For the first time in many weeks, Kimberly Ramone reached for her alarm.
Under the haze of grogginess and trick of recent dreams, it took her empty fingers more than a few seconds to realize that she had no alarm to be turned off.
It wasn’t repeated beeping that had interrupted her afternoon nap, but rather familiar thoughts that had translated into familiar dreams.
Besides, Kim had smashed that mechanical annoyance of a clock a long time ago.
She groaned loudly as she rolled over in bed, grabbing her phone nearby as she realized the time.
Kim scratched her chin as she sat up, rolling her tongue in her mouth as she blinked into wakefulness.
Even on an afternoon like this, the house remained impossibly silent. The frame of her bed creaked ever so slightly as her feet dropped onto the floor.
Clothes of all kinds and colors were strewn about her crimson-rugged floor, but Kim just kicked them out of the way as she checked herself in the mirror. She pushed aside various lipstick tubes, eyeliner pencils and hair dye cases in the process.
But Kim was never too concerned with her appearance on most days. Everything else remained to be unimportant, save for the state of her hair.
All around her, various music posters displaying punk rock artists from 1974 onward hung all around her room. Some were worn beyond their years, edges beginning to peel away from the black wall, while others looked like they were just fresh out of their plastic wrapping.
In the right corner by her window, a towering stereo system, complete with a vinyl player and digital audio setup alike, watched over Kim’s bed like some motionless Sentonal. Many a loud punk rock song had been played on those speakers, whether the rest of the house wanted to hear them or not.
When Kim was finally done checking her messy brown locks, she closed her room door shut behind her as she finally made her way downstairs.
As if to contrast the messiness and punk rock decor of her abode, the rest of the house was a sparkling, spotless picture of suburbian perfection. Various paintings of the ocean lined the walls, while of the furniture seemed impeccably clean and without a scuff or scratch.
Nevertheless, Kim stomped her way down the staircase, a look of disdain pasted on her face.
She made absolutely no effort to keep the noise level to a minimum. After another night at the club, full of drinking and frivolous spending, her mother would sleep through just about anything.
So with that thought in mind, there would be no better time than now to raid the fridge.
Her mother was constantly forgetful and lazy, but thankfully the day maid was not. Kim helped herself to the last night’s lasagna, devouring it with quick, greedy bites.
With headphones around her neck and stomach now full, the girl heaved back onto the comfortable living room couch, staring up at the ceiling as she debated her plans for the day.
The thought crossed her mind of seeing what Michael and Aeris were up to, as they remained to be the closest thing she had to friends. Calvin didn’t even make a blip in her mental checklist, even as Kim found herself scrolling through old texts.
A small smile crept up on her face at Michael’s constant questions from last week on where everyone was, even as they waited in the lobby of Rob’s building for him to buzz them in.
He remained to be an airhead, that much was for sure, but even Kim couldn’t deny that there was a kind person in him that could make just about anyone comfortable.
For a moment, Kim’s eyes drifted to one side, stopping on the familiar, metal-framed photo that sat some three feet away from her.
As if channeling some aspect of Michael Kay, Seth Ramone stared back at her from the still picture.
He grinned through his teeth, his Hawaiian shirt picked up by the breeze and his blue mohawk sprouting as high as ever. With her arms wrapped over his shoulders, a six-year old Kim laughed happily as the photo kept their perfect moment forever frozen in time.
Kim didn’t reach for the photo, glaring at it for a few seconds before turning away.
It only fueled her frustration. It only reminded her of the empty existence that she’d continued to cling onto for the last eleven years.
Her mother didn’t care.
Even despite all of her crying and hollering the day the cops showed up at their door, all Kim remembered was crocodile tears.
She didn’t truly miss Seth, only the idea of him being around.
Because if she truly missed him, then maybe she would have spent more time actually being a mother than she did spending their seemingly endless funds on extravagant dinners with her friends and nights out at various Manhattan clubs.
Her expression never changed, but internally Kim could feel herself crumbling as her brother’s face continuously ran through her mind.
In the end, her mother didn’t know what it was like to lose the most important person in her life.
