He smiled down at me. “Thanks for coming to get me, Dawn.”

“I sent Noelle!” I said defensively. I felt secretly delighted that we were behaving like chums already instead of strangers, like arguing with Hybrid’s manager was something I normally did as part of Dawn Emerson’s normal life.

“You should have sent a cat, it would have gotten to me faster,” he said, taking a seat beside Mickey with a groan, like his bones were tired.

“Where is she?” Mickey asked.

“Oh, she and Graham took the flat of beer to the dressing room. You boys realize you can go hang out there too. Might be better since we’re about thirty minutes away from showtime.”

“Did you do soundcheck already?” I asked.

“Yeah, this afternoon,” Robbie said. That disappointed me. I’d always wanted to see the band—any band, actually—during soundcheck. It was like an extra special, private performance.

“How did it go?” I asked.

Robbie shrugged. “It went…”

His eyes flew across the table to Mickey’s and they exchanged an unreadable look. Finally Mickey looked at me.

“Noe can’t play the bass unplugged so we have her doing simple notes on the keyboard. She’s not too happy about it.”

“And Graham is being a shit at keeping time on those fucking tambourines,” Robbie added.

“And I have no idea how to get Robbie’s voice so it doesn’t overshadow everyone,” Chip said with a sigh.

Jacob looked at me and smiled, opening his hands in surrender. “So you can see, you’re about to witness one hell of a show.”

“The only person who knows what they are doing is Sage,” Robbie admitted.

“And me,” Mickey put in. I caught the slightest trace of bitterness in his voice, and the quick look he shot at Robbie only added to it.

“Of course, you,” Robbie comforted him. He turned to Jacob expectantly. “So, boss, should we go do this or what?”

“Take your time,” Jacob said, twirling his gold rings around his thick fingers. “I’ve already got the money for us from the owner, so if you want to go at things half-arsed, be my guest.”

“So passive aggressive, Jacob,” Robbie chided him softly. “I don’t think I like this side of you.”

Jacob tilted his head and winked at me. “Just trying to keep the peace with the writer here.”

Robbie put his arm around me and shook me slightly. “Good old Rusty, already keeping everyone on their best behavior.”

When I got over the embarrassment and wanting to squeal like a girl at the fact that Robbie Oliver had his arm around me, I couldn’t help but wonder—this was their best behavior?

How long would it be before I saw them at their worst?

CHAPTER FIVE

The rest of the evening went quite well. I didn’t see the band at their worst (I knew that would come later) but I did get to enjoy one of the most memorable shows of my life. I guess they could have sat around and banged pots and pans and I still would have thought it was awesome just because I was there, and for once, I was special.

With the band getting ready for their acoustic set, I ended up following Jacob around like a lost puppy. I didn’t mind it. There was something about Jacob that made people pay attention to him. He seemed to know everyone at Red Rocks and I didn’t doubt he probably knew everyone in the music industry. With him I felt strangely protected, as if he had taken a shine to me, and it made me feel important. Though it was sad that all I wanted at times was for Todd or Ryan to see me, see how far I’d come. Todd because he’d shit himself with jealousy, and Ryan because I wanted him to know what he was giving up. He thought I was going nowhere? Well once he saw the article in Creem Magazine, the article I wrote, he’d see how wrong he was.

But that would have to wait. That evening I didn’t even take a single note or recording. I was going to, bringing out my notepad as Jacob and I stood at the side of the stage, but he made me put it away.

“By the end of this tour, you’ll be sick of the band and you’ll have more notes than you can shake a stick at,” he told me with his trademark wink. “Tonight, just watch and remember. Not as a journalist but as a fan. Take it all in, Rusty.”

And so I did.

I placed my notebook and pen back in my purse and looked around me. Looked at where I was. I took in everything.

When you’re on the side stage of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, you might as well be on stage yourself. It’s that immense and frightening. All you can see is a wall of people, staring down at you, watching your every move. Behind that wall are the stars, pinpricks in the emerging darkness. You have a succinct idea of what it’s like to be wanted and adored, to have fans and music lovers alike hanging on your every action, revering you, expecting you to deliver. It’s a strange mix of adulation and pressure.

Aside from giving me goosebumps from the sheer immensity of people in Hybrid shirts, lighters waving in the breeze, the side stage also gives you an in-depth look at the band. Obviously you’d have a better view from the very front, where gaggles of groupies and long-haired boys competed for space, but from the side I got to experience the band like few were able to.

For starters, you get an inside look at that moment before the band hits the stage. You can feel that incredible build-up and tension from the crowd as they wait impatiently for the band to appear. You can see the anticipation on their stoned faces, hear the excited talking, the stamping of feet. You also get to see the band behind the stage. What they do before they step out into the spotlight. In this case, Noelle and Mickey were in an embrace, Noelle obviously overcome with nerves. Graham looked bored at the prospect of handling tambourines while Robbie rubbed his hands together, jumping from one foot to the other, like an insatiable bunny rabbit. I had to wonder how much of that energy was natural and how much was drug-fueled.

