Chapter Two: It's Just a Silly Phase I'm Going ThroughOnly one of Ace's ribs was cracked, the rest were just badly bruised. The doctors prescribed him some painkillers and told him he'd be healed up in about a month. And to take it easy until then. And he probably shouldn't sing. After all the singing he'd already done with a cracked rib, the doc didn't need to tell him twice. It had been agony, only manageable because he knew it had to be done.
Grubber had a concussion but he was going to be okay otherwise. Lil' Arturo still hadn't woken up yet. From what the doctors had told Ace, Arturo's external injuries were going to heal up just fine, but his right arm was fractured in three places and he had a lot of internal bleeding. He was also going to need surgery.
Ace offered to stay with him at Townsville General, but the doctors told him they couldn't be sure when Arturo was going to wake up (Ace heard an "if" in there) and should just go home and rest with the others. Ace couldn't rest though.
He didn't sleep at all that night. He sat besides his phone all night, waiting for phone calls that never came. Even if the hospital didn't call, Ace had kind of hoped... Buttercup would.
Ace had given her their home phone and his cell number. He'd never given her a timeline (they weren't going to be in any shape to perform any time soon, except for maybe Big Billy and Snake), but he'd hoped she'd call back soon. The thought of hearing her voice again made his cheeks grow hot and his stomach flutter. He decided it must've been a side effect from the painkillers.
Ace had this thought- well, more of a fantasy, really- of the two of them onstage. The room was dim, lit only by the spotlight hovering above the band. He and Buttercup were sharing a microphone, leaning close together as they sang. Smiling at each other, looking into each other's eyes. The closer they stood, the more the audience cheered. It gave Ace more of that weird feeling in his gut, so he tried to stop thinking about it, about Buttercup. But it was so hard to stop once he started thinking about it.
It became easier to stop thinking about Buttercup the longer Ace realized they still hadn't heard back from the hospital about Arturo. Then Ace felt guilty that he'd spent so much time thinking about some girl when his friend's life was in danger.
"Any o' youse wanna come with me? I'm gonna head to the hospital. See if they have anything new 'bout Arturo." Ace said finally.
"I'll drive." Snake said.
Buttercup paced in midair across her bedroom. She held the piece of paper with Ace's numbers in one hand and her phone in the other. She glanced back and forth between the two.
Buttercup wasn't sure that she was ready to answer him. She'd loved being up onstage, singing with Ace (he was right, their voices were good together), but she wasn't sure she wanted to be in a band. What if when they went on tour Townsville was attacked and Blossom and Bubbles couldn't handle it on their own? Buttercup also wasn't sure if she wanted to be in a band with them. It had been ten years since Ace had used her crush against her and Buttercup had gotten over it a little (the deception and the crush, mind you), but did she trust the Gangreen Gang? Could she trust them? Did she want to?
She didn't know.
She hadn't told the Professor that Ace had asked her. Her sisters had seen the note, but as far as Buttercup knew, they didn't know what it said.
Buttercup didn't like to ask for advice often- too stubborn- but she was considering it now.
She stared at the things in her hands once more then slid them into the top drawer of her night stand. She'd think about it again later.
Arturo was about to be taken into surgery. He still hadn't woken up, but the Gang had been allowed time to see him off. They took turns, each saying or giving Lil' Arturo something before the docs took him into the operating room.
Ace lingered a little longer than the others. He hadn't been sure what he wanted to say or do at first, only that he felt he had to do something special, something grand for Arturo. Ace'd practically raised the kid, looked out for him all those years...then he'd really dropped the ball at the concert. Ace wanted to make it up to him.
"Ar-Arturo, I know it's not much, but I got ya this. It was s'posed t' be a birthday present, but I- I thought it might do youse better t' have it now."
Ace pulled out a lumpy, cardboard package from underneath his vest. He tore it open slowly, but still managed to shred the package. Ace held out the gift in front of himself before draping it over Arturo's unconscious form. It was hard to tell without Arturo wearing it, but the small leather jacket seemed like it would fit him.
"Maybe it'll bring ya good luck, buddy." Ace said with a small, sad smile.
Buttercup headed out of her room, closing the door softly behind her. As she turned, she saw something approaching her out of the corner of her eye. Instinctively, Buttercup jumped, nearly hitting her head on the ceiling as she hovered upwards.
"I'm sorry, Buttercup. I didn't mean to startle you. I was just on my way back down to my lab." her father said.
"It's okay, Professor," Buttercup said sheepishly, "There's actually something I wanted to talk with you about. I think I need some advice."
"Oh?" The Professor was clearly puzzled. Buttercup rarely (if ever) asked for anyone's advice, usually relying on gut instinct alone to make her decisions.
