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Chapter 7: Alcohol is dangerous, and I probably won't learn my lesson.

Fifteen minutes in Brass Bar, and I was overwhelmed. The bar was full, the music was loud, and people were louder. Alcohol had been handed to me in a red solo cup. It was a full recipe for 'Get me the fuck out of here.'

In the same fifteen minutes, though, I also learned that Maya could sing.

She had been the second to go up after we'd came in, behind an unfamiliar face. I figured it was a visitor, here only for the festival and then they'd disappear again, no one I knew had silver-y hair.

At first I was off put at the thought of having to listen to Maya sing. Her voice was fairly high pitch, and all she seemed to do was enthusiastically egg me on to engage in conversation and flirting, or whine. I squinted long and hard, debating it as she scrolled through songs with the remote, and I almost walked out of the bar.

I might have, if it wasn't for Owen making his way back over with a drink and thanking me for sticking around for so long. Guilt overrode the extreme want to leave. Luckily, he was a big enough guy to create a space big enough between a few people where I could breathe.

Up on the stage, in a baby pink bathing suit cover with her hair pulled back into a single ponytail, Maya shut me up mid sentence. She was singing King and Lionheart, and her voice was perfect for it. Light and shockingly in tune… sound just floated out of her mouth with so little effort. Her rhythm, the feeling behind the way she sang.

It was the most surprising thing, and I was fully stunned.

The round of applause was the only thing to startle me back to the present. Maya was taking a theatrical bow with the mic still in her hand, and had the brightest smile I'd ever seen on her face.

Brighter than Luke's default beaming. It was blinding.

"Uh oh, someone got a crush?" Owen leaned over to whisper at me. He'd notice my stunned staring, and innocently poked fun at me. Not knowing the discomfort and annoyance her existence caused before.

"What! No." My answer was sharp, and a little too loud. It drew some attention from those directly around us, and I could feel my face heat back up when I looked back at the stage. Expecting someone else to have already hopped up for their turn.

Maya, too, caught my staring.

Her smile faded a little, but she held on as if waiting for something.

Me to smile back.

Begrudgingly, I offered her a half smile, and quickly averted my attention. Whatever pout showed up on her face, I didn't want to see. Leading her on to the idea of talking to me, I didn't want to do. So instead, I stared into my drink long and hard before caving and taking a sip.

Whatever fruity concoction Hayden and Kathy had come up with, did not hide the vodka in it.

I repeat. Did. Not. Hide. The. Vodka.

'Sangria,' my ass. I nearly choked.

"Your blush says a little different, champ." He said quietly, stifling a chuckle with a sip of his beer.

"No. It's the other way around." I said defensively, unintentionally glaring at him. "I just didn't know she could sing. I was surprised."

Another instrumental music cover came on, but I didn't bother to look at the stage. I kept my attention, awkwardly, on the miner. I could have looked anywhere else, even back down into the cup of some fruity sangria that was pushed into my hand by Kathy earlier. But no.

I locked up. And couldn't look away from Owen.

"Okay, if you say so." He chuckled again, and glanced up at the stage. "Loosen up a little, Kasey. I'm not out to get you, just have fun."

"Bottoms up then, if that's going to happen." I quipped back, rolling my eyes. All it got was another laugh from Owen, and shortly after I found a hand clapped against my shoulder a time or two the second I went to take another drink.

xxx

Two drinks later, I was effectively buzzed. The room hadn't gotten any quieter, at all, but with a little edge off it was much more tolerable. As was some of the less skilled versions of popular songs I enjoyed being sung by Castanet habitants.

Luke and Bo had come in from the food set up outside, bringing in a more boisterous conversation to my small bubble that consisted of me and Owen. Several inhibitions thrown out the window, we'd had conversation crawl from preferred drinks to over sharing experiences throughout life. It all felt familiar, even though it was a long while ago I was anywhere near this kind of scene.

In fact, everywhere I looked I could see a somewhat blurry but familiar face. Chase had moved from selling skewers to selling drinks behind the bar next to Kathy. Dale and Cain were arm wrestling at a table in the corner. Julius and Mira were doing their turn of Karaoke together, singing a questionable rendition of Single Ladies.

They were having fun, and were fun to watch. In my intoxicated haze I hadn't even realized I was singing along with them. Not until Luke's arm was around my shoulders, and Bo was staring at me with eyes the size of the moon.

"What..?"

"Dude- you can sing! You should get up there." Luke said, shaking me lightly. It was nice, not being towered over. Owen didn't make me feel particularly small, but Luke's eyes met mine without having to look up. That and he smelled like sea salt, which in the presence of fruity cocktails was also nice.

