Can't Beat Em, Join Em

by TheBucketWoman

Disclaimer: I do not own Life with Derek or anything else I may reference herein. No profit is being made nor is any infringement intended.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Part Sixty-Three: Derek.

Yep, that wasexactly the way I pictured it. I planned it out perfectly, didn't I? In a cramped, sweaty, loud back room of the auditorium, among a bunch of people. And of course, right after I said it, the music stopped, and there was just enough time in the break between one song and the next for Casey to state the obvious.

"You just said you love me," she said. I didn't think it was a good sign that that was the first thing she could think of to say.

"Uh-huh," I said.

Casey, being Casey, burst into tears. God what a mess.

"Casey," I said. "Please don't do that, okay? I'll do anything. If you want, we can forget all about what I just said. I'm an idiot; don't even worry about it..."

She turned around and looked behind her. I didn't know what the hell she was looking at, but she turned back soon enough.

The next song started, not as loud as the last, thankfully.

"What're you doing?" I asked.

She kissed me. And my knees buckled. I landed directly into the folding chair that Casey'd been moving around, so we didn't end up on the floor, but the thing made such a clattering noise as I tried to stop it from tipping over.

It turns out that the noise was much louder in my head than it was to everyone else, but a couple of people still turned to see what was going on. The two of us sprang apart when that happened.

Sam and Ralph both turned to look. Sam turned back right away and turned Ralph's head for him. Both of them seemed really amused by what they saw. I made a mental note to kick their asses later, but right then, I had other fish to fry.

"So," I said, trying to catch my breath. "Does that mean..."

"Uh-huh," she said, still crying. "I love you. I love you. I love you. I thought for sure that you really couldn't stand me, but I love you."

"Oh my God," I said, pulling her into a hug. "I'm sorry. Apparently that's how I show affection."

"This is the first time you've ever willingly hugged me," she said.

"I'm an asshole," I said.

"You are," she agreed. "First you wouldn't hug anyone, then you moved up to hugging everyone but me. Do you have any idea what that felt like?"

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't think anyone would ever believe that I hated you. And you know what? Nobody did. But you. So I guess I really am an asshole," I said."But I guess I'm your asshole, now, unless you see sense and drop me like, like...I dunno. Something you drop?"

She pulled back a little, looking at me like I was crazy.

"I'm not witty under pressure," I said. "You want that, call Edwin. That really was the best I could come up with."

"Actually, it fits," she said. She pulled away and wiped at her eyes with her hands, then looking down at them. "What kinda mess am I making here?"

"You're fine," I said. "Perfect."

"You're full of it," she said. "Did I just ruin your shirt?"

"Nah," I said. "All's cool."

Next thing, I knew we were flooded with people, and Casey started congratulating people. Sam grabbed me by the arm and pulled me off to the side.

"Kay," Sam said. "Two things: One—it's about damn time you kissed her, dude."

"She kissed me," I said. "I enjoyed it, but I can't really take credit. She's the smart one, not me."

"Duh," Sam said. "But I'll bug you about that later, because we're up!"

"D-Rock!" Mrs. Zeldin said. "You're next!"

"See?" Sam said.

"Crap," I said.

"And you have schmutz," he said, pointing at his own cheek.

I rubbed at the side of my face. "Did I get it? What was it?"

"Mascara, I think," Sam said.

I scrubbed at my face with my sleeve cuff. Sam handed my guitar to me.

"We need to move it," Sam said. He looked over at Sheldon, who was giving us the evil eye from the doorway.

"Oh, crap," I said, again. I turned around as Sam continued to drag me and I caught Casey's eye. She smiled at me, and I prayed to God that we wouldn't suck.

Part Sixty-Four: Casey.

"You okay?" Noel said from behind me. I spun around.

"Yeah," I said. "Why?" I sniffed.

He sniffed, imitating me. "Because (sniff) you're standing here (sniff) like someone died (sniff) and then you turn around and flash those big red eyes, so forgive me if I'm way off base (sniff) but I had to wonder."

"I'm okay," I said. "I'm actually pretty good."

"Hey," Lisa said, coming over. She tilted my face up, like she was checking for injury. "What happened, baby."

"Everything's okay," I said.

Noel slid an arm around Lisa's waist.

"It's okay," I said. "I'll tell you later."

"Well," Lisa said to Noel. "She is smiling."

"Yep," Noel said.

The music started.

