POWER PLAY

 

PILOTS HOCKEY #2

Concert Scene Sample

 

 

 

Chapter 5

My second annual Halloween road trip to Chicago to visit my best friend, Michelle came at the perfect time after two weeks of hell with Joey as my boss. I’d never worked in an office environment or the corporate world, but I could totally understand why people complained about their bosses. Especially employees who complained when they knew more than their boss, because their boss was a huge idiot.

My brother was a huge idiot boss. 

Joey changes his own oil in his car. He fixes anything that breaks around the house. He even built an addition onto our house. But the kid has no clue how to run a store. Or bring in customers. Or be civil to the few customers who were coming in to shop.

I shouldn’t even be thinking about him this way. He’s always been a good brother. He’s always done the protection thing. He never teased me (too much) or stuffed me in a locker in high school. Granted, we didn’t attend high school at the same time, but he wouldn’t have done that and it’s the thought that counts.

Thankfully, Michelle chose to attend Loyola University out of the hundred schools she’d been accepted to. Okay, maybe she hadn’t picked from one hundred schools, but she’d been accepted to every school she’d applied to, so that was something. With my best friend in a fun city only four hours away, I had a place to go to get away from home, at least for the next three years—or longer, if she stayed in Chicago after she graduated. 

Some days I wished I’d chosen the college route, rather than work at the store. I’d taken a few accounting and business classes online last year because I thought they’d help me manage the store better. But online classes took more discipline and computer time than I was willing to put in. I realized early that I needed the traditional method of sitting in a class and being taught by an instructor.

Colleges should offer Concert Attendance degrees. I’d ace it. I love live music. I couldn’t play an instrument or carry a tune in a choir, but I could make a life out of going to concerts. The people, the vibe, even the sweat—because I always sweat. Even with below-zero temperatures outside, I’ve got sweat rolling down my back, under my tank top. 

Sometimes I wished the you-must-work-for-what-you-want ethic instilled by generations of Bertuccis hadn’t been passed down to me. If I were the Bertucci Family Princess, I’d be living off my family’s money and traveling from city to city to watch a live band every night of the week. If I could capture the amazing hum created by the buzz of a room packed with people listening to the geniuses who create the music and lyrics that speak to our souls, I’d suck it up in a syringe and inject it directly into my veins. I’m pretty sure I just described how people feel about drugs. Thankfully, I prefer the natural high of guitar strums, drum beats, and a penetrating, mesmerizing voice rather than a chemical high. 

Though I’d be satisfied with seeing a different band every night, I especially loved Twenty One Pilots concerts. Tonight marked my tenth time seeing them, including a show in Detroit a few nights ago. Each concert was a completely amazing experience in itself. The two guys that made up the band actually gave the audience members plywood boards and then came into the crowd, standing on the boards held up by their fans. Seeing it never got old.

Thousands of damp bodies crammed shoulder to shoulder in staggered rows facing the stage at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. The temperature in the Spanish village–style concert hall skyrocketed as people packed in, pushing and elbowing for position, as we anxiously waited for Twenty One Pilots to take the stage. Sweat poured down the crevice of my back, a human shot luge for the streaming succession of sweat.

Michelle and I teetered on our toes, bobbing our heads and getting jostled by the hundreds of other dancers on the floor as the band broke into “Semi-Automatic.” The person behind me kept bumping into my back, which I understand, to an extent. We’re all moving, leaning, dancing. But there is such a thing as concert crowd etiquette, no matter how packed the place is, and this person definitely didn’t understand those unwritten rules. 

I threw a quick glance over my shoulder to see what I’d be up against if I were to confront the pusher. Tall blonde girl, tight black dress, stilettos. Instead of making a big deal of the situation at that moment, I focused my attention back to the stage. Then I felt her hand use my shoulder as home base to propel herself upward on her toes. I turned slightly, just enough to make her weeble-wobble on her four-inch heels. 

“Sorry,” she said, rolling her eyes at me. 

Call me crazy, but if someone rolls their eyes during an apology, I’m apt to think it’s not a very sincere apology. 

“No big deal.” 

No less than two minutes later, she jostled me again. This time she rammed me full force into the person next to me, a short guy in a ski mask, which would be a scary sight at any other concert, but Twenty One Pilots had made ski masks their gimmick, and hundreds of fans wore them during the concerts.

“I’m so sorry,” I told the guy I’d fallen into.

I think he said “No worries,” but the room buzzed and he had that stupid ski mask over his face so it could have easily been “F you.”

When I turned around to lash out at the pushy girl, it surprised me to see a familiar face partially hidden by a black Detroit Pilots baseball hat weaving his way through the crowd.

“Landon? What are you doing here?” I asked when he got within speaking range.

He smiled but shook his head and cupped one hand around his ear. Then he beckoned me closer with the other hand. 

I leaned into him and yelled directly in his ear. “What are you doing here?”

“Seeing a concert.”

