Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Opening Acts, A Radiation Canary Bonus Track

Author’s Note:

In honor of The Rise and Fall of Radiation Canary coming out in hardback today, I wanted to present a whole new story to help remind people it was out there. This story could be read as a stand-alone, but there are big spoilers for the novel. It gives Laura Cowan’s point-of-view on things, including where the Femme Reapers came from and what they were doing while Radiation Canary had their own thing going on. You can pick up your copy of the novel on Amazon! Still available in ebook as well, if that’s your thing. 😉

Summary Laura Cowan and her twin sister Ella succeed in forming a band and getting a record contract, but Laura is more interested in getting to know the violinist of a fellow band.

It started with a middle school talent show and a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that made their music teacher go pale. Afterward the principal agreed that the song might not have been the most appropriate choice, but that the music teacher should have checked the song before okaying its inclusion. “Besides,” their mother protested, “who doesn’t know what ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is about?” Eventually they weren’t punished for singing the song, but the damage had been done. Laura and Ella Cowan had discovered a love for making music. Singing someone else’s song was fine, but they wanted the thrill of writing their own songs and hearing a crowd sing it back to them.

There was also something magical about making music together. They had never mastered the secret language so many twins seemed to have. They understood each other, they could get a point across with the bare minimum of effort, but they thought an actual secret language required more. They found it through music. Ella played lead guitar and Laura was bass, and they would spend hours sitting across from each other weaving a tune. There was no verbal collaboration or guidance required. Ella would make a move and Laura would follow her, or vice versa. What started as a lark to win the talent show (which they didn’t) turned into a way for the sisters to bond.

They spent their high school years trying to focus themselves and figure out who they were. First they were simply The Cowan Sisters, then Cowan Coven, then A Pair of Queens. Just before graduation Laura came out of the closet to her sister and they toyed with the idea of calling themselves Straight/Not, but decided that would get very old very quickly. The names came and went with unpredictable frequency, sometimes getting changed when they agreed to play at a certain function. School dances were big for them, as well as house parties for their friends. One of their friends told them to figure out a name and stick to it. “You’ll end up failing just because no one knows who you are. You’re too good to be hiding.”

They were in their bedroom – a former attic which had been converted into a pair of joined loft-type spaces – toying with their guitars when Ella said, “It’s a shame you’re so feminine. If you were butch, we could have all kinds of naming possibilities. Butch and Cassidy. See? That’s a great one right there.”

“But your name isn’t Cassidy, and I’m a femme.”

“Femme Fatale.”

“Femme and Her.”

“The Femme Reaper.”

Laura stopped strumming. “Femme Reapers.”

Ella looked at her. “Whoa.”

“Right?”

Ella smiled and sat up straighter. “Femme Reapers.” They had been practicing with a harder, louder sound, and that name would tie it together perfectly. Ella focused on her guitar and thought about a song they’d been working on for the past month. It was tentatively titled “The Fall of Woman,” and she played a few chords before Laura picked up her guitar and began playing along. Before long their stepfather was at the door telling them to keep it down “for the neighbor’s sake.”

The real blowup came when they revealed they were going to skip college, veering off the path to becoming pharmacists like their mother in favor of playing music. They got into a screaming fight with their stepfather, a man they’d never had a very friendly relationship with, and it came to a head when he stalked across the room as if he was about to hit Laura. Ella stepped between them and stared the man down, daring him to cross that line. Instead he turned around and grabbed her guitar by the neck, hurling it at the wall with enough force to dent the drywall.

After graduation they found an apartment on the fringes of Seattle. It wasn’t much, and it was more than they really wanted to pay, but they needed proximity to the places that would hire them to play music. They got jobs as dishwashers, waitresses, bartenders, and on the weekends they would “whore themselves out” to children’s parties. They told themselves the countless repetitions of “Dino Shuffle!” on weekend afternoons gave them the ability to play “Too Much Tonight” after hours amid the drunken denizens of Seattle.

They played in bars and clubs, forced to shout so they could be heard over conversation and clinking glasses and getting paid in free drinks and complementary snacks at the bar. They found their style by mixing Goth with western wear: leather pants over silk shirts, with long leather dusters over it all. Soon the crowds would quiet down when they began singing but the twins didn’t lower their volume in response.

Their first official review came from a University of Washington student-run paper that praised their loud and raucous sound, but added, “The truly enthralling moments of the set came during the quieter songs, when the Cowan sisters harmonized so perfectly that it was hard to tell which of them was doing the lead vocal without watching very carefully. Simply put, this duo can bring down the house and then lovingly sing you to sleep afterward.”

That article caused their shows to be flooded with students, including a pharmacology major named Charlie. She had the bartender pass them a note inviting them to play a post-finals kegger, and Laura agreed because she loved the name Charlie for a woman. They agreed to play the party and Laura started calling Charlie to make the arrangements. They met up for drinks to finalize their agreement, and Charlie took her to a lesbian bar.

“Is this okay?” Charlie asked.

Laura said, “Yeah! It’ll be a lot easier for me to come out to you here.”

