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Tug Of War

by Enola Jones



Songs Used: "Lies" by the Knickerbockers
"Never let you go" by Third Eye Blind
"We Danced" by The Hooters
"No time" by The Guess Who.

Chapter one

"Someday I'm gonna be happy
But I don't know when just now
Lies, lies
Breakin' my heart..."

The rollicking sounds of the late sixties' music met Maude Standish's ears as she pushed open the door to the Four Corners nightclub. It had been locked, but a locked door never stopped her before.

She saw where the music was coming and frowned.

"You think that you're such a smart girl
And I'll believe what you say
But who do you think you are, girl
To lead me on this way... hey...."

Seven men on the stage. In the back, on the raised dias, a young man attacking the drums with every part of his body. To the right, a huge man and a black man sharing a microphone belting out both rhythm claps and background vocals. To the left, a man with an old-fashioned handlebar mustache leaned sideways, barely keeping his vibrating body in check as his fingers flew over the bass strings.

In the centre of the stage, right in front, were three microphones. On either side was a man with a guitar. The blonde on the left wore all black, and his fingers flew over the strings as if possessed as his voice rose in harmony with the others. The man on the right would have been called a hippie thirty years ago by his hair alone. His body was gyrating with the rhythm that came from all around him as he flailed at the guitar, singing perfect harmony.

"Lies, Lies
I can't believe a word you say
Lies, lies
Are gonna make you sad someday...."

But it was the man in the centre that had Maude's lips thinning and her golden brows pulling together in annoyance. It was her own son -- her own son! -- singing lead vocals and gyrating like a spastic puppet, doing a modified boogaloo as he poured his soul into the microphone.

"Someday I'm gonna be lonely
But I won't find you around
Lies, lies
Are breaking my heart..."

Eyes closed, he uttered a primal scream and stepped back, continuing the gyrating as the guitars riffed for three times as long as the original song. Then he stepped back up and resumed singing.

"You think that you're such a smart girl
And I'll believe what you say
But who do you think you are, girl
To lead me on this way....hey...."

He opened his eyes and smiled at the hippie, who returned it before joining him in the vocals, screeching into the microphone.

"Lies (AAAAH!)
Lies (YEAH BABY!)
I can't believe a word you say
Lies, Lies
Are gonna make you sad someday...."

His right hand gripped the microphone and his body turned slightly, but the spastic gyrations continued.

"Someday I'm gonna be happy
But I don't know when just now
Lies... Lies....
Breakin' my heart...."

The song finished with a round-robin "Breakin' my heart" and the leader's scatting over it. The music died and her son let out a Rebel yell, punching the air and laughing.

The hippie laughed as well, and held out his hand for a high-five. Her son's hand smacked it, as the others laughed and cheered, petting him on the shoulders and back.

He turned toward the audience area, and his smile froze. "Damn," he said, but the microphone picked it up. "Mother."

The black man frowned, squinting toward her. As she moved closer, his eyes widened. "Your mother is Mama Michelle Phillips?"

"No," was the answer with a long-suffering sigh. "She merely resembles her. Closely."

"Ezra," she drawled, scanning the others. "May I have a word with you, please? Privately?"

"Of course, Mother," he said wearily. "Just a moment." He moved to the centre of the stage and took a long drink of water, wiping his brow.

There was a whispered exchange between him and the hippie, and then he got off the stage, grabbing his discarded jacket and tie that were laying on a chair. "The dressing area is this way," he said, moving there.

"Very well." She made to follow him.

"Excuse me," a strong voice said from the stage. Ezra vanished through the door but Maude turned. The blonde in black was frowning at her -- no, a bit stronger than a frown -- was that a glare? He continued, "What is so important that couldn't be shared with us?"

"This is family business, Mister... ah...."

"Larabee. Chris Larabee. And we're a tight-knit group, Mrs Standish... we have precious few secrets from each other."

