What If's and Smooshy Faces.
You know the feeling you get when you look at a little ant carrying ten times its weight? You think to yourself, if only I could do that. If only. This is the first time in my life the 'if only' feels real.
Music from Towers and Trees vibrates Hercules' speakers, wind from the open windows blows through my wig, and I'm on the way to my very first practice with 10FOUR. This is what it feels like to have your dreams come true. I'm the little ant that did!
"Hells Bells!" Akiko shouts as she slams on breaks and lays on the horn— it sends a slight whiney squeak to the boy who jumped in front of her car.
"Oooh, that'll make him quake," I say.
Akiko turns the rear view mirror so she can see me and glares into it. "I thought we agreed you wouldn't make fun of Hercules and I wouldn't mock the dumpster sticks."
"Did we? Hmm, I don't seem to remember."
"How convenient," she says, turning back to the road. When she notices the same boy standing in front of Hercules she throws up her hands. "What is he doing?"
I shrug, roll down my window and stick my head out. "Hey buddy," I yell. "This is a road. And this is a car. So unless you want to be part of the road, and remembered on the grill move it along."
"You can drive around me," the boy says over his shoulder, his eyes peeled to the intersection in front of him.
"Why? Are your legs broken?" I ask.
"No, man, just trying to get the first shot of the new 10FOUR member," he says, his back is to us and he holds up his camera for us to see. "He's supposed to be coming down this street any moment."
Akiko starts to laugh and I slug her in the side.
"Hey, what was that for?" she asks.
I try to silence her with my eyes—you know wiggle the brows, tilt my head in the guys direction, press my lips together kind of way.
"You feeling ok? Was it the chilidog? I know we shouldn't have shared the chilidog," she says.
"No," I say as I slap my forehead and sigh. "The chilidog was fine."
She frowns at me, her eyes twisted in confusion so I lower my voice and say, "it's the guy, I don't want him to take my picture."
"It's only one picture. You got to pop your cork eventually."
"Pop.My.Cork? You're discusting."
"Like when you have a lot to drink and you're holding it in, when you finally go pee, you have to keep peeing all night."
I turn up my nose. "I don't have to go pee."
"It's a metaphor Rae. Once you get it over with everything else will just flow." She pats me on the arm.
"You're comparing my music career to going pee? And here I thought you believe in me." I cross my arms over my chest, allowing my fingers to pick at the edge of the tensor bandages. Akiko slaps my hands away.
"Leave it!" she warns. "I do believe in you." As if in a challenge she raises her hand and slams it on the horn.
The little squeak startles the guy and he jumps, then turns to us. He squints, sheltering his view from the glare of the setting sun and when he sees me, his eyes widen like full moons.
"Ray Harper?" his voice starts as a whisper and ends in a shout. "Can I take your picture?" he asks, holding up his camera as he walks to my side of the car.
I turn to Akiko, she says, "what's one little picture going to hurt?"
She's right, plus I have to pop my cork eventually. The thought of whatever that is makes me cringe.
I turn to the guy and say, "sure."
He whistles, louder than Akiko's horn and yells, "he's over here boys!"
Suddenly a swarm of men, carrying all kinds of camera's come running out of the shadows and surround our car. Lights flash, people scream my name. "Over here, Ray, over here," they call.
One of them shoves his video camera in the window and in my face. Akiko jumps over me and covers his lens, "roll the window!" she screams.
"Pop the cork, she says, it will flow naturally, she says." I use my elbow to hold the guy back as I struggle to roll up the window.
Akiko let's out a breathy laugh. "Luv you," she says.
"I Lub Eu Tiu," I say monotone and with a fake glare.
When the window finally closes, Akiko revs her engine and lays on the horn.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"I'm getting you to practice!"
It's slow moving through the sea of camera's and flashing lights. I don't even now how Akiko can see enough to drive. For all I know we're headed towards a wall.
My heart is pounding as though I just ran a marathon. I put my hand over my heart and close my eyes, shutting out the chaos and focusing on breathing. I try to count every interval of my heart's beat. It's a weird way I calm myself.
"Rae?" Akiko says, her hand gently shaking me.
I open my eyes and smile.
A young girl slams into the side of the car, pressing her face flat against the window, so she looks like a jellyfish. She screams my name. Well my kinda name—Ray.
Akiko slams on the horn, screams something in another language at the window and shakes her fist. Then she turns to me and calmly says, "You scared me." She glances at the hand pressed firmly on my chest. "I thought you fainted."
"Nah," I say, raising my voice to be heard over the chanting crowd. "I was just checking my heart beat."
"I like that," she says. "It's catchy. It should be your new saying."
"What?" I ask.
"Check your heart beat."