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By Cheryl Crouch
Zondervan Copyright © 2007 G Studios, LLC
All right reserved.
Chapter One Friday night
I sing alto-even when I'm alone. I'm just not a "lead singer" kind of person. Never have been.
Okay, that's not totally true. I used to start songs on family car trips-back in grade school. We always took Harmony with us so I'd have someone to play with. So I'd start a song and Harmony would join in.
But she'd start at a different part of the song. Not because she wasn't musical. Despite her voice (which isn't too hot), Harmony was born to make music. I think she did it just to see if I'd follow her lead.
There we were in the backseat of the Ford-me singing and her singing, but not together. It didn't match, and it made me crazy. I'd hold out for as long as I could, waiting for her to catch up or slow down, but she never did. Finally, I'd give up and join her at whatever part of the song she was on. I'd be mad about it for hours, but I would do it. Because it was easier than fighting.
Maybe all friendships are like that-with a leader and a follower. It doesn't really bug me, but sometimes I wonder what leading would be like-especially since Trin moved here and even bosses Harmony. You know, what would it be like-to be the leader for once?
* * *
Harmonyand I crowded around the tiny bathroom mirror. "Mello, remember to have fun onstage," Harmony said, slapping powder on her nose. "Everyone here loves us."
Trin pushed between us and eyed me in the mirror. "Yeah, Mello. There's no reason why even you should be nervous tonight!"
"I'll get nervous if you make some huge issue out of it," I said, fluffing my hair one last time. "I so wish he didn't have to interview us."
Trin smeared gloss over her perfect lips and then smiled at her reflection. "I love interviews. It's way fabulous to think so many people actually care about what I have to say!"
"Sí," Harmony agreed. "It's cool frijoles making everyone laugh, you know? Feels almost as good as making music." She frowned at me. "Why can't you get used to interviews, Mello?"
I dug a lip gloss out of Trin's bag. "Spouting answers off the top of my head is torture. I like to actually think before I speak."
Harmony laughed. "Ooh! Was that a slam on us, Trin?"
I looked in the mirror and saw my cheeks turn red. "No!" I said. "I didn't mean-"
"I know you didn't," Harmony interrupted, pulling me to the door. "I forgive you anyway."
Trin stayed at the mirror. She moved one strand of hair three more times before I yelled, "Trin, your hair was perfect, as always, before we even came in here. Come on!"
We raced past huge inflatables of every color, size, and shape where people-even teens and adults-jumped, climbed, screamed, and laughed. As we neared the small temporary stage near the front entrance Trin asked, "Why are we running? It's not like they can start without us. It's our party!"
Harmony said, "No se. Why are we running?"
"Because we're psyched," I told them. "And we're scared of Mr. Jacobs."
They nodded in agreement as we leaped up the steps. I slipped behind my drum set and they fine-tuned their guitars.
Then Mr. Jacobs stepped to the mike. The music stopped and his strong voice filled the building. "Please, everyone, gather around the stage area."
The floor around us got crowded right away. People can't help but obey Mr. Jacobs.
"We're all here tonight to celebrate a special occasion," he said. "The Chosen Girls are an amazing group. It's been fun to watch their rise to stardom, and I'm pleased that my company has been blessed with the opportunity to produce their first full-length CD." He paused while everyone cheered. "They're going to play a song for us, and then we'll ask them a few questions. Chosen Girls, take it away!"
I couldn't stop smiling as I played my drums and sang. It was maybe the most fun I've ever had performing, because I didn't feel any pressure. My friends were right. I looked at the people in the audience-my family, Trin's family, Harmony's family. All our friends and every boy we'd ever had a crush on. They made up the smallest crowd we'd performed in front of in a long time, but they couldn't have been louder or more energized if there had been thousands.
Besides, the longer we played, the longer we put off the interview.
My good feelings wore off the moment Mr. Jacobs made us come up to the front of the stage for the interview. I like to "hide behind my drums," as Trin and Harmony say.
Still, it started off okay. The mike bounced between Trin and Harmony, whose answers sounded as professional and polished as any talk-show host's. I just stood quietly to the side, reminding myself to keep smiling.
Then Mr. Jacobs said, "Mello, you haven't had an opportunity to share. Why don't you answer that one?"
