Piper was just finishing up a song when she noticed a head in the crowd which was much higher than the rest. She remembered seeing him earlier in the week and she knew that she should remember who he was but as she hummed the last chords and closed her eyes she was drawing a blank. So many people had been coming to watch her lately and her face was showing up more and more on WatchThisStuff.com.
And then her eyes shot open as she remembered.
The guy with the Assist.
The Assist who sounded like Allie.
“We’re gonna take a quick break,” she said to the crowd after the music closed out. Those in the crowd nodded their heads and retreated to the nearest building for some warmth from the late winter/early spring air.
Her cellist looked at her strangely. “You doin alright, Pipes?” he asked.
“Yeah, Charlie,” she said as she swiped her hair into a sloppy clam which rested on the top of her head.
“We don’t usually take a break this early,” Charlie continued as he glanced around at the rest of the guys. Even the drummer looked a bit confused. It wasn’t like Piper to change her singing schedule. And though this may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people Charlie knew that something was on his friend’s mind. “Everything okay?”
“That guy from before,” Piper explained as she pointed to the back of the ground which was slowly thinning out. “You remember him, right? He had the Assist?”
“Ahh…” the drummer said. He wiped his forehead and pushed some of his dark hair away from his face so he could look closer at her. “Allie, right?”
“It wasn’t Allie, Sam,” Charlie muttered. “Allie’s gone. Right, Pipes?”
“Right,” Piper said though it was obvious that she wasn’t listening. “I’m gonna talk to him again.”
“Wait. Really?” Charlie asked as he reached forward to grab her arm. “You sure you wanna do that?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“You were messed up when you lost Allie,” Charlie said. “You’re only just now seemin’ to get over it, you know? You sure you wanna bring up all that stuff again?”
“Allie isn’t stuff.”
“You know what I mean, Pipes,” Charlie said as he looked around at Sam and the others. “We all remember how things went after Allie left. It sucks but we’ve learned to move on. You should too.”
“Allie wasn’t just some singer to me,” Piper said. “She was my friend. My best friend.”
“She was an Assist,” Sam chirped.
“And I’m sure Allie doesn’t—”
“Leave it, Charlie,” Piper said as she pulled away from him. “I’m just going to talk to him. There’s no harm in that, is there?” She glanced around the group as she noticed Charlie and Sam lower their eyes. “Steve?” she asked her drummer. “Do you really think it’s such a bad idea?”
The sandy blond drummer shrugged and rubbed the back of his tan neck. “I dunno, Pipes. I’m kinda with Charlie on this one. Let it go. That Assist he had with him didn’t look nothing like Allie.”
“It has nothing to do with how she looks,” she said defensively as she looked over her shoulder and noticed that that guy from earlier in the week was starting to hesitantly make his way towards them. She turned back to Steve. “It’s not her face,” she said again, “it’s her sound. She sounded like Allie. Can any of you guys deny that?”
“I can’t deny she sounded like her,” Steve said as Charlie shot him a look. “Well I can’t! I’ll admit, it was like being Pipes n’ All again. She sounded like her. I won’t say she didn’t.”
“Charlie?” Piper asked. “You gonna say it didn’t like our old stuff?”
“I didn’t say that,” he said softly. “I’m just sayin it’s not a good idea to get mixed up in trying to find her. If she wanted to run off—”
“You don’t know what happened to her—”
“She’s gone, Pipes. Best learn to accept that.”
“You guys couldn’t understand,” Piper muttered under her breath.
“What…what do you mean by that?” Charlie asked as his soft jaw clenched. “We’ve been there for you, Pipes. We weren’t the ones who got up and left—”
“I said you don’t know what happened to her,” Piper shot back.
The rest of the crew fell silent as they looked at her but Charlie was the first to speak. He was always the one who had the courage to stand up to their lead singer. “And you do?”
“I’m just sayin’ that none of you can pretend that you know what happened to her. We don’t know for sure if she ran away…”
“That’s not the first time you’ve said that, Pipes. Is there something—”
“Just…” Piper interrupted, “…leave me alone.”
