Trevor Wilson shouldn’t be here.
He knew how it looked. Skulking around Julie’s garage. Their garage. Where they had spent hours lost in half formed melodies and homemade T-shirt ink, pricking at guitar springs until their fingers bled and their arms cramped. He didn’t even know Julie lived here. That Rose had lived here. If he had, maybe things would’ve been different. Maybe he would’ve told her. Told Julie. Told Carrie even. Told anyone when he was forced to stand just a few feet where Sunset Curve had been.
But he didn’t. And things weren’t different.
So here he was. A forty-two year old man, trying to spy on a teenage girl. God, just the thought of it made his stomach roll and his bones ache. But he had to know. Had to know how Julie Molina had found out.
It couldn’t’ve been a coincidence. Her holograms looked just like them. Moved just liked them. Had all their quirks and tells and the little bits that made them them. Those bits that Trevor had known by heart because all he had been there with them, cramped together playing boardwalks and half empty clubs for years.
Carrie had told him Julie had stopped by the house on the ride home from the Orpheum. It was a throw away comment, but one that echoed in his chest long after Carrie had gone to sleep. Julie had been here, in his home. Why? The girls hadn’t been friends for years, not since their falling out—which his daughter refused to elaborate on. Julie couldn’t’ve stumbled upon the house randomly; it was too far out of the way.
No, she had to have been looking for proof.
It was the only answer that made sense. She knew. She had too. Why else would she come over? Why else would she make holograms of them? Why would she play the Orpheum with them if it wasn’t a direct message to him?
“I know what you did.”
He had tried to ignore it. Ignore her. But he couldn’t. The knowledge that Julie Molina had somehow found out about them, about him, was too much. He had spent years—decades even—trying to not think about them and suddenly, there they were splashed all over Indie Music Blogs and Up and Coming Lists. Julie and her hologram band. Her phantom band. Made from the ghosts of his past back to haunt him.
He had to know more. How did she find out? What was her endgame? What did she want?
It’s what lead him here, in the middle of the night, to the garage—their studio—where he could hear her rehearsing, her voice still a powerhouse of emotion even muffled through the thin garage walls. He waited until the song faded—a polite courtesy one musician to another—the final beat of a drum echoing through the night before he pounded on the door.
Julie was a teenager; he was at most a familiar stranger. There was no good way for him to do this, so he did all he could to give her the upper hand. His coat was sheer and thin—easy to see that he had no weapons on his person. The beads around his neck were long and loose—for her to grab and pull and choke. His was hair pulled back—for her to weave her fingers through and yank.
He didn’t want to scare her. He wanted to talk to her.
There’s a sound and the seconds tick by, his heart suddenly in his throat.
He wouldn’t lose his nerve. Not here. Not when he had spent days agonizing over what to do, what to say. So he plowed forward—ignoring her “hey”—and into the space he hadn’t set foot in since he closed it up over twenty years ago.
“That piano’s new.” Was his first thought.
His second thought was: “That is definitely the same couch.”
His third was: “The plants really brighten up the room.”
The fourth was he wanted to leave.
“How did you know?” he says, turning to face her. She’s dressed in a hoodie and sweatpants, hair pulled back into a puff. For a moment, he’s shocked at how short she is. It’s been a while since he’s seen her in person, but the videos he’s seen and her performance at the Orpheum made her seem so much bigger. On stage, she fills the room with her presence. Here? She is a girl who doesn’t need to be a star.
“What are you doing here, Mr. Wilson?” her eyes are darting all over the room, lips curled like she wants to speak, but holds it back.
“How did you know?” he asks again. “About Sunset Curve.”
It’s the first time he’s said the name in a long, long time. It feels like rot in his mouth.
Julie, for her part, doesn’t play coy. She doesn’t lie. Doesn’t try to make herself look innocent like Carrie does when he catches her sneaking back into the house way past her curfew. Her eyes snap towards him and he sees the same fire—the same confidence—he saw on stage.
“They used to practice here.” Then. “You used to practice here.”
It’s not an accusation. It’s a fact and they both know it. Trevor Wilson was a solo artist. Everyone knew that. Built himself from the ground up. Made it big. Went platinum. Was—is—an inspiring true Hollywood story for all. And he’s never, not once, mentioned Sunset Curve. He doesn’t mention it in interviews. He doesn’t mention it to biographers. He doesn’t mention it to his kid. His therapist knows, but even then, he kept it vague. Because every time he thinks about it—about them—it feels like lightning through his chest.
“I did.” He feels something ghost across his neck, the hairs standing on end as whisps of memories flutter though his mind. He and Reggie catching M&Ms in their mouths. He and Luke working through a chord progression. He and Alex talking about which member of Sunset Curve would make the worst boyfriend. They were memories, nice ones even. But no matter how nice they were, it doesn’t take along for Trevor to remember that they’re gone. Dead. Then the memory sours until it hurts too much to think about. “How did you know?
