Today's Reading

"They reject me," I say.

"You don't die from rejection."

"You don't know that."

She sighs. "It doesn't hurt to try."

"It might, actually," I counter. "It might hurt very much to try."

Her frown is disapproving—but I can deal with Ari's disapproval. Or Prudence's. Or my parents'. It's the possible disapproval of the world at large that grips me in agonized terror.

"Rejection is part of the life of an artist," she says, tracing a sticker of a daisy on her guitar case. "The only way to know what you're capable of is to put yourself out there, and keep putting yourself out there, again and again, and refusing to give up—"

"Oh god. Stop. Please. Fine, I'll consider submitting something. Just—no more pep talks. You know they stress me out."

Ari claps her hands together. "Then my work here is done."

Chapter Two

It takes us most of the hour to reconfigure the store to make enough space around the stage. The store isn't huge, but once we roll the record bins and shelves off to the sides, it's roomier than it seems. We bring a dozen folding chairs out from the back room, setting them up in a half circle around the raised platform.

People start showing up around five thirty. Two people. Then four. Then 'seven'. Pru and her boyfriend, Quint, arrive at a quarter till, holding hands as they stroll through the door.

We add another row of seats after the first dozen are filled up. It's the most crowded I've seen in a while, maybe the most crowded the store has been since last year's Record Store Day—a nationwide promotion that happens every spring and always brings in a bunch of customers.

My mom walks in a second later with my two youngest sisters, Penny and Eleanor, in tow. No Lucy—which isn't all that surprising. She has a busier social life than either Pru or I had when 'we' were freshmen, and she has other plans most weekends. Plans that do not include hanging out in a musty old record store with her parents.

Ellie runs to Dad and throws herself into his arms. She immediately starts telling him about the macaroni craft project they made in kindergarten that day.

I walk over to Penny and drape an arm over her shoulders. "Did you bring your violin?" I ask, nodding toward the stage. "This could be the night you wow us all."

Penny frowns at me. I've been urging her to sign up for open mic night since the beginning, but she always says the same thing. "I am not playing in front of all these strangers."

"You play in front of strangers all the time at your recitals."

"Yeah, but with the stage lights on, I can't even see the people in the auditorium, so it's easy to pretend they're not there. Plus, I'm with the rest of the orchestra." She shudders. "I could never perform alone at something like this."

I know I'm not one to talk—it's not like 'I'm' ever going to get up on that stage. We do keep my old acoustic guitar around, just in case anyone gets inspired to perform and didn't bring their own instrument. But that's never going to be me. "For what it's worth, I think you'd do awesome."

Penny flashes me an appreciative smile, before Mom pulls her away to claim the last two seats in the back row. Ellie plops down on Mom's lap. I head behind the counter to ring up a sale—a guy with a mean sunburn buying two Broadway musical soundtracks. As he walks away, I spy Pru making her way around the crowd with Ari's clipboard in hand, reminding everyone about the store's open mic night discounts. That's our Pru—always with a sales pitch.

"Ari!" I stage-whisper. She glances over at me, and I tap an imaginary watch on my wrist.

Ari grabs her guitar and bounds up to the stage. She taps the mic. "Hello, hello! Thank you all so much for coming tonight." She beams at the crowd, waving to some of the familiar faces.

When she first started hosting these, months ago, she always started the evening a little nervous and unsure, but that initial stage fright has ebbed with time. Now she seems like a natural, completely in her element. I've always been a little jealous of Ari for the way she isn't afraid to embrace her own quirks, all her charming eccentricities—whether that's talking out loud to herself when she's trying to figure out a new lyric, or showing Ellie how to do cartwheels down the store aisles on days when we're slow, or dancing unabashedly along the boardwalk, never caring who might be watching. Ari doesn't mind it when people notice her—something that I find utterly remarkable.

Ari sits down on the provided stool and pulls a clip from her hair, releasing the bun. A waterfall of wavy dark hair tumbles over one shoulder. "I'm Araceli, and I'm the host of our open mic nights here at Ventures Vinyl. To get us warmed up, I'm going to sing a cover of one of my favorite romantic ballads. This is 'Romeo and Juliet' by Dire Straits."

...

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