I’m not sure if it’s because Jacob had mention high school earlier, but that’s where my dream took me. It wasn’t even a dream in a sense because I merely relived a moment that had already happened. I was in grade eight, during Mrs. Hoolahan’s gym class. Normally I loved gym—I was very athletic and was ace at most sports, except for badminton since I had a reputation for breaking birdies and throwing rackets. It was after a game of soccer where I had scored the winning goal. It wasn’t a big deal since most of the girls didn’t give a shit about sports, but it made me happy and the popular set hated to lose. They taunted me as usual afterward, calling me flat, a surfboard, and a boy. One of them asked me if I had a secret penis and if that’s why none of the boys liked me. I guess I was tired after the game and just plain sick of the same girls always bullying me and calling me names. So, I punched the girl—Tiffany, of course her name was Tiffany—right in the face. It shocked me and I immediately regretted it, especially when I saw the blood pour out of Tiffany’s fair nose and I was consequently suspended for a few days. My parents didn’t really care, and because my mother, at this point, was beginning her downward spiral, my dad was grateful for the extra help on the farm. I couldn’t tell if they were even disappointed in me, but it didn’t matter. I was appalled by my violence and growing short temper, and I made a vow to myself to keep my anger under control.
Maybe last night’s altercation with the GTFOs triggered repressed feelings of injustice or something, but I woke up from the dream feeling angry, grumpy, and ready to lash out.
Robbie leaned back in his seat and lit up a cigarette. The blue smoke drifted through the hazy air of the bus and I absently followed it as it curled around Graham and Mickey sitting at the couch. Mickey was scribbling into a notebook. Graham was staring right at me in some sort of unfeeling gaze. When his eyes finally came into focus and recognized mine, he flinched. Then a cold, cold smile spread across his lips. His dark eyes sparkled like shiny buttons and I quickly averted my eyes before I asked him what the hell he was looking at. Like I said, I was grumpy.
Luckily by the time we got to St. Paul, Robbie was hell bent on getting me out of my mood. Once we parked at the venue, he grabbed my hand and my purse and pulled me off the bus.
“Where are we going?” I asked him, trying to hide the excitement in my voice. Day three with Hybrid and the fact that Robbie Oliver wanted me to go with him somewhere still lit up my insides.
He let go of my hand, much to my dismay, and gestured off in the distance. The city of St. Paul looked bigger than I had expected, with a charm that reminded me a bit of Ellensburg. “I don’t know, man. I’m just sick of the bus. Let’s go get fucked up and throw stones across the Mississippi.”
I could have done without the fucked up part, but the famous river at least piqued my interest. We walked away from the venue for a good ten minutes, Robbie babbling about how much he disliked Mick Jagger and how he thought Page had been better off with the Yardbirds. None of it was very good interview material, unless Robbie wanted to start a pissing contest with Jagger, who was clearly such a big enough star that he wouldn’t care, but I let him talk anyway. The boy was a bundle of energy and obviously one night of jumping around like a rabid dog on stage didn’t do much to dissipate it.
We seemed to be getting away from the river, and the afternoon heat was stifling like a thick, wet blanket that coated my arms and made my hair frizz out like a porcupine. Robbie told me he knew a person in the area and that he had to say hello for a couple of seconds. We stopped outside of a modest walk-up and he quickly disappeared up the stairs. I stood on the sidewalk, watching the normalcy of a town I’d never been to. Kids down the corner sat at a lemonade stand, while young moms pushed strollers down the cracked asphalt, waving a fan at their faces. The sun beamed down on me with such intensity that I knew I’d have a new crop of freckles on my nose by the end of the day.
Minutes later, Robbie came skipping down the stairs, taking them two at a time. He clapped his hands together and his hair shone in shades of amber and mahogany in the sunlight. “Well, shall we head back?”
“What about the river?”
He did a little jig. “Oh right, to the river!”
“Unless you think we’ll miss soundcheck.”
“Those fuckers can soundcheck without me. Sage usually fills in.” He shot me an artful glance as we started down the street. “Have you ever heard him sing?”
I shook my head, wondering why he was looking at me like that. “No, just in backup.”
“He’s good. I mean, he’s not me.”
“Of course not. You’re Robbie Oliver, a Golden God.”
“No, that’s Robert Plant. I’m a Silver God. Almost as precious and not as bright. But Sage, he’s good. Very low. Bassy. Gets you here.” He reached over and squeezed my stomach.
I squealed and ran away from him a few steps, nervous laughter at my lips. I watched him shyly, keeping more than an arm’s length away.
“You sound fond of him, even though you guys argue.”
“Like I said yesterday, Rusty. He’s the head honcho. He calls the shots and you hate him for it but you’re stuck with him. He’s like my dad in a twisted way, and he’s only twenty-seven. Well, actually twenty-eight. His birthday is in a couple of weeks.”
