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Chapter 26: Reconnaissance
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes/Warnings: Roadtripping, performance, stomach butterflies

Many thanks to my fabulous editor gwoman for being willing to edit this chapter right after finals! It's much appreciated. : )

Back to Chapter 25

Lex stopped to look at herself in the mirror. She returned her own bemused glance before gazing up at the light fixture for a moment, thinking it odd that something like a dressing room existed in a club they got to play at.

She watched Riss' reflection as she came into the room to pick up her laptops. Riss looked at Lex in the mirror as she shouldered her backpack, nodded with the ghost of a smile, and then went back out.

Lex recalled the tiny first place they'd played, in San Diego, on their “first West coast tour” (as Casey insisted on calling it). It had room for no more than fifty people if they all stood shoulder to shoulder. On the day they played, a Wednesday, there had only been a small fraction of that number, but the crowd and the other two bands had been friendly, and everyone seemed to appreciate their performance.

San Diego itself had been great, Lex and her friends had agreed. They'd been struck by the beauty of the city, and the people there seemed welcoming and interesting. However, one of their criteria had been someplace without excessive heat, and it had already been hitting the ‘90s on a couple of their days in town in May. So they had moved on to Los Angeles.

After spending a few days in town, they had all seemed to know they wouldn't choose to settle there, even though no one came right out and said it. They had had trouble even before they’d gotten into town on Sunday night, getting lost on the freeway and having to backtrack a few exits to get to their motel. Casey had been driving and was thoroughly grumpy by the time they'd arrived, but on the plus side, the place had a hot tub, so Lex had been happy they'd been able to soak out some of their annoyance after dinner.

The group quickly learned that they had to leave early to get anywhere on time because of the maze of streets, freeways, and unpredictable traffic. To Lex, the topper had been the occasional street closure due to filming crews. After a while, she had noticed that all of them seemed to feel stressed out even before they had to get in the van to go anywhere.

They had played on Tuesday at a small venue, about the size of the one they'd played in San Diego, but Lex had noticed right away that the crowd seemed different. Aside from some of the people from the other bands, many individuals in the crowd had seemed like they felt too cool to be with anyone else there, talking only to their little cliques or on their cell phones. Lex had felt disappointed as she’d taken the stage that night, but somehow managed to throw it all off when they had started to perform. They had started off with “Crazy Wind,” and as she had sung Lex had lost herself in thoughts about when she’d fled her parents' house and later when she’d run away with her friends, and how her life had changed both times, including the new opportunities that had sprung up.

When she had finished singing, Lex had looked up at the crowd. As the last notes of the song had died away, she’d realized that the room had stood in complete silence. The audience had all seemed to be listening with great concentration, a number of them with surprised looks on their faces. Lex's eyes had slid to Riss, who had sat to her left, and Lex had seen the other woman shrug minutely out of the corner of her eye before she’d heard someone in the audience start to applaud.

After a moment everyone else had joined in, some people cheering and howling. Lex had waited, turning slightly back to look at Lou, who had just raised an eyebrow and canted his head to the side a little, as if to say, no harm in letting the crowd continue. The applause had continued for longer than Lex had expected, but she’d stepped back up to the microphone some minutes later once it had died down.

“Thanks, LA,” she had said, hoping the heat she’d felt in her cheeks wasn't a blush. “That's a really warm welcome, and we thank you for it. We're Alexander's Army, and the next song we're going to play for you is called ‘Hungry.’”

As they had started the song, Lex had noticed that they now seemed to have the full attention of most of the people in the crowd, and she had made herself take deep, calming breaths as her stomach had flip-flopped. She had felt amazed and a little scared at the difference in the crowd from before they’d started their performance to after the first song. Might as well keep going and give them a good show, though, Lex had thought as she had drawn in a breath just before she’d begun singing.

They'd sold more CDs that night than anyone had thought they would, based on the size of the crowd. Lex had ended up feeling pretty good for one of the first times since they'd arrived in the city, and as she’d checked out her friends' expressions as they had headed back to the motel that night, she had been able to tell they shared that feeling.