Maude didn't miss the grins the bassist and drummer shared at that statement. She put on her most charming smile. "Well, sir, then you have nothing to worry about."

"I'm not following you," Chris said, his brows drawing further together.

Maude's smile grew. "You'll have no problems with my son keeping our business secret. You see...." She paused and her eyes narrowed a bit. "My son will no longer be in your...quaint... little band. Good day, sir." And she turned on her heel and strode through the same door Ezra had vanished into.

Leaving six stunned souls in her wake.

CHAPTER TWO

When Ezra came out of the meeting with his mother, he was livid. He walked the perimeter of Four Corners several times to calm down.

Maude walked out and up onto the mostly-deserted stage. "Mister Tanner, I presume?"

The long-haired man glanced up from packing up his guitar. "You presume a lot, ma'am."

Her eyes narrowed and she smiled tightly. "Yes... well... I would like to enlist your aid."

"Depends on what I'm aidin' in."

She lay her hand on his arm. "I would like to enlist your aid in getting Ezra to leave with me."

"An' why would I do that?"

"I'll make it worth your while...."

Vin's brain whirled. I need time, he thought. To gather the others... figure out how to stop this.... "A-all right, ma'am," he said, speaking nothing but the honest truth. "I'll help Ezra."

Ezra had come in the nightclub and was walking past the stage area. He could not see Maude nor Vin -- but he heard the damning words.

When Maude walked off, leaving a dazed Vin onstage, Ezra stepped onstage. Vin smiled at him. "Hey, Ez."

Ezra's reaction was a right hook that flattened both Vin and a stool. As Vin sat up, wiping his bleeding mouth, Ezra growled, "Don't 'Hey Ez' me, Judas."

"Judas?! Aw, hell, Ez, hold on, you don't understand!"

"My ears are unimpeded, Mister Tanner, and I am very aware of what I heard! Of all of them, I thought in you I had found a friend." His voice was brittle. "Farewell, Benedict Arnold." He spun on his heel and stormed out.

"Ez... Ez! Ezra! Aw, hell...." Vin grabbed the house phone and dialed frantically. "'Siah, it's Vin! Look, ya gotta help me...."

After Josiah heard the story, he immediately drove to Ezra's apartment, hoping to talk some sense into the furious singer.

He held no illusions that it would be an easy task.

CHAPTER THREE

Buck's profanity was turning the air inside the nightclub blue. "Damnation!! Damn, damn, damn!" He whirled and waved his finger under Chris's nose. Chris just let him, knowing the big man needed the vent. "Months! It takes us months to get that stubbourn son-of-a-bitch to the point he's relaxed enough to let go and move.... and that -- that--- woman undoes it all in one hour!"

Vin sat on a stool, head low. "Hell, I just said what I said so's she'd let me 'lone an' lemme think --- I didn't think he'd hear me...."

"Hey!" Buck whirled on him. "Hey! This isn't your fault, Tanner!" he gripped the back of Vin's neck in a gentle touch. "This isn't your fault. It's hers."

JD asked, "He's not really gonna leave the band, is he?"

"Not if Josiah has anything to say about it," Chris managed a small smile, though the fury was seething.

Nathan had been going through a pile of sheet music and suddenly he lifted one, eyes widening. "Hey, Vin...take a look at this."

Vin came off the stool and looked at it, his eyes going wide too. "Holy shit...."

"My thoughts exactly," Nathan smiled. "This was written for a different circumstance, but the lyrics fit perfectly with our situation!"

Vin handed it to Chris, who nodded. "And the arrangement's for four instruments. "Nate, you feel like creatin' a sax riff for this? It doesn't have one, but..."

Nathan's smile grew. "Just point me to the notes."

Chris smiled. "I'll call Josiah, have him bring Ezra here. Vin, you're on vocals. We'll run through this a couple of times, then we'll tell Ezra musically how we feel about him."