Then there was Sage. He was a strong and silent presence. He stood at the back, watching over everyone, calculating mysterious things in his head. I had never seen Hybrid live except on TV, and I knew that Sage played with the cool confidence of a cat. But at that moment, it seemed like his confidence was wavering. It was hard to tell, seeing as I had to look over the soundboard, past Chip, random people, instruments, and sections in order to get a glimpse of him. It was dark and his face was cast in shadows half the time. But, as silly as this sounds, I felt this uncertainty rolling off of him. Like I was picking up on an unsaid vibe that something was off. Something wasn’t right. Sage was worried and that wasn’t the Sage I knew.

Then again, I didn’t know Sage at all, except that he didn’t seem to want me there.

To prove that point, our eyes met at one instance. I tried to smile. He kept staring right back at me, his full mouth in a hard line, his eyes glinting dangerously. I had told myself he was only rude to me earlier because he had other things on his mind and that I shouldn’t take it personally. Now it seemed that what Chip had said about Sage not wanting a journalist among them was true. Sage didn’t like me. He didn’t want me there. It was personal.

I looked away and tried to bring my attention back to the atmosphere of the crowd, wanting to get sucked into the anticipation. The lights went dim, the audience erupted into applause, and one by one I saw the band leaving the backstage area to walk onto the stage, a spotlight shining down on each of them as they took their place.

Sage was the last on the stage, and as luck would have it, he was the closest to me, just off to the side of the soundboard and Chip. I tried to pay attention to the rest of the band, I really did. I tried to sneak glances at Noelle as she played at the keyboards, trying to hide her nervousness and shaking hands. I tried to watch Graham as he shook the shaker and beat at the bongo drums with just the required level of lightness. I tried to pay attention to Mickey as he flew through his chords with ease, each strum of the acoustic guitar rising sweetly from the stage. I tried to keep my eyes on Robbie as he struggled to keep his voice in check, his manic mannerisms to a minimum. I even tried to watch Chip as he mixed the sounds of the different mics, brows furrowed in concentration.

But try as I did, I could not keep my eyes off of Sage Knightly. I just couldn’t help myself. Seeing this man on stage was like watching a lion prowl along the crest of his kingdom. He commanded respect even when he was seated on his chair with only an acoustic guitar at his fingers, and when he got up, the Mexican textile strap straining against his neck, every eye in the crowd followed his every stride. Normally Sage was a background figure, quietly commandeering the direction of the show, but tonight, with Robbie subdued, Sage became the star. Without a doubt, you knew this was the man who made Hybrid what they were.

I watched as his long fingers expertly picked along to complex and haunting solos. I watched the intensity in his eyes as they stared off into the crowd, calling on his talent from somewhere. I watched his tall frame, his large, rounded shoulders muscling into the heavier chords. I watched his flip-flopped feet tapping to some internal metronome.

And I watched a faint shiver roll through his body. His eyes snapped away from watching Robbie belt out “She Could Have Loved Me” and his vision made a beeline to the front of the stage. There, squished up along the barricade, was a strangely familiar looking woman: long white hair, pale face, feverishly gleaming eyes. As beautiful as she was, she gave off an immense feeling of dread that gripped my bones. Sage watched her as if hypnotized. The woman smiled up at him.

And in that smile I saw fangs. Her face transformed disturbingly with black holes for eyes, an elongated, wrinkled face of yellow-white, a wide gaping hole for a mouth, teeth protruding. A long tongue slid out, crawling with quivering insects. It licked its absence of lips, curled delicately along peeling skin. I heard noises deep inside my head: the buzzing of bees, painful wails, horrific chants that built up to immeasurable volumes. I felt horror, a terror so complete that I had one thought: I was going to die there on the stage. I was going to lose my soul.

I was going to Hell.

I was all fear and only fear, and that’s what I would be for all my existence.

Then it all stopped. The amphitheater stopped spinning, the noises ceased and were replaced by an off-key guitar chord. It was Sage, losing his rhythm for one brief moment. His eyes had been too focused on the woman in the crowd, who was no longer demonic, just white-haired and ecstatic. Just a fan. Just a wannabe groupie.

I felt Jacob’s hand on my shoulder and I jumped a mile high.

“Are you okay?” he asked, eyes dancing. He nodded at my hands.

I looked down. I was gripping the barricade between us and the soundboard like I was hanging on for dear life. My knuckles were dead white.

I couldn’t speak. Jacob looked at me thoughtfully, assessing me. I couldn’t get it together to ignore what had just happened. I felt like I had just tripped on the headiest of drugs. I kept looking back at the crowd, expecting that demon face again, but didn’t see it. I watched Sage too and he was behaving off-balance, shaken. Could he have seen it too? Seen the impossible?

“You’re overwhelmed,” Jacob assured me, his eyes flitting between Sage and I. “It happens to the best of us.”

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