Warnings: Cursing, teenage topics, and a lot of self-indulgent talk about pop punk.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Heroes of Olympus series, any of the lyrics within this story, or the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
When she hears the two clicks and a whistle, she already knows what's happening outside her window without even casting her eyes towards the cold glass.
Nico di Angelo, and possibly another boy or two, are staring up at the bedroom window of Percy Jackson. He has just thrown two rocks, paired with a distinct whistle so that his identity is known. If she didn't have the knowledge she had, Annabeth would have assumed that someone let their dog out and was calling them back. She tries to keep reading the study guide, repeating the words out loud and inside her mind, but the hushed laughter and shhh's are too much to ignore.
She has only gone to peer down at the commotion twice: the first being the initial time she heard the noises and the second being pure curiosity. She never has figured out where Percy and his friends go when they sneak out, but she assumes that it was the typical raging party with a lot of drugs, alcohol consumption, and sex. It seems only logical; after all, she's heard many girls explain in detail just what they would do to Percy and his broody friends. They were bad in the way that was hardly scary, but rather made the girls stare and the boys question their sexuality. Staring out the window, seeing silhouettes and the headlights of a car parked further down the block, her interest spikes. Almost so much that she considers throwing her window open and calling out to them.
There's three of them. They started shuffling to the sidewalk, surely headed for the car, but one of the silhouettes pauses. She tries to make out who it is, but the dim street lights lining the road do her no good. The dark form of a person raises one hand, deliberately in her direction, as if they know (hope?) she's watching. Annabeth back at a surprising speed, closing her curtains and flicking off the lamp light, showering herself in darkness. She thinks she hears laughter, but it could be the wind.
When she glances out the window again, all she sees is an empty road and a flickering, yellow street light.
It was Saturday, which was a day of rest for most teenagers in her relatively small town. However, for Annabeth, it meant waking up at five in the morning in order to arrive at her job by six.
She had been working at the candy store since the middle of her sophomore year. The moment she had turned fifteen, Annabeth had applied for every job she could, desperate to save up as much money as she possible. Of course, her father had promised to pay for her college, but it never hurt to get ahead of the game. 20 percent of her biweekly paycheck went into her savings account, and the rest was spent on purchasing gas and the occasional coffee from the family bakery down the street. Money wasn't tight for her by any means, but she preferred saving over spending. It would benefit her more in the long run.
The candy shop—Sweet on America—was a small, cutesy joint between a bookstore and a daycare. Annabeth's boss was Sally Jackson, who was conveniently her neighbor and one of her good friends. Since Sally firmly believed that hiring a multitude of teenagers with a tendency to sleep in and miss shifts was a liability, Annabeth was one of the youngest employees. As of right now, her only age-appropriate coworker was a skittish boy named Grover who was a friend of Sally's son. When work picked up in the summer, Sally would most likely hire a few more adolescents desperate for a summer job.
The uniform was simple: turquoise polo with a logo on the right and a name tag pinned beneath it, paired with any kind of khaki bottoms. Annabeth usually opted for khaki pants, but Sally was often seen in skirts. Sometimes, on special holidays, Ms. Jackson would buy them themed hats or aprons.
Annabeth's favorite days were hot ones, which weren't exactly an uncommon occurrence in the place she called home: California. Kids of all ages would pile in for ice cream or the other cold treats available, which kept her busy. Oftentimes, customers straggled in so that there were only one or two people meandering around the shop at a time. Those days left her with too much free time, leaving her restless and something close to overbearing when a person walked through the doors.
Her work technically wouldn't start until seven in the morning. It took around an hour to open, setting out the signs with eye-catching colors and bubbly handwriting. They had at least one special going every day; Annabeth picked the sour candies that were amazing but didn't get very many sales for today. Sally usually arrived thirty minutes later than her, having picked out some sort of breakfast for the morning staff, which meant that Annabeth got first dibs.
She and Sally would make the few tables around the shop customer friendly by adding chairs and arrangements of treats. The other workers typically breezed in five to ten minutes before the clock hit six, greeting everyone and shrugging their jackets off if they wore one. The morning shift usually only needed around three workers, even on the especially warm days. Most people weren't awake enough to have a craving for candy.
Today though, today was weird. In fact, someone wandered into the shop that Annabeth knew would never be caught dead in a place that was more or less an explosion of color and sweetness. That is, unless it was of dire, desperate need.
The boy who entered was Percy Jackson, son of her boss and teenager in her grade. She didn't know much about him—something that irked her to no end; weren't boys and girls who were in the same grade and neighbors supposed to be close friends? He glanced around the place, and not a moment of his precious eyesight was wasted on her.
She raised an eyebrow at his entry, but ultimately shrugged to herself and continued to organize the mess behind the counter. It wasn't until she heard him clear his throat that she realized he was leaning on the marble counter top and waiting for assistance.
"Oh!" Annabeth said, springing up and dusting off imaginary dirt from her clothes. For some reason, she looked away from his eyes as soon as she met them. She wasn't shy, not at all, but he looked at almost everyone as if they were transparent. It unnerved her. "Sorry... Can I help you?"