Harmony gave me the mike and an encouraging smile.
Without moving my smiling lips, I whispered, "Harmony, what was the question?"
"School," she hinted.
What about school?
I smiled at Mr. Jacobs and said, "Um, we all three go to James Moore. And our sound man and videographer, Lamont, is homeschooled."
Mr. Jacobs's smile seemed to grow icy. "Yes, Mello, Trin just told us that. I asked you whether you're in any extracurricular activities at school."
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Um, yes-"
Harmony grabbed the mike. "We're all superinvolved at James Moore. Mello and I are on yearbook and ..."
I wanted to crawl under the stage and cry as Harmony's voice droned on and on. It's not like the question was too hard for me. I wasn't ready for it, that's all.
Mr. Jacobs didn't call on me again, so I guess that was one good thing about flubbing the answer. I went back to standing quietly to the side and reminding myself to smile, which took a ton more work than it had before.
As soon as he started wrapping up, I took a step backward. Then the minute the interview ended, I flew to the break room where we'd put our junk. It seemed like a good place to hide, and I hoped no one would notice that I was missing.
They didn't. And why would they? Trin and Harmony are the dazzling ones, the ones everyone loves to be around. They always know what to say and when. Usually I'm proud of them, but sometimes they make me crazy-like tonight during the interview.
I crossed my arms and meandered around the break room, looking for anything to take my mind off what a fool I'd made of myself. I knew I'd have to get back to the fans before long, but I wasn't ready. So I read safety notices and employee-of-the-month posters tacked to the wall, and I enjoyed being alone.
A cooler on the floor had a note taped to it: "Help yourself." I lifted the lid and saw a few sodas floating in icy water. I recognized a black and red can as one of those energy drinks. That might help, I thought as I dipped my hand into the freezing water and pulled out the drink. If I had more energy, maybe I'd be more like Trin and Harmony.
I popped the lid and took a swig. Ew! Too sweet. Should have chosen Coke instead, I thought. But the cold liquid felt good on my throat, and I hated to waste it, so I forced the rest down. I'd just tossed the empty can into the trash with a clunk when the door burst open.
"Mello, what are you doing in here? Come do the bungee run with us!" Harmony yelled. "Lamont's got his camera ready."
I walked to the door, and she and Trin grabbed my hands and rushed me through the crowd of celebrating people. I tried to calm down by humming along with the music that blasted out of the speakers, filling the huge building. The song was "You've Chosen Me," from our newly released CD.
We got stopped at least ten times before we made it to the huge red inflatable.
"You sound amazing!"
Lamont met us at the bungee run. It looked something like two connected bowling lanes made from massive air-filled pillows. It stretched thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide with a back wall that must have been three times taller than me. Still, it wasn't close to being the largest inflatable in the building.
Trin handed me a helmet.
I hesitated. "A helmet for a bounce house?"
Harmony laughed and pointed to the massive inflatable. "This is not your old-fashioned birthday party bounce house. Trust me, you want the-"
"Hello?" I said, trying to give the thing back to Trin. "Helmets are designed to protect the skull from being crushed. I'm so not into anything that can crush my skull."
Trin pushed the helmet back at me. "Come on, Mello. No wimps allowed tonight. You're a rock star and a superhero! Act like it, for once."
I crossed my arms. "For once? Whatever, Trin."
"Oh, don't go dramatic," she said, rolling her eyes. "You know what I mean, Mello."
Harmony grabbed the helmet, put it on my head, and adjusted the straps. "The bungee run is major fun-o-rama. And I promise you'll be fine."
"I hope so," I answered. "I guess I'll make the best of it, since you two are going to make me do it no matter what I say."
Harmony patted the top of my helmet and smiled. "Sí! That's the spirit."
"Exactly right!" Trin said, taking my hand and helping me onto the blown-up runway. At the far end, she showed me how to snap on the harness that connected to the back wall.
I felt my heart beat faster, partly from being nervous but mostly from excitement. And maybe, I thought, from that energy drink I just had. Wow!
"Are all CD release parties this cool?" I asked Lamont.
"I don't know," he answered. "First time I've heard of one at a warehouse full of inflatable obstacle courses and slides and stuff, but hey, it works for me."
