His hand on my shoulder squeezed firmly. I nodded, slowly coming out of it. Yes, I fucking was overwhelmed.

“Set is almost over anyway, do you want to head to the dressing rooms and get something to eat?” he asked.

I shook my head. “No, I’ll stay. I’m just…sorry, I don’t know what happened.”

I put my hand to my clammy forehead and looked back to Sage. He was back in stride, peeling off perfect licks. The pale woman was still there, now talking to a shorter girl that had the same perfect white sheet of hair cascading down the sides of her face. Everything was fine. It was better than fine. I was onstage with Hybrid.

“You’re right,” I told Jacob with an apologetic smile. My voice and body had stopped shaking. “I think I was just caught up in the moment. I thought I saw something that…well, that certainly wasn’t there.”

A flash of something dark went through his yellow, hawk-like eyes. Then they relaxed and he grinned with mismatched teeth. “I’d stay away from Graham’s punch then.”

I smiled uneasily back at him and focused my attention back on the end of the set. As expected, it went off without a hitch. Whatever had Sage all shook up earlier wasn’t affecting him anymore, and when I thought about it, that was probably in my head too. They were tighter than ever. For their encore, the song “Wet Lips” was played as heavy as possible, with the band knocking over their chairs and Robbie jumping about the stage, wailing and hollering, as if they were all plugged in. The crowd surged and cheered and I knew the Red Rock owners probably thought another Jethro Tull riot and extension of the rock ban was on, but “Wet Lips” ended with Robbie on his knees, singing, as the lights went down. There was an eruption of applause, whistles and lighters waving, but the barricade held, everything was contained, and Hybrid gave their appreciative waves and stepped off into the darkness of the backstage.

I turned to the crowd and soaked up the accolades as if they were for me. Then, with a newly found smile on my face, I followed Jacob backstage, giving Chip a thumbs up for a job well done as we passed him.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. I can say this was completely my fault, as no one forced me to drink a fifth of Jameson.

Jacob and I had entered one of the doors built into the rock face and we emerged in a lounge area that ran along the dressing rooms. Hap Starts, the straggly singer of Pretty Mary, was just leaving his band’s dressing room for the stage and gave Jacob an appreciative head nod. Journalists with media passes lingered about, picking at the spread of finger foods while normal-looking patrons, who I could only assume were friends and family, drank cheap cans of beer from the ice bins. Then there were the groupies, a gaggle of girls my age or younger who were drop-dead gorgeous—no special passes needed for them. They eschewed the food and chose to remain by Hybrid’s door. They only moved when Noelle came out, her hair wet from a shower, her eyes cutting into them like a butcher knife. I could see why Noelle was paranoid about me being a groupie. I really had no idea that so many beautiful, albeit skanky-looking, girls were after Hybrid. I mean, Jacob had told Barry that the reason I was there was to lure in more women, though I suppose he meant more women “fans” not groupies. There was a difference.

Then again, I couldn’t really blame them. When I got over the fact that they weren’t about the music, it was no wonder they were after the band. Robbie had a reputation, and I’m sure he wasn’t above turning down the occasional groupie. Same went for Graham; though he was a bit abrasive and scary in his weirdo faux-Satanist ways, some chicks would dig anything with a bone. Mickey was taken, but that wouldn’t stop some girls from at least trying, and Sage, well, once again I had no idea about him, whether he was a man-whore or not. I had heard somewhere that he had been married at some point but judging by the lack of ring, I’d say that definitely wasn’t the case anymore. Secretly, Sage’s love life was one of the things I wanted to get to the bottom of. Did it belong in Creem Magazine? No. Did I want to keep the information for myself, and possibly Mel? Hell yes.

I wasn’t sure what to do while the band was still in the dressing room. I assumed that people just sort of waited out here for them after the show and then they’d appear and everyone would party. I didn’t belong with the heavily bosomed groupies, nor did I have the casual appearance of friends and family. Normally I would have said hello to the journalists but even they all seemed to know each other and they probably wouldn’t have taken me seriously anyway. I was the odd one out and I plunked myself down on a single chair, a cup full of potato chips in one hand, and tried hard to look like I was busy.

“Rusty,” Chip called out a few lonely minutes later, appearing behind me with a bottle of Jameson in one hand and another paper cup in the other.

I turned in my seat and looked up at him appreciatively.

“Hey, Chip. Good job with the show and all that.” I know, I sounded like a total dork.

He shrugged and began to pour the whiskey into the cup, straight-up. “Went better than expected. Better than soundcheck anyway. Though I’m fucking glad we aren’t doing any more of these unplugged shit shows. I’m not big on this experimental stuff. Stick with what you know, you know?”

He took a sip of the whiskey and handed the cup to me. I took it gingerly and looked at him for assurance.

He nodded at it, his eyes twinkling. “Pour vous.”