The following day they'd had no show booked and painfully made their way around the city to some things they'd wanted to see, but on Thursday they had had their next gig. Lex had been able to see the club was bigger and more packed than the last one they'd played at. Alexander's Army had gone on first, and Lex and the others had expected that most of the people had come to see the following acts, so Lex had felt surprised to see that they seemed to have had the full attention of the crowd when they’d started their performance.

Lex felt the show went over well, and afterwards Lex, Riss, and Lou had joined Casey in the club to watch the second and third acts. Later that night they had ended up having a long conversation with the closing band, End of the Road. The band members had begged them to stay after the show, so they had and the whole lot of them had ended up going to a nearby all-night diner to have breakfast and “talk shop.” Laura and Eddie Vander, the bass and guitar players, were a married couple, and Laura's brother Hal Robbins played drums. They'd been fixtures on the LA music scene for about a year and proceeded to tell Lex and her friends lots of stories about the scene in town.

When Casey had mentioned where they were playing on Saturday, Laura's platinum blond eyebrows had nearly lifted off her head. “We've only played there once, and it was during the week!”

Casey had shrugged. “Well, the day I called they told me they'd had a last-minute cancellation for the show and asked if we wanted to substitute. I guess it was a lucky break.”

Eddie had laughed, leaning over so that his black hair nearly touched his wife's long blond locks. Even sitting he remained about a foot taller than his petite wife. “I'd say. Too bad we've got another show that night or we'd love to come out to see you. Hey, though, I just thought of it—are you guys booked for tomorrow?”

Lou had looked over at Casey, and Casey had returned the look with a shake of her head. “No, we don't have anything booked for Friday night, actually,” he’d replied to Eddie.

Eddie and Laura had both smiled, and he had continued. “You should come to our house, then! We're having a party. Nothing fancy, just a bunch of folks coming over, mostly music people. If you can come, we'd be glad to introduce you around, and it'd be great to hang out with you guys some more.”

Hal had nodded his head in agreement, the overhead lights glinting off the reddish highlights in his brown hair. He’d shot them a winning smile before adding, “Yeah, come over. It'll be fun.”

Riss, Lex, Casey, and Lou had all exchanged glances in which Lex had noticed all of her friends smiling. Casey had answered for all of them. “Thanks, we'd really like that.”

So, when Friday had rolled around and they had visited the address they'd been given, all four of them had dressed in jeans and t-shirts. They'd brought beer and snacks for the party, but Lex had felt odd as they had arrived and realized that about half of the party had looked like they did, and about half had dressed up as if going out for a fancy night out on the town.

As they had made their way through, Casey introducing herself to several of the people they passed, they had finally run into Laura.

“Hey,” Lex had murmured into her ear, “what's with all of the people all dressed up here? Should we have worn something more formal?”

Laura had laughed and waved the question away. “No, I'm in jeans here, too. Actually, one of my housemates is dating someone in the film industry and, well, if someone hears there's a party and there might be food, somehow a huge number of them show up.”

Lex had shrugged as she’d looked around the room at the unevenly dressed gathering while Laura had ushered them all in. “You can put stuff over there,” she’d said, indicating a counter between the kitchen and living room, currently stuffed with food. “There's a cooler for beer on the floor–oh, Cindy!”

She had broken off to hug a woman who had towered over her and worn her teal-colored hair in a thick, shaggy mohawk, her head shaved close on either side. “Let me introduce you to the members of Alexander's Army,” Laura had continued as she drew back, naming Lex's friends in turn. “And this is Cindy and Tai from Melliflame.”

Ducking out from behind his band mate, Tai was a man several inches taller than Laura, thin where Cindy seemed more muscular. “Pleased to meet you,” he had said with a nod that caused his short, spiky hair to bob.

“Honey, where are the paper towels?” Eddie had broken in, popping his head around the corner. Upon spotting Lex and her friends, he had smiled. “Glad you guys could make it.”

“Sorry, emergency,” Laura had said with a smile, going to Eddie's side. “Cindy, Tai, this is the group I was telling you about, the ones we shared a bill with the other night.”