Julie’s eyes flit to the corner of the room and Trevor follows, only to find himself staring at a dart board. Luke was terrible at darks, hitting the wall more often than not.
“I found their demo,” Julie says, slowly, as if unsure of the words in her mouth. “In the loft upstairs. The insert has your face on it.”
Trevor sucked in a breath. That demo, the one they had spent months on, recording and rerecording and burning and trying to find a photographer who would be willing to be paid in crumpled twenties and loose change. Trevor still had his, kept in one of his storage units where he stores all of his old stuff that won’t fit in the house.
He must’ve missed it when he was cleaning out the garage. Not that he had done a particularly thorough job. He had grabbed what he needed, disassembled what needed to be disassembled, and stuffed everything else in the loft upstairs.
It shouldn’t’ve been him. It shouldn’t’ve have been a seventeen-year old’s responsibility to pick through the lives of his best friends and decide what mattered. He lasted twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of memories and warm feelings and tears before he couldn’t do it. Not then and never again. He locked everything up, and vowed never to come back. Until now.
“You took their songs.” Her voice is solid. True. “Long Weekend. Get Lost. And I know Crooked Teeth is about Reggie.”
“I always thought it was about Alex.” Trevor says, absentmindedly. For a moment, a single, brief moment it feels good to remember. Remember them.
Then hurts. It hurts so much worse than he thought possible.
“You took all their songs.” Julie spits the words like venom. It makes sense, in a way, Trevor realizes. Why this is so important to her. He remembers what she was like when she was younger, when her and Carrie and Flynn would come over to the house and Julie would rattle off an endless series of questions about him and his work. She said he was important to her. And now...now he's let her down.
“No, I didn’t,” Trevor defends. “Not the ones that mattered. Not the ones like…” He trails off, voice faltering into something thin and weak. No, he wouldn’t mention that. Not to her. She shouldn’t, wouldn’t know that. That song was for them. Until it was suddenly, just for him.
“Like what?” Julie demands, her arms crossed over her chest. “Unsaid Emily?”
Trevor feels his world stop. His body becomes untethered and suddenly he can’t tell up from down. Left from right. There's a pressure on the back of his neck. Oppressive and pressing down.
Trevor remembers that song. He remembers playing it here, in this garage like it was yesterday. It was a gut punch of a song, raw emotion bleeding from every note, every chord, every fucking word. It was a song that made Trevor feel like he was flayed open and bare to the world. It was too personal, too Luke to ever see the light of day.
So, how did Julie know about it?
It couldn’t’ve been in a journal. Trevor had taken all of them. He supposed Luke could’ve had a draft laying around, tucked into some piece of junk. But then, how did she know how important it was. How that song matter to them?
Julie wasn’t looking at him. Her entire head was turned to stare at a spot near the couch, her lips curled and eyes wide, as if she were trying to speak with someone with only her eyes. But there’s no one there.
“Stop it.” Julie says and the feeling on his neck disappears.
It almost felt like a hand.
“How did you know about Unsaid Emily?” Trevor asks.
“I know a lot of things, Bobby.” She says his name like a curse. The name he left behind, when he couldn’t handle managers and music execs and promoters looking at him like he was the saddest thing in the world. When he couldn’t handle the “my condolences” and “they were so talented” he found at every gig, at every club he played. When he couldn’t handle being Bobby Wilson of Sunset Curve. He hadn’t thought of that name is so long, not since he changed it. Now, here it is again. Twice in as many days.
“Hello, Bobby.” That’s what was written on his mirror. When he was alone and there was no one, no one in that bathroom. His therapist said it was an episode, that it wasn’t real, and he was dealing with unresolved trauma. But he knew what he saw. The words carving themselves through steam as if written by a phantom finger.
Julie. And the phantoms.
It was right there in the name. A billboard for all to see.
Trevor can’t help himself. He laughs. He laughs because he can’t do anything else.
“They’re not holograms,” he says, his voice unhinged. “Are they? They’re them.”
“What are you talking about.” Julie is not a good liar. Carrie is, she could look someone dead in the eye and lie without a single tell. But Julie? Julie can’t look at him, can’t stand still, can’t even make herself believe those words.
“They’re here,” he says again. “Aren’t you guys?” He shouts, but there’s no response. Of course there isn’t. How could they respond? They’re dead. They’re ghosts.
“Tell me? Does Luke still wear those stupid muscle tees?” he asks, his tone teasing and maybe a little snide. “He always thought they made him look hotter than he was.”
It’s in his ear. Wet and slimy that sends chills down his spine. A wet willy.
“Gotta keep you humble somehow, Bobby.” Luke had said, his smile disarming.
“Gotcha,” Trevor says, whirling around. He stares at nothing, but he knows he’s there. He has too be. “Glad to know something things don’t change Luke.”
Julie sucks in a breath and he knows. He knows like he’s never known anything before this moment. Luke is here. In this room. So are the others, they have to be because they had never gone anywhere without the others.
Except when they died. Then they left him.
