Music Lights & Never Afters by C.L. Matthews

Chapter One

10 for 10 – Magnolia Park


Darkness overcoming the light was no longer a reach. Instead, it became the goal. I festered in a blanket of despair nine out of twelve months of a year, darkness was bound to be what I became. Light came in bouts, streaming in only when giving up felt like my only choice. What mayhem could I cause this time?

Being halfway through my senior year and fucking up seemed right on par with my usual faults. It didn’t help that I’d been bursting at the seams to beat someone’s flesh in.

Whenever my parents came home from tour, it made me want to be better.

Even if it was only temporary.

“Again?” Mom asked the morning following my expulsion, my fists hurt from the bone I’d beaten them into. Purple bruises encompassed the majority of my skin, the achiness I felt didn’t touch the anger that still festered from what I witnessed.

Mom wasn’t home to chastise me last night, so we were finally having a conversation about yesterday. She didn’t push for an explanation, instead, she questioned nonchalantly. Like usual, missing words and arguments. How did a kid grow or change without someone telling him what he did was wrong?

“What’s that?” I played coy, knowing exactly what she referenced. She wanted to know what the fuck I did this time to get expelled. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t appreciate the answer. Even while being valid, any type of attention on me worried her.

Styled in curly rivulets, her black hair looked professional but unapologetically untamed like she enjoyed life. She wore her signature pantsuit, something she didn’t appreciate, but being the manager of her own husband’s label made her regularly do things she didn’t enjoy.

Like abandoning her child to fend for himself.

Dad had a penchant for drugs, sex, and fangirls. Mom had to step in when it became too much. She was a babysitter and roadie all in one nowadays. I never understood their love for each other, but she didn’t ever give him up.

Mom grabbed a mug out of our cabinet, brewing herself a cup of coffee. Unlike most, she had this insane machine that made lattes. It felt unnecessary for something as simple as coffee.

Coffee was meant to be mediocre, plain black, with no sugar and a pinch of salt. Not for many, but I appreciated the simplicity of life’s offerings.

Starting up the machine, she put in her fancy settings, waiting as it brewed her way-too-intricate drink. She hummed along with the breadth of space between us. Mom might have been in love with a rock star, but she definitely was in her element at home—with me.

I wanted to ignore her previous question and pretend I didn’t fuck up once again. It sucked being the black sheep of my siblingless family. While my father constantly screwed up, making Mom’s job harder, I was the outcast.

She picked up the newspaper, reading the headlines, not paying me any mind. Who did that anymore? Digital news seemed to be the norm, but she and Dad seemed to subscribe to the paper anyway.

Rubbing my head with my chipped black painted nails, she watched me over her paper. We both tended to hide behind objects, not wanting confrontation and awkward situations. Maybe not really knowing each other, even while being mom and son, created a sense of shyness between us. Life was strange in that way. You could know someone your entire life and not really know them.

“This is the second time they expelled you from a high school, Toland. Last time, you got kicked out of Arcadia Crest—that school was nearly impossible to get you into in the first place. We still had to pay for the entire year and reparations for what you did. Hell, we moved because no one would take you after that stunt you pulled. What are we supposed to do at this point? You knew we were leaving on tour, and you got expelled. Again.”

Yet, Dad’s not even here.


He was more married to his work than his own wife. Mom always wanted to raise a better son, but when I defended girls being attacked or the losers—like me—who were belittled, she reprimanded me. Anything that could be perceived as bad by the public and could possibly make me visible to Dad’s fan base always made Mom uncomfortable. I grumbled silently in response.

No matter how far I went, the world didn’t know who Madden Black was.

“It’s no big deal, Mom. No one knows I exist.” She scoffed, watching me like a hawk.

“What's that?” Mom probed knowingly, repeating my coquettish response from earlier.

My anger rose, but I swallowed down the annoyance built on years of neglect as it tried overwhelming me. If they were around more, if people didn’t do stupid shit, if I didn’t get triggered at the simplest things... maybe life would’ve been different. Yet, here we were at an impasse. A place where there was no way to go.