It must have been something in the tone of her voice, or the expression on her face, that caused him to chuckle. "You're shocked I'm here."
She stared at the counter—the brightest of greens with gold swirls. "Can you blame me?" Percy was the last person she'd peg as a candy lover. In fact, he seemed like more of a nails-for-breakfast and sheets-of-metal-for-lunch type guy. While he didn't have a single tattoo or piercing, Annabeth figured he would end up with too many to count. Right now, he was probably at least attempting to look normal for the sake of his mother. When he pulled at the collar of his Panic! At The Disco shirt, she decided that he was definitely the last person she expected to see in a candy store.
"I can't, I suppose," he muttered back, leaning both of his palms on the counter, leaving Annabeth to subconsciously examine his arms; they were normal lengthwise with just enough muscle but not too much. She imagined them on a off-white paper, the lines drawn in graphite. She had never been good at capturing people's image when drawing in pen or pencil, though. Sighing, he looked around the bright store, and eventually back to Annabeth. "So, how have you been?"
"Same as the last time you asked," she replied, knowing it was a lie. The last time he'd asked was two months ago. "Still working, still studying—"
"Still being superwoman," Percy finished with his signature smirk. Annabeth thought she must have been immune to it, seeing as so many girls fell over themselves to see that smirk. It hardly affected her. In response, she nodded, and the teenage boy chuckled and rested his weight on his elbows. "Is my mom here?"
"She went on break five minutes ago. She'll probably be back in ten."
"Good," he said, "because I needed to talk to you about something. Actually, two somethings."
Okay, so maybe Annabeth was immune to his adorable smile, but those words admittedly made her heart race a little. "Alright?" Oh God, she thought in both horror and confusion, there's that stupid Back To School bash in a few weeks. People dressed up and went crazy for that, renting expensive cars and asking around for dates. She pursed her lips and clung to the fact that Percy didn't really seem like the formal event kind of guy.
He cleared his throat and avoided her eyes for a moment. "First of all, I need to get my mom a really good present, but I can't think of anything. Her birthday's soon, and she mentions how close you two are all the time so I figured I better ask you." Annabeth opened her mouth to start listing off suggestions, but Percy kept talking. "And, I really, really, really need you to cover for me."
"Cover for you," she repeated, the idea of the dance teetering back and forth on the edge of her mind.
Percy pushed his hair down in a pointless attempt to make it appear less unkempt. "Yeah." (it's only the second said two para's down)
"Where are you going?"
"Warped Tour," he said with an excited grin, nearly making her sigh in relief. "I've wanted to go forever, and now I'll be a senior, so I'm old enough to not get any dirty looks for being a five year-old. I just don't think Mom would be too fond of the idea, and that's where you come in."
Annabeth felt a little uncomfortable. The only time she'd ever lied for someone was in third grade, and it was to keep her best friend Thalia from getting sent home to her mom for hitting a boy. "I see you've carefully thought this through," she said, with some honesty but more sarcasm. "What all do I have to do?"
"So you're in? Just like that?" Percy seemed pleasantly surprised. That smile was back now; a tinge of confusion added to the way one side of his mouth quirked up.
"Not just yet," she said with a raised eyebrow. "What's the terms?"
"I was thinking I'd tell my mom that me and you were going to have a study date—"
"You and I," Annabeth corrected distastefully. Percy sent her a desert dry look and sighed loudly. "I thought Warped Tour was for, like, a week?" she continued in confusion. How were they going to be 'studying' for a whole week?
"No, no," Percy rushed to explain. "It's an all day event, and it's two Saturdays from now."
"I work on Saturdays, every week, so that's out of the—"
"But," he said, in a bargaining voice, "if Mom thinks you're helping me with Trig, you won't have to work."
"How late will you be back?"
"Probably around 1 AM. Or something like that. I'll just keep texting her and saying that we're watching movies or something."
"This is an awful plan," Annabeth deadpanned. "Awful plan. You do realize that I live right next to you. She could easily come over and see that you aren't there."
"But you'll be able to convince her that I am." He rolled his lip between his teeth and seemed a little anxious. "Look, you're literally my only hope for this. Mom trusts you so much that she would probably let me sleep over at your house for three weeks straight and insist that I stay for longer. She wants us to be friends really bad."
The blond's brow furrowed. "Why's that?"
"Hell if I know," Percy answered, leveling his gaze with Annabeth. "It would really, really, really mean a lot to me if you could at least try and pull this off. Me and my friends have been planning Warped for senior year for at least three years. I'll do whatever you want in return. Anything."
She wanted to be angry with him for asking her to lie to someone who trusted her so much. She wanted to slap him and tell him to leave the store. She wanted to ask him why, if they'd been planning for years, did it just occur to him that his mother wouldn't go for the idea?But in the end, all she said was "I'm in."