“Fucking ghosts,” Trevor says. He’s smiling, but there’s no happiness behind it. “It’s nice to see you guys after twenty-five years. Thanks for visiting by the way.”
“Don’t talk to them like that,” Julie demands, her voice like gravel. “You don’t get to talk to them like that. Not after what you did.”
“And tell me, Julie.” He takes a step back, so he’s against the piano, the words bitter on his tongue. “What exactly did I do?”
“You stole their legacy.”
“Their legacy?” Trevor wanted to laugh. And he did. It comes out like shrapnel. Harsh and sharp and pointed. “Let me tell you something about Sunset Curve’s legacy. We weren’t a band; we were fucking poison. Everything we did, everything we touched turned to rot.” Julie flinched, but Trevor kept going. “You think Alex told his parents he was gay because he wanted to? We were the ones to told him it would be fine, that they would be okay because they were his parents and they loved him. We pushed him, we encouraged him.” He looks her, dead in the eye. “Did he tell you what happened after Julie? Did he tell you how we couldn’t recognize him? How no matter how hard we scrubbed, there was this one bloodstain we couldn’t get out.” Trevor gestures to the couch, the rug underneath it just as old. Trevor had bought it because none of them could stand looking at what was underneath.
“Or how about when Luke ran away, and none of us told his parents where he was? Did they tell you how his mom begged us to tell her something? Anything so that she would know her son was alright. That he wasn’t cold and afraid and dying in a ditch somewhere? Did they tell you we kept our mouths shut as she fucking shrieked?” He still hears her voice sometimes, echoing in his skull when Carrie doesn’t answer her phone after the first try.
“What about Reggie? Did he tell you that after he joined the band, his parents started fighting about him? How late he was staying out and how his grades took a nosedive afterward? Did he tell you how we told him that they were going to fight anyways, so why bother trying to stop it? How we let him stay over so he wouldn’t have to go home, where his parents just fought and fought over how their kid stayed out too late and didn’t respect them and whose fault that was?”
“Their legacy, Sunset Curve’s legacy, is a fucking tragedy Julie. Nothing I could’ve done was ever going to fix that.”
“You could’ve done something!” Julie shouts. Trevor feels his teeth crack.
“I did! You have no idea what I did for them. I was the one who found them in that fucking alley. I was the one who had to hold onto their parents while they mourned their kids. I was the one who had to speak at three funerals before I turned eighteen. I was the one who paid for Alex’s headstone when his parents wouldn’t. I was the one who had to stop Emily from throwing herself onto her son’s casket. I was the one who had to prevent Reggie’s parents from fighting at the fucking service.” Trevor glares at a spot in the garage, where he thinks they are. “At least when they died, they had each other. I was alone. They left me alone.”
God, how it fucking hurts to remember. They looked like mannequins, to pristine and too perfect laying there in funeral garb. Too button up and too clean. He remembers looking at Reggie and thinking how much he’d hate the way they did his hair.
“If you cared so much,” Julie says, tears on her face and anger in her voice. “Then why did you do it?”
“Because what else was I supposed to do? Leave the songs in some notebook, tucked away in box with the rest of the stuff Luke’s mom didn’t throw out? His songs, our songs were good. And I wasn’t going to let them rot.”
“You could’ve told people,” Julie shouts back. “Mentioned it in interviews. Dedicated your album to them. Done something other than just take credit and forget about them.”
“Forget about them?” Now that. That was the funniest goddamn thing Trevor Wilson had ever heard in his life. “Julie, I’ve done shit you couldn’t even imagine. I’ve played sold out shows for an audience of millions. I’ve scaled Mt. Everest and held a concert in the catacombs of Paris. I’ve been to award shows and on blockbuster movie shoots. And I have never, not once, during all of that forgotten about Sunset Curve.”
“And you know what Julie? If I did tell everyone. If I did dedicate my album or mention them in my award speeches. You know what would happen? No one else would be able to forget them either. Suddenly, every song on that album becomes something painful. A reminder that Luke will never write another song. That Reggie will never play another baseline. That Alex will never touch another drumstick. All anyone would ever hear is that they’re gone. And they weren’t coming back.”
Trevor sucks in a breath. His face feels red and there’s isn’t enough space in his lungs to yell anymore. So his next words are quiet, soft. “All anyone would ever hear is three wannabe teenagers who died because they were too stupid to realize eating hotdogs cooked on a fucking car battery was a bad idea.”
A sob breaks through his lips. “All I’d ever hear was the ghost of my best friends.”
He looks at her. She feels so much taller than him, even if he’s staring down at her. “I don’t regret what I did. But don’t you ever, ever think I didn’t care about them. They were my band, my friends before they were yours.”
“And you betrayed them.”
“You can’t betray the dead, Julie.” Trevor says, his voice weak. He’s tired. He’s exhausted. And he never wants to come back here again.
So, he leaves. He leaves Julie behind. He leaves the studio behind. He leaves the ghosts of his past behind.
And he tries not to think about it. About them. He’s done so before. And he will do it again.
Because the alternative hurts so much worse.