I raised my brows. “I wasn’t aware we had a score to settle.”
That look of melancholy blazed in his eyes again and he let out a puff of air. “I know you weren’t.”
“Why…” I began but couldn’t finish.
He smiled shyly. “I’m vague again. Sorry.”
“I just never know what you’re talking about. I get that you didn’t want a journalist here on tour but come on. It’s not that bad. It’s not even historic like Jacob said.”
His gaze snapped to mine. “Jacob said what?”
I was a bit put off by his sudden change in demeanor. He went from corny to intense in two seconds flat.
“He said, well, he told Barry Kramer at Creem that someone needed to cover this tour because it was going to be historic or go down in history or something like that, and that I should be the poor sap to document it all.”
Sage frowned and looked away. The silence around us was heavy, punctuated only by the occasional cry from inside the bar and the hum of jazz music.
He cleared his throat. I expected him to elaborate on why he seemed so shocked about what Jacob said, but instead he started to get to his feet. “Can you watch Noe for a second? I’m going to see if they can call us another cab. The bus will leave without us.”
I doubted the bus would leave without the bassist and lead guitarist, but I did what he said and brought Noelle up next to me while he disappeared into the bar, his flip-flops echoing in the night.
While I waited, Noelle stirred and began to mumble out sentences.
“The demon,” she said, her head swinging between her knees.
I leaned in close. “What was that, Noelle?”
“It’s that demon in white, always in white.” Her voice became higher and clearer.
I looked back at the bar and wished Sage would hurry it up. If I knew any better, he was probably inside having a few shots. Noelle was really losing it and scaring me at the same time.
“She wants me. She wants me,” she repeated. It sent chills up my arms.
I rubbed her back and whispered, “Who wants you? Who is the demon in white?”
She began to whimper and rocked back and forth with more force. “I saw her. Every night I see her. She gets in my thoughts. It gets in my head. She keeps coming.”
Suddenly her head sprang up and I thought my heart was going to bound out of my chest. She looked straight at me, totally sober, a pure fear sparkling in her blue eyes.
“Sage did this. He did this,” she alleged in a raw, throaty voice. “He brought this on us. On me!”
My breath became ragged, the goosebumps marching along my arms.
“What did he bring?” I choked out.
She collapsed against me, and I caught the words, “monsters, monsters, all of them” coming from her lips.
Just then bright lights appeared on the street and I let out a huge breath of relief when I saw the cabbie sign on the roof.
The door to the bar swung open and Sage ran out. Before I had a chance to digest what Noelle had told me, he was at our side and lifting Noelle to her feet like a ragdoll. He waved at the car and shot a look at me.
“Aren’t you coming?” he asked.
I stared at him, dumbfounded and kind of scared. What the fuck was Noelle just talking about? Sage brought this? Brought what?
“Dawn, are you all right?”
I finally found the strength to ease myself off the curb and I gave him a quick smile. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”
The cabbie didn’t look too pleased at having to give a ride to a drunken invalid and initially refused, but Sage stuck an extra wad of bills into his hand and that seemed to turn him around.
Once in the cab, Sage and I were engulfed in an awkward silence. At least it felt awkward to me. He smelled like whiskey so I was right about him going back in the bar and drinking, and he seemed to be lost in his own little world. Meanwhile, I went over what Noelle had been saying. Most of it was just the drunken rantings of an upset rock star, but some of it made sense. For one, she mentioned the woman in white and it was too much of a coincidence for her not to mean Sonja. But calling her a demon? Unless she meant that figuratively and I wouldn’t put it past Noelle to call every woman out there the spawn of Satan.
Plus, whatever Sage brought upon all of them was pretty much everything. He was the boss, the genius, the real voice. He made the band what they were. He brought everything to Hybrid and without him there would be no band.
As for the monsters…well, that could have been figurative too. Monsters of the music industry. Groupies. Journalists. The band. Everyone was suspect, not just actual monsters. There were no such things as monsters.
But I couldn’t deny the icy fingers that clamped around my chest the moment she uttered those words. I couldn’t help but think of the noises that came from underneath the bunk that night I was on drugs, the sick, insect-like shadow I saw on the walls before I passed out. Of course, that was the answer: I was on drugs. That was the easy explanation. But it didn’t explain this uneasiness and fear that never seemed to go away.
I looked up at Sage, his face half in shadows, half lit up in the amber glow of a passing light. It was odd to still want him after the weirdness of tonight. Maybe it was the prickles at the back of my neck or the fact that he was still a very mysterious, sensual man who was crammed up beside me in the dark. Maybe it was that I had listened to his music while lying on the floor of my bedroom for hours on end. Maybe because at heart I really was just a lowly little journalist, a college student who had no real reason to be there. Maybe it was all of those things. It didn’t really matter.