"Damn," I said. "I'm gonna miss it." I ran over and squeezed past way too many people to get a good look at what was happening onstage. Sheldon was in the middle of his piano intro and I got there just in time to see Derek hit the first guitar chord. There was a chorus of squeals behind me when everyone recognized the song. Then Emily stepped forward and sang stalking the stage like a panther. It was amazing, and I was so proud of her. Lisa and I did some more jumping up and down until Edwin turned around and glared at us.

"Do. You. Mind?" he said, gesturing at the camera in his hand.

"Sorry," we said. He turned back to face the stage again. I took off my shoes and she followed my example so that if we felt the need, we could bounce without disturbing anyone.

Noel was actually giving us the stink eye, too, because he was paying really close attention. Not that we weren't but I just really felt like dancing. One peek into the audience showed that I wasn't the only one.

The song ended with a lot of cheering and screaming. It was starting to feel almost like a real concert in here. At least I imagined it did. I've really only been to two shows and one of them was for the Backstreet Boys when I was ten, so I guess I'm not a good judge. But it certainly didn't feel like a school function anymore.

Ralph counted off and began the next song.

"Ooooh," Lisa said.

"What is this?" I asked. It was familiar but I couldn't place it.

"Rob Thomas," Noel said. I nodded.

Sheldon was perfect, as usual, even with such a tongue-twister of a song. He became such a different guy on stage. Emily tried to tell me about this, but I didn't believe her.

"When did Sheldon Schlepper become hot?" A random girl said beside me. I think she was one of the Periwinkles. It caused a dilemma. If I told Sheldon about what this girl said, it would make his day, but if I told him and Emily heard, we'd all have this girl's blood on our hands.

"Pretty sure he was always hot," Lisa said. "The rest of us had to grow up before we saw it."

"Huh?" Noel said.

"Oh please," Lisa said. "You're one of those guys too, so don't act like you don't get it."

"Um," Noel said. "Thanks? Does that make you advanced for your age?"

"You know it," Lisa said, leaning in for a kiss.

I was so happy to have been right about them after all. I'm not usually right.

But back to the song. Derek and Sam were singing back up, along with Em, and they were great. I don't know how they got Sam to do it. If you look up the word "shy" in the dictionary, there's a picture of him hiding behind something. And Derek may be kind of a ham, but I had never heard him sing in his real voice up till that moment. I mean, Mrs. Zeldin must have put him in the male chorus for a reason last year, but it was like he was incapable of being serious and let everyone believe that he was tone deaf. So he was shocking me, too.

Em and Sheldon were so cute, the way they seemed to duel almost and try to top each other. It was kinda hard for them to keep their hands off each other in normal circumstances, but this was Shemily times ten.

We all screamed our heads off at the end of the song. On Edwin's video it's all you can hear at that point. And we traumatized poor Edwin, since he was in the middle of all that noise.

But all too soon, you could hear a pin drop.

Derek's guitar almost sounded like bells ringing. I got immediate goosebumps.

Then he started to sing "The Tracks of My Tears."

All I know is that I started sobbing right then, and sobbed right through it. I just couldn't believe it. A week or so before, when I caught him playing guitar as well as he had, I thought that my mind could not have been any more blown. He sang the song in a lower key than the original and it was a little slowed down and less doo-wop. They kept the background singing to a minimum, and somebody turned up the reverb to make sure that my shivers never went away.

After the bridge, the song took a turn. The guitars got louder and grungier and everybody joined in.

You know, because it's a "serious alt-rock punk band." But surprisingly enough, it worked like a charm.

"Well," Noel said after the applause died down a little. "They won."

Part Sixty-Five: Lizzie.

Mom cried. George looked like he might at any second. Marti stood on a chair and danced, and it was my job to keep the camera steady, though I was absolutely dying to text Edwin during Derek's solo. But if I didn't get that moment on tape, I never would've forgiven myself. And Edwin probably never would've forgiven me, either.

I mean, Derek singing was kind of like a Bigfoot sighting. Edwin and I saw it before, but there's a huge difference between the rehearsal and the actual performance.

Needless to say, the place went mad when the song was over. I zoomed in a little on Derek's face right at the end, and he looked shocked and horrified when the screaming started, like he'd forgotten that people were watching him. He tried to beat it off the stage, but Sam stopped him and made him stand there for a minute. Later, after we'd burned a few copies, we found out that that was one of Mom's favorite moments. Because she replayed it twenty times, at least.