He couldn't help but feel honored.
Buttercup descended slowly until she was only hovering half a foot off the ground.
So Buttercup told him everything that been bothering her, everything that was stopping her from making her decision. When she was done, Professor Utonium took a pause before answering her.
"Buttercup, I can't say what's right for you, only you can. If you're worried about how Townsville will fare without you, well, Blossom and Bubbles can always call for back-up from the Kids Next Door or the Saturdays or the Plumbers. The fate of the city shouldn't always have to on your shoulders when you're so young. If this is what you want- really want - we can help make it a reality for you. We'll pick up the slack. Maybe I'll even dust off the ol' Power Prof. suit.
"If you don't want to, if you don't think you can trust those boys, then you don't have to. Trust your gut. Your instincts aren't infallible, but they are usually right. I know you'll make the right choice for you."
My instincts were wrong about Ace before though. And look how much trouble that got me in.
"But what if I make the wrong choice, Professor? What if I make a huge mistake?" Buttercup asked.
"Well as I always say, mistakes are a learning experience. Why without mistakes, I wouldn't have you girls! And accidentally adding Chemical X to that concoction was the best mistake I ever made," Professor Utonium beamed. "Well, I hope that helped. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back down to my lab. I'm working on a very exciting- and top secret- new project for Providence!"
Before Buttercup could respond or ask for further advice, the Professor had sprinted downstairs and into his basement laboratory.
It wasn't that it was bad advice, but Buttercup's track record when it came to Ace... well, it wasn't great. In fact, it had almost gotten Blossom and Bubbles killed.
How could she trust herself to choose correctly when it came to Ace?
Ace was just started to doze off in the waiting when his phone rang. The noise jolted him back to consciousness. He was too exhausted to hold a proper conversation with anyone, but he didn't want to piss off the other occupants of the waiting room so he answered it. The number looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it in his groggy state. He wondered if it could be-
"Hullo?" Ace mumbled.
"Hello, am I speaking to Ace Copular?" the voice asked.
"Yeah, you got 'im, alright." Ace said.
"Well, Mr. Copular, my name is Della Blues and I'm a talent scout with Townsville Records. I was at your show the other night and I liked what I saw. (Mr. Hudson and Mr. River were kind enough to give me your contact information.) If you and your band would like to come in in a few months- I of course understand y'all'll need time for your injuries to heal- and record a demo down at our recording studio, I may be able to set up a record deal for the Gangreen Gang."
Ace was so stunned he nearly dropped his phone, narrowly grabbing it before it landed screen down on the tiled floor.
"Mr. Copular? Ace? Are ya still there?" Della Blues asked in a concerned voice.
"Sorry... sorry... you said... you said we might be able ta get a record deal?"
"I think y'all have a great sound and a lot o' potential. I'm sure if my label were listen to your demo, they'd be very interested in signing your band."
"I'm not sure what to say, ma'am. That's... that's... incredible."
"You take you time to heal and come on down to the recording studio when you're ready. I'll be in touch."
"Thanks. Thank you. So much. Wow."
"You're welcome, Ace. I hope to talk to you soon. Good-bye." Della said.
Ace clutched the phone to his chest. He took a few slow, steady breaths.
Wow. Damn. Wow. Is this really happening? Are we gonna finally make it big?
He didn't want to wake the others, not unless something came up during Arturo's surgery. He didn't want to worry them unnecessarily. He would tell them after they woke up or after Arturo came out of surgery, whichever came first. Snake, Grubber, and Billy needed the rest in case...in case the procedure didn't go as planned.
And Ace needed the rest, too. For now all he could do was wait and hope and sleep. Nothing in the near future was certain and everything was in everyone's hands but his own. Ace realized he was going to have to get used to that if he was going to get through the rest of the day.
Even after her conversation with Professor Utonium, Buttercup still couldn't help but go back and forth in her mind about joining the band or not.
On the one hand... but on the other... and... then... dammit...I just need a break. Clear my head. I'll think about it s'more later.
Buttercup went to the garage and pulled out her punching bag and the radio. She flicked on the radio, but it was more static than anything. Annoyed, Buttercup set it to search for a working station and stood facing the punching bag.
Jab. Jab. Uppercut. Uppercut. Right cross. Left cross...
Buttercup could finally make out some words out from the static. It was weird though, it almost sounded like it was trying to make a sentence.
"-nt a great new way to make money- joining a band- provide a great experience- within a gang- green- gang- experts unsure if that's- a good idea or a bad idea- stay tuned for the results-"
Buttercup stopped mid-punch. She was about to switch the radio off, when it suddenly went dead silent, not even the static was audible. She shrugged it off...until it blared back to life.
