“Testing testing…good evening,” Mitch greeted the crowd, who responded with cheers. The butterflies in his stomach fluttered so hard that they hurt. With the band, he had a support system to lean on and it wasn’t just him at the center of attention.
Giggling nervously, he asked how everyone was doing, and was met with more noise. So far so good. He gave a special shout out to the school, which earned a particularly loud pop. Once the racket settled down, he announced the first song and began strumming.
Though the majority of the attendees were now familiar with Liner Notes, he made the right call by sticking to covers. When the crowd joined in with a few of the choruses, he wholeheartedly welcomed their participation. He didn’t have a lot of banter ready to go because he’d anticipated a much smaller audience, but no one seemed to mind that he didn’t talk much between songs.
It’d gone well for the first few songs, until about halfway through the set. Just as Mitch started to strum the intro for Fade Into You, he spotted Avi walking through the front door. It caused him to nearly miss the transition into the first verse, since all of his scabbed-over wounds split open at once and became fresh all over again. Shame and anger and indignation and longing roiled around in his guts, congealing into something awful that weighed him down. Every passing second was excruciating, lasting for multiple eternities, and he had to fight off every urge to cut the list short so that he could take off into the night and disappear.
Then the worst imaginable scenario went down right in front of Mitch’s eyes: the only open seat was next to Toby, and Avi took it.
Even from several feet away, he could see the way that Avi politely asked if it was available, then saw him strike up small talk. With Toby! What the fuck, universe! Mitch fought off the bubbling panic while he sat on stage and couldn’t hear the words exchanged between the two of them, but he could take a few wild guesses. He didn’t want them to meet like this, or ever, but least of all not without him present to mediate it. Who knew what claims Toby might make, and if Avi would believe him.
Did it matter, really? Mitch pondered. He didn’t have an answer, but he hated it nevertheless.
He ignored the way that Avi not-so discreetly waved at him, and Toby’s confused expression at the gesture. But it distracted him enough that when the end of the song drew near, Mitch blanked out on the rest of the setlist, and like a complete idiot, neglected to bring the piece of paper that he wrote them all down on.
Before each of the previous songs, Mitch announced the title and original artist, but his mind was presently a vacant wasteland so he couldn’t very well do that now. “Uh…” he breathed into the mic in an attempt to buy a few seconds. While his brain stalled out, his nerves kicked in and he patted the top of the guitar a few times, eventually forming a rhythm. And he wasn’t even fully cognizant when the words “…I got a lot to say to you,” exited his mouth, but once they were in the open, he instinctively strummed.
There was never any real intent on performing crushcrushcrush because it wasn’t Mitch’s style; he learned it out of spite, but now he was playing it in front of an actual crowd. And it felt perverted and wrong, like he was crossing into a domain that he wasn’t a welcome guest in. Like everyone was going to know his dirty secret, if they didn’t already.
He glanced up for a moment and caught Avi staring at him, his brow furrowed and head slightly tilted, as if he was having trouble with processing what he was hearing.
So Mitch played harder, sang louder, gave it some bite. Take the hint, Avi. Don’t try to make me spell it out anymore, Mitch silently pleaded when they made eye contact, but he broke it off almost as quickly as it was established because he was unable to bear it any longer.
By the time he finished -his eyes stinging and a lump settling in his throat- the rest of the setlist resurfaced with ease as though it was waiting for him to get that one song out of his system. Those wounds that he tried to hide earlier were now scraped raw and out in the open, vulnerable and oozing but unable to be protected. He took a sip of water and pressed on, as if nothing happened at all.
After a few more songs Mitch wrapped up, thanking everyone for coming out and thanking Fighting Spirit for having him. Once the attention was off of him, he collected the tips that’d been deposited into his guitar case, then responded to Louis’ concerned texts while he packed up his things. Discomfort reached a fever pitch when he ran out of further distractions, and he knew the last remaining option was to go over to where Toby and Avi were sitting. He wanted nothing more than to leave altogether, but then he would have to explain himself.
When did his life become some terrible romcom? Sans the rom, or even the com, for that matter?