Suddenly the entire crowd roared and pushed toward the stage as the lead singer addressed the audience, and I was propelled forward with the motion. I stretched my arms out to break my fall and ended up smooshed against Landon’s chest, which wouldn’t have been a terrible feeling if it hadn’t happened the way it had. 

Michelle grabbed my arm to steady me, though Landon’s hard, lean body had already done the job. I flashed her a grateful smile and stood up straight on my own. The girl in the black dress lay in a heap on the floor at my feet, having fallen in the shoving. Despite my initial annoyance, I squatted down and helped her up before the crowd trampled her in the excitement. It doesn’t take a mosh pit or a rowdy crowd to hurt someone. Hundreds of people without a care in the world jumping up and down to a blood-pumping beat can be just as dangerous.

Once she was steady on her feet, she turned around and elbowed her way through the crowd to the aisle that the bouncers kept empty so people could walk to the bathrooms. No thank-you. No apology.

“Are you okay?” Landon asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I nodded in the general direction the girl had gone. “She’ll probably have some bruises, but I’m good.”

“Why don’t we do this,” Landon said as he maneuvered himself directly behind me. Then he reached for Michelle’s forearm. Startled by the sudden contact from a stranger, she jerked away and studied Landon under furrowed eyebrows. When I gave her two thumbs up, she relaxed and allowed Landon to guide her into the space next to me.  

“Do you know him?” She asked, giving Landon a cautious side-eye. 

Legitimate question. Friends look out for each other.

I nodded. “It’s Landon.”

“Who?”

“Landon.” Landon answered before I could say it again. 

Michelle’s lips rose slightly. Did she realize it was Landon Taylor, my ultimate mega-crush? Or did she think I randomly knew this kid? 

Landon’s reorganization of bodies meant that Michelle and I were now one row closer to the stage, which was a huge bonus. We were so close we could almost touch the lead singer. Almost. Not that I would’ve—unless he asked. 

Another bonus of having Landon behind me was the arm-box he formed around me when there was a push from the audience. Every time the crowd moved, Landon put his arms up, caging me in and preventing me from getting pushed around. It was sweet. I almost wanted the crowd to get rowdy just so he’d have a reason to put his arms around me.  

“I have a confession,” Landon whispered in my ear during a break between songs. 

I leaned back into his chest, taking comfort in the hard planes holding my weight easily. It took every ounce of self-control not to sigh and close my eyes. I could get used to Landon’s warm, stable body cradling and protecting me.  

And then I came back to reality. Dreams of a teenage girl had no place in real life. 

“I’ve never heard of this band before.”

I stared mesmerized as the singer walked to the middle of the stage carrying a ukulele. They were about to play “House of Gold,” one of my favorites songs.

“Excuse me?” I obviously hadn’t heard Landon right. Because it sounded like he said he’d never heard of this band, yet he was standing behind me at their concert—in Chicago.

“Well, I mean, I’d never heard of this band until I overheard you talk about them at the store.” Landon circled his arms around me, holding me against his chest, though there was no music to cause a crowd surge to make his embrace necessary. 

“Why would you drive four hours to see a band you’d never heard of?” I asked, twisting in his arms to study his face.

“Because you’re here.”

“And?”

“I want you to notice me, Gaby. The way I’ve noticed you my whole life.” 

Could someone please tell my legs that buckling was not an option? The girl in the black dress already hit the floor. It’s been done. I didn’t want to be a copycat.

“Notice you? I’ve noticed everything about you since the minute I realized all boys weren’t all horrible devils, like my brothers, born into the world to torment girls.”

Landon grinned, seemingly surprised by my admission. How could he be surprised? He was sweet and kind and handsome. Okay, he was by far the hottest guy I’d ever known in my life.

“You barely pay any attention when I come into the store. You treat me like every other customer.”

“Treat you like every other customer? Landon, I schedule my shifts around the days and times you’re most likely to walk in. I keep my hair down and wear perfume those days.”

“I just thought you always looked like that.”

“Like what?”

“Gorgeous. You should be the model in a Bertucci Produce catalog.”

I burst out laughing, thankful that “House of Gold” drowned it out. “Produce catalog?”

“That’s not a thing? Okay the Sunday paper ads then.”

“Can we talk about this after the concert?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry.” Landon shook his head and lifted his eyes to the singer.

“I’m not mad, I swear.” I spun around in his arms and, though we were nose to nose, I kept rambling, “It’s just loud and I don’t have any clue what’s going on and I can’t form thoughts, let alone sentences right now.”

Landon laughed, his entire body shaking me. Then he dipped his head and brushed his lips across mine. I couldn’t stop myself from swaying as my knees gave out for a split second. He grabbed my arms and held me upright so my head tilted toward his and our lips stayed locked. 

When he pulled away, he licked his lips and smiled. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, until he grabbed my shoulders and physically turned my body toward the stage. I tried to twist back around but he held me firm, before sliding his hands down to my waist.

“Just enjoy the moment.” 