Percy's grin was so wide that it even made her smile this time. He reached across the counter and grabbed both her hands, squeezing them tightly. Annabeth wasn't sure if her pulse was faster from his touch or anger at his touch. "Thank you, oh my god! You're literally the best person ever, I can't ever thank you enough for—"
"What's going on over here?" Annabeth glanced past Percy to see his mother, just as ageless and pretty as always. It hardly even occurred to her than he was still gripping her hands with enthusiasm, but it didn't seem to escape Sally's notice. "Am I interrupting—?"
"No, no!" he said quickly. "Annabeth just agreed to help me with Trig." Belatedly, he followed his mother's quick look and released her hands, pushing his into his front pockets.
"You seem really happy about that," Sally commented slyly, hip-checking her son. The blond briefly noticed his eyes widen and Ms. Jackson's polite smile widening a bit more. "When's the date?"
"Not a date," Percy piped up quickly. "But, it'll probably be—"
"A few days during the week," Annabeth interjected, "and whichever Saturdays Percy has time." He shot her a look, obviously not following where she was going with that, but the teenage girl smiled up at Sally. "I told him Saturdays weren't the best because I have work in the mornings, but—"
"Oh, no!" her boss interrupted. "Oh, Annabeth, if you'll help Percy's grade in that class, you can have every Saturday for the rest of your life off. I'll give you more hours on weekdays to make up for it; all it'll take is some shifting of the schedule."
Annabeth smiled. Her plan had worked. "Are you sure, Ms. Jackson—I mean, Sally?"
The older woman's maternal grin was so big that her face was probably close to breaking. "Oh, yes, yes, yes, I'm positive. I've been waiting forever for you and Percy to—"
"Right! Thanks, Mom!" Percy said brightly. "I just hope I can get the grade up before graduation, you know?"
"You will. Especially if Annabeth here is on your side."
He nodded in agreement, sending his new asset a grateful look. "So, anyways, I gotta run. Hanging with the guys." Annabeth couldn't help but notice the way Sally's face fell a little bit; it made her flashback to a few sad conversations with the woman about how much she missed her son. "I'll see you whenever, Annabeth. Bye, Mom." He leaned down a little and kissed her cheek (out of habit, more likely than not) and looked mildly embarrassed as he waved at Annabeth and left the shop.
A few minutes later, Sally started blabbering about how nice it was that her two favorite teens were starting to be friends, and Annabeth noticed that she'd never helped him pick out a present for his mom. Deciding that they'd work all of that out on Monday, she put the whole occurrence out of her mind, humming and nodding at all the appropriate times as Sally continued to talk.
Work that day, and her four hour shift the following day, seemed to pass by incredibly slow. There was nothing to anticipate, so at first Annabeth wasn't sure why. However, by the time she was leaving Sweet on America Sunday afternoon, she realized that it was because she kept glancing at the door and waiting for someone to walk in. Someone that would never be caught dead in a candy shop.
It was unfathomable as to why she was waiting on Percy to enter the shop again, but Annabeth decided it had to be his eyes. As intense and unsettling as they were, that was far from what bothered her. Annabeth's hands itched to paint them; pull the old box of brushes and dried up colors out of her closet. She'd long since abandoned painting and all other forms of traditional art, but there was something about Percy: his demeanor, his expressions, his appearance. There was something about the boy that was simply paintable.
By the time Monday morning rolled around, Annabeth couldn't even be upset about having to wake up for school. She wanted the business with Percy to be over and done with as soon as possible; she had a certain hatred for owing people favors, no matter if they were mysterious boys next door or her own father.
She slung her backpack onto her back seat and settled behind the wheel, waving at her neighbors who were out gardening together. The ride to school was just as quick as it was silent, since Annabeth had never been especially fond of any music she'd heard, and the silence gave her a few moments to get her ducks in a row and organize her schedule for the day.
First order of the day: find Percy. Devise a plan. Then, think over what you've gotten yourself into,Annabeth listed inwardly, with a remorseful tinge to every word.
When she entered the double doors, she made a beeline for where she knew Percy would be. He always gathered with his friends right next to her third period English class since it was close to Nico and Percy's lockers, approximately half of their brigade. She managed to catch his eye and wave him over without having to pass through his throng of music fanatics, thankfully. He wandered over to her and she leaned against the closest locker in an attempt to look more casual and not draw attention to the fact that a argyle-sweater-lover girl was talking to a ripped-jeans-and-leather-jacket-wearing guy.
He opened his mouth to start a conversation, but she beat him to it. "Arrange your mom a blind date. She's been considering getting back into dating. And for God's sake, spend a day with her. She says that you're always out with friends or holed up in your room these days." Percy looked a little upset, but he nodded. Annabeth's English teacher breezed past them, raising an eyebrow at what seemed like a breach of the status quo, but nodding in greeting to her. "Arrange it with him," she added after Mr. Blofis disappeared into his classroom. "He's just her type: aspiring novelist, likes kids, loves Ernest Hemingway."
"My mom likes Ernie Hemsworth? Is that Liam's dad or something?"