They danced together, they kissed, and after the kegger they started dating. Laura was well aware that if she’d gone the traditional route, Charlie might have been in her class. They night after she lost her virginity to Charlie, while they were lying sweaty and tied together with the sheets, Laura mentioned that they had been destined to meet. “It’s like this whole thing was meant to be,” she said as she rolled over and kissed Charlie’s chest. “We’re supposed to be together.”

“Uh-huh…” Charlie said.

A few days later Laura realized that probably wasn’t the best thing to say to someone right after having sex. She tried to make up for her error but Charlie wasn’t answering her calls or emails. At the time she was positive she had just destroyed her only chance at happiness. While Ella focused on writing more songs and booking gigs at whatever dives would have them, Laura retreated into herself. The one thing Ella couldn’t do on her own was practice, so she finally went to dig her sister out of her cave.

“Your heart got broken,” Ella told her as she placed the guitar in Laura’s hands. “Use it. Use the anger, use the pain, and get fuckin’ loud.”

Laura did as she was told, and soon she found her footing again. Soon she was herself again. Men started hanging around them after shows, and Ella took a couple of them up on their offers. Laura, faced with the prospect of being left behind, didn’t want to risk repeating her heartbreak, so she went home with the guys Ella didn’t take. Sex with them was fine. It treated the symptoms of her need, but it left the main cause of the illness to flare up again in a few days. She didn’t need sex, she needed love and affection. As much as it pained her, she knew she could only get that from a woman.

The Femme Reapers had been playing together for three years when they played a show attended by Naomi Marrow. Their homemade twenty-track CD had somehow made its way to the offices of Cartography Records, and Naomi was there to see whether the sisters really had what it took to play live. When they finished their set she approached the stage and offered them a card. They met up that weekend to discuss representation. A month later they took the ferry to Port Townsend to sign a contract.

They immediately began working on their debut album. Dash Warren, the legend and the owner of their record company, had a strict no-drugs policy. A little pot was okay, as long as it was in moderation, and the same went for alcohol. Anything worse was forbidden and would result in penalties. After three strikes their contract would be void and they’d be kicked out of the company. Neither sister had ever had a problem with drugs or alcohol, so they had no problem agreeing to the contract. The contract also stipulated that they would deliver an album within eighteen months of signing, and that proved a bit more difficult to meet.

Songwriting, which had come so easily to them before, was now a hassle. More than once they got into screaming matches over a stupid lyric. The songs they already had sounded trite and derivative. They continued to take gigs and recorded what they could, but their fun job had suddenly become an awful career. Ella started going home with guys almost every night. Laura stayed home, wrote songs that she eventually trashed, and worried about what was going to happen if they failed to meet the terms of their contract.

They were in one of Cartography’s recording studios, pouting over their latest aborted song. Naomi, who had been watching the session, came into the studio. They’d been working for six months and had yet to produce a single song for their debut album. Laura braced herself for the inevitable severing of ties.

Naomi said, “I’m not psychic.”

They stared at her. “What do you want us to say?”

“Nothing. I’m just telling you that I am not psychic. You know why I signed you? It’s not because of what you might one day record, although I can see a lot of potential in you both. I signed you because of what you were already doing, the songs you already had. You’re killing yourselves trying to be good enough for the record, but I want the girls I saw in that dive bar. I want that sound, songs that fit that mold. You don’t have to be anything other than what you are. That’s what I saw, that’s what I wanted, and that’s who I want to hear on the record. Just relax and let it come, and it’ll come. You don’t need to find anything. You just have to access it.”

Two weeks later they finished their first song, “A Nomad’s Blade,” which would eventually serve as the album’s final song. It told the story of a wandering woman on a quest through a desolate landscape, seeking justice and freedom. It clocked in at just under five minutes, and it served to solidify their reputation as a Goth rock band. Cartography went all out, renting them a violinist, a piano player, and a drummer to give the album what future reviewers would call a “full and lush sound.”

It took them the better part of a year to finish ten songs, but the finished product was better than they could have imagined. They celebrated with the session musicians who had helped them craft the songs. When they called home with the good news, their stepfather had seemed almost annoyed by their success. When they left Ella took his keys from the table by the door, got into his car, and slipped their CD into the player. She turned the volume up as loud as it would go, and then used a piece of trash she found on the floorboard to jam the eject button.

“You’re evil,” Laura said as she played lookout.

“You had the exact same idea,” Ella said.

“True. Come on. Let’s get out of here before he catches us.”

Unbeknownst to Laura, on the day Cartography announced they were going on tour, a girl named Karen Everett picked up their debut album and admired how beautiful they were. She liked all kinds of music, but even if she had hated the genre she probably still would have bought the album. Something about it just spoke to her.

The Reapers set out on tour to promote the new record, <i>Reap What You Sow</i>. They were opening for Dash Warren, a feat which in and of itself was mind-blowing to them both. Dash was a legend, and it was an honor to share the stage with her. One night post-show, Dash predicted that the sisters would be headlining their own concerts within a year.

“You two have a gift. You’re so talented. And it’s so amazing to hear you two sing. Four hands, two instruments, one soul. I could listen to you for days.”