As Lex had watched Laura disappear into the kitchen, she’d also caught Cindy's raised eyebrow. “So that was you guys, huh? Laura was talking about the show before you got here. Sounded pretty intense.”

“I heard about you from my friend Jeremy, who was at your show the other night too,” Tai added. “I'm going to go find him, because he said he wanted to ask Lou about the effects he used.”

As Tai had turned to go, Hal had showed up to say hello, accompanied by a friend from yet another band. The rest of the evening had seemed to Lex to be a blur of new faces and band shop talk, but she'd been pleased at how many people there had seemed enthusiastic about their music, or at least interested to hear it.

While the party had been fun, Lex reminded herself it had been the previous night and tried to focus by meeting her eyes in the mirror. She was wearing a tight black t-shirt with a picture of one of her favorite anime characters on it, standing with his hands up, sand flowing in irregular patterns in the air all around him, along with a caption about how he'd been born a monster. She was also wearing her black leather pants and a pair of short motorcycle boots, and felt it all suited her just fine.

When she'd looked earlier, Lex had noted at least a couple hundred people in the club. She'd sung to packed houses before, had performed before audiences dozens of times, but never to such a large one. She looked into her eyes again, trying to figure out if she felt nervous. Then, instead of thinking about that any more, she took a deep breath. No, she thought, I'm not nervous. She ran her fingers through her blood red hair to put a few short strands back in place, gave herself a devilish smile in the mirror, and went out the door.

Walking a few steps, she joined Riss backstage to watch the last song of the band before them wrapping up. When Lex brushed shoulders with Riss, her friend turned to speak into her ear.

“You should call to the audience to buy CDs today,” Riss suggested, the ghost of a smile on her lips.

Lex’s eyes widened. “I don’t know if we have that many CDs,” she replied, murmuring into Riss’ ear.

“Even you couldn’t get all these people to buy one,” Riss said with a chuckle. “When I saw the crowd, though, I told Casey to bring in extra. I think she has about a hundred; if we run out, she can sell people some of those mp3 download cards we had made up.”

Lex sighed and shook her head, but she knew she couldn’t say no to her friend anyway. “OK, but remember that this was your idea,” Lex hissed into Riss' ear.

Riss laughed and stepped out of the way as the other band came past them carrying gear. “I will.”

As he arrived, Lou looked down at the two of them with a cocked eyebrow, but Lex felt pretty sure he knew what they’d been talking about, because he’d told her a while ago that she always got this stubborn look on her face whenever anyone else talked about her using her voice talents other than for singing. Lex returned his look and had to crack a smile at his schooled, blank expression.

After several minutes the other band had cleared their gear and Alexander’s Army filed on stage. Lex set up her keyboard and mic while Riss found a stool. Lou carried their amplifiers, one in either hand, and set them in front of the women. Then he carried his gear on stage and the group finished setup within minutes.

It had gotten quiet as they'd worked, and Lex shot Riss and Lou looks to make sure they were both ready before she addressed the crowd.

“Hey, LA. We’re Alexander’s Army. We’re here from Phoenix, and we’re going to rock you tonight!”

Lex glanced over at Lou with a nod, and he broke into a strong bass line. Riss started up a complementary beat and they slid into one of their newest songs, “Fractured Light.”

A million years from then
The tears were crystal streams
Wanting someone to understand
The difference between everywhen…

It was about halfway through the set, when they played “Crazy Wind,” that Lex decided to make the call. She successfully worked it into the song and later reminded everyone that they were selling CDs, once they finished their set.

The end of the show found Lex feeling completely drained. With every song, she'd seen the crowd eager to hear more, seemingly more enthusiastic about the music. Lex worried that she had miscalculated, that maybe they would garner enough popularity to eliminate the benefit they’d gained by doing this in the first place. Deciding to think about it later, she joined her friends as they gathered their gear and packed it into the van, then went to Casey inside the club.

A crowd of people ringed the table to buy CDs when they got back, and Casey drafted all three of them to help with sales. The CDs ran out after a half-hour and they continued selling download cards. The last stragglers in the crowd left sometime in the middle of the third band's set. All four of them just stared at each other for a moment.