Ezra and Josiah walked into Four Corners. Ezra was sullen and Josiah was leading him by the arm. He sat the singer down and said, "Now, son, you're gonna see exactly what the rest of us think of you."

Ezra rolled his eyes. "Mind not calling me 'son'? I've had quite enough parental involvement for one day...."

Josiah smiled. "Very well.... we're here, brothers!"

In reply, a single guitar sounded, followed by the overlicks of an electric one. Vin and Chris began. JD chimed in with the drums, Buck's bass a moment later. The saxophone was silent, the riff would come in later, but Nathan was on the stage as well.

As the music spread, Vin stepped up to the microphone. Eyes on Ezra, he began to sing.

"There's every good reason
For lettin' you go...
Just takin' a slowdown
And it's startin' to show..."

Ezra winced.

"I'll never let you go..."

He looked up, startled. Vin nodded and kept on.

"I'll never let you go
I'll never let you go
I'll never let you turn around
Turn back on each other,
Yes indeed, I did make a promise to your mother,
Turn around, turn back on each other...."

Ezra blinked. It fit perfectly with their situation! How'd....

He forced himself to listen to the words again.

"You say that I've changed
And maybe I did
But even if I've changed,
What's wrong with it?

"I'll never let you go
I'll never let you go
I'll never let you go
I'll never let you turn around
Turn back on each other,
Yes indeed, I did make a promise to your mother,
Turn around, turn back on each other...."

The saxophone chimed in, a long mournful few notes as the tune changed and Vin began again.

"All our friends have gone, have gone
All the time goes on, goes on
And all I know is it's wrong, it's wrong
All I know is it's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong...." he choked on that final word.

All the instruments fell silent, except for Chris's lone guitar and Vin's voice -- now shaking with emotion.

"If there's a reason
It's lost on me.
Maybe we'll be friends...
I guess we'll see..."

The instruments chimed back in and JD took over for three lines while Vin got his voice under control.

"I'll never let you go
I'll never let you go
I'll never let you go..."

Then Vin returned.

"Turn around, turn back on each other,
Yes indeed, I did break a promise to your mother
Turn around, your back's on each other...."

Then he changed the words

"Don't you see, I did break a promise to your mother..."

Ezra's eyes squeezed tightly shut. After that line, the vocals fell silent and the music played out.

When the song was over, Ezra stood up. "Is this why you brought me here, Mister Sanchez? So I could hear this?"

Josiah nodded.

Ezra then turned to the band. "Sirs, that was the most cockamamied, outlandish song I have ever heard! And if you think for one moment that it changes anything...." He took a deep breath and his voice lowered. "You're right. If that is indeed your true feelings ---"

"To a man, Ezra," Buck said. "To a man."

Ezra nodded. "Then that makes my problem your problem. My mother is adamant I leave this band and resume my former life with her. I am just as adamant that I remain with my ---" He met their eyes. "....family."

"You'd just gotten to the point where you'd loosen up with us," JD said as he came around the drums. "Hell, you were boogalooin' all ovah the place!" He clamped his hand over his mouth and looked wide-eyed at Buck.

Keith had slid out for a moment.

But the others hadn't noticed, too busy with the problem at hand. "Yes, she said as much --- that my dancing was what clinched the decision that I was being 'contaminated' by you six...." Ezra sighed. "But how to make her see that this is where I belong and she has no right to ---"

Chris suddenly began to grin. "Somethin' funny, brother?" Josiah asked.

Instead of answering him, Chris turned to Vin. "Remember what we did to Charlotte after she hurt you?"

Vin nodded. "Told her off musically, like we communicated with Ez just n----- Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"

"I usually am," Chris chuckled.

Ezra had begun to grin as well. "I believe I see where this is going, gentlemen, and if you intend for the seven of us to ... 'tell my mother off' with music, I have one thing to add."

"What would that be?" Nathan asked.

The grin now exposed the gold tooth. "A means of subterfuge that is so unsubtle even Mister Wilmington would not miss it."