"Ernest Hemingway," Annabeth repeated, looking at Percy as though he were a dirty pair of socks. "Tell your mom that we're studying on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the library. But we don't actually have to," she added after a moment. "Understand?"
Percy seemed somewhat confused, but she caught a bit of bewilderment in his eyes. Her mind floated to the metallic green she always mixed with light blues to paint the sea. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. How did you think of all that?"
"Some of us do think ahead," she informed him with an eyeroll. "Go back to your friends. If they open their mouths any wider and they'll drop their cigarettes—which aren't supposed to be on campus, by the way." He still seemed amazed, and Annabeth couldn't fathom why, but he met her eyes and smiled.
"Thanks. For everything." With a half-assed salute, Percy turned away and shoved his hands in his jeans pockets, making some joke that made his friends laugh. Satisfied, she turned away and stopped by her locker to retrieve her Trig book. As long as he didn't do anything dumb, the plan was fairly simple. And two Saturdays from now, she would be free of debt and back on her normal schedule of rushing through high school to get to college. Every day was one step closer to complete and total independence, complete and total focus on her career and the rest of her life—something she had planned in such vastness that she could probably predict what would happen seven years, three minutes, and six seconds from now.
Is that why you quit painting? some voice in her mind mocked, making Annabeth slam her locker shut a bit too hard. You never knew how it would come out when you sat down in front of an easel. The unpredictability killed you.
Annabeth wished she could think of a response to shout back at the voice in her head, but she couldn't find anything worthy. She wasn't crazy by any means—it wasn't the voice of another person, but her own. Somehow that was worse.
Pushing all thoughts of art, Percy's lines, and unpredictability from her head, she turned to a place that was predictable: her math classroom. The same thing happened everyday. The students would file in, the teacher would drone on with a lesson no one cared about, then she would assign homework. Annabeth would finish it before the bell rang.
Some people would brand Annabeth as a workaholic, but she called herself driven. She could easily see past the fake, pointless virtues of high school and into the future. She knew that in the end, it was the most important thing. College applications didn't ask you how cool your clothes were or how many people you'd dated. Besides, she tended to reason, five or ten years from now, no one would even care.
(And sometimes, this daring part of her brain whispered that maybe, just maybe, she was too scared to be a teenager—a real one, one that made mistakes and kissed too many boys and cried herself to sleep from heartbreak. Sometimes, that part would tell her that she only made up the reasoning to cover up the fear. But never, under any circumstances, did Annabeth let herself believe that it was true.)
He agreed in a heartbeat. Thanks for the suggestion, Annabeth. See you on Thursday for studying. And if you're Mom, you should feel awful for reading this.
"He told me to give you that," Sally said from her place at the counter, her eyes drifting down to the note in the girl's hand. "I would have given it to you earlier, but it completely slipped my mind." She shrugged. "Just my old age. I promised him I wouldn't read it, but I am curious as to what it says."
"You aren't old," Annabeth told her with a pointed look. The woman was youthful, looking at least ten years younger than her age. "He just said that he made a good grade on his Trig quiz and that he can't wait for our next session," she continued, lying smoothly.
Sally seemed disappointed. "Something that trivial? Couldn't he have just texted you? I mean—"
"Ms. Jackson?" She turned to Grover, who was holding a ripped package. "I found this on that table, but I figured we shouldn't keep it..." Annabeth slipped away, heading off to the stock room to avoid further questioning.
She heard a faint "You're absolutely right, Mr. Underwood! Toss it outside, if you would?" behind her as she entered the room full of well-labeled boxes and packages, the impeccable organization being all her doing.
Of course Mr. Blofis agreed in a heartbeat, Annabeth thought to herself. He comes in the candy shop near religiously, and it sure as hell isn't for the least popular sour candy he buys. She grabbed a box of Werther's original caramel candies, the treats that typically sold well and always needed restocking. If they didn't, Annabeth would just shift them around a little bit and examine other canisters and shelves to pass the time. Today was Wednesday, which meant the slowest day at work all week long, but it was only another hour before closing, thankfully. Then she could go home, kick back, and study for her—
"Ma'am?" she called back craning her neck to where Sally stood behind the counter with a phone pressed against her shoulder.
The older woman smiled. "Percy's on the phone. He says he has 'urgent things' to discuss. Feel free to go on your break! I'll clock you out."
"Oh, but I've already taken my..." Annabeth stopped talking as Sally slipped out of earshot, seemingly not caring that she was giving her a second break. Mentally preparing herself, she pressed the phone to her ear and answered, "What?"
"Go out with me tonight."
Annabeth nearly choked on air. "Are you crazy?"
"There's this thing. Mom forced me into last second plans tonight, but I have to go. She won't support it unless she knows you're going."
"Percy, I have better things to do—"
"Like what? Study for a test you have three weeks from now? Live a little, Chase. Go out with me tonight."
Annabeth pinched the bridge of her nose. "You're absolutely crazy if you thought I'd agree."