Carefully, like I had the power to ruin everything with one touch, I rested my head on his meaty shoulder. It twitched, briefly, as I caught him by surprise. Then he relaxed back in his seat and I knew this was okay, if just for the ride home.
I closed my eyes.
One thing about staying on a tour bus is the lack of hygiene. Not that anyone was beginning to stink, except for Graham, but that’s because he kept rubbing weird oils all over himself. But I found it frustrating that the hot water was almost always gone, so I was left with giving myself a sponge and water bath in a room the size of a closet. Thank goodness for dry shampoo, best invention of the 1970s.
My head was deep in the fruity smelling cloud of powder when I felt someone come on the bus and saw Mickey heading for the back room.
I poked my head out of the washroom and looked over at him. It was a cloudy, hot day in Philadelphia and he should have been inside doing soundcheck with the rest of the band.
“How’s it going?” I asked, trying to rub the dry shampoo out of my head.
He paused when he heard me, his hand deep in a leather satchel.
“It’s going,” he said. Then he resumed searching for something. Seconds later he pulled out a small bag of weed. He stared at me with a defensive expression, like I was going to lecture him on drug use or something.
It occurred to me that now was the perfect time to get my Mickey interview and I knew just the way to do it.
“Aren’t you supposed to be with the band?”
He frowned. “Not really. I’m too hungover to do the soundcheck. A tech is checking it for me.”
“Do you mind if you smoke a bit of that with me?” I asked, making my eyes big and pleading.
“Uh…okay,” he said, a bit taken aback. “I was just going to go for a walk around the building. Nothing special.”
I grinned. “That’s perfect! Give me a second.”
I quickly ran a few drops of patchouli oil on my hair to tame the frizz then grabbed my messenger bag that had my notepad and tape recorder in it.
We left the bus, and as we strolled, I pretended that Mickey didn’t make me feel extremely awkward. He was the hardest one out of the bunch to read and the one guy I felt like I never really knew. Well, unless you counted Graham. But I tried not to.
We rounded the corner, away from the backstage area, before Mickey lit up. We stopped near a loading dock and took a seat on the cement steps. The dark clouds above us looked ominous and the heat they were trapping below was stifling.
After Mickey took a few puffs, he passed it to me. I took only the smallest bit, needing to keep a sharp mind. I wanted, needed, him to open up and he was always more jovial when he was high as fuck.
A few minutes of increasingly comfortable silence flew past before I asked, “Do you mind if I interview you now?”
He snorted, smoke coming out of his nose. “Aw, man, Rusty. This was your plan wasn’t it?”
“I’m just trying to make you comfortable,” I said, raising my hands in peace.
“Well, you did that all right. Okay. Fine. Ask your stupid questions.”
So I brought out the tape recorder and the notepad where I had already made a list of “stupid” questions and started the interview. It was hard to be as professional as I should have been, considering I was high and laughing half the time. But Mickey was laughing too.
At least he was, until I started asking the serious questions.
“How’s your relationship with Noelle?” I searched his face. The reason he was so hard to read sometimes was because he hid beneath so much facial hair. It made his expressions subtle and made him look much older than he was.
“Noe…” he started. He sighed and scratched absently at his beard. “Noe is my everything.”
“How do you explain the groupies then?” I knew it was a bit of a rude, not to mention personal question, but my interviewing tactics had gotten bolder these days.
I wasn’t surprised by the dirty look he gave me.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean…” I began, trying to say it properly, “you’re in a relationship with the same woman for years. You’re childhood sweethearts. Yet it’s kinda obvious that you hook up on the road. I’m just curious as to how your relationship survives that.”
He fell quiet, his sharp eyes searching the empty lot in front of us. I swallowed hard, hoping I didn’t piss him off too much and waited with bated breath for him to say something, anything.
Finally he gave me a gentle smile. “I think being part of the band is the hardest fucking thing in the world. I wouldn’t have survived this long if it wasn’t for Noe. She’s been my island since the beginning. Is she perfect? No. You see me sleeping around with the groupies but she’s no angel either. Oh no. But I still love her and that’s a love that doesn’t go away. I know I’m not perfect either. We make our imperfectness work. If she asked me to change, I’d change for her. And she’d change for me. But we love each other too much to ask for anything more than just staying alive. Rock music, you know, bands, all this shit. It kills you. The industry kills you. Your bandmates might even kill you. Sometimes I get the feeling like this whole thing, the band, the tour, everything, I feel like it’s a big joke and one day we’re going to get it, and we’re not going to be laughing. But Noe’s part of the joke, too. So I go forward and so does she. That’s how we survive. Because we have each other.”
I didn’t think I’d ever heard Mickey talk that much and I quickly checked my tape recorder in a mild panic, hoping it was working. It was, the wheels were turning, and I did a dance of joy inside from having just snagged a wealth of pull quotes from that one long, surprisingly heartfelt ramble.
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