‘That’s cute that you remember his birthday.”
“You’re cute,” Robbie said. He made another grab for me, holding me by the arm, and brought me to his chest.
And that’s how I first found myself in the arms of a famous singer, his eyes sparkling playfully in the heavy sunlight, his sweat-tinged hands on my skin. For a second I wasn’t sure if he was just going to stare at me with that smile on his face or if he was going to kiss me.
He didn’t do either. He dropped my arm and whispered, “You’re a college student, right?”
I nodded, holding my breath.
He bit his lip and his eyes looked up as he dug his hand into his pocket and fished around. He brought out his hand, opened his palm, and my eyes followed to a few pills marked Lemon 714.
“You’re used to ducking out, right?” he asked.
I didn’t understand. “You mean from class?”
That made him pause, his eyes searching mine in wonder before he let out a hearty guffaw.
“You’re kidding. Oh, Rusty, Rusty, Rusty. Ducking out, man? You know, with ludes? Soapers? Motherfucking Lemon Sevens?”
“Yeah, I get it,” I snapped.
“Well that’s what these are, Redwood. Ludes for me and ludes for you. Let’s get lewd and rude together.” He opened up my hand and placed the pills in them.
I didn’t do drugs and I certainly didn’t do drugs with rock stars. Rock stars who certainly didn’t need drugs.
“This shit is going to get you too fucked, Robbie. You have a show tonight.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said lazily. He popped one pill in his mouth and swallowed it down dry. “You drink. You toke. Loosen up. Join the band.”
“I’m not with the band and never will be with the band,” I admitted. It came out more bitter than I would have liked. “And I need to stay sharp. And so do you.”
“Oh, come on. I need fun!” He sounded like a little boy who didn’t get his way, and actually started to look like it when he stamped his feet a few times. “I thought you were different from the rest of them.”
“Them?” I cocked a brow at him.
“Everyone,” he said exasperatingly. “You’re a fan. You’re supposed to be fun. We feed you and you feed us. It’s a two way street, groovy mama.”
I sighed. I was never a pushover when it came to peer pressure, but I hadn’t dealt with Robbie Oliver before. My willpower was powering down. Fast.
“Fine. I’ll do it.”
He let out an amusingly girlish yelp.
“But,” I warned him, raising my finger in the air. “You have to promise me that this isn’t going to royally fuck me up. I’m a virgin…at this sort of thing. I can’t be making a fool of myself. I really, really can’t.”
He picked the pill off my hand and ran his fingers along the bottom of my lip until it tingled. “Don’t worry now. You won’t be worrying later.”
He placed the pill on my tongue and I swallowed it.
Robbie wasn’t kidding when he said I wouldn’t be worrying about it. It was a slow start and it didn’t really kick in until we were back at the tour bus and the band was just finishing up soundcheck. But when it finally hit me, it was with a delicious bang.
I was hanging out in the backstage area where all the drinks and food had been set up, all fold-out tables and metal chairs, picking at some vegetables and dip that tasted like it had been left out in the sun for too long. Suddenly I felt immeasurably…good. The top of my head started to tingle and pretty soon my fingers felt too numb to even grasp the carrots properly. I gave up on them and sat back in the chair that earlier felt hard and uncomfortable and now felt like it was crafted from a marshmallow cloud.
“Rusty?” a Cockney accent rang out.
I slowly eased my head in its direction and saw Jacob standing there, staring down at me with apprehension.
I couldn’t speak but that was okay. I gave him a lopsided smile.
“Oh dear,” he muttered to himself and looked around. The rest of the band was who knows where. In fact, all I could remember was carrots and dip—who knew how long I’d been sitting alone.
Finally, Jacob said, “Robbie put you up to this, didn’t he? That cunt.”
His harsh words shocked me but didn’t stop the flood of warmth through my numbed limbs. It was the weirdest sensation. Wonderful.
“It was Quaaludes, wasn’t it?”
I found myself nodding.
“How many did you take?”
I held up a finger and finally managed to say, “I’m okay. I feel good.”
“Of course you feel good. That’s not the point. You need to have your wits about you, Rusty. That’s why you’re here.”
You always said I should loosen up, I thought lazily to myself.
“How can you protect yourself when you’re just sitting here, staring stupidly at the wall like some ignoramus?”
“No one will hurt me,” I told him peacefully and gave him another smile. I wasn’t afraid of his boys. I wasn’t afraid of anything. I told him so.
“I don’t think you understand…it doesn’t matter,” he said. “You just sit tight and don’t go anywhere.”
I did as he said. At some point later, as people passed me in the hall as clouds of dust, Jacob appeared again, soaring above me like a rough angel. He grabbed me by the arm and hauled me to my feet. I couldn’t feel my feet! They were gone and I had to look down to make sure they hadn’t been chopped off by an invisible goblin.
“Easy now,” he told me. His strong grip on my arms felt good too.
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