"I've seen you look out the window when I leave at night. I know you wonder where we go. Stop thinking so much and just go out with me." His voice, rather than being gentle and hopeful earlier, now seemed commanding. Too smug for her liking when he mentioned how he knew she glanced out the window sometimes. "Unless, of course, you're scared."
Annabeth scowled. "Don't even! I'm not scared, I'm just—"
"Scared," Percy finished. "Annabeth Chase is scared to take a chance. Scared to go out and live life for one day. Scared to be scared of being caught and scared of maybe having fun for once! You know what that word means? Have you ever experienced fun?"
His words made her eyes sting briefly, definitely from being overheated from anger. "Shut up! I'm not scared!"
"Oh, sure," Percy mocked. "Of course you aren't. Can't risk the chance? Can't risk anything?"
"Stop! Just stop!" Annabeth yelled, her anger spiking at the fact that for once she was wrong, and Percy, the unlikeliest, was right. "You don't even know me! I'm not scared of anything!" Besides spiders, she silently added.
"Then go out with me!"
"Great!" Percy shouted back in the same tone. "I'll get you at seven."
"Great!" she mimicked, hanging up the phone. "Asshole."
She jumped, sheepishly turning to see Sally leaning out of the employee lounge. "Ma'am?"
"Is everything... alright?"
"Oh, yes ma'am," she told her, deciding to milk this 'going out' for everything it was worth. "Percy just asked me on a date, actually."
"There was quite a bit of yelling," Sally said carefully, giving Annabeth a once-over.
"Inside jokes," she waved off, sending the woman a charismatic grin.
This made the older woman smile. "Oh," she said. "When's he getting you? And where's he taking you?"
"Seven," Annabeth breathed. "And I haven't the slightest clue."
She was starting to regret not having a more civil conversation with Percy. It was nearing six-thirty and she was still standing before her closet in sweatpants and a t-shirt, without a single inkling as to how she was supposed to dress.
Another t-shirt seemed too casual. A button-up seemed too dressy. A tank top was too daring.
That made her scowl. Percy seemed to be griping about the fact that she wasn't daring enough, and the thought itself made the decision for her. She pulled a velvet red, ribbed tank top off of the hanger and changed into it, deciding on a pair of dark-wash skinny jeans—a deep blue like the darkest part of the ocean. They were the ones that she never wore, since they had slits and holes in them that were too outgoing for her. Annabeth wanted—needed—to prove that she wasn't frightened. She could be daring. She could have fun. No matter where he was taking her.
Something about the way Percy carried himself made her feel the need to instate herself as a 'cool' person, when she was the furthest thing from that. Cool people didn't hide behind a closed door all day alternating between reading, studying, and staring at an old painting on the wall. Her dad, who had already squeezed her shoulder and disappeared into his office for the night following their dinner, knew that she was going out. He didn't seem to mind who with though, since all he did was nod and say, "That's fine, sweetheart."
Still, as a precaution, Annabeth pulled a bulky jacket off of the hanger and tossed it on her bed. She looked in her tall mirror, examining her outfit as she usually did before she went anywhere. While Annabeth wasn't anything close to vain, she did prefer to look nice. Deciding that her outfit was bold enough, at least by her definition, she pulled out her math notes to edge a good ten minutes of studying in.
By the time her doorbell rang, the most she'd accomplished was reading a paragraph of notes three times with a stunning lack of focus and comprehension of every word she read. Of course, she knew the material, but she was too preoccupied to determine what the value of 'y' was at the moment, much less work against her dyslexia.
Nearly forgetting the jacket, Annabeth rushed down the steps, simultaneously zipping it up in case her dad decided to make an appearance. Calling out a "bye, Dad!" Annabeth flung the door open and closed it behind her. No looking back now, she told herself, taking a deep breath and wondering what the hell she'd agreed to. What if it was a gang rally? What if he was in a cult, and it was 'bring a virgin to sacrifice' night?
Turning to greet the boy she'd had a fairly violent conversation with earlier that day, Annabeth kept her expression passive. "Hi."
Percy seemed displeased. "Don't tell me that's what you're wearing."
She was so beyond done with his degrading remarks. Furiously, she unzipped the ugly jacket, which revealed her deep crimson top, and shoved it into his arms. Still glaring at him, she maneuvered the tie from her hair and left her curls to tumble down past her shoulders. "Satisfied?"
Something akin to pride shined in his eyes. "Hell yeah, I am."
She closed her eyes and laughed, half out of relief, half due to his blatant reply. "Where are you taking me, Jackson?"
"Mom thinks we're going to the movies," he said with a shrug.
"That wasn't the question."
"Ask me no questions," Percy said, starting the engine, "and I'll tell you no lies."
Annabeth rolled her eyes at him, jumping slightly at the volume of the radio as it cut on. He laughed at her then, which left her with crossed arms and glaring eyes that adamantly looked out the window.