They learned a lot about themselves on the first tour. They discovered they were extremely slow when it came to writing, but when they finally did get to work, they produced some amazing results. Dash sat in on a few of their sessions for the second album and told them to forget about the deadline on the contract. “If the rest of the songs you write for the album need this long to become this good, don’t rush them. Take as long as you need and we’ll be waiting.”

They took their time. They toured, they promoted their album wherever they were invited. They did an appearance on <i>Settle in, Seattle!</i>, and one of their songs was chosen as the theme song to a Canadian post-apocalyptic TV series. As Dash predicted, almost a year to the day after their first show as openers, Cartography told them to get ready for their own tour with an opening act of their own.

The band opening for them was a new arrival to Cartography’s ranks, a sort of folk-rock hybrid band who was brand-new on the scene. Laura had never heard their music so she didn’t want to judge, but she had to admit Radiation Canary was a pretty great name.

 

#

 

Laura was never sure how much of the memory was true and how much of it was colored by the fact she was looking back at it with foreknowledge. It didn’t matter in the end if she was remembering incorrectly or not, because the first time she saw Karen Everett was one of the most magical things that had ever happened to her. They were at the venue for the first concert of their tour. It was technically a Femme Reapers show and Radiation Canary was only there to open. As soon as they met, Laura knew that their collaboration was going to be something deeper.

When she arrived backstage, Karen was already in the green room. She had her violin and cello cases standing against the wall next to her like valets awaiting orders and a book was open in her lap. She was hunched over it, writing quickly, occasionally pausing to tap her pen against the page as she mouthed a word or phrase before adding it to the paper. At one point she pushed her hand through the curls on top of her head, gave it a shake, and let it fall through her fingers to hang on either side of her face.

It was a simple creative moment devoid of self-consciousness or artifice, and it was all Laura needed to know Radiation Canary was something special. She had listened to the music Naomi sent them and a lot of the songs were good. Rough, but very good. She knew that given time and the proper guidance she was going to hear a lot about this band, so she wanted to make sure they were on good terms from the start.

Ella came in then and ruined the moment, making Karen aware that she was no longer alone. She closed her book as Ella introduced herself to the rest of the band, and Laura watched as Karen bent down and stowed the book and pen in a bag. She straightened, did the thing with her hair again, and they locked eyes. They shared a polite smile but didn’t introduce themselves yet. Ella was already talking about a collaboration during the show; she had loved the music Naomi sent them. They did a quick impromptu jam version of “Lost” in the green room, and Laura watched Karen’s fingers play across the strings.

That first concert, the first tour, was full of little moments where Laura found herself watching Karen as she played. It quickly became apparent to her what made the band so special.

“Look at them,” she whispered as she and Ella stood in the wings watching their new friends play. “Do you see what’s going on?”

“No…”

“They’re waiting. We’ve toured before and I’m still nervous, but them? They’re ready. They’re just waiting for the audience to catch up.” She scanned the crowd that was mostly hidden by the darkness. “I don’t think they’ll have to wait very long.”

After the first show, Laura was outside by the bus waiting for everything to be loaded. She had changed out of her concert clothes and was wearing a regular T-shirt and jeans. Karen came outside with her cello case in one hand and the violin hanging from the other. Laura pushed away from the wall and only then realized she had been waiting for the blonde woman to appear. She felt like she was back in high school, embarrassed by her feelings.

“Hey. Need help with those?”

“Nah, I’m fine. I’m used to it. Thanks, though…” She squinted. “I’m going to figure out how to tell you and your sister apart by the end of the tour. Promise.”

Laura laughed. “Oh, please, I have friends from elementary school who still aren’t sure.”

Karen said, “Mark my words!”

She watched Karen all the way to the bus, still staring when Radiation Canary’s keyboardist Nessa Grace walked by and snickered.

“What?”

“I’m not saying anything.” Nessa looked toward the bus without breaking stride. “I’m just saying she’s out and she’s in play.”

“I didn’t… I-I’m…” She could feel her cheeks burning, and she smiled. “Thanks.”

Nessa chuckled and waved over her shoulder as she continued onto the bus.

 

#

 

The rest of the tour went well enough that both bands exchanged contact information before they parted ways. Ella and Lana both wanted to collaborate on music, and Laura was excited at the thought of having someone as adept on the cello as Karen playing with them. In the excitement Laura’s attempt to give meaning to asking for Karen’s number turned into a rushed “Do I have yours?” The phone number and email address went into her phone, but she erected a mental block that it was only to be used for professional reasons.

The two bands continued on their own paths afterward. Laura dated, but she never took the girls back home. She was going on a year without having sex and she couldn’t figure out why.

When she brought up the dry spell to Ella, she said, “You’re hung up on someone. You’re going out with all these chicks to find someone like her, but since they don’t measure up, you don’t want to lead them on. So you should just… you know, make a run at whoever it is that’s occupying your thoughts. We’re better than settling for second best, sis.”

Laura agreed she was right, summoned up the courage, and then heard through the label’s grapevine that Karen had started dating their manager, Naomi. She surprised herself by being heartbroken and pissed off by the news. Radiation Canary was already making it big, and they were signed to a great contract, so there was no “sleeping her way to the top” nonsense being bandied about. But Laura couldn’t help feeling as if Naomi had cheated somehow. She’d jumped the queue, taken someone else’s turn, and now Laura was left out in the cold.

