I don’t know that I can say that Declan “thrived” (throve?) after Raven left, but I might say that he blossomed. I could even say “hatched”. He broke out of the cocoon he’d woven for himself with his girlfriend those first couple years in college.
“We should start a band,” he said to his friend Jeffrey. Jeffrey had been in a band in high school, too, overseas in Brussels, of all places. “Anus de Manus” was the band’s name and they were, as he put it after watching Declan’s videos, “even more terrible than your Fear-band.”
“Angst,” Declan corrected him.
“Angst is Dutch for fear,” Jeffrey pointed out. And now, building on that, he added, “I think maybe it’s time you moved past that Fear.”
Jeffrey had an “actual classical education” in guitar, whcih was an unexpectedly huge adjustment for Declan.
“Why are you holding your guitar like that?” Declan asked.
Jeffrey had it propped on his right leg, which looked super awkward and put the guitar at an almost vertical angle, more like a cello. “It’s so I can reach further,” Jeffrey explained. “Or at least, that’s what my instructor used to tell me when she jabbed my thumb with a pencil.”
“You’re supposed to have your thumb there, though.”
“Not where I’m from.”
It was a weird adjustment, too, when it came to sound. “I want to add some violin,” Jeffrey said out of the blue. They weren’t even recording yet. “Guitar is too… There are too many memories for me.”
When school started up again—their junior year in college—they actually picked up a couple of freshmen.
“Don’t you think we need a name now?” asked Martin J. Quindlen.
“Butterflies and Hurricanes,” said Talthybius Jones.
“Sounds more like a name for an album,” said Jeffrey.
The name they decided on, ultimately, was Gorgasm and the Astral Vices.
“Why?” asked almost every girl Declan found himself sleeping with that semester.
“Well, our lead singer, Rachel, has a beautiful voice, so it was gonna be Astral Voices, ‘cause we’re going for something really, like, cosmic and ethereal, but then we got into this thing, the rest of us, about Greek mythology, and went waitaminutewaitaminute, and I can’t remember how, but we went from ‘Gorgon’ to ‘Gorgasm’ and decided that ‘Vices’ was more appropriate than ‘Voices’ then. I don’t know. We’re kinda metal? We’re kinda weird?”
Jeffrey didn’t make it the whole year with them. He was majoring in Physics and it became too much of a time commitment, but he did help set them up with a guy who ended up being their agent: Magnus Murgatroyd.
“That’s the most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard,” said Talthybius Jones.
“I gotta say, guys,” said Magnus upon meeting them, “your stuff, I really found it quite uh… quite moving.”
“Thanks,” said Martin J. Quindlen. “We do practice a lot.” Then Tally hit him. “Ow?”
“You kids got plans for the summer?”
Who needed Acid Monsoon, anyway? Who needed established platform and fanbase?
“Now,” Magnus told them, told Declan personally, closer to crunch time, “there are one or two things…”
There needed to be something in Declan’s look, you see. “We gotta kinda rough you up, audiences expect something kinda, I don’t know, a little bit rougher, a little bit gruffer, you know what I’m saying?”
“No,” Declan said. “It seems to me the audience wants a voice. My voice—or at least, my lyrics, my songs, my playing. They’ll want to know who this person is who’s making this music. Not the plastic thing the agents and record companies mold.”
“Listen, kid—“ He tries to make it sound conspiratorial when he says it, but he’s still kind of a dick. His message here was how people want things, people are predictable, and he was the one with all the answers.
Is that who I want to be? he finds himself asking.
Then he gets a text from Raven.
It’s been a while. Raven doesn’t feel a whole lot of need to come back. Not like she has family here. Not really. Just Declan and he doesn’t count because they broke up.
Does he regret that? Of course he regrets it. You know he does, because theirs is the big love story, the epic showdown. They’re the ones here who bleed for each other. He loves her. He would be in love with her, too, if they hadn’t kicked each other out.
“Playing in Trinity,” she says. “You should come. I’ll comp you.”
Did she not know that he wasn’t going to be in Trin’s Field that week?”
“I’ll be in Alabama,” he texts back.
“Yeah, didn’t you know?” He explains his new situation.
“Oh, wow,” she texts back. Thirty seconds pass. “Congratulations!”
How could he not have told her? How could they be so out of touch?
The next summer, they end up at a festival together. “You should totally open for us!” she says, then catches herself. “Unless that would be weird?”
“I’m sure the guys’d be thrilled,” he says, wondering if he is.
He assumes that she’s sleeping with at least one of her bandmates.
Not that he hasn’t slept with Rachel a time or two… He wonders why that feels different, reminds himself that wondering isn’t going to make the feeling go away. He needs to just be okay with it. He takes a cold shower, forces himself to think about it, to normalize it. She’s moved on.
By now, Declan is out of the shower and wrapped in a towel. He wasn’t expecting to see Caspar June right there, his ex’s boss and whatever else, but he shouldn’t be as bewildered as he is. It’s not as if they haven’t met before.
“Do you feel awkward around me?” Caspar asks, and of course Declan does—especially after that question. “Can I ask you—is it because of the fame thing, or is it because of Raven?”
Declan doesn’t even need to answer. He knows it. Caspar knows it.
“Listen, I like you,” Caspar says. “I like your music. I think you’ve come really far. I’d like to see you go further. But there’s something that you gotta understand about the Game.”
Somehow, thinking of marketing and imagery as a game with an opponent was not somethign that had ever occurred to Declan. It helped. It reminded him of the campaign he’d run back in high school to get into Raven’s good graces.
“You don’t have to be that person,” Caspar said, “You don’t have to war the mask or the hat 24/7, even out in public. But you gotta treat the camera like a stage, certain people, especially journalists and producers, but even your own agent, they aren’t people and they are not your friends. They are your audience. Your audience wants a character. And a character is the opposite of a person.”
That was the most useful information anyone had ever given him about being an artist.