Lex sighed and leaned against a nearby wall. “Let's not do that again for this tour, OK?”

She looked directly at Riss as she spoke, and she watched her friend hold up her hands in response. “All right. You can't argue that it wasn't effective, though.”

Lex sighed, shaking her head. “It was, Riss, but it makes me feel bad when I do it. I don't think this is what I should be using the voice for.”

“Well, what then?” her friend asked, giving Lex a glance with raised eyebrow.

“I don't know. Trying to promote peace, maybe? There are lots of positive messages I could slip into the songs to encourage people to live better or look out for one another,” Lex finished, realizing it for the first time.

“So, why don't you?” Riss asked with a shrug.

“Maybe I should. I'll think about it on the rest of the trip, and maybe I can think about reworking some of the song lyrics when we get back home, if need be.”

They'd been in San Francisco for a couple of days and had been eating breakfast when Riss' head popped up over the top of her laptop.

“Hey,” she said, surprise evident in her voice. “We've sold out our CDs online.”

Lex shrugged just before she took another sip of tea. “We only gave them a few to start with.”

Riss raised her eyebrow and continued. “Yeah, that's what I thought, but then I looked at our digital sales, and those have gone through the roof over the past couple of days, too. We've sold hundreds of copies.”

Lex bit her lip before she looked up at the others. She saw Casey shooting an interested grin at Lou, who had raised his eyebrows in return. Riss returned Lex's glance with a steady gaze, as if confirming something they both already knew, before ducking back behind her laptop.

Sighing, Lex turned to Casey. “How many do we have left of what we made for the tour?”

“Probably about 150,” Casey replied without much concern.

“How many of those should we send to our distributor?” Lex asked.

Casey considered for a moment. “Well,” she finally said, “they do say not to send more than you think will sell within six months so they don't have to store them. I don't want to send too many because I'm afraid we'll run out on tour.”

“We're already halfway through,” Riss pointed out. “If Lex doesn't call to the audience, we always sell fewer CDs. How about if we send 50 to the service and Lex doesn't call for the rest of the tour?”

“It wasn't my idea in the first place,” Lex grumbled, glaring at Riss. Riss shot her a short look with a tiny grin, then turned her attention back to Casey, who shook her head.

“No, that's too many. We'll run out anyway; they sold well even on the shows other than that big LA one. How about 20?” Casey asked.

Eventually, they agreed on sending 30 copies and continued the tour. They all enjoyed the time they spent in San Francisco; the city seemed lovely and interesting, as did the people, but it remained an expensive place to live. All of them still considered the city a possibility, however, even as they continued on to Oregon.

Lex noted that all of them seemed to like Portland. She and the others enjoyed visiting the city and surrounding area, the life in the city itself looked vibrant and fun, and the people they met seemed friendly and interesting. Lex had particularly enjoyed the ease of getting around using public transport. She felt excited to see that their music seemed well-received at the first venue they'd played, a tiny bar with a little stage, and they'd sold a good number of CDs that night. The morning before they played their second venue in town, a larger club, Riss spoke up again.

“Hey, guys,” she said, after a sip of coffee. “Those 30 copies sold the day they arrived. There's something probably more important that you ought to see, though,” she continued.

She had everyone's attention as she turned her laptop around, showing a publicly posted video. The grainy picture and sound quality seemed to denote a cell phone video, so it took Lex a minute to figure out what they were watching. She heard applause die in the background, then she saw the band begin “Crazy Wind” as she felt the blood drain from her face.

“Is this from the last LA show we played?” she asked, listening to her voice crack.

Riss shot Lex an enigmatic look. “Yeah, it is.”

She sighed as she watched herself sing and Lou and Riss play. When it got to the section of the song she'd added the call into, she looked over at Riss again.

“Can you feel anything?” Lex asked, willing the answer to be “No.”

“This is where you did it, isn't it? I can feel it. Not as strong as when you did it while I was right with you, but I can feel it.”

“Shit,” Lex said, putting her face in her hands. “I should have known this would happen.”

“How many views does the video have?” Casey asked. Lex raised her head to scowl at her friend. “What?” Casey shot back. “I just wanted to know.”