She responded by going out and getting laid by the first girl who showed any interest. It was nice and it was good, but it wasn’t what she really wanted. One dull Saturday when she and Ella were out Christmas shopping, Ella spotted a custom-jewelry stand that could make necklaces and bracelets in any design they wanted. Ella suggested four green canary charms, and Laura immediately agreed. It was the next best thing to actually buying Karen a gift, and it had the bonus of not giving away her feelings.

They had the necklaces when they wandered through a second craft mall and Laura spotted It. The little figurine was made of bolts and washers and slender lengths of wire, a silver stick figure playing a cello. It was absolutely perfect, and she knew Karen would love it. There were other instrumentals as well – a guitar, a drummer, even one seated at a piano – but Laura knew getting the entire band would diminish the specialness of the cello player. She bought it anyway and told herself she could give it anonymously if she wanted to chicken out. No matter what happened, she knew Karen deserved to have the figure.

At Thanksgiving they were at Cartography’s main offices to film a music video. Naomi was present to watch one day, and Laura forced herself to be civil to the woman who held their career in the palm of her hand.

“So how is, uh, how is Karen Everett?”

“She’s doing well,” Naomi said without looking away from the set. “Radiation Canary is doing fantastic.”

Laura said, “I meant… I mean, I heard that you and she…”

Naomi looked at her. “Oh! Oh, no, that ended. It was good for a while, but neither of us was thinking of it as long-term. I’m a little too old for her.”

“You’re not old.”

Naomi grinned. “For her. Too old for her. I think she needs someone her own age.”

Laura didn’t mention that she was only a year older than Karen.

Femme Reapers and Radiation Canary were booked for a Christmas charity concert on Whidbey Island. Though they could easily have driven home afterward, they decided to treat it like an official vacation and booked rooms in a small hotel on the island. They exchanged gifts in the lobby but Laura couldn’t have said what they were. The entire time she was focused on Karen, on her smile and the way her eyelids grew heavier as the night went on. She was only caught watching once; Karen was lying on the couch watching Nessa, Codie, and Ella as they played some convoluted card game. Her eyes had drifted shut, her head resting on one bent arm, her other hand resting on her hip. Laura couldn’t help but stare with the security that Karen was fast asleep.

Except she wasn’t. Her eyes opened, focused on the card game, then cut toward Laura. Laura looked down at her hands, then looked up to see Karen was smiling at her.

“Hi,” Karen mouthed.

Laura smiled and nodded.

After that Laura decided she had to give her the figurine, and she had to do it in private. She went upstairs with everyone else and changed into her pajamas. She was sitting on the edge of her bed when Ella came back from the bathroom in her pajamas. She stopped, looked at her sister, and smiled.

“It’s Karen, isn’t it?”

“Like you haven’t known this whole time.”

Ella crossed the room and kissed her sister’s cheek. “Good luck, sis.”

Laura sighed, took the figurine out of her suitcase, and went downstairs to hand it over. She examined it as she went downstairs and knew that even if it didn’t break the ice and even if she and Karen never ended up getting together, at least she would have it and know how much Laura cared about her. There was something special about knowing people thought about you when you weren’t around, and she wanted to give Karen that feeling.

 

#

 

They went on a date, and it went better than dates had any right to. Finally the awkwardness of trying to hide her feelings wore off, and she relaxed enough to see how nervous Karen was. When she took it upon herself to ease that anxiety she felt herself becoming more comfortable at the same time. They talked about the origins of their band, the leather notebook that Karen wrote her lyrics in, families and stories from the road.

At the end of the night Laura drove Karen home and parked in front of her building. After a few seconds of silence that felt like minutes, Karen said, “So, I guess I’ll see you Saturday?”

Laura tried to remember booking something for the label. “For what?”

“Our… second date. I just realized it’s not a given.” She chuckled and looked away. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. Saturday’s good for me.”

She closed the distance between them and kissed Karen’s cheek. Karen turned toward her, touched her shoulder, and turned the kiss into something proper and real. Laura parted her lips and Karen’s tongue teased against her teeth, and Laura felt more satisfaction from that than any orgasm she’d gotten from random bar girls. She put her hand in Karen’s hair and moaned softly, then pulled back with a sigh. She settled in her seat and brushed her thumb over her bottom lip, and she realized she was smiling wide enough to hurt her cheeks.

Karen said, “You’re not a bad kisser.”

“Says the expert.”

Karen laughed. “Okay. Saturday?”

“Call me before then, though?”

“Oh, I will.” She leaned in and kissed Laura once more, then fled the car as if afraid she would be stuck if she delayed any longer. When she passed in front of the headlights she waved, and Laura wagged two fingers at her. Karen went inside and Laura gripped the top of the steering wheel in a vice grip, hating at herself for acting like a teenager but unable to stop herself from releasing a giddy laugh as she pulled away from the curb.