She lost a son who she had argued with and threatened to throw out on a constant basis.
Meanwhile, Kim lost everything that mattered. These days, Seth only lived on as a memory within the music Kim listened to on a daily basis.
As these painful thoughts began to swim in her mind, Kim went to her phone again. In particular, her gaze caught onto a message she had initially ignored from about two days ago.
It was from Aeris, who she’d last seen at the Sound Loft for Michael’s little get together.
Her message was nothing more than a simple request to meet up, as any friend might want to.
More than a month ago, Kim would have just ignored her and deleted the message. But with the amount of time she’d spent in the girl’s company, Kim had begun to realize that she was becoming as comfortable around Aeris as she was around Michael.
Perhaps seeing her was exactly what she needed right now.
Anything to keep her mind off Seth would be a blessing.
So focused on keeping her composure, it took Kim only ten seconds to type and send a response, before she was on her feet and out the door.
Hopefully the Dust Bowl wasn’t too packed. It wasn’t one of her nights, after all.
When school vacation had finally hit in December, all Kim could think to was how much she could finally relax.
She’d been looking forward to a whole week without the useless droning of the high school curriculum, and maybe even a well-deserved break from all the weeks of training that had passed her and the others by.
And like a cherry on top of it all, her mother was planning on going to Florida for the whole week, giving her free reign over the entire house.
Yet here she was, sitting on a familiar bench inside the Dust Bowl, and chugging on a energy drink as none other than Aeris Fairfield sat beside her.
Aeris had gotten here early, and was somewhat surprised to see the park practically empty.
After a good minute of Kim saying nothing, the blond girl was the one to finally break the ice.
“To be honest, I didn’t think you’d actually respond.” Aeris said, her voice pleasant as always.
On a December evening like this, the cold remained as biting as always, and Aeris hadn’t neglected to bring her heavy winter coat because of it.
Meanwhile, Kim could only wonder if the emptiness was due to the weather, or if their first confrontation with Helia and Renaldo had somehow made the rounds and scared the majority of the skaters away.
Either way, it was nice to have the alone time.
“Well, you don’t send me five extra texts when I don’t answer. I’ve been preoccupied with stuff.” Kim hastily replied, before taking another greedy sip from her drink.
Aeris laughed in response, tilting her face towards Kim ever so slightly. “You and me both. It’s been some ride with Michael and Calvin, huh?”
“At least Afroboy I can handle.” Kim commented, now allowing just a passing smile to creep up. “But that literal con artist? Remind me exactly why we’re still keeping him around…”
“He’s just a lot of hot air. I wish he wouldn’t ignore Michael so much though. I think he’s under the impression that they’re friends.” Aeris replied, rubbing her gloved hands together as she held her head down.
“I’d hate to think he’s taking advantage of Michael’s friendliness.” she further added.
Kim was none at all surprised, but she humored the whole situation nonetheless.
“And how do you know that he ignores the kid? What about all those phone issues he kept blabbing about? Maybe he’s telling the truth. I mean, what a shock that would be.”
Kim chuckled as she took another gulp, her mind descending more and more into comfort the longer they spoke.
Aeris smiled, and her response came out with just a hint of nervousness.
“Well, he certainly doesn’t ignore me. He texts me quite a bit, actually.”
Kim raised her eyebrows. “You actually indulge in talking to that loser?”
“More like he talks to me.” Aeris admitted, now playing with her hair as she realized her uncertainty. “But he’s not as bad as you think. He’s just not as comfortable when it comes to you guys, so his go to reaction is the jokes and show-off act. Plus Michael can get a bit overwhelming, and you’re…”
Aeris mumbled into her next words, but Kim already knew what she wanted to say.
“…not his type? Too pissed off all the time for his refined tastes?” Kim just straight up finished for her, much to Aeris’s surprise.
“Hey, I didn’t mean it like that.” she answered quietly, not wanting to escalate the situation any further.
But it didn’t matter, as Kim’s tone just got louder and meaner in response. “Then what did you mean? Did you call me here so that you could gush over your new crush, or is there something actually important you want to tell me?”
Aeris sighed, and then her tone switched from friendly to serious in a heartbeat.