"Ohwow, yes," Trin agreed, bouncing away from me. "This place is a blast."
In the lane next to mine, Harmony checked her own harness. "I hope they're all this fun. We're booked solid for the next month."
"I thought recording the CD was the hard part," Lamont said. "Who knew the real work is promoting it?"
"OK. Ready?" Trin called from her spot on the floor. She pointed to a small flag resting on the air-filled wall that divided my lane from Harmony's. "I'll count down and you both race for the flag. The person who grabs it first, wins. And you have to run hard, Mello. No half-hearted jogging."
Half-hearted? Why did she think I'd be half-hearted?
Trin counted-"three, two, one"-and I ran for the flag. Just as I reached out, Harmony swiped it and then-oof! My bungee cord snapped me back. I flew through the air for a few feet before I crashed into the puffy wall behind me.
I laughed in surprise. I could hear Harmony's deep laughter, but I couldn't see her because she had snapped back too. Someone cheered, and I scrambled up to see Karson and the guys from his band at the end of the run. Karson yelled, "Wow, Mello. That super suit you're wearing totally works-you can fly!"
"You know it!" Lamont crooned. "I got some serious flight-time action shots. All I have to do is run this in reverse and change the background. Wah-lah! The Chosen Girls are cruising the skies in their next music video."
"Give me a copy of it as soon as you get it ready," I told him, rubbing my sore neck. "I've always wanted to fly, but I'd so rather do it on tape. Less painful."
Trin bounded down the lane to help me unclip the harness. "Oh, quit whining," she said as I pulled off the helmet. "See? Your skull is intact, just like we promised."
I followed her back toward the front of the lane and solid ground. Karson reached for my hand to help me down. Instead, I handed him the helmet.
"Here," I said. "I want to see you do it."
He grinned that lopsided grin that makes it so hard for me to breathe. "Sure. Cole, get Harmony's helmet. I'll take you on."
I sighed with relief. I'd managed to say something to Karson that didn't make me sound stupid. And when Karson beat Cole to the flag, I cheered like he had won a gold medal at the Olympics.
Cole wanted a rematch. Karson asked, "Are you sure you want me to embarrass you again?"
Hunter jumped onto Cole's lane. "Sorry, loser. My turn. I'll show Karson how it's done."
"Good luck!" Karson spouted back. "I'm the Bungee King."
Must be nice to be so confident. But as I looked at Karson's shiny brown curls and sparkling eyes I thought, Of course he's confident. All that talent and the good looks too.
"Quit staring," Trin whispered.
"I'm just watching the race!" I answered, offended.
She tugged my elbow. "I know. Just teasing. But let's do something else. There's a boxing ring over there with huge blow-up boxing gloves."
"I so have to see you two box each other," Harmony said with a laugh. She grabbed my other elbow and steered me toward the boxing ring.
"So, having fun now that the interview is over?" Trin asked.
"Yeah. About that interview, Harmony. School? What kind of lame hint was that?"
"Hey, I tried," she answered, throwing her hands up. "You could listen, you know."
Trin joined in. "Really, Mello. Not being able to come up with an answer is one thing. But not even knowing the question?"
"And you should never say 'um,'" Harmony added. "That's, like, the number-one rule of public speaking."
Trin laughed. "Yeah, like, never say 'um' or, like, 'like.'"
Harmony shoved her.
I wasn't amused. "Is that why you grabbed the mike away and made me look even dumber?" I asked. "Because I said 'um'?"
Harmony looked hurt. "I only wanted to help."
I turned away. "Maybe I'm sick of your help," I mumbled under my breath. "Maybe I'm sick of you both treating me like a baby."
Suddenly, the whole night seemed ruined. Looking back, everything from Mr. Jacobs and the interview through Harmony dragging me onto the bungee run to Trin fastening my harness (like I couldn't do it myself) irritated me more and more.
It hit me, hard, that I didn't want to follow Harmony and Trin around forever, doing everything they told me to do. Of course they'd always be my best friends-I didn't want that to change. I just wanted to be my own person. To be stronger. To be a leader.
Me, a leader.
Who would ever follow me?
I walked away from them both without caring if they followed me then or ever.
Excerpted from Overload by Cheryl Crouch Copyright © 2007 by G Studios, LLC. Excerpted by permission.
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