On Saturday they decided to stay in, and Laura cooked dinner at their apartment. Ella had suddenly remembered she had a pressing engagement elsewhere and cleared out for the evening. They sat on the couch afterward, wine and kissing, touching and talking, listening to music playing on the stereo. When Laura finished her drink, she put the glass down and said, “Let’s play a game.”

“Okay.”

Laura faced her. “We sit on the couch facing each other. No touching, no kissing, nothing. And we can’t touch each other until one of our songs comes on the radio.”

“Radiation Canary or Femme Reapers, either one?”

“Either one.”

Karen bit her lip, eyes bright. “Okay. Yeah, let’s do it.”

Laura grinned and turned the music up with the remote. She sat on the far left cushion with her back against the arm, and Karen sat in the center. Their legs were crossed, their hands on their own knees, and they stared at each other as the commercial ended. In the moment before the DJ played the next song, Laura felt a twinge of anticipation. She wanted it to be one of theirs, but she was relieved when it wasn’t because she wanted the game to last.

“Are we allowed to speak?” Karen asked.

“Yes.”

“If it’s a Radiation Canary song, do I get to decide the next game?”

Laura said, “Sure. Got anything in mind?”

“I have a few.”

James Blunt sang ‘You’re Beautiful,’ followed by John Mayer and Natasha Bedingfield. The first few songs were awkward and agonizing. She could smell Karen’s perfume, and she could still feel Karen’s lips on hers, but she had to respect the game. Sheryl Crow faded out to a DJ, then commercials, then a strumming guitar that sounded so much like the intro to ‘Icarus’ they both drew in a breath, but then it became ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark’ and they both chuckled with disappointment. Karen began to sway with the music, mouthing the lyrics to the first verse before singing along with the chorus. She caught herself and stopped.

“Don’t. Sing for me.”

Karen’s smile returned and she continued singing along. Laura leaned forward and kissed Karen, unfolding her legs as she pushed Karen down onto the cushions. Karen gasped, moaned, and then put her hands on Laura’s hips. They kissed until the song was over, when Karen finally turned her head. Laura kissed her throat, and Karen’s hands slipped under her sweater to tease the skin just above her slacks.

“That wasn’t a Radiation Canary song,” Karen moaned.

“You were singing it.”

Karen laughed and squirmed. “You cheater…”

“You get to decide my punishment.”

“Oh? Oh… well, in <i>that</i> case…”

Laura lifted her head and looked into Karen’s eyes. Karen’s smile faded, and she stroked her thumbs in wide ovals on Laura’s love handles.

“What if I want to stay the night?”

Laura smiled. “To the victor…”

They were both mostly undressed when they finally moved to the bedroom, and Karen sat on the edge of the bed as Laura straddled her. Karen ran her hands over Laura’s thighs, kissed her breasts, and then looked up at her. Laura smiled and ran her fingers through Karen’s hair.

“I’ve only done this with one other person,” Karen said. “I may not be very good.”

“Okay. I’ll be gentle with you.” Karen laughed and the tension faded from her body. Laura bent down and kissed her very lightly, then spoke so that her lips brushed against Karen’s. “If there’s anything you need to know… I’ll teach you. Okay?”

Karen smiled. “Yeah…”

“Okay.”

It turned out that Karen was either a very quick learner or she was better than she thought. Laura came first, with Karen following not long behind, and in the afterglow Karen lay on top of her and kissed along her collarbone and down to the swell of her breasts. Her hand skimmed along Laura’s belly and teased her hair, originally just to confirm she was still wet, but she put two fingers to work when Laura began to breathe harder. After a second orgasm by Karen’s hand, Laura rolled them over and used her lips and tongue to even their score.

They eventually fell asleep in a tangle of arms, legs, and sheets. Sometime in the middle of the night Laura woke and tried to begin things again, but Karen was dead to the world so she gave up. She finally woke to a hushed, “Oh my God,” and lifted her head to see Karen staring at her.

“Good or bad?”

Karen smiled. “It’s very good. Kiss me.”

Laura kissed the corners of Karen’s mouth and settled gently on top of her, but Karen pushed her off and whispered, “Sorry… uh, the bathroom…?”

“Oh. Right, yeah. Uh, through there.”

Karen kissed her, then hurried off to take care of what needed done. Laura scooted out of bed and cupped her hand in front of her face to test how bad her morning breath was. She would go into the kitchen to rinse with water, which would be good enough. She hoped Karen was planning to stick around for one last tussle. She pulled on a T-shirt – their combined tour T-shirt as it so happened – and snuck out of the room.

Ella was at the kitchen table eating breakfast. She saw Laura and, around a mouthful of cereal, said, “Hey! When did you get this?” She picked up Karen’s shirt. “It’s gorgeous. I want to borrow it sometime.”

“Uh. A-actually, I’ll, uh… I’ll need that back…”

“Why…”

The toilet flushed. Ella looked past her sister, looked at her face, read the guilty expression, and then slowly smiled.

“You fucked the Canary.”

“Sh!”

Ella grinned trollishly and tossed her the shirt. “I want details later, bad girl.”

Laura grinned and took the shirt back to the bedroom. Karen was in bed, wrapped with the sheet around her chest, her hair still mussed. It looked as if all the curls on the right side of her head had marched up to the crown and tried to jump off the other side. It was so adorably sexy that Laura tossed the shirt blindly at the hamper and kicked the door shut.