“I called you, because as your friend, I’m worried about you. Unless it has to do with training, you kind of just ignore everybody. I practically had to drag you to Rob’s place, remember?”
Kim narrowed her eyes at the declaration. To be reminded of the fact that she didn’t initially want to go to the Sound Loft just annoyed her all that much more.
“Hey, you didn’t drag me anywhere, Aeris.” she shot back, pointing an accusing finger at Aeris. “If I didn’t want to come, then not you or anybody else is going to make me. If I want to disappear, then believe me, I will. That’s my business.”
“You see? I knew Calvin had a point under all of his complaining. You turn into such a bitch just like that. It’s almost like you do it on purpose the minute anyone corners you about something.” Aeris pointed out in response, only to realize the weight of her words a moment later.
Unfortunately, by now it was far too late to take any of it back. Kim was already standing up, her lips curled into a frown as she audibly crushed the empty can in her hand.
“Oh, so now you’re gossiping with your new boyfriend behind my back? How bloody typical. Yeah, I think we’re done here.”
With that, Kim threw the crushed can far behind her, combat boots stomping into the ground as she slipped her headphones on and began to walk away.
“Kim, please wait. That was out of a turn. I know there’s a lot you keep to yourself, but I…”
Kim kept walking, only to stop short at the next few words that left Aeris’s mouth.
It was the only words she knew would get Kim to stop for sure.
“…I know about Seth. I know what happened. And if something like that happened to one of my brothers, I can’t even begin to imagine what I would do.”
The words played through Kim’s mind more than once. The memory she was trying to avoid came right back to her, clear as day.
For the briefest moment, Kim debated whether or not to turn around.
Somehow, Aeris must have done some digging in her spare time.
The accident itself had been on the local news, so it was only a matter of persistence for her to pull it up from some old Village Voice article.
But before Kim could respond to her newly gleaned information, someone else decided to chime in.
“So sorry, but I’m going to have to interrupt this tender moment. I’m sure poor Kimberly here was just about to bawl her eyes out.”
Kim’s facial muscles tightened at the sound of Helia’s voice, as Aeris practically jumped off her seat behind her at the sight of the two Zero Beat members that now appeared in their midst.
Renaldo remained quiet as he allowed his technical superior to speak for the both of them.
“And here we are again, in the same stupid place, for the same stupid girl. Can you do us all a favor and just come quietly this time?” Helia asked, though not even Michael’s famous obliviousness could miss her sarcasm at a time like this.
“Oh, you’ve got be kidding me right now. Did you not learn your lesson the second time?” Kim said, trying to control the rising anger inside her.
“Look, I don’t have time for this nonsense. Get lost, and you get a pass tonight.” Kim declared, hoping the hint of rage in her voice would be enough.
But unfortunately for her, the two of them seemed less than willing to retreat. Renaldo, for the first time in awhile, added his best threat
“Then we’ll try our best to make this quick. We’re ready for you this time, Kim.”
Kim’s eyes widened at his sudden confidence, and in response, the voice of Tom Jones began to overtake the surrounding space with its soulful sound. The familiar form of the Big Bomb Balladeer could be seen materializing behind Renaldo as he Harmonized with the song.
But as Kim slipped on her headphones in response, she felt a hand on her shoulder as Aeris reminded her of her presence.
“I’m here, Kim. Let’s show these pushovers that no one, not even Zero Beat, messes with the Audio Knights.” she whispered, her voice just a little playful despite the reality of a real fight in front of her.
Kim held back any sort of smile, but her own tone betrayed the fact that she was too was perhaps a little glad now to have Aeris around.
“Leave it to Afroboy to make the name stick.” she replied. “This shouldn’t take too long.”
Kim’s fists tightened, and as she Harmonized, Desolation Row surged through her body.
It bled its dark purple ichor through her eyes, darkforce claws forming their gangly shape over on both of her hands.
Kim just grimaced with rage at both Helia and Renaldo as she took one step forward, beckoning them with one clawed finger as her voice took on a unnatural sound.
“Okay, if you two insist. Who wants to die first?”