie and Priscilla in tandem, the line is converging at the glass, now-open doors, conversing in a way that muffles everyone’s voices so as to make even the discussions of those nearby a jumble of strange words, as though they have arrived in some strange city where they don’t know the language.
Everyone pushes through, the incessant shouting somehow growing louder when they at last step through the doors and into the concert room. Priscilla manages to obtain a spot beside Cassie and Alice without anyone recognizing the difference and, after a few more endless minutes of feet tapping, nail biting, awkward conversations (on Cassie’s end), and multiple rephrasing of the question, “When is it gonna start?”, the lights dim, and a spotlight follows the members of the Autumn Skullcaps sauntering onstage in dark, leather outfits that make bare their tattoos. The crowd bursts into an earsplitting applause, Priscilla and Alice eagerly join in and Cassie, having never heard of the band until an hour and a half ago and, in her humble opinion, tone-deaf, with a bit more reluctance.
The music, always loud and with dark undertones, starts while the lead singer waits for his part by the microphone. Under the garish stage lights, the band members have clearly achieved the same indifferent expression as Alice that is, in itself, an art that requires constant care. Still, even Alice cannot be blasé about seeing her favorite band live, and emits a deafening, “F*** yeah!” that does nothing to alleviate the thrumming in Cassie’s ears.
Beside the stage, in a dimly lit corner of the concert hall, Cassie spots a figure, leaning against the banister before the stage. Judging from the wide arc of the figure’s shoulders, and the short black hair, she presumes him to be a male, one whom has a taste for dark clothing and seems to be staring right at her. As she notices this, she darts her eyes away quickly and, in spite of her intellect -- something she was always certain she could rely upon -- is indubitably certain she is being watched.
She never knew what it meant to feel herself turn pale until now, and finds concentrating on the music -- as drowning as it is, especially when the lead singer grabs the microphone with both hands and his voice thunders through it -- a near-impossible task. For her part, Priscilla glances at Cassie and, noting her deer-in-headlights expression, asks worriedly, “Are you all right?” and, when she does not answer, “Cassie?”
The shouting of the audience, the band, the swirling of multicolored lights, her pulse quickening, Alice jumping up and down, her parents thinking she is in the room next door while they sleep, the entire floor vibrating beneath her. It all grows fuzzy, purple-pink spots clouding her vision, the music growing distant as though fading down a long, dark tunnel, and she knows, knows before it is happening that it is coming: first, her knees give out, and the last thing she sees is the man, closer now, before everything fades to black.