“I thought I heard Ella…”

“You did. So we’ll have to be quiet.”

Karen laughed as she opened the sheet and let Laura climb into the bed with her. In the end, they didn’t really bother with ‘quiet.’

 

#

 

For a while, things were great. Laura and Karen quickly fell into an actual relationship, working dates into the busy schedule of rehearsals and recording. Karen’s fears of being an inadequate sexual partner were completely unfounded. She was also amazing in the non-sexual parts of the relationship. Reaching out to take Laura’s hand when they were walking somewhere, knowing when she needed a quick cuddle without smothering, all the little things that made Laura realize Karen had real potential to be the last woman she ever fell in love with. She was working up to saying the words ‘I love you,’ bracing herself for their impact since she hadn’t said them to anyone in years. She was almost ready.

And then Radiation Canary went to Greece.

Fucking Greece.

 

#

 

Ella slammed the apartment door and tossed her bag onto the counter. “No, it’s fine,” she shouted into the apartment. “We can get the studio another day. Not like it costs money to rent those places. Not like we’re still trying to get our second album done. And then you pull this shit and just ignore your phone…” She looked into the living room and saw her sister curled up on the couch, her face covered with a pillow and her shoulders trembling from the force of her sobs. Ella’s fury instantly transferred to some faceless enemy who had caused this, and she nearly vaulted the coffee table to draw Laura into a hug. “What’s wrong? What happened? It’s okay, I’m here. It’s okay.”

Laura sniffled against Ella’s shoulder, clutching her sweater as she tried to get herself under control. “Karen…”

“Oh, no. Honey, what happened? Is she okay?”

“She… sh-she…” Laura cringed in on herself, her face collapsing as she sagged against Ella. “She cheated on me.”

Ella’s rage returned. “I’ll fucking kill her.”

Laura sniffled and shook her head. “Don’t.”

“She did this to you.”

“I still love her.”

Ella sighed and cradled Laura’s head. “I know you do. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m sorry I missed–”

“If you say one word about the session, I’m going to slap you. Fuck the session. You’re more important.” She climbed onto the couch and stretched out, hugging her sister and settling in to stay as long as she needed.

 

#

 

Their breakup and Laura’s recovery from it was stymied by the fact Radiation Canary suddenly seemed to be everywhere. Their third album came out to rave reviews, and soon it was hard to turn on the TV or look at the internet without seeing something about them. Ella tried to cheer her up by taking her out to dinner and, walking home afterward, any good feelings she had were destroyed when they passed a record store holding a release party for the album. Laura lingered by the window, but Ella hooked a hand around her elbow and dragged her on.

The second Femme Reapers’ album did well, but it didn’t match the heights of <i>The Middle Distance</i>. Laura couldn’t even feel angry about their success; the girls were insanely talented and they worked hard. She shamefully bought a copy of the album and listened to it in her bedroom so Ella wouldn’t hear, and she cried when she heard how good it was. The song “Breakwaters” ended up being played on repeat for close to an hour, despite the fact she was listening to the woman she loved harmonize with the woman who had stolen her away.

A production assistant on <i>Settle In, Seattle!</i> called to ask her out a few days after Valentine’s Day. Her name was Jane, and she was a warhorse on the set but a shy geek in real life. After their third date she invited Laura up to her apartment to see her shuttles. Laura had laughed at the obvious innuendo, but she was shocked to discover that Jane actually did have an entire fleet of NASA models. Laura quizzed her on them, and Jane eagerly detailed the missions, crewmembers, and duration of each shuttle on her bookshelf.

“You really like space, huh?”

“I don’t know. I’m finding Earth pretty appealing right now.”

They made out on the couch, but when Jane moved to take it further Laura held her off. “I’m coming down from a pretty hard breakup. She…” It suddenly occurred to her that she shouldn’t offer details about a relationship she’d had with someone in the public eye. Then she realized she was in the public eye as well. Everything she said could be fodder for a gossip site. “It was really rough. I don’t think I’m ready to just jump into bed yet. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Jane smiled. “I’m just glad you didn’t laugh at my rocket ships.”

Laura grinned and kissed her again.

They ended up dating a few more times, only making it to the bedroom once for a brief and unmemorable wrestling session that left them both unsatisfied. Jane ended things after only a handful of months.

“This girl who broke your heart…”

“Oh, come on,” Laura sighed wearily. “You know who it is. The whole world knows the details.”

“Right. Well… she kept the biggest pieces when she left. You want to give your heart away, but you can’t. She still has it.” She kissed Laura on the cheek. “I hope it works out for you. But I can’t be second best. I’m sorry.”

“I am too. I’m sorry that I led you on for so long.”

Jane said, “No. No, you didn’t. You were trying, and that’s great.” She brushed Laura’s cheek. “You deserve to be happy. And trust me, if you can’t summon up the courage to be happy with someone as obviously awesome as I am–”

Laura laughed.

“If she doesn’t come to her senses and come crawling back to you, let me know. I’d like a second shot at winning you over.”

“Thank you.”

