Page 26 of Riot (Mayhem 2)

Today, I taped neon-green flyers everywhere. Between the handouts and the ads I posted online, I’m hoping we’ll have a good turnout for auditions next weekend. I’m taking this project and my debt to the band as seriously as I’ve ever taken anything—I’m going to sit in on auditions and make sure to see this through. The sooner Cody is replaced, the sooner I can feel like he’s not missing, like he’s not going to pop back up and finish what he started.

“So are you having fun?” Adam asks Rowan and me as he puffs on a freshly lit cigarette, and I pull a smile back onto my face as I watch his free hand distractedly tug strands of hair from Rowan’s messy bun.

“Aside from the stalking, yeah,” she grumbles, batting Adam’s hand away while I chuckle. At home, most people are used to having the guys around. Fans ask for pictures and try to hang out, but they usually don’t lose their minds or do weird things like follow us around. Here, the guys are one of the smaller bands, but there have been a few diehard fans who have been hard to get rid of, including one weird little girl wearing a The Last Ones to Know T-shirt who screamed so loudly I thought she was going to pass out.

Adam smiles and leans in to kiss the corner of Rowan’s mouth, slow in a way that makes my cheeks just as red as it makes hers. I look away and add, “I just wish we knew where and when all the bands are playing.”

ManiFest is like Mayhem in that it’s organized chaos. Part of the gimmick is that they don’t reveal the performance schedule ahead of time. The philosophy is that attendees should pick stages at random and experience new music and become fans of new bands—which is awesome up until you miss your favorite band because you had no clue where or when they’d be performing.

“What band do you want to see?” Joel asks, gazing over at me from behind black shades. He’s dressed in long black jean shorts and a royal-blue tank top with extra long armholes. It hangs loosely over his fit body, revealing the tattooed script running down his side and making him look deliciously rocker. Even girls who had no idea he’s a rock star have stared at him like he’s a rock star, and I’ve pretended not to notice.

“Cutting the Line,” I say without needing to think about it, “and maybe the Lost Keys.” Both bands are huge right now—so huge that I’d recognize most of the members if I saw them walking around. I’ve kept an eye out, but so far, no luck.

“Alright,” Joel says, pulling out his phone, “I have Phil’s number. Who has Van’s?”

My eyes widen when I realize he’s in the process of texting one of the guitarists of the Lost Keys and has just asked the guys who has the number for the lead singer of Cutting the Line. Van Erickson is a God right now, and Cutting the Line is the main reason I wanted to come to the festival.

“Are you serious?” I breathe.

Joel’s black sunglasses are staring down at his phone, but the corner of his lips tugs into an amused smirk.

“I have Van’s,” Adam says, already texting a message.

Rowan and I share a look, and a minute later, Joel tells me where and when the Lost Keys are performing and Adam tells us where and when Cutting the Line is set to play.

“I can’t believe you know them,” I say, too stunned to bother eating the pulled-pork sandwich on the slip of foil in front of me. Joel lifts his up and takes a big bite.

“We opened for the Lost Keys a few times last summer,” Shawn explains from down the table. “And Cutting the Line came to one of our shows out near where they live.”

I’m still gaping when Adam blows a string of smoke downwind from Rowan and says, “They’ll all be at the bonfire tonight.”

Our bus is parked in the designated campsite for the headlining bands since the guys were given special permission to park there. The organizers of the festival did the guys the favor since they want them to perform next year, and I was reminded once again that no matter how well I get to know Joel, Adam, Shawn, and Mike, they’re are all freaking rock stars. One day, they might even be as big as Van Erickson.

After lunch, we all part ways—Ro and Adam go back to the bus to, I assume, screw each other’s brains out; Shawn and Mike head to the main offices to thank the organizers for the parking spot; and Joel volunteers to take me wherever I want to go.

With the sun casting pink ribbons all around us, I point to a random stage area. “That one’s huge. I bet a big band is playing there.”

Joel follows my finger and smiles. His shades are hanging from the loose neck of his tank, his skin absorbing a golden tan despite the sunscreen we’ve kept applying. “Sometimes they put small bands on big stages to throw people off.”

“Only one way to find out!” I tug him deep into the crowd, weaving through the growing crush of bodies until we’re snug in the middle of it. Between the all-nighters I’ve spent trying to pull my grades up and the nightmares I’ve had almost every night about Cody, this week has been a haze of sleep deprivation. My body is running on caffeine and manic excitement, and I plan to ride the wave until it crashes.

“Have you ever been right in the pit before?” Joel asks, gazing around us like we’re swimming in a fishbowl of piranhas. “I could see who’s playing and see if we could go in the cage . . .”

Each stage is surrounded by a chainlink fence, and while it would be awesome to be that close, I’m excited about getting the full experience. A beach ball floats down from the sky, and my hands reach up with dozens of others to bat it back into the air. “No way. This is going to be awesome.”