I had a feeling Noelle was a lot like me though. She looked hard on the outside but the shell was frail and easy to crack.
I went back in the stall and pulled out a few rounds of toilet paper, wadded it up, and placed it in her hand.
“Here, this is softer,” I told her. “The paper towels will just make your face red.”
She nodded painfully and brought the tissues up to her face, wiping away the black tears. I stood beside her, leaning back along the counter, not in any hurry to get her talking. The last thing I wanted was to be seen as a nosy journalist. I just wanted to be, and to be distracted by someone else’s feelings other than my own.
After a few more sniffles and when her breathing calmed down and she wasn’t shuddering, she opened up.
“The guys said you were in the dressing room,” she said, folding the wet, blackened tissue over in her hand.
“That I was.”
She shot me a shy look. “You know it’s not like this every night.”
I shrugged. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I have zero expectations now.”
“I’m not trying to make excuses,” she said, clearly about to make an excuse. “But it’s always kind of wild the first night of the tour. You don’t understand, we were all really nervous about this show. We all thought it was a lame idea to begin with, but Sage thought it would be good for us. Whatever.”
A wave of defensiveness rolled off her and she turned to face the mirror again, examining her tired, sad, make-up smeared face. She was so pretty, even when she had been put through the ringer.
“Hey, you’re Hybrid,” I explained. “You’re one of the next big things, if not the big thing right now. You’re, like, the heaviest band out there and you seem to be groupie central. It’s okay if things get wild. I mean, look at Zeppelin.”
“Yeah,” she said with an edgy laugh. “But there are no pretenses in Zeppelin. We got to open for them once. I saw how they operated. It’s all on the table, you know? No one is pretending anything. Page doesn’t try to be someone he’s not. No one tries to get their girlfriend out of the dressing room, no one pretends that they aren’t fucking random sluts when they clearly are.”
She spat out the last words like they were rotting in her mouth.
“Does…did Mickey and a groupie hook up?” I asked, not knowing the delicate way to put it.
She laughed again, the black eyeliner sinking into her crow’s feet. “You’re going to have a hell of a time with us, you know that don’t you? Bet you didn’t think your article on Hybrid would turn into a juicy expose.”
She was right about that. Me with my small-town, idealistic views of rock and roll. I knew debauchery existed but not in a world that I could ever be a part of. Now Noelle had brought up a great point. I wanted to write this article to bring Hybrid to the world, to earn respect for myself and the band. If what I saw tonight was an indication of anything, the article was going to come across as a tabloid, celebrity scandal fodder.
Now we both found ourselves sighing and looking at our reflections in the mirror. I was startled by my own appearance—I looked older and just as tired. My red hair was frizzed out to the sides, and my beige, suede, fringed top was speckled with spilled whiskey. My high-waisted jeans were covered with potato chip residue where I had wiped off my hands. My face didn’t look as rock and roll as Noelle’s, but the mascara I put on earlier had smudged underneath my eyes and my lipstick was long gone. So much for trying to look pretty.
“Ugh,” she said, giving herself one final look. “I’m going to the bus. I think we’re leaving in the next half hour, so I’d book it soon if I were you. That’s if you still want to join us. I won’t blame you if you leave. I would.”
I gave her a questioning look. “Are you in cahoots with Sage now? As I told him, I’m not running away.”
She opened the door to the washroom and shot me a wry look over her skinny shoulder. “We’ll see.”
She left, the door swinging in her place. I sighed again and ran the tap and splashed a bit more water on my face, trying to fix myself up before bed. Speaking of bed, I had absolutely no clue where I’d be sleeping. On the bus? Where? Was there room? Were we staying in a hotel? Or driving all night? There were so many questions, and at the moment, any answers were beyond my capability.
I eyed the half drunk bottle of Jameson, wondering if they’d get mad if I left it behind, and proceeded to slurp water out of my cupped hands. I heard the door swing open again and looked up, expecting to see Noelle.
My heart seemed to stop pumping.
It wasn’t Noelle, but the tall, thin and deathly pale girl from the crowd. The one that looked familiar. The one with the long sheet of white hair.
She was standing in front of me, dressed in a pure white dress that hugged her every curve. Up close I could see her hair was the palest shade of blonde and as straight as a ruler. Her face and skin was an enviable, creamy sort of pale, like full-fat milk. Her nose was long, her lips plump and perfectly formed. Her eye color itself was lavender—a full-on, opaque mix of purple and pink—and her eye shadow was an iridescent gold that seemed to move and shimmer on its own, like it was a living, breathing thing.
She was eons from the face I had imagined in the crowd. And yet, there was something not right about her. Something about her gave me the absolute chills. Perhaps it was the way she didn’t seem to blink.
She smiled, normal, straight teeth, and pointed at my face.