Oddly enough her conversation with Jane got her back on her feet. She rededicated herself to the band. She practically moved into the studio and worked on writing new songs when she wasn’t playing. When Naomi suggested a new tour, she agreed before Ella could. She needed to be back in front of crowds, needed to hear them shouting their songs back at her. Their first show was in Miami, Florida, and neither of them had ever felt that kind of humidity. Halfway through the show Laura had tossed her jacket aside and stripped off her sweat-soaked blouse, leaving her in a tank top for the last few songs. The cheers and whistles from the crowd made her feel desirable in a way she hadn’t felt since Karen came back from Greece.

They moved up to Georgia, then New York for a week. They were in Times Square when Ella suddenly grabbed the back of Laura’s neck and kissed her hair. “There’s my sister! Damn, where’s she been all this time?”

Laura actually felt like herself again. Playing music and meeting their fans was exactly what she needed. At the autograph table after shows, she heard stories about how people first heard their music, she discovered what their favorite songs were, and she received all kinds of bizarre mementos. A doll that was dressed in a duster, a drawing, a book of poems from the eighteenth century… she expressed awe over a tattoo of the band’s name on a woman’s arm and imagined with horror what would have happened if they had stayed as Straight/Not.

They were in Michigan when Laura fell asleep on the tour bus, only to be woken up by her sister. “Laura… wake up. Something happened.”

“What? What’s wrong?” She looked around, half-expecting the bus to be in a ditch. It was the dead of night but they were still rolling. All the lights were dimmed out of deference to their attempts to sleep. Ella looked distraught. “What happened?”

“Naomi just called. Lana Kent was stabbed today.”

The words were so bizarre that she had to have it repeated. “Is she okay?”

“They don’t know,” Ella’s eyes were filled with tears. “Someone broke into the apartment. They were waiting when she got home, and… I don’t know. They’re talking about it all over the internet and on TV. She was stabbed a bunch of times, and they took her to the hospital. There was a vigil in Seattle.”

Laura’s heart hurt when she thought about Karen. She didn’t know how she felt, or she hated how she felt so much that she refused to acknowledge it. If Lana died, and Karen came back to her, then she would never know if Karen really wanted her. If Lana died… oh, hell, if Lana died, the music world would suffer. Radiation Canary would cease to exist. Karen would be utterly devastated.

“Should… we call someone?”

“Naomi said she wants us to focus on the tour, if we can. I’m willing to cancel it so we can go home.”

Laura whispered, “I love you. But no. We should finish the tour. We’ll go when they need us. They’ll let us know. For now we just focus on the Reapers.”

“Okay.”

She kissed Laura’s cheek. “Go back to sleep.”

“I’ll try.”

The next night, in Indiana, halfway through the show they thanked everyone who had sent well-wishes to Lana Kent. They added their own, and then went acoustic to play a cover of “Say a Prayer (If You’ve Got One)” that they dedicated to Lana. The tabloids and gossip sites had been trying to play up a Radiation Canary/Femme Reapers feud that was only partially true, and their performance that night put an end to it. With that song it became clear that the Reapers truly did love their fellow band.

Lana recovered and went back to working on their music, releasing an album not long after the stabbing. Laura didn’t hate it, but she was surprised by how little she enjoyed it. It was a concept album called <i>The Intervention</i>, and every song was a story that tied into the larger narrative. Laura liked a few of the songs, and she knew if it was any other artist she would have called it one of their best. But Radiation Canary was capable of better, and she just couldn’t bring herself to enjoy it.

By April there were rumors that the band was on shaky ground. No one would officially say anything about a break-up, but they weren’t doing interviews or appearances. They had cancelled any appearances to promote the new album in light of Lana’s attack, which made sense, but Laura got the impression from Naomi that the band was struggling to find themselves in the aftermath. The Canaries usually had studio space year-round, but suddenly there were vacancies for the Reapers to come in and record whenever they wanted.

In May, Karen was loaned to the Reapers for a series of shows. They met face-to-face for the first time since Karen admitted her infidelity and mended the bridge between them. Karen confirmed what several websites had predicted: Lana Kent was AWOL. She had run away from the band with no indication of where she was or when she would come back. Naomi never actually said the words, but they both knew loaning Karen was a way to explore the possibility of salvaging one of her strongest artists if Radiation Canary ended up dissolving.

Laura kept telling herself to be strong, to be brave and not give in, but they ended up kissing anyway. She told herself it wasn’t really cheating; Lana had left, there were reports of her being sighted in Las Vegas with a sexy blonde, so Karen was free to kiss whoever she wanted. She still had to admit she felt a little thrill at kissing Karen when she was still officially in a relationship with Lana. <i>You may have stolen her from me</i>, she thought, <i>but she came back to me.</i>

The strife continued when Dash Warren died suddenly, leaving the label in momentary danger of collapsing. Lana came back for the funeral and Radiation Canary found their wings once more. In the aftermath of the funeral, Laura received a call from Karen in the middle of the night.

“I have no right,” Karen said, “but I want you. Can we have dinner? Maybe just go for a walk somewhere? I just need someone to hold my hand and tell me everything is okay, and I think I’ll only believe it if it comes from you.”