If this didn't do it for Casey, nothing would. I was planning on grilling Edwin for every detail. I prayed that Derek and Casey didn't follow their usual angst and avoidance pattern because I just couldn't take it anymore. I made up my mind that if I didn't hear reports of major making out from backstage, then I wouldn't be talking to either of them.

The last two bands were probably okay. I wouldn't know. I held the camera straight, but it felt like they'd never get off the stage. I wanted three things in this world: a bathroom break, a kiss from Edwin, and an update. Then, finally, the last band was done and Mrs. Zeldon announced a short break. I handed the camera to George and ran like hell to the bathroom. It was a good thing I was on the track team, because everyone had the same idea I'd had. I also had sense enough to use the bathroom in the basement before anyone else thought of it. Then I ran upstairs and backstage and went looking for Edwin. I found Noel and Sheldon.

"No seriously," Noel was saying. "That was the first song I learned."

"'Iris'?" Sheldon said.

"My Mom was impressed," Noel said. "Hey Lizzie."

"Sup Lizzie," Sheldon said.

"Hey," I said. "Seen Edwin?"

"Um," Noel said, getting up on tiptoe. "In the corner, over there." He pointed.

"Thanks," I said. I pushed my way through and got to him. He was happy to see me, but after a quick kiss, he realized something.

"Liz?" He asked. "Who'd you give the camera to?"

Uh-Oh, I thought. "George," I said. "Mom was crying too hard."

"Aw, man!" Edwin said. He shrugged. "Well, I can get a shot of the announcement from here, and maybe Dad'll get the audio at least."

"At least," I said.

"By the way," Edwin began.

"What?" I asked.

He pointed behind me. I turned to see Derek with his arm around Casey. She was leaning on him and he was leaning against the wall. Both of them looked like Marti did last New Year's Eve, when she tried to stay up all night and made it to 12:03 before crashing. They looked like 12:01.

"Did they?" I asked.

"Ralph says yes," Edwin said. "I missed it."

I wanted to go pump Ralphie for details but he was busy, talking to some rocker girl who I think might have been in the last band. I couldn't find Sam at all.

Mrs. Zeldin called everyone to attention.

"Okay, I need one representative from every band to come onstage," she said.

"Oh my god," I said.

"This is it," Edwin said, turning his camera back on.

"Hey, Smokey," Sheldon said to Derek. "You're up."

"You," Derek said.

"Nuh-uh," Sheldon said. "This is not Schlep-Rock is it? Didn't think so."

Derek didn't move.

"Come on," Sheldon said. "Five minutes, tops, then you can go back to Casey."

Casey blushed.

"You," Derek said, sounding more like Marti every second.

Sheldon laughed. "If you're sure." He smiled and shook his head at both of them.

"Did you think you'd live long enough to see this?" Sheldon asked me.

"I was starting to think I wouldn't," I said.

"Thought I'd die first," Edwin said.

So Sheldon and Noel went out onto the stage with kids from the other three bands. Edwin and I followed them as far as the wings, and Edwin pointed the camera at the stage.

Mrs. Zeldin grabbed the microphone.

"I really think that this might've been the best Clash of the Bands that I've seen since I've been here, and I think that many of you would agree that there are many talented people here tonight," she said, to huge applause and cheering.

"And the choice was incredibly tough," she said. "I, for one, would consider all of you winners..."

"This'll be a while," Edwin said.

"But I have the results right here," Mrs. Zeldin said. She paused for a second, just to mess with everybody, and she got a laugh for that.

"The winner of this year's Clash of the Bands is..." she said.

Then she giggled. I could have killed her myself.

"Arrogant Chicken!"

I jumped out of the way, so people could get by.

I couldn't really hear anything over the screaming, but Casey's head popped off of Derek's shoulder and she looked a little like a startled meerkat. Derek laughed at the look on her face, kissed her quickly, and gave her a little push toward the stage. She made her way through the screaming people and hugged me and Edwin on her way out. Then she got mauled by her bandmates and everyone else from the other bands.

Noel and Sheldon "I'm not worthy'd" each other a little and then Sheldon went backstage again to rejoin Emily, but both of them got dragged back out. Then Noel went back for Derek,who'd come over to watch.

Derek held out his hand for Noel to shake and got pulled onto the stage for his trouble. The noise level went up even more. He went over to where Casey was weeping up a storm and very publicly put his arms around her.

No kiss, unfortunately.

"Baby steps," Edwin said in my ear. He read my mind.