Oh, I was enjoying the moment. The man I’d had a crush on since I was eleven years old just kissed me at one of my favorite bands’ concert. A Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have scripted a better first kiss than that.

First kiss with Landon, I mean. Or second kiss? He still hadn’t explained that whole kiss thing. I hadn’t had a chance to ask him about it. 

As if the buzz of the concert wasn’t enough to have my insides flipping pancakes, the kiss and his large, strong hands, which switched seamlessly from roaming up and down my sides to circling around my stomach, just threw some bacon into the pan. 

Normally, I’m as comfortable at a concert as I am curled up on the couch in my parents’ living room reading a book, which was my other happy place. But Landon had me conscious of everything going on around me. I’d never attended a concert with a guy, let alone had a guy behind my, his hands on my hips, swaying and jumping with me to the beat. Millions of thoughts rushed through my head, all of which led to a nervousness in the sizzling griddle of my stomach that made me want to throw up. 

This was one of those moments that I wanted to grab Michelle’s forearm and jump up and down. But I couldn’t because Landon stood behind me and I had to play it cool. Although, after all these years, he had to know there wasn’t a cool bone in my body, and yet he still kissed me.

And what do I say to all that junk about Landon needing me to notice him? How could he not have realized that I noticed every move he made when he came to our stores? I knew he and his family always stopped at our stand first, bought a basket of apples, and walked around the rest of the market eating the apples as they shopped. I knew every hockey team he’d ever played on, and always had some statistic ready to spout in case I saw him the day after a game.

When the keyboard sounded the opening notes of “Screen,” Landon’s hands slipped down to my hips and he squeezed. “I love this song.”

“I thought you’d never heard of them.”

“I hadn’t. But I’ve had their album on repeat since I found out you liked them.”

I pinched his arm. He pulled his hand from my hip and shook his arm out. “Ow! What the hell, Gaby?”

“Just checking.” 

What kind of sci-fi, alternate-universe rabbit hole had I fallen through? People like Landon Taylor didn’t put albums on repeat just because I liked them. That kind of craziness belonged to fan girls like me when we found out our favorite hockey players’ favorite bands. 

As if he’d read my mind, Landon pushed the damp hair off my neck and leaned into me. “It’s not hard to believe, Gaby. You’re amazing.”

And with that I gave up. Gave up the questions. Gave up the disbelief over how I could be in this situation. Day two of the new year. Time to live in the moment. And at this moment, all my dreams had come true. Well, my Landon Taylor dreams. 

With complete confidence, I leaned back and allowed my body to sway with Landon’s as we watched the band perform “Screen.” The song lyrics about standing in front of someone with my heart and emotions being on display for him to see, but still “trying to be so cool,” were pretty poignant for the moment. Almost as if Landon had planned it. And maybe he had. He hadn’t stopped surprising me since the day Papa had a heart attack and he’d jumped into action.

I’d almost gotten used to being in Landon’s arms, watching a concert like we’d done this a hundred times before. Until two guys yelling “Taylor!” body checked their way through the crowd and popped our magic bubble. 

“Taylor!” the taller guy wearing a black Pilots hat identical to Landon’s yelled again. “You’re gonna get us into so much fucking trouble, dude. We gotta go.”

He grabbed Landon’s arm and tugged him toward the door.

“This is the last song,” Landon lied, twisting out of the hold. He leaned in and placed a kiss on the side of my neck. I couldn’t even smile with the two hulking guys trying to pull Landon away. They had to be his teammates, both with Pilots gear on. They didn’t look like they’d been out for a night on the town either.

“It took us an hour to find you, motherfucker! We’re all gonna get benched tomorrow,” the shorter guy said. 

“Don’t make me carry your ass out of here,” his hat-wearing friend warned.

“I will,” said the little guy, and lifted Landon off his feet and carried him toward the door, tottering like a penguin with a log in a tough-man competition. 

Landon twisted around. “Guess I gotta go, Gaby. Kiss you later!”

Michelle turned to look at me and I shrugged. Then we watched the guy set Landon on the ground, keeping a hand on Landon’s back and pushing him toward the door.  

I spun back toward the stage, relieved that it hadn’t been as big of an incident as it could’ve been. In fact, no one looked too concerned at a guy being carried out by two big dudes. 

Chicago and Detroit seemed similar in that way. No one blinked an eye. The show went on with the song, “Car Radio,” as the soundtrack to the craziness.

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POWER PLAY

Pilots Hockey #2

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Award-Winning Author, Sophia Henry, is a proud Detroit native who fell in love with reading, writing, and hockey all before she became a teenager. She did not, however, fall in love with snow. So after graduating with a BS in English from Central Michigan University, she moved to the warmth of North Carolina for the remainder of her winters.

She spends her days writing books featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. When she’s not writing, she’s chasing her two high-energy sons, watching her beloved Detroit Red Wings, and rocking out at concerts.

 

Commitment to the Be Kind Love Hard motto:

Sophia donates the first $500 in royalties from each book to charity!

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