Laura remained silent long enough to make Karen worry, a petty move that she knew was childish, but she had to do it for her own peace of mind. Finally she said, “When?”

They met up. They went for walks, they had dinner, and Laura remembered how she had fell in love in the first place. She could feel herself falling again, but she was hanging on to the edge of the cliff with all her might. She forced herself to say no sometimes when Karen called. She didn’t always return missed calls right away.

Ella watched from the sidelines without offering advice or warnings. The most they said on the subject was Ella noting, “You’re dating again?”

“I guess so.”

“If she hurts you again, I’m not going to ask. I’m going to go after her.”

Laura nodded.

A few weeks into their new courtship, they had dinner in the apartment Karen was currently sharing with the Canary’s drummer. Codie had cleared out for the night, and they were sitting on the couch with their wine.

“You should say something mean to me,” Karen said.

“Why?”

“Because I don’t deserve to be with you after what I did. I don’t deserve a second chance.” She closed her eyes and hung her head. “I’m so fucking ashamed of what I did.”

Laura scooted closer and pulled Karen into a hug. “Don’t be. You always had a thing for Lana. You said her name the first time we had sex.”

“I didn’t think you heard that.”

“I ignored it. Looking back, I’m glad it happened when it did. You were always going to sleep with her eventually, or you were going to spend your whole life wondering what would happen if you did. Lana had a hold on you that I couldn’t have broken even if I wanted to. And now that you’ve been with her, now that she’s left you… I can give you something Lana never could.”

Karen looked up at me. “What’s that?”

I touched her cheek. “I can be the one who won’t leave you.”

She smiled. “I do love you, Laura.”

“I love you, too. But if you ever hurt me like that again, we’re done. No more collaborations, no more phone calls, nothing. I can survive losing you twice, but I’m not going to give you a chance to hurt me a third time.”

“You won’t need to. But message received.” She linked her fingers with Laura’s. “I won’t be stupid this time. I won’t ignore what I already have for something I might get. I fell in love with you the moment I saw your face on an album cover and heard your voice on the CD. I think fate made me a musician to put us in the same circles. I don’t know why I didn’t notice that before.”

Laura shrugged. “Beauty, talent, charm… it’s easy to be blinded by Lana Kent.”

“You weren’t.” She kissed Laura. “I’m going to spend every day showing you how grateful I am.” She moved her hand to the collar of Laura’s shirt. “May I?”

Laura smiled and guided Karen’s hand lower.

 

#

 

Laura woke in the dark, unsure what had prompted her to wake up so urgently. Her dreams had been full of the early days, the magic of putting together a band while simultaneously falling in love. She rolled onto her back and felt it again, moving her hands to her belly as the contraction faded. She reached out and touched her wife’s shoulder, moving up into her hair and tugging.

“Ow. What…” Karen pushed herself up. “Time?”

“It’s time.”

Karen tried to get out of bed, but her foot was tangled in the sheet. Laura laughed as she freed it and sat up while Karen groped for the light switch. Her last dream had been about their reunion, when they were still on shaky ground. They were girlfriends making promises about forever, but those promises had come to fruition far quicker than she would have imagined. Ella eventually forgave Karen for her indiscretions and was now proud to call her sister. They moved into a glorious apartment, they got married, and they had spent the last five months arguing over what color the nursery should be. Her reveries were once again cut short by a sharp contraction in her abdomen.

“Ah. Okay, bug,” she said to her stomach. “It’s all about you now.”

They didn’t know the baby’s gender, but she found herself thinking boy. All her life she’d dreamed of having a daughter, she had thought up girl names, she had imagined braiding her hair and playing with dolls, but from the moment her pregnancy was confirmed she had a feeling it was a boy. They called it “the Bug” to avoid pronouns, although every now and then one of them would slip and say “he” or, more rarely, “she.”

Karen managed to throw on some clothes over her pajamas and hurried to help Laura. “Are you good? Do you need help?”

“Just a little. Thanks.”

Karen helped her up, put her in some clothes, and then walked her to the door. “You’re doing great,” she said. “You can do this. It’s you and me, babe. We can do anything.”

“You and me… and him,” Laura corrected.

Karen smiled and put her hand on Laura’s stomach. “You, me, and him. Yeah.”

She stopped by the front door and took a deep breath. Karen stood beside her, waiting to be told what to do. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah… I-I just need a second before we start the show.”

Karen smiled and opened the door. “The opening acts are done, babe. It’s time for the big show.”

Laura gripped Karen’s hand, smiled, and let Karen usher her out.

3 Responses to “Opening Acts, A Radiation Canary Bonus Track”

  • Fantastic as always Geonn!

  • Also, since I forgot to ask this in my other post, will there be any way to get a signed copy of the hardcover edition? I tend to be strictly e-book for this type of literature but if I can get a signed copy I’d be happy to slip some more money in your pocket

  • Thank you kindly! And I’ve sent you an email re: the autographed copies! It is my intention to sign as many as I can, as long as it can be feasible for all of us. 😀

    – Geonn

Morgan (Webmaster) on December 11th, 2014 at 3:10 am