"This place is our home/ It's not much at all/ Some might call it a dump/ And ya know?/ I think they might be right/ Garbage garbage, every where garbage/ Other people's broken dreeeaamss/ Dropped on my laaawnnn/ Wonder how it all got here overnight/ Garbage garbage, everywhere garbage/ Can't step a foot outside without steppin' in someone else's-"
Buttercup was so startled to hear Ace's voice on the radio that she let loose a pair of laser eyebeams. They missed the radio, but vaporized a nearby lawn chair.
"Crap," she groaned. "What the hell was that." She kicked at the air above the radio. (She didn't want to break that, too.)
She flipped the radio off and unplugged it from the wall socket for good measure.
With renewed ferocity, Buttercup slammed into the punching bag, resolving not to stop until the sand flew out of it. Already she was beginning to feel calmer; her mind unburdened by thought, as though she was entering a near meditative state. The rhythm of fists against nylon was all there was.
Though some people might consider the exercise a violent act, it always gave Buttercup a sense of peace. It wasn't something everyone could understand, but to her, there was a serenity in the flow of endorphins the exercise released. A calmness. A oneness with the world. It was her happy place.
And in the quiet darkness of the garage, Buttercup realized she had come to a decision.
She packed up her punching bag, headed into the house, and made a beeline for her room. She had a phone call to make.
In the doctor's words the surgery had gone "beautifully" and without complication. Now all that was to be done was for Arturo to wake up... hopefully. The doctors still weren't certain that he would though. Some of them thought all it would take was for the anesthesia to wear off. And some of them thought that because his injuries were so bad... well...
What if he never wakes up? What if-
He could not afford to go into panic mode. For Billy and Grubber's sakes, he had to appear calm, confident, and collected. It wouldn't work on Snake though; he could always see through Ace's bullshit. It was like Snake could see exactly what Ace was thinking. Maybe it was because he and Snake had been friends for so long.
Nevertheless, Ace refused to leave Arturo's side unless absolutely necessary.
"It could be awhile before the anesthesia wears off. You don't have to stay with him the whole time." one of the doctors had said.
"Yeah, I do. I practically raised this kid. He's like my brother, my son, and my friend all rolled intah one. I been here for 'im all this time, why leave now?" Ace had replied.
"No offenssse, doc, but you got really ssshitty bedssside manner." Snake had said.
"Duh, Arturo's my pal. You gotta stick with your pals." Billy had said.
Grubber had merely blown a particularly wet raspberry. There had been such a disgust on Arturo's behalf in his eyes that no words would've been able to adequately say more.
Ace sat quietly in Arturo's room all afternoon with the rest of the Gangreen Gang. Occasionally the boys would talk and whisper amongst themselves, but for the most part the quiet hum of the TV set and the beeping of monitors were the only sounds that broke the silence.
Ace was flipping through a notebook filled with unfinished song lyrics, when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He peered up at Arturo and smiled.
"Look." Ace whispered to Snake.
Snake nudged the other two boys and pointed at Arturo on the bed. Big Billy took a big breath as though he was about to say something loudly, but Snake stopped him with a pointed look.
Arturo's eyelids fluttered and slid open. Slowly, he peered around the room, his eyes unfocused. He frowned a little then blinked.
"Hey, buddy," Ace said softly, "How ya doin'?"
"Where am I? Shouldn't we be onstage right now, Señor?" Arturo asked. His voice was dry and raspy. Instinctively, Ace passed him the glass of water on the nightstand. Arturo reached for the glass with his left hand, but winced sharply when he saw the cast on his arm. Ace realized his mistake and placed the glass on a tray and stuck a straw in it. Arturo sipped gratefully.
"Uh, Arturo, that was a couple daysss ago. I guessss you don't remember what happened, huh?" Snake said.
"Guess not. What happened?"
The boys told him what had happened the night of the concert. Ace was in the middle of describing how they had warded off the monster with the power of song when his phone vibrated in his pocket. He glanced at the caller ID and almost stuck it back in his jacket, but he realized that he recognized the number.
"Well speak o' the devil! I gotta take this, but I'll be back in a sec."
He stepped outside of the room and closed the door before answering the phone. He was more nervous than he thought he was going to be. He worried that for once even he'd be speechless.
"Well, hey there, Buddacup, how's it hangin'?" Ace said it casually, but internally he was yelling at himself for saying something so dorky.
"Hey. Hi. Um, I think I've decided." She sounded nervous, too, which was a relief.
"Oh, yeah? What'cha decide ya wanted ta do?"
"I think- I think I want in."