He looked behind him at the closed dressing room door. “Oh, and it looks like you’re too late to join the groupie parade too. Better luck next time.”

Maybe it was the whiskey. Maybe I was just so mad that all reason and thought left me. But I leaned down so my face was right in the photographer’s blasé view and said, “I don’t need luck. And I don’t take advice from men who look like they belong in a Gee My Hair Smells Terrific commercial.”

And with that I straightened up, put my chin high, pretended not to notice their gaping mouths, and gave them a grave “gentlemen,” followed by a nod. Then I turned and strode right over to the dressing room door.

It was a gamble. I knocked on the door and didn’t dare turn around and look at those pompous, chauvinistic assholes, and prayed that someone would answer and that someone would let me in.

Please, please, please, please, I thought, my heart starting to pound nervously in my throat. Please let me in. Please don’t be Sage.

After what seemed like an agonizing eternity, the door opened a crack.

It was Sage. God damnit.

I stared pleadingly at his green-gray eyes. This was the closest I had been to him and it was taking all my control not to examine each plane of his face, each scruffy hair on his jaw.

“Hi, I was wondering if I could come in,” I said, lowering my voice a bit so the journalists wouldn’t hear me.

He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. I heard girls laughing in the background and someone yelling “Who the fuck is it?”

Sage looked away from me for a moment and yelled back into the room, “It’s Dawn.”

“Who the hell is Dawn? You mean Rusty?” I heard Robbie say.

Sage’s eyes came back to mine and I tried to look impassive, as if hearing him saying my real name, not a nickname, hadn’t made my legs shake.

“I bet you think you’re allowed everywhere,” he said to me. Hi voice was smooth and low, like rich cream that sinks to the bottom.

“If I thought that, I wouldn’t have asked,” I replied and hardened my gaze.

He seemed to appraise me for a moment. He gave me a small smile that was more on the amused side of things, a few shades south of sincerity, and then opened the door wider.

“Come on in,” he said. It was almost a challenge.

I tried not to look too grateful in case I lost some credibility, and quickly slipped in through the door. I gave the jerkasses in the waiting area one last look before the door closed behind me.

CHAPTER SIX

So, there is backstage and then there is backstage.

I was definitely backstage, a place where journalists only dreamed of going.

And well, me too. But for different reasons.

For starters, there was no shame here. I had to check mine at the door with everyone else’s.

Robbie was sitting on the couch, dressed only in a towel, and with some very obvious tent-poling action going on. I quickly averted my eyes to the next thing, which happened to be one of the groupies, the one with the largest breasts. Breasts that were now on display. Her top was gone and she was sitting beside Robbie in only a thong. He was drinking out of a bottle of champagne with one hand and groping her breast with the other.

I think blushing was becoming second nature to me now.

Mickey was standing in the corner, also wearing a towel, talking to one of the other girls. Noelle was nowhere to be seen. And he wasn’t just talking, but full-on leaning in, acting interested while the overly tanned girl had her fingers at the edge of his towel. Assuming Noelle would have a fit if she saw this, I kind of felt bad for her. She was nasty business, but still.

Jacob was leaning against the wall, talking excitedly and drinking out of what looked to be a medicine bottle. A girl with Cher-like hair and honeyed skin was listening to his every word. She didn’t seem groupie-ish, but interesting nonetheless.

At the table, Chip and the other tanned groupie were snorting up lines of coke while Graham seemed to be getting a hand job at the same time by the incredibly spaced-out looking girl. The minute Chip saw me standing there, how I was watching them all in what must have been very apparent shock, he nudged the bottle of Jameson with his elbow.

“Hey Sage,” he said, wiping his nose quickly. “Get Rusty some of this. She’s going to keel over.”

Sage walked over to the table in two long strides and snatched up the bottle. He gave Chip a disapproving squint before coming back to me.

He stepped up close, very close, so that his wide chest was inches away from mine, and his towering frame enveloped my whole view. I stood my ground, as tempted as I was to take a step backward.

Sage placed the bottle in my hand, our fingers touching. It was just for a second, a brush as light as a feather, but it rattled my nerves. I struggled to keep my eyes glued to his.

He lowered his voice. His breath smelled like beer and something fresh, like the ocean.

“Is my band just what you expected? Is this what you’re going to write about?”

He was egging me on, daring me.

“I’m not writing anything tonight,” I told him. I put on a mask of false confidence and took a swig of whiskey straight out of the bottle, matching the intensity of his gaze. “Tonight I’m just a fan.”

“Just a fan…” he mused, scratching at his long sideburn, black hair against lightly bronzed skin. “Right. And then the next day? And the next day? Do you really want to document a band coming to its knees in its dying days? Is that what a fan wants to see?”

His voice was so low that he couldn’t have been heard over Jeff Beck on the 8-track and the drunken cries of debauchery in the background. What exactly was he telling me?