“Your nose is bleeding,” she said in a voice that sounded metallic bouncing off the tangerine bathroom walls.
I quickly put my hand to my nose and lifted it away. Ripe blood shone from the side of my finger.
I’d never had a nosebleed in my life.
I gave the girl a quick smile.
“Thanks,” I told her, reaching for the paper towel.
The girl reached out with her own hand and grabbed me around the wrist. Her hand burned, like it had been forged in fire. She smiled again, and in my shock, I did nothing as she took a step closer, her pale purple eyes focusing on mine. What kind of drugs had she done to get her eyes like that?
“You only get one warning,” she said. Her grip on my wrist tightened. I stared at her, dumbfounded. “Get out now, while you still can. We can still give you a few more years.”
Somewhere I found my tongue. It was almost lodged in my throat.
“What are you talking about?” I eked out. What the hell was with people tonight?
“I shouldn’t even be warning you. But let’s just say I’m a fan too.”
I blinked. “Obviously. I saw you in the crowd. You’re backstage.”
“This is about Sage.” Her grip wasn’t getting looser.
“I still don’t know what you mean,” I told her, gathering up some strength. “And I’d like it if you let go of my arm.”
She did, with great reluctance.
“As you wish,” she said, smiling like nothing weird at all had just happened. I could feel the blood still trickling out of my nose. I quickly snatched the paper towel and put it to my face.
She brushed past me, nicking my shoulder in the process. My skin burned from the contact. She stopped in front of the mirror and cocked her head at her reflection. I watched her carefully. I could have sworn that for one split second, her reflection didn’t match up, like her face in the mirror was more to the left than it should have been, and her eyes were looking at me when they should have been looking at herself. She still hadn’t blinked.
Shit. This was the last time I was ever drinking Irish Whiskey.
“I’m going to go now,” I found myself saying. I started backing away toward the door.
“Do as you like,” she said, not looking at me. “And you can tell Sage that he can’t run anymore. We will always find him. Always.”
Whatever, you crazy stalker, I thought and quickly disappeared out into the hallway. I could hear music from near the dressing rooms, and as I shuffled down the brightly lit corridor, I noticed the Hybrid door was still closed. The journalists were all gone as were the random tag-alongs. I didn’t want to spend an extra second in that place, so I booked it out the main door and headed straight for the bus. The air was cooling rapidly at this high elevation and the night was filled with the sound of Hap Starts and Pretty Mary at the stage. Roadies, crew, and security were still milling about, but I focused on the bus and shut them out. I just wanted to sleep and let this night be done.
The door to the bus was open and a faint light was coming from inside. I climbed up the stairs and saw Noelle standing in the aisle, brushing her teeth. Her makeup was washed off and she was dressed in a thin nightshirt. She looked young and vulnerable.
“Hey,” I said, still feeling wary around her.
“Hey,” she replied. She spit the toothpaste into the kitchen sink and rinsed off her toothbrush.
“So,” I said, making my way toward her, looking down at the couch. “Should I just crash here or?”
“Do you want to sleep tonight?”
She beckoned me with her finger. I came toward her and she pointed at the top bunk across from the kitchen. “I’m sleeping below, you can sleep up top. I don’t feel like shacking with Mickey tonight, and you don’t want to sleep any place that someone could either puke on you or pass out on you. Trust me. It happens.”
I gave her a grateful smile and snatched up my duffel bag. I went into the tiny bathroom, the last time I would see it remotely clean, and got ready for bed in boxer shorts and a small Black Sabbath t-shirt. By the time I climbed up into the top bunk and got settled beneath a cheap sleeping bag, I was out like a light.
I didn’t wake up when the rest of the band got in. I didn’t wake up when the bus roared to life and we started our nighttime journey across America.
I only woke up once, at four in the morning, when my wrist and shoulder started to sting and burn, like they had been licked by fire.
I was dreaming about my mother just before I woke up. I was sixteen again and wandering the fields behind my house. There were holes in the ground that moles had created, only these ones seemed fathomless and got bigger the more I walked toward the distant hills. I kept walking though, until my mother’s sing-songy voice soared out above the waving grass. I turned to see her. The farmhouse was gone, as was the barn, and it was only her. She was as pretty as always, with long red hair that gave off an angelic glow as the sun hit it, like a rusty aura.
“Dawn, I must leave you,” she said.
“Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back,” I told her. I turned around and kept walking, my feet struggling to find footing in the grass. I tried my hardest not to look at the holes for I felt I would fall into them if I did.
“It’s all over. There’s nothing left for me,” her voice teased at my back.
I kept going, tossing over my shoulder, “I’ll be right back. Don’t worry, Mom.”
My mother was the queen of crying wolf. She’d been threatening us with this and that since the day I was born.
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