“Hey…uh…excuse me?” a deep voice entered the conversation. Piper, Charlie and the rest turned to look at the tall and strongly built guy standing in front of them. Piper licked her lips which were cold and dry because of the weather and looked up at the stranger. His cheeks were pink and even the tip of his nose looked chilled as he remained silent as he stood, his incredibly dark hair falling over his hazel eyes.
“Yes?” Sam asked. “Can we help you?”
“Uh…y-yes,” the stranger said as he looked down at Piper. “I was wondering if I could talk to you. Do you remember me?”
“How could I forget?” Piper said immediately. “You had the Assist. Great showing. Where is she?”
“She…she’s busy right now with some other things. So you do remember.”
“Yes. Blaine, right?”
“Shane,” the tall guy corrected. “Shane Pearson.”
“Sure…Shane,” Piper said. “What’s up? What can I help you with?”
“I’d like to talk to you…if that’s okay,” Shane said. His eyes fell around the guys with her all scrutinizing him in a different manner. Shane felt like the tall, awkward kid in high school all over again. “In private?”
“Anything you can say with Pipes, you can say with us,” Charlie said.
“Naw. It’s okay, Charlie. I’d actually like to talk to him,” Piper said. “I told the crowd I was taking some time—”
“How much time?” Sam asked. “Can I go home?”
“No—” Charlie started.
“Yes. Sure,” Piper said, never taking her eyes off Shane. “Let’s just meet back around two.”
“Two?” Charlie moaned. “You serious, Pipes? It’s barely ten.”
“If you guys want to start without me, then go ahead,” Piper said. “Steve can do vocals until I get back. It’s not like we haven’t done it before.”
“You sure, Pipes?” Charlie asked as he continued to stare down the tall stranger.
“I’m sure,” Piper said. “I mean, if that’s alright with you,” she said as she looked up at Shane again. “You mind?”
“Where you takin’ him?” Sam asked.
“Stop acting like a damn dad,” Piper said. “I’m takin’ him to the library. That alright with you guys or you want to check my diaper before I go?”
“Fine with me,” Steven said. “I’m gonna go home and warm up. I’m freezing. You wanna come, Sam?”
“Yeah,” he grunted. “Let’s order a pizza or something. Charlie?”
“Count me out,” Charlie said. “I’m goin’ over to the diner.”
“Ohhhh…the diner,” Piper said as she tried to play around. “We all know why you go there.”
“Shut up, Pipes. I still think you should let it go.”
“And I keep tellin you to mind your own business.”
“It’s a bad idea.”
“I’m not going to do anything,” Shane said, thinking that they were talking about him.
“I’m not worried about you,” Charlie clarified. “I’m worried about what you brought with you on Monday.”
“Charlie,” Piper said, stiffening.
“What did I bring?” Shane asked before reddening. “Oh. You mean, Lux.”
“The Assist,” Charlie said. “It’s a bad idea. That’s what you’re here for, right?”
“Not your business,” Piper snapped as she linked an arm through Shane’s. He was caught off guard by how close she got to him right away. Most people avoided him like a creepy homeless man because of his size. It was nice to see someone not scared of him. “We’re going. I’ll see you guys at two.”
“At two,” she snapped again. “Go to the diner and flirt, Charlie. It’ll be good for you.”
He stiffened up but shook his head at her, grumbling as he picked up his instruments. “See you at two,” he grunted again. “I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“It’s all good,” Piper said as she started to pull Shane away from the group. “Come on,” she said, looking up at him. “Let’s get some coffee before we head to the library. It’ll warm me right up.”
“S-sure,” Shane stuttered out, allowing the dark haired girl to pull him along. He glanced over his shoulder as the rest of her friends slowly packed up their instruments and made no attempt to hide their contempt for him. “You sure this is okay? They look pissed.”
“They’ll be fine,” Piper insisted. “Come on.”
“Sorry if the library scene isn’t really for you,” Piper said as she pulled a laptop out from her bag. “I don’t get internet at my place. It’s too costly.”
“No, I get it,” Shane said awkwardly as he looked around. Damn. It had been a long time since he’d been in an actual library. With a chuckle he realized he was surprised they even still existed.
“Internet bills. Total pain in the ass, right?”
“Uh…we’ve kind of always used our neighbor’s,” Shane with an embarrassed grin. “We can’t really afford it either.”
