Josh stumbled off the elevator. He had made it to his floor of the hotel without incident, playing sober all the way from the bar through the lobby. The floor was cleared out, and though he still heard the chatter of other members of The Acapocalypse as he wandered past their doors, he felt confident no one would see him in his current state.
He had disappeared into the bathroom at the bar, and could only assume the group thought he went back to his room. Instead, he crouched over a toilet and puked out all of the night’s beer and disappointment. He proceeded to fall asleep with his head on the toilet seat. When he woke, he wasn’t sure how long he had been there. When he came out, no one he knew was left at the bar.
Josh got to the room he was sharing with Carrie and was relieved to find that he still had his key card in his shirt pocket. He almost had it in the lock when he paused, putting an ear to the door. There was no sound from within, and he reasoned that she must have been upstairs for hours by then, and was probably fast asleep.
Josh’s head throbbed, and he decided he was best off fetching some ice. He didn’t have the bucket, but figured he could just fire out a handful from the dispenser and hold it against his skull. At that moment, nothing in the world sounded more appealing.
He followed the signs to the ice machine, and much to his surprise, found Amanda waiting.
She had on her blue flannel pajama pants and a black spaghetti string top, the likes of which she usually wore to bed. There was no sleep in her at that moment, though, perched on a sill by the glowing light of the Coca Cola vending machine, laptop beside her, her little portable keyboard on her lap. She poised her fingers over a chord of white keys, and listened through her iPod ear buds, hooked into an audio jack. She didn’t seem to notice him until he was right upon her, at which point she almost dropped the keyboard, then almost knocked the computer from her side. Once she had stabilized everything, she pulled the ear buds away from her head. “Jesus, Josh. You scared me.”
“Sorry about that.” He tried very hard not to slur his words, recovering the sober act.
“It’s fine.” She moved her hair from her face and readjusted herself on the sill. “Are you just getting back? You don’t look so good.”
He could only imagine what an understatement that would be. His hair likely askew, his clothes wrinkled, maybe the impression of the toilet seat's rim on one cheek. “It’s been a long night.”
“I get that. How are you feeling?”
“I’ll live.” Josh depressed the lever on the ice machine and a series of cubes fired downward, too fast for him to get a hand underneath. He picked the top cube up from the pile over the grate and ran it over his forehead. “What are you doing up?”
Amanda looked down when she smiled. “Arranging.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“We just lost in competition. How can you even think about a cappella?”
Amanda’s fingers danced across a few keys. She was a really good piano player, had taken lessons for years as a kid. He remembered how she would sit in the rehearsal room in high school when she was stressed out and play and play and play. “We didn’t lose.”
“You missed the announcement?”
“We finished in third place, Josh. That’s not losing.”
He wondered if she actually believed what she said—if another person who took the group as seriously as he did could be so level-headed about the whole thing. “What are you arranging?”
“Death Cab for Cutie song.”
“Death Cab? And who’s going to sing the solo on that?”
“I think it could be a really interesting one for Katie.”
“Mix up the genders.”
“It’ll be distinctive.”
Josh felt himself grow warmer, preparing to ask a dozen questions. In the same moment, he caught himself, remembered he was supposed to feel depressed. He wondered if he was just too tired and drunk to focus, or if Amanda had brought him around so quickly, or if it was the idea of the music—the a cappella itself. “I still can’t believe we got third place—that we got eliminated from the competition.”
“Come on, Josh.” Amanda pressed a key on her computer then put one of her ear buds back in. “We’ll keep trying.”
“We will.” She put the second ear bud back in, and played a new chord. “We lost one competition. It’s not the end of the world.”