Without my brain in overtime, I simply laughed and shook my head, but didn't shake him off.

"Naaah. I don't have the stage presence." I said, pointing with my half empty cup up at Julius to further my statement as he flipped purple hair over his shoulders. He was much more confident with the iconic dance than Mira, but she wasn't half bad.

"C'mon Kasey, it'd be so cool. I'm sure there's music you know." Bo's encouragement was precious, he even set his cup down and darted away to get the catalog. He wasn't drinking, after informing me that he and Maya both were still only nineteen, but he'd opened up to the group the same as I had. Just… of his own volition.

When he came back, he sidled up on my other side. Luke took the cup out of my hand so the song catalog could be half handed to me, and Bo flipped the pages over. Looking up every now and then as he suggested a couple of popular hits from the last summer. I declined most of them with laughter.

My third drink was hitting me a little harder.

"Okay then. What will you sing, Kasey?" Bo was fake pouting at me. A little part of me, in the back of my head, knew it wasn't real. Unfortunately the larger, forefront of my mind, part of me just saw a disappointed kid.

"Fine, fiiine. Give me the book."

Looking a little more seriously through the selection of songs, I found it was becoming increasingly more difficult to see straight. I must of been swaying, because Luke's arm around my shoulders got a little more secure. He laughed a little, but I was thankful I didn't have to explain myself.

Both he, and Owen, had a lot more to drink than I did. Yet neither of them seemed even the slightest bit out of it. I was assured that, no, I wasn't just a lightweight. For some reason hearing that was a huge relief. Not a single thought or concern came up for just… how much they could handle. It didn't dawn on me either, that they'd had significantly more to eat than I did, too.

Besides, with Bo pestering me to sing, I didn't have a whole lot of time to think on it. Questioning if I could even remember the lyrics well enough to not make an utter fool of myself, (yes there were still a few self conscious thoughts bouncing around in my brain), was taking precedence.

"Okay- Kasey, you got some emotional high school drama story to tell?" Owen pried at my enthusiastic agreement to a Fall Out Boy, and then directly after, a Panic! At the Disco suggestion.

"Doesn't everyone?" I said, laughing at the look on his face. No clue why I found it funny, but the smile I got for my stupid laughter? Mmh. "Doesn't matter, 'm singin' it."

There was a burst of excitement from the carpenter, followed by something about sudden confidence. Bo took the book back as I started up toward the stage without Luke's assistance. Yes, I was a little wobbly, but if I made an effort to look at exactly where I was going, the room didn't spin.

Flipping through the songs on the small Karaoke machine, if I had been sober, the drop in volume and tingling sensation of eyes on me would have thoroughly shook me. I'd of noped off the stage so quickly people would of questioned if I had even really been on it.

Everyone had plenty reason to stare. Me? The generally irritated, curt, new guy that did everything he could to stay a hermit on a hill? Suddenly singing in front of strangers at a summer festival? Yeah. Weird.

Just for the record, the only backtracking I did just so happened to be when I clicked a few songs past the one I wanted.

A steady beat and instrumental intro later, not an ounce of regret had crept up my spine.

Take that, anxiety, alcohol has one up on you.

Do I look lonely?

I see the shadows on my face

People have told me I don't look the same

Maybe I lost weight

I'm playing hooky with the best of the best

Put my heart on my chest so that you can see it, too

I couldn't remember the last time I'd been the center of attention, and certainly not for shits and giggles. So much stress had come with spotlights, stages, being singled out. It didn't matter how much music had always meant to me, I'd grown to avoid it. But the more I sang, the less I thought.

I'm walking the long road, watching the sky fall

The lace in your dress tingles my neck, how do I live?

I didn't need the colored words and a little bouncy icon to guide lyrics through my mind, even if I was a bit sloshed. I was only good at two things in twenty three years: music, and being a hermit.

I'm cutting my mind off

Feels like my heart is going to burst

Alone at a table for two and I just wanna be served

And when you think of me am I the best you've ever had?

Share one more drink with me, smile even though you're sad

Losing myself to alcohol, and music at that, when the karaoke version of Death of a Bachelor had finished, I just… kind of stood there. Fiddling with the mic chord. The entirety of Brass Bar had been tuned out of my mind for a whopping three and a half minutes that the confused look sent over the couple of people chanting 'encore' at me was inevitable.

Glossy eyed I looked for the small group that had convinced me to go up in the first place. A mistake, really because they all gave me thumbs up.

They all gave me thumbs up.

So, I kept singing.