I flapped my mouth helplessly for a few seconds, trying to figure out how to respond.

He leaned in even further, staring at my lips. I could see two strands of light gray at his temple, the absolute way his eye color matched the leaves of a sage plant itself.

“You’re all the same you know,” he continued, almost whispering now. His eyes met mine, mesmerizing orbs through his long curling lashes. “You’re just like those girls over there. Just like those pricks outside. You take and take and take and say you want to be a part of it all but you’re really here to witness the fall. Be a part of history. Say you saw it happen. I know what it’s like, Dawn. In a few more years, no one will care.”

Halfway through Sage’s speech I was struck by a few words he slurred, and when I stopped trying to make sense of whatever the hell he was talking about and noticed the way his body swayed and how his green feline eyes were glazed, I realized that the rumors of Sage being a drunk were at least a bit true. Not that I was judging; I was the one drinking Jameson straight out of the bottle.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,” I told him, finally taking a step back. I had always dreamed about my first conversation with Sage, but I never imagined it would go like this; full of hostility and drunken ramblings, with half-naked, fucked-up people in the background.

Even though I had just left them that morning, my heart suddenly ached for my brother, for Dad, for Mel, even Moonglow. Things had seemed so much easier and innocent back in Ellensburg.

“Are you thinking about running away?” Sage asked, seeming to read my mind, his voice louder now.

I took another swig of Jameson, something I knew was quite unwise, and straightened up, making myself as tall as God made me.

“I don’t run away from anything,” I told him. “Sorry, you can’t get rid of the hack that easily.”

I thought I saw a glimmer of appreciation in his gaze but that was quickly lost when Jacob interrupted us.

“For Christ’s sake, Robbie!” Jacob boomed from across the room. Sage and I turned around to see the commotion. Before I looked away, I saw Robbie, fully naked and sprawled out on the couch, getting head by the also fully-naked chick. Everyone else was watching, even laughing, as if it was some sort of game or part of their nightly entertainment. Maybe it was.

All I knew is my hand was covering my eyes and I was peeking through my fingers trying to find the door out. My favorite band managed to go from onstage musical heroes to backstage-perverted-idiots in the space of an hour. To be honest, I was disappointed, like to the point where it hurt.

And a little sketched out. Couldn’t ignore that feeling.

I made it to the door just as Chip asked, “Where is Rusty going?” and Jacob chided Robbie over acting like a monkey in front of the journalist. It didn’t matter, I wasn’t staying. Me and the bottle made it out into the clean (and seemingly pure in comparison) waiting area where the journalists and minglers were still hanging about.

I wasn’t about to deal with them either. I felt alone, scared, and scarred. I went for the bathrooms and once inside the women’s one, all mirrors and bright orange walls, I made sure the stalls were empty and plunked myself down on the can.

I don’t know how long I sat in there, just taking small swigs from the bottle, staring at the floor and the tips of my boots that carried marks and scars from my barrel racing. It could have been ten minutes, it could have been an hour. Maybe everyone was looking for me, maybe no one was at all. Maybe I’d be forgotten and left behind, a castaway in the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. My only consolation was that I had just enough money on me to get a flight home—that was one of the stipulations from my dad. It was our savings, everything we had, and I hated to think I’d spend it on a flight from Denver to Seattle. That was one of the many reasons why I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. We may have gotten off to a weird and rocky start, but I was touring with Hybrid and that was the end of the story.

The door to the bathroom creaked open, snapping me out of my drunken daydream. A girl came in, sniffing hard and obviously crying. I watched as her feet came into view under the stall door. Tall black platforms with feathers on them. Noelle’s après show shoes.

I waited for a few awkward moments, trying to debate whether I should make my presence known or not. But I was sure that Noelle knew she wasn’t alone in the bathroom, and I might as well let her know it was me before she started shooting up heroin or eating babies or whatever fucking crazy things this band normally got up to. I still couldn’t get the picture of Robbie getting his dick sucked out of my mind, and was a bit disgusted that my brain kept fixating on it.

I opened the door and peeked out, catching Noelle’s sad reflection in the mirror. She wasn’t doing anything scandalous, just trying to apply mascara to her eyes that were already shedding the stuff down her cheeks in black rivers.

“Are you okay?” I asked quietly, carefully, like she was a young filly I was about to break.

“Why don’t you mind your own business,” she snarled, but her attempt at looking mean failed and she shut her eyes to two big, fat teardrops, her mouth curling in an ugly grimace.

I paused, unsure of how to deal with her. Mel was my closest female friend and normally so unemotional and brave (aside from that morning, of course). My mother had been depressed my whole life, either crying herself silly or stoned off of prescription drugs. I had nothing in the middle. No stereotypical female teacher or mentor to go by.

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