Riss answered as she turned the laptop back to face her friends, “The video's been up for a couple days and it already has a few hundred views. It looks like whoever posted it keeps recommending it to their friends to watch.”

Lex sighed. “We’re going to need to send a lot more than 30 at this rate.”

Casey chuckled. “You act like that's a bad thing. Let’s send 30 more now, and then we can make a bunch when we get back to Phoenix. We’ve only got about a week until we’re done with the tour, anyway.”

“It is a bad thing!” Lex exclaimed, causing everyone to glance at her. Casey looked slightly puzzled while Riss and Lou fixed her with level gazes. “What if someone sees this video and recognizes us? What if someone figures out what I’m doing?”

Casey shook her head as she lifted an eyebrow. “I don’t think so, Lex. It’s not like I know a whole lot about it, but I think you were right. Most people don’t seem to pay musicians much attention. It seems a little better here than it sounds like it is in DC, but I just don’t think anyone’s going to spot us. You look too different, and so do I. As far as someone figuring out what you’re doing, how long did it take you to figure out?”

Lex sighed and shrugged. “I guess, but it makes me worry. We’re getting a lot more exposure than I originally thought we would.”

“Sure, people like to hear you guys perform. What’s wrong with that?” Casey asked.

“Nothing, I guess,” Lex said, looking over at Riss, who raised an eyebrow. “I’m just starting to wish not so many people wanted to hear us.” She turned to Lou as she finished to find him smiling.

“Not too frequent to hear a band complaining about having too many fans,” he said.

She sighed again and shook her head. “I just worry. I think maybe I had the wrong idea this time.”

“I’ve never seen you have the wrong idea yet,” Casey replied, now shaking her head. “Somehow, we always work it out. Come on: finish breakfast so we can go on that hike we talked about.”

On the drive to Seattle, the idea finally gelled for Lex. “Hey, everyone,” she said as she watched the trees go by, “you know I’m not crazy that someone posted a video of us, but it got me thinking.”

“About how we should record videos of our own and post them to promote the band?” Riss asked, turning around in the front passenger’s seat.

“It will promote us, but that's not my main idea,” Lex said with a sly smile, glancing in the rear view mirror and into the back of the van to make sure she had Casey and Lou’s attention, as well. “I figure since we already have a video posted online, the cat's sort of out of the bag as far as my voice talent if anyone's paying attention. So, I thought maybe we should film one of our own and post it for reasons we're interested in pursuing.”

Riss fixed her with a curious look and a raised eyebrow. “Which would be?”

“When we get home, I want to post a video telling Kate and Victor to come to one of our shows,” Lex said, and waited to watch everyone's reactions. Lou just glanced at her from the back of the van, waiting for further explanation. Casey shot Lex an interested look in the rear view mirror, but Riss gave her a distrustful frown.

“I don't know if that's such a good idea, Lex. We don't know them, really. Besides, who knows what sort of trouble they've gotten themselves into?”

Lex sighed. “I admit, I don't know what they've been up to, but I got to know Kate fairly well just before they left. Because of what Kate told me, I think they left for the same sort of reasons we did. We could use their help if they're free, and I bet they could use ours. I think we should at least try to find them, but everyone should consider it. Think about the idea and we can discuss it later.”

Riss shrugged then and nodded. “I think we should do it,” Casey added. “Kate is a good person to have in a fight, and Victor is a genius. We could use their help, and it would be good to have more of us, anyway.”

It wasn't until the group headed home from the final Seattle show that the subject came up again. The performance had gone well, and the four of them liked Seattle about as much as they'd liked Portland, but they'd decided to go home early since they'd sold out online again and wanted to make more CDs to send to their distribution service.

“We should send them at least a hundred,” Casey said, this time from the back of the van. “They'll probably sell fast, but we can send more afterwards. I don't want to have them complaining at us about having to store too many or sending them back to us. We should probably make a few hundred or so altogether, though, in order to have a bunch around.”

Riss groaned. “I thought we could relax once we got back,” she complained.