“Oooh la la,” I replied and took a tiny bit of it into my mouth. It burned the good burn and I tried hard to swallow it with ease. “I thought you guys were going to go into more of the experimental stuff though. I mean, Molten Universe really pushed some of the boundaries of your sound, you know. In a good way,” I added.

He laughed, making himself look younger. He tipped the bottle at me. “You sound like a music critic, Rusty.”

“I am a music critic, believe it or not.”

He eyed the journalists. “You’re not with your friends.”

I shrugged, trying to play it cool. “I prefer to do my own thing.”

“And you’re not with the groupies either.”

“Like I said.”

“Do I hear a hint of jealousy in your voice?”

I looked at Chip as if he had two heads. “Me, jealous? Of groupies?”

Oh, I wish that hadn’t made me so defensive.

“They make no apologies for lusting over the rock stars.”

Chip looked oddly serious when he said that and I had to wonder if he was taking a swipe at me. I wasn’t jealous of the groupies and I wasn’t lusting over any rock star. I mean, yeah I was obviously star struck—they were one of my favorite bands for crying out loud—and of course my eyes were drawn to Sage anytime I was near him, but that was different. That wasn’t about lust, or thinking about Sage unbuttoning the rest of his shirt and undoing those heavy pants, that was…where was I? Yes. My feelings toward Sage were purely the admiration of his talent sort of thing.

Chip smiled at my inner argument and switched the subject. “So you like the experimental side of Hybrid?”

I took another gulp of the whiskey and handed the cup back to him. “I do. And it’s organic, you know? It fits. No one is doing anything because it’s a fad. No one is afraid they’ll be branded hype by the corporate rock machine. You can tell that everyone is just branching out a little.”

He snorted caustically. “If by everyone, you mean Sage. The waltz-like numbers and those horns and the steel guitar and Mexican bullshit, it’s all him. If it were up to us, we’d stick with what made us big. We’re loud and heavy. End of story. Sage pushed a little too much on this album and fuck if I know why. That is, of course, just my opinion and don’t you dare quote me on that. Remember, I’m loyal, Rusty. I’m just the sound tech.”

He took a drink, filled up the cup and handed it back to me. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go make the rounds, see what kind of trouble I can scrounge up.”

He gave me a quick pat on the back and then took off toward the washrooms with the bottle of Irish Whiskey. He winked at the groupies as he passed them by and one of them responded by grabbing his ass.

I rolled my eyes. Why on earth would I be jealous of them?

And then the door to the dressing room opened and Robbie popped his head out. He did a quick scan of the room, glossing over me, then flashed his adorable smile at the groupies and quickly ushered them into the room. The door shut behind them.

Disappointment and anger competed for space in my belly. What was I, chopped liver?

I sighed, took another gulp of my drink, which was going down easier and easier, and decided if I couldn’t (wouldn’t) go hang out with the groupies, I would try my luck with my supposed colleagues.

I got up and made my way over to two loveseats where three people with media passes were sitting. One was an older dude with extremely long and shiny hair, a photographer, judging by the bag of equipment beside him. The guy sitting right across from him had a bowl-cut and that stuffy, uncomfortable posture that told me he was way out of his element and was probably used to reviewing John Denver. The other guy had on a Dust shirt and was busy scribbling notes. None of them looked up at me until I nervously cleared my throat.

“Hi, I’m Dawn. I write for Creem Magazine.”

The photographer gave me an unimpressed look. “Oh look, another chick writing for Creem. Is it true that Kramer has all you broads in some sort of harem?”

The stuffy guy snickered at that while the Dust dude shot me a quick look, as if he could barely spare a few seconds away from his notes.

“No, I don’t even live in Detroit,” I told him, crossing my arms. It was a feeble argument. “Kramer just believes in the feminist movement, that’s all.”

I didn’t even know if that was true, but there had to be some reason why Creem had quite a few women on staff. And no, it wasn’t because they were part of his harem.

“Creem,” the Dust dude mused as he took a break from his notes. “So I take it you’re doing some sort of piece on Hybrid.”

“Actually it’s a fairly big piece,” I boasted. “Might make the cover.”

He smiled to himself in a patronizing way. It made me want to rip his balls off.

“Lady, rock and roll is dead. That’s what Creem keeps saying. Soon Creem will be dead too.”

He went back to writing as if I wasn’t standing in front of him, giving him the death glare of all death glares.

“A bunch of sick freaks, not even a real publication,” the stuffy guy added. He looked at the photographer. “Have you actually read some of that smut? Even their so-called Messiah Lester Bangs writes like some horny teenager.”

The photographer smirked at that and turned his head to face me. “I hope you write funny because funny is all that magazine seems good for. Would be nice if a band like Hybrid could get an actual serious article about them, not your getting drunk with the band, shooting stupid questions when you can, angle.” He eyed my drink and then said, “Oops. Too late.”

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