“Roommates?” Piper asked as she started to boot up the computer.
“Uh…no. Mom and sister.”
Piper nodded. “That’s cool. My mom kicked me out when I said I wanted to go to school for music. Said there wasn’t any money in it.” She gave a dry laugh. “I guess she was right.”
“She kicked you out?” Shane repeated. He couldn’t imagine his mom doing something like that. It just wasn’t like her. But then again, she needed him. She couldn’t work right now so maybe that was the only she let him stay. The thought bothered him so he tried to shake it off.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” Piper said with a shrug. “The band’s my family now. And…well…Allie was.” She also shook her head as Shane noticed her eyes grow a bit sad. “So tell me then, Shane. How old are you?”
“Nineteen,” he said.
Piper gave a low whistle. “Oh to be young again,” she said with a fond look.
“You can’t be that old,” Shane muttered.
“I’m older than you,” she said.
“And how old’s that?”
“Turning twenty-six in the fall,” she said with a wink. “I think I’m looking pretty good.”
“Me too,” Shane said before he cleared his throat. “Not that I—”
“Of course not,” Piper said. “Easy, boy. I can tell when a guy wants that and you seem…” she trailed off as she clicked on a website once the homescreen popped up on the screen. “You seem alright. Now…you wanted to talk to me, right? So talk.”
Shane swallowed when those sharp blue eyes finally settled on his, giving him her full attention. He was so obsessed earlier about finding her he had almost forgotten how attractive she was. She wasn’t kidding. She did look good. He would have never thought that the girl sitting in front of him with the heavy knit scarf and low cut cardigan was twenty-five. “Uh…well…” he began, clearing his throat. “On Monday…when you were singing…you mentioned that…”
Piper smiled and held up her hand. “This is about what I said, isn’t it? Calling your Assist, Allie?”
“She’s not mine,” Shane said. “And yes.”
She rolled her eyes. “I knew I shouldn’t have said anything. The guys have been giving me flack about it all week. I’m so sorry—”
“No. I’m glad you did,” Shane said.
Piper tilted her head and several stray pieces of hair fell across her face. “Oh? Why’s that?”
“I think…well honestly…I’m not sure what to think.” He frowned as he tried to piece together what he thought. He knew he wanted to see Piper and he knew that he wanted to talk to her about this whole ‘Allie’ thing, but now that she was sitting in front of him his mouth seemed to have gone dry. Just what was he thinking about talking to her about? “Maybe this was a mistake,” he muttered. “I’m so sorry, I don’t even know what I was thinking…” he trailed off as he started to stand and Piper reached out to grab his forearm.
“No. Wait,” she said in that commanding voice usually reserved for her bandmates. “You’re here for a reason.”
“Yes. But I don’t even know what that reason is. I’m just being paranoid, I guess.”
“Let me show you something,” Piper said, pulling him down again to the seat next to her. She was amazed that the gentle giant followed her instructions without complaint. “Take a look at a few of these videos and then maybe you’ll have something we can talk about.”
“Videos?” Shane asked, curious as Piper opened up a few different windows. He read the headers for each one, his lips moving slowly as he did so. “Pipes n’ All?” he asked in a soft voice.
“The name of our band,” Piper said. “Well before…”
“Before what?” Shane asked, turning to look at her. “You still have a band. Did you change members?”
“Sort of,” Piper said. “It’s complicated.”
“Watch the video,” she said as she picked out the first one. “This is the group,” she continued as she pointed to the screen. Shane immediately found Piper standing in front of a crowd, though this time instead of singing outside, it was obvious that they were in a pretty popular bar or club. He also recognized the cellist and the drummer from before. They all looked a few years younger and Piper’s hair was a wild bright red, almost fluorescent in the spotlight.
And then he noticed someone he hadn’t seen with them before.
Another girl. A singer from the looks of it as she positioned herself in front of the microphone. She was tall. At least a whole head taller than Piper with red hair also but hers was much darker, taking on a burgundy like hue and she was wearing a sparkling headband which caught every single light that flashed on her. Her smile was wide and her makeup was thick. She was light, though not pale like Piper and her eyes looked green, not hazel like his own, but a bright, striking green as they looked over the audience. She was adjusting the mic so it would reach her lips and she tucked a smooth piece of her burgundy hair away from her face as she smiled down at the younger version of Piper.