Luckily, the radio was so loud that there wasn't any forced conversation. It made her decide to treat this outing as business only, though she didn't have a clue what she would have been looking at it in any other way. All she seemed to be was a cover for Percy's late night shenanigans that his mother didn't seem to approve of unless Annabeth was present, for whatever reason.
Drawing her eyes away from the window, she subtly surveyed his car, taking in the barely-there smell of cigarettes. It looked used, to say the least, which meant that the smell probably lingered from the previous owner. She stared at a necklace that hung from the rearview mirror—a simple one that ended with a small jar filled with sand and topped off with a cork. She'd never pegged Percy as a beach bum, but a quick glance in his direction let her soak up the details—tan skin, light freckles that were surely sunspots. It made her feel content to have figured out something about him without having asked.
About fifteen minutes into the ride, Percy turned the radio down maybe three notches and yelled, "When we get here, I gotta go through the back entrance. I'll walk you to the front though, alright?"
"What's that supposed to mean? Where are we going?"
Percy, with the windows down and the radio up, looked something close to perfect when he grinned mischievously at her. (Annabeth mentally took a picture; of course she didn't paint anymore, but it was a flawless shot that she couldn't resist.) "We're going to a concert."
"Excuse me," Percy muttered over and over, keeping his head down and pushing through the crowd. Quite a few people said profanities back, but Annabeth followed his example and faced the ground, watching his heels to know where she was going. Once they reached the front of the line, she heard a, "Bruce, let her through, alright?" Glancing up, she saw a brute man nod once at Percy, then felt the boy's hand on her upper back and his lips against her ear. It felt like too many sensations at once, since Annabeth was hardly used to anyone laying a finger on her.
"Take two rights and you'll end up in an open room. There'll be a stage, and probably a few people. Pick a table and stay there, I'll find you after, okay?"
Before she had a chance to reply, Percy had disappeared into the crowd and Bruce nodded her inside. "Two rights," she muttered to herself, taking them both with the utmost care, leaning around the corner and scoping it out before she walked on. Annabeth was starting to regret her lack of clothing as she entered the room he'd told her about. There were a few small of laughing people, some teens, some young adults, but they were all wearing dark colors and nearly everyone had dyed hair and a piercing or tattoo. It was occurring to her that she was painfully blonde and painfully out of place.
One group looked over at her and laughed like she was the joke of the century, but she saw drinks in their hands, which gave her hope that they were well smashed and no where near proper perception. Pushing her hair over to the opposite side of her head and squashing the OCD need to style her hair to neat curls, Annabeth hoped she appeared a little bit more ready for a party. It was almost frightening, the way she went from quiet and carefree to fretting over something as silly as appearing cool enough to be at a concert, and what appeared to be a punk concert at that. Picking a table, following his orders for lack of any better ideas, she watched as equipment was slowly brought onto the stage and tested by some team that appeared to know the technical side of it all.
It wasn't until all of the equipment was fully set up that Annabeth realized a hoard of people had entered the room. They seemed to be buzzing with excitement, which gave her the same rush. She'd never been to a concert before, and if her dad ever found out she'd gone to one at thebar... she'd be done for. There was a weird sense of rebellion and adrenaline that went along with everything she was experiencing right now. It was some side of Annabeth that had never gotten to show itself.
Again, there were too many sensations. Not sensations, maybe, but more of like there was so much going on and she desperately tried to take it all in, her mind working in overdrive. A man hiding the last few puffs off his cigarette over here, three excited teenagers there. Some woman was dancing at the front left of the room, which roused a bit of enthusiasm from the male species. The hearty laughter of a twenty-something year-old just a few steps ahead of her, the way the doors she'd entered through were shut with finality.
The crowd rose up in cheers, which made her eyes flicker to the stage. There were three guys spreading out across it, one heading for the drums, one jogging over to the keyboard, and one pulling a guitar strap across his shoulders. Her jaw almost hit the table when she recognized him and—Percy played guitar?
He searched the crowd for a moment, catching her eye and winking. He mouthed something, 'surprise' Annabeth decided, and one last guy ran out on the stage, making the same group of teenage girls in the crowd scream loudly. She jumped slightly, and when she looked back to Percy he seemed to be laughing at her. "Good evening, Petaluma!" The crowd whooped and clapped, but the guy—the lead singer, Annabeth presumed—scrunched his nose up. "Damn, I wish the name of our town was catchier." The audience laughed in appreciation, and she had to admit that the guy was good. He knew how to charm the crowd. "So, are you guys ready to party?"
When she could finally hear again, a few long seconds later, the guy said, "We're The Handwriting, and the first thing we're gonna play for you tonight is something this old chap over here wrote. It's called 'I Forgive You.'" He jerked his head towards Percy, which made Annabeth raise an eyebrow. She'd always assumed he was some bonehead who didn't apply himself, in school or out of school. Standing corrected, she clapped with the rest of the people around her until the band started playing.