Buck hit Chris's shoulder. "Did he just insult me?"

Chris chuckled. "Let's hear this plan, Ez....over a meal."

"Agreed," Ezra laughed. "Mister Dunne, you will enjoy this plan -- as it involves my 'boogalooing' before my mother one final time."

They all laughed as the five came off the stage. Then Buck paused. "Ezra, hold up. Did you just insult me?"

"No, Mist....No, Buck." Ezra smiled. "One must be cognisant of an insult before one is perceived." An emerald eye closed in a wink and he led the way out of Four Corners.

"I still think he insulted me," Buck groused softly.

CHAPTER FOUR

Maude walked primly into the nightclub and sat at the table marked "Reserved" that was set for two occupants. She expected Ezra to join her momentarily to watch the Seven's farewell concert to him.

It had rankled her that they wanted to do this for him, but Ezra had refused to leave with her until it happened. For his peace of mind -- and to spare her ears and headache the drone of his complaining whilst they were abroad -- she had reluctantly relented.

Inez walked over to her. "A drink?"

"No thank you," she smiled at the woman.

To her astonishment, the woman nodded and turned away --- miming spitting on Maude's shoes as she did so, complete with sound effects! "My word," Maude whispered, frowning as she turned back to the stage.

She dismissed the warm wetness on her toes as her imagination.

The nightclub darkened, save for the spotlight on the stage. It revealed the barren instruments -- and a large white screen behind them. Maude frowned. She didn't recall a screen before....

One by one, the six band members -- minus Ezra --- walked onto the stage. Each was dressed from head to toe in black...in mourning for one of their own, soon to be taken away.

Maude rolled her eyes and sighed. "Please...."

Chris walked up to the microphone. "Normally, we would begin with our instrumental theme song, but tonight -- as you can see -- we've one missing. And without his trombone, it doesn't sound right. Tonight's show we dedicate to Ezra Standish and his mother Maude -- without whom this evening would not be happening." His glare met her eyes and he mouthed 'damn you'.

She smirked back at him and raised her water glass in a winner's salute.

Chris's eyes narrowed and he finished, "So without further ado.... 'We danced'." He stepped back and counted off.

The opening sounded sparse without the traditional harmonica sounds -- they had not been able to find a keyboard setting that sounded like a true harmonica, and had run out of time. So they chose to do it just with the guitars -- Chris's guitar playing the same basic tunes as the harmonica without the 'twang' to them.

Then the song ratcheted into high gear, with a surprising choice of lead singer -- his low tenor singing voice rolling over the nightclub in the fast song, his accent not submerged at all as he sang and played at the same time.

Buck.

"She was a be-bop baby on a hard day's night
She was hangin' on Johnny, he was holdin' on tight
Well I could feel her comin' from a mile away
There was no use talkin', there was nothin' to say
When the band began to play and play...."

A light flared behind the screen, illuminating a male silhouette in motion. A billowing shirt, obviously untucked with the sleeves visibly rolled up to the elbows, flared around his form as his arms and legs flew -- in a modified boogaloo.

Maude's eyes went huge.

"And we danced
Like a wave on the ocean, romanced
We were liars in love, and we danced
Swept away for a moment by chance
And we danced and danced and danced...."

The screen went dark.

The six acted as though nothing unusual had happened. Buck rolled into the second verse, eyes on his fingering as he did so.

"I met my be-bop baby at the union hall
She could dance all night and shake the paint off the wall
But when I saw her smile across a crowded room, yeah
Well, I knew we had to leave the party soon
As the band began to play out of tune...."

They repeated the chorus, and the peekaboo show with the dancer behind the screen happened once more. The six rolled into the instrumental part, and the light illuminated the dancer as he kept pace effortlessly with the song.

"The air was clear, she's walkin' my way
Hear the music playin' when she says
'Are we gettin' too close, do we dare to get closer?'
The room was spinnin', she whispered my name....