“I’ve never seen her before,” Shane said, taking in the gorgeous newcomer.
“Shh…” Piper shushed him. “Just listen.”
Shane nodded and felt like he was back in school and being scolded for talking by the teacher. He wanted to give Piper a playful response but her eyes were already back on the screen. He frowned and followed her lead.
What did this girl have to do with anything?
Did she have anything to do with anything?
Just like how she would do on the streets, Piper introduced the band as “Pipes n’ All” and thanked everyone for coming out. Introductions would come later but for now she just wanted to get to the music because that’s what everyone cared about. The crowd laughed and proceeded to let them start. Shane saw the cellist and the drummer introduce the song with a few strong chords and the tall, straight-haired girl nodded down at Piper and the two smiled at each other.
So much like Piper had done with Lux on Monday.
He swallowed as the two started to sing.
It…that voice. “Just like Lux…” he whispered.
Piper shushed him again and told him to watch so he did. It felt so strange to watch the video. They weren’t even singing a song that was familiar to Shane but he felt drawn in by the two of them. The two redheads couldn’t have looked more different but together their voices molded and came together just like how Piper’s had done with Lux’s. He wanted to say it was a coincidence – of course it was – but he couldn’t bring himself to come to that conclusion. The way their voices flowed, the sounds, the strength…it all made sense as the first song came to a close.
“Allie,” Shane breathed. “That’s Allie, isn’t it?”
Piper nodded slowly as she paused the video on the screen. “Yeah. That’s my Allie. Or it was. She was the ‘All’ in ‘Pipes n’ All’,” she explained. “My best friend. Or…she was.”
Shane frowned. “What happened to her?” He tried to remember what he had caught a few of the guys saying. “Did she really run off to Hollywood to try and get famous?”
Piper shrugged. “I don’t know what happened to her.” Her eyes lidded. “I just know it was my fault.”
Shane shifted in his seat. “How could it be your fault? If she left the group—”
“She didn’t leave the group,” Piper pressed forward. “Shane…it is Shane, right?”
“How much do you know about the girl you’re working for?”
“She’s the little Assist, correct?”
“Yeah.” He lowered his head. Maybe he shouldn’t be talking about this. “Maybe…”
“I know this is weird,” Piper said as though reading his mind. “Listen to another song…”
“Piper, maybe I shouldn’t—”
“Just…please. Listen,” Piper pressed. “Listen to this one and then I swear, if you want to talk to me, great…if not…you’re free to go and you can just say that I’m some crazy, lonely—”
“I don’t think you’re crazy. Or lonely,” Shane said. “I just can’t figure out what you’re trying to say. Who’s Allie?”
“Allie…is an Assist. She’s mine…or she was,” she said carefully.
“That girl?” Shane asked as he reached forward to point at the screen. “She’s an Assist?”
“And she belonged to you?”
“We never said it in those words, but yeah…Allie was an Assist and I was her companion.”
Shane’s brows furrowed. “Sooo…what happened to her?”
“Just listen to this song,” Piper said as she clicked on the keypad. A familiar strum of music filled his ears again. “You remember this song, don’t you? Lux and I sang it together.”
“Ain’t No Sunshine,” Shane said, his eyes widening. “But how…”
They sounded exactly the same. It was like a recording from Monday only with a younger Piper and a completely different face and body and shape. But the music was the same. This Allie girl sounded just like Lux. The way the two moved together…it was all the same. The lyrics Allie sung were the same ones Lux had sung and Piper filled in beautifully. All the bandmates smiled as the two swayed to their music and the crowd certainly appreciated the two beauties with even more beautiful voices.
But what did it all mean? Shane continued to frown but closed his eyes for a moment as the voices went on. He could almost picture what happened on Monday. Lux and Piper…singing together. The man in the audience said it was like they had been singing together for years. That Piper hadn’t sounded this amazing and alive in years.
The music died down, along with Shane’s increasing worries.
“Do you see what I’m saying now?” Piper asked him.
He nodded slowly. There really could only be one conclusion.
“Why don’t you tell me,” Shane said just in case.
“I think…I think Lux…is Allie,” Piper said.