Oddly enough, she didn't hate the music, a decision she made as she leaned a little heavier on the table. Usually, she could find fault with every song—poor lyrics, off-key, weird beat—but this, she liked. Few people were singing along, which let her know that Percy's band wasn't by any means famous, but everyone seemed to be enjoying the music. They played more songs: one catchy beat that seemed like more of a party starter, one that reflected the sadness of a ballad within the loud beats. She even found herself nodding along and maybe enjoying herself a little by the time the band announced that the next song would be their last. "Now, we got Saving Just Two up next—not a bad band if I do say so myself—but you gotta admit that we kick ass."
The crowd showed their agreement and all four boys on stage laughed. Percy stepped up to the microphone, jokingly shoving the lead singer out of the way and raising his hands in order to get some cheering. When the crowd complied, he laughed and waved them off. "Our last song tonight is something that all four of us wrote together. It means a lot to us. But before we sing it, I want everyone to appreciate that pretty blonde at the table in the left... excuse me, right corner." Close to everyone in the room turned to her, which made her freeze up for a moment before sheepishly waving at them. "She was my alibi for the night, and I might not have been able to make it here tonight without her amazing self. So, thank you, Annabeth Chase!"
Oh, God. She was blushing so hard. She could literally feel the blood rushing to her cheeks and staying there to torture her. Percy stepped back from the mic and the lead singer took control again, glancing at Annabeth and raising an inquisitive eyebrow at his bandmate before shrugging animatedly toward the crowd. After the laughter and talk died down, he smiled at everyone. "This one's called 'Maybe Tonight'."
Avoiding Percy's eyes adamantly, she strained to hear as the singer started speaking—in a tone that said he was saying something he'd uttered a million times, but it never lost it's meaning. She could hear voices rising above his to yell the last four words: "And we are legendary." As his voice faded out, the music faded in.
Annabeth loved the song. She loved the words, the beat, the meaning—all of it. She wondered why she hadn't found such music before, the kind of music that gave you chills and left you with a sense of meaning or the feeling that someone understood. The fact that Percy's band was already making such amazing music gave her the premonition that they'd be big. After the last notes of the song were played, the band said their goodbyes, gave out a website, and left the stage. A murmur spread throughout the crowd, mostly positive things, some things derogatory since most people wanted to see the main band that would be playing.
Deciding that she didn't feel like waiting for Percy to find her like she was some sort of lost dog, Annabeth manuvered her way through the crowd and out the doors she'd entered through. Once she made it outside, the teenager peered around until she heard laughter and some semblance of human forms that weren't inebriated. Heading towards the sound, she ended up in an alley, seeing the same lead singer from earlier taking a drag off a cigarette.
Percy intercepted before he could take another pull, squashing it beneath his foot. "Seriously, dude, you gotta stop that." Smiling to lighten the mood, he clapped the singer's shoulder. "Can't have our best singer going out on us!"
"Hot blond, ahoy!"
She continued toward the group, shoving her hands in her back pockets simply to have something to do with them. Upon reaching them, she raised an eyebrow at the boy who'd spoke. "Rude," she noted.
"Very rude," Percy agreed, throwing his arm over Annabeth's shoulder. She would have shoved him off, but the group seemed to have something like a performance high, too excited to really care about much at all. "How'd you like the show?"
"It was pretty good," she allowed, not willing to let him know that she'd had fun.
The rest of the members seemed to take it as a giant compliment, giving their thanks, but Percy made a face at her. She made the same one back, haughtily flicking her hair out of her face and casually leaning against the wall to escape from his somewhat uncomfortable grasp. They continued to discuss some issues they'd had—this note was off, we should change it, let's switch this song and that song, maybe we should play something different next time—and Annabeth found herself wondering if she'd be invited to the next concert. It seemed like an irrelevant thought, in fact, did she even want to go to the next concert? She'd only hung around Percy a few times between coalitions of their families at dinners and some group projects.
Percy laughed a little. "Are you okay over there?"
"I'm fine," she told him, raising an eyebrow. "Are you okay over there?"
"This one's very feisty," the keyboarder told Percy.
"Shove off, Leo," he muttered, rubbing his temple. Redirecting his gaze to his blond acquaintance, he asked, "Are you ready to leave?"
"I was ready to leave the second we got here."
"Feisty!" Leo said with a clap.
"Yeah, we're leaving. See you on Saturday, right guys?" Annabeth waited while they conversed about practice times, Percy complained about having to wake up so early which left it pushed back to noon.
She could hear another band playing inside, some quick beat that surely had the audience dancing. The black-haired boy was smiling the whole way to his car, unable to come down from the adrenaline rush. "You're in a band," Annabeth stated unnecessarily as she settled in the passenger seat.
"It would seem so." Percy laughed, turning the radio down a bit more, hoping that they could actually have a conversation. He'd always wanted to make nice with Annabeth, but it seemed the only way to do so started with a big fight. It took that much to get through her thick head and uptight personality. "Did you really enjoy the show?"
"I did," she told him. "It was great, really. I liked all of the songs, which is really weird since I don't usually care for music in general. I guess I was just listening to the wrong stuff."