"And we danced
Like a wave on the ocean, romanced
We were liars in love, and we danced
Swept away for a moment by chance
And we danced...."

The screen darkened and fell, and a spotlight flared on the dancer -- auburn hair gleaming, fine sheen of sweat on his bare face and hands, green eyes focused on his feet as they moved to the beat, intence concentration on his fine features, skintight black-jeans clad legs and white button-down shirtsleeved arms flying in synch with the raucous song.

"Good Lord!" Maude screeched. "Ezra!"

"And we danced...and danced....AAW! And we danced...."

And he danced. Until the song wound down and he ended up misstepping and nearly toppling into JD's drums. Only Nathan's fast grab saved him and he smiled his thanks.

When he got his feet under him again, Ezra stepped down the three steps that raised the drums above the main stage. As he did, he unbuttoned the huge shirt he'd borrowed from Josiah and slid it off, revealing a skintight black t-shirt underneath that left very little to the imagination. He tossed the shirt to the keyboardist and took the lead singer's microphone that Buck all too willingly vacated.

Green eyes blazed into green as Ezra took a long pull off a bottle of water before addressing the nearly-silent crowd. "The reports of my leaving the band," he drawled in a voice that bled ice, "have been woefully exaggerated."

With one notable exeption who sat with narrowing eyes, the entire crowd shot to their feet, cheering and applauding.

CHAPTER FIVE

When the ovation had settled, Ezra spoke into the microphone again. "I was recently told in a song just how my bandmates thought of me. I wish now to do so for my mother. This one is for you, Mother." He stepped back and gave one curt nod.

JD began a clockwork riff, and the guitars and bass lay over it. Ezra's eyes didn't waver from Maude's as the background began, then he joined in.

"(No time left for you) On my way to better things
(No time left for you) I found myself some wings
(No time left for you) Distant roads are callin' me
(No time left for you)" He scatted a line.

"No time for a summer friend
No time for the love you send
Seasons change and so did I,
You need not wonder why
You need not wonder why
There's no time left for you
No time left for you..."

The music repeated the opening riff under the cheers of the crowd and a whistling hoot that was distincly Inez's. It hadn't escaped anyone's notice that when the background had sung with Ezra, his voice had meshed seamlessly with Chris's and Vin's.

Mute testimony that the wanderer had found a home.

"No time for a gentle rain,
No time for my watch and chain
No time for revolving doors,
No time for the killing, for
No time for the killing, for
There's no time left for you....
No time left for you...."

Maude rose to her feet and Ezra's eyes narrowed, his accent creeping into the words as he all but spat them at her.

"No time for a summer friend,
No time for the 'love' you send
Seasons change and so did I!
You need not wonder why....
You need not wonder why....
There's no time left for you....
No time left for you, you you....."

She took a step around the table and Ezra took a step backward, Chris and Vin automatically moving to put their bodies between him and her as he snarled out the ending to the song.

"No time, no time!
No time, no time!
I got, got, got no time!"

As the applause for the song rolled out, fourteen eyes turned to glare at Maude. Seven black-clad figures stood frozen in poses of angered defiance.

Maude Standish was many things, but a fool was not one of them. Without a backward glance, she left the club.

The next day, Ezra found a note on his dressing room table.

I must say, my boy, that was a marvelous display of courage. I regret, however, that you have chosen this pedestrian existence over the lovely times we could have had. More's the pity. I'll be in touch. Mother.

With a weary sigh, Ezra tore the letter in half and in half again, depositing it in the wastebasket. He sat at the table for another few moments, face in his hands, before he rose to his feet and grabbed his jacket, heading with swift purpose to the stage where his bandmates were already practicing.

"Lies, lies...
I can't believe a word you say....
Lies, lies....
Are gonna make you sad someday...
Someday I'm gonna be happy
But I don't know when just now....
Lies, lies,
Are breakin' my heart...."

The End





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