“All right,” Casey said with a laugh, “but after we finish the first hundred. I want to be able to have something for them to sell, OK?”

“Sure,” Riss replied with a small smile. After a couple of minutes, she spoke up again. “Hey, Lex?”

Lex turned around from the front passenger seat to face her friend in back.

“I've been thinking about what you said about the video,” Riss began. “I think you're right. If you can vouch for them, it would probably be good to have them around. What do you think, Lou?” Riss finished, looking at him in the driver's seat.

His eyes were direct as they briefly met Riss' gaze in the rear view mirror. “I don't know them, but if Casey and Lex think they're OK, I'm sure they are. If they had to get away like we did, I definitely want to help them, anyway.”

“Cool,” Riss said, looking back at Lex. “Seems like we're agreed, then. What's the plan, Lex?”

“Can you research video cameras while we're on the road? Try to find something easy to operate that has a simple web publishing function. We can stop on the way home to buy it so we can make the CDs first, then record the video.” Lex looked at Riss for her reaction and smiled as she nodded.

“I figured we could use that new song we've been working on, you know, the one about home,” Lex continued, glancing at Lou and Riss. “I thought we could post it saying it's to promote some of our new music, and I can add the call in the middle of the song. I can ask that people tell their friends to see the video, regardless.”

Lex noted Lou smiling, and Riss as well. Casey gave a thumbs-up from the back of the van. “I'll keep an eye out for them when they do come,” Casey added. “I can do that while you guys are performing.”

“Yeah, just like that,” Lex said, smiling now. “What do you think?” she asked, glancing at Riss and Lou.

“Count me in,” Riss responded. “I'm looking for video cams right now.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Lou added, nodding.

Lex smiled and hummed as she looked back out the window, now looking forward to getting home.

Once they arrived, they spent the morning of the first day making CDs, and then in the afternoon they got started making the video. Lex helped Casey drape one of the painting drop cloths over some of the windows in the front room for a backdrop, and to cover all of the recognizable red hills in the distance. They did a couple of test runs as Casey got the hang of working the camera and to practice their new song, “Heart's Abode.” Finally, when everyone felt ready, they began the performance they would post.

I don't see it in my dreams
It's not a time I can recall
Towering waves crash inside me
Neglectful of the shore
I search for a placeless time
Wanting nothing more
Than to see you look back at me
Knowing all my inner thoughts

Home is not expensive
Not a castle by the sea
It's just a place to never let you down

Lex closed her eyes as she sang, letting the visions run through her mind that she had had when she'd written the words in the first place. She started the call earlier in the song than she usually did, asking the people who saw the video to recommend their friends see it, and then that Kate and Victor come to one of their shows. As she sent out the last message, she kept as strong a picture of both of them in her mind as she could, remembering Kate's appearance, her kindness, her sense of humor, and their interactions. She thought of Victor's quiet strength, his genius, and his quick appraisal of situations in order to come up with amazing solutions. Lex found herself still remembering the two of them as she finished singing.

Once the last notes died away, Lex and her friends crowded around Riss' laptop to review the video, decided they liked it, and then posted it.

“What do you think will happen?” Casey asked, looking up at Lex as they watched their new video on the web.

Lex shrugged. “Not sure, really. Let's start by sending this link along to all the people we have email addresses for and ask them to watch it and share it. Hopefully, it'll spread from there.”

“Sounds good,” Riss replied, putting together an email as the rest of them watched. “Guess we'll see what happens.”

Forward to Chapter 27
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!



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My husband and I would like to relocate to the West Coast. We reluctantly ruled out the Bay area due to the incredible cost and difficulty of finding accomodation.

Lex is almost like Canary in Worm ..Better hope the ex boyfriend doesn't show up!

Yeah, it's surely beautiful there, but it's terribly expensive, so I completely understand. : (

Heh, heh...well, I guess she's lucky in that regard because he'd have to recognize her first! Also, there's nothing she has that he would want. After all, his family's rich, and Alexander's Army is unlikely to ever get there performing out and hawking music, no matter how popular they become. The music business is a difficult one to make money in!

Thank you for coming by to read, and for commenting!

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