"I'll have to give you some CDs, get you started on the good stuff," Percy said, shaking his hair out a little. "God, that's just one of the best feelings. I know everyone says it's love, or sex, or whatever, but honest to God the best feeling I've come across is performing."
"Tell me about it," Annabeth said, not in the redundant way, but in the genuinely curious way.
Percy was silent for a few moments, his lips pressed in a line as he considered his words carefully. "It's like... Well, for me, it's just everything I've ever wanted," he shared, turning onto the main road. "People actually enjoying what I give them, instead of all the disappointment. That probably doesn't make sense to you, since you're strangely perfect—"
"Am not," Annabeth interrupted. Percy shot her a look and she dramatically flipped her hair and put on a girly voice. "Well, maybe a little." His excitement was contagious; it had her personality completed a 360-turn.
He laughed, smiling at her with crinkled eyes and—Jesus Christ—two dimples. "What I mean is, all throughout life, I'll give things to people. I'd give things to my stepdad and it'd never be what he wanted. I give things to my teachers they're disappointed with my grades. And teenagers are insatiable creatures. Nothing is ever good enough for them. It's just nice to be able and make something that people like, you know?"
Annabeth didn't know, not really, since the limit of her talent was finishing a pop quiz first, but she nodded. "I'm sure it's all very rewarding."
"It is," Percy told her. "I'm mad I didn't get into it earlier. We just started the band around two years ago, but it was more of a thing to do when we were bored at first. Now it's our life."
"Who came up with the name?"
"Nico." It occurred to her that he'd been there the whole time, sitting quietly on the rickety stool outside the back door of the bar. "He's been a good drummer, even though he's younger than all of us."
"And you write the songs," Annabeth continued.
He shrugged modestly. "Some."
"'I Forgive You' was pretty good. I get the feeling you write songs a lot," she hinted.
"Okay, so it's one of those things I'm pretty okay at," Percy allowed. "I wrote that song when I was pissed at my ex. Guess I should get pissed off more often?"
"Everyone has their own source of inspiration." She felt the conversation lull and refused for the air to get uncomfortable. "Show me some of this 'good music' you speak of?"
He smiled, pulling a CD off of a sleeve on his visor and sliding it in. "This is All Time Low!" Percy shouted over the music. "They're pretty good." She nodded in response, listening to the music and deciding that maybe, just maybe, he wasn't as bad as she originally thought. They'd managed to have a full conversation without yelling, which wasn't really that big of a deal since they hadn't had too many conversations. It was cool to see the other side of the story, this side of the social pyramid. She wasn't sure what she liked better now: her safe, comfortable studying or the adrenaline of crowds and music so loud her ears would be ringing for days.
There was something about the way she already loved this life so much that made her feel like she should have been living it all along. If she'd made friends with Percy earlier, she could have, too. Maybe then he wouldn't have had to ask her to be his alibi, she already would have been.
By the time he pulled up to his home, removing the key from the ignition, Annabeth had already decided what she'd say in parting. However, his next words completely threw her off.
"We'll have to do that again, Annabeth," Percy said genuinely. "I'm starting to wish I had an extra ticket to Warped so I could drag you with me." He sent her a smile. "You aren't as bad as I thought you were going to be."
"How did you think I was going to act?" she questioned, fearing the answer.
"Like a grandmother at a rock concert." The image made both of them laugh, and Percy started pulling CDs out of the disc holder on his visor. "I'll let you borrow a few of these CDs I made, and you let me know what you end up liking. I'll make you more, if you want."
"You saint," Annabeth said, aghast.
He rolled his eyes. "Just because my music is loud doesn't mean I'm an asshole."
"You do realize that you literally yelled at me until I agreed to go with you tonight, right?"
Percy smiled softly, petting the dash of his car absentmindedly. "It got you to come along, did it not?"
"Peer pressure!" Annabeth accused. "I should put you in the Bully Box." He laughed, and Annabeth smiled. The 'Bully Box' was this completely awful idea created by her school in order to stop cases of bullying. If anyone was verbally or physically abusing you, you were supposed to write their name on a sheet of paper and slip it in there. From what she knew, they'd only gotten bogus answers of much-hated people or random things such as 'peas' or 'the movie Being John Malkovich'.
Percy turned to her again, nodding to himself. "This was fun though. Definitely a lot better than I thought."
"Thanks, I think." Placing her hand on the door, she said, "So, I'll see you later?"
"Hopefully," he muttered, his eyes still having that shine and his voice still holding the same honest tone. "Take care of my CDs!"
"Will do," Annabeth answered drily, walking around the front of his car and into the next yard over—her yard. She knew that her dad would be asleep or knee deep in books by now, so she didn't bother to let him know that she was home with a hearty shout. Instead, she jogged up the stairs and placed the CDs carefully on her desk, took a quick shower, and popped the first one into her radio.
Falling asleep to music warranted her the best sleep she'd gotten in months; with black and gold and red flashing before her eyes as she absentmindedly painted the concert world behind her eyelids.