“That’s kind of beautiful, Mickey,” I told him.

He held my gaze steadily. “It’s the truth. Beauty or not. I love Noelle. She loves me. Noe and I aren’t typical but we love and we make it work. You need love in a business like this. If you don’t have love, then none of this means anything.”

He put the joint out on the ground and stuffed the roach into a pack of cigarettes.

“You mind if we go back now?” He asked, getting to his feet. “I feel like a rat missing soundcheck like this.”

He pulled me up by my arms and I smiled gratefully. “Thank you. It was nice to hear you speak.”

“Anytime you wanna smoke a little something something, you know where to look.”

I took that as a very welcoming sign.

I pressed the stop button on the recorder with a satisfying click and we walked back around the building until we were near the bus and the back doors again.

“Hey, Rusty,” Chip hollered at me, sticking his head out the backstage door. “Phone’s for you!”

I stopped in the middle of the parking lot and looked back at Chip.

“Who is it?”

Though unlikely, Mel or my brother could have found out what venue the band was playing at. I hoped it was them saying hello, but part of my chest froze up with a burst of worry. What if it was Dad? Maybe he got drunk and hurt himself or choked on his own vomit. What if Eric was beaten up at school and was in the hospital. What if—

“It’s Barry Kramer from Creem!” Chip yelled back.

Okay. That wasn’t so bad. But I had a feeling Barry didn’t call you if he had good news…unless the band was going to be on the cover.

Fixating on that positive, I gave Mickey a small smile and ran across the lot, my humidity-challenged hair flowing behind me.

“Thanks,” I told Chip and ran over to the payphone inside the backstage area.

“Dawn here,” I said into the receiver.

“Dawn, it’s Barry,” he said through the line.

I swallowed hard. “Yeah. Hi, Barry, what can I do you for?”

“Oh, not too much. How are you?”

I scratched nervously at my head. “I’m good, good. Tired.”

“And the band?”

“They’re…you know. Good. Being themselves. Noelle got pretty drunk after the Detroit show, and out of sympathy, Mickey was plastered on stage the next night in New York. But I just got a good interview out of him, so there’s that.”

“I know about the New York show, I read the review in the Times,” he said absently. “But that’s not why I’m calling.”

I scratched harder. “No?”

“Dawn…I’m playing a hunch here. Just a feeling. Normally I’m not sticking my honker in our writers’ business, and hell you’re not really our writer anyway, but I kind of like you and I just wanted to give you a heads up.”

He paused and I couldn’t think of anything to say.

“We’ve been getting some letters here at the office about you.”

“About me?” I asked with widening eyes. The scratching stopped.

“Yes. I don’t know who they are from and there’s no return address, but they’ve obviously been written by some sort of fan with an agenda.”

“Well, what are they saying?”

“That you’re a fraud. That you’re crazy and were a stalker and a groupie and all that usual shit that women like to sling at each other.”

“Terri,” I whispered, thinking of when she was talking to Jacob.

“As I said, I don’t know her name. But this girl thinks she has it in with the band and the manager. She acts like she’s with them, that’s she’s been the number one fan from the beginning. That she gets special privileges. That normally isn’t any reason to call you like this, but based on the fact that I’ve got twenty fucking letters here from her, I’d say we’ve probably got a nutter on our hands. And by that I mean you are dealing with a nutter on your hands. I just want you to stay safe, Dawn.”

Once I found my voice, I told him about Sonja, Terri, and Sparky.

“It’s probably one and the same then. All bands get them and they all can’t be Miss Pamela, queen of the groupie scene. But take it from me, I’ve been in the music journalism business for the last five years, and before that I knew more about the scene than anyone else. Sometimes fans aren’t well, and the weirder and heavier the music is, the more likely they’ll attract the unstable ones. Music gives birth to obsession and obsession can lead to…just watch yourself, you dig?”

“I dig,” I said. “Thanks Barry.”

I hung up the phone and looked around me, suddenly afraid again. I was alone under buzzing fluorescent lights, and still tired as anything. The pot had made me want to pass out but there was no way I felt like napping by myself on the bus. I shivered, totally creeped out, and made my way over to the stage to watch them finish the rest of soundcheck. I didn’t want to take any chances.

***

For the Philly show, I pretty much became Jacob’s shadow. Wherever he went, I went, like a redheaded Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. Only when I had to go to the bathroom did I leave his side, and that’s when I tagged along with Noelle.

She was nicer to me since the night in Detroit, and I’d thought she felt embarrassed or something. I never brought up the stuff she said to me about the supposed “demon in white,” but there was something different about her now, like she was more aware of things around her. I was jumpy because of what Barry had told me, but so was she, and she had been like that ever since she came out of her hangover on the way to New York. She was wary, afraid, and meek. Mickey certainly noticed her change and was beating himself up over it, blaming himself for not being supportive and all that jazz. It was true, of course, but I didn’t think that’s what was wrong with Noelle. She was frail at heart, but by the time the second show in NYC rolled around, she wasn’t looking ashamed anymore—she was looking haunted. The fear that never left her eyes worried me, and even when I thought she’d catch on that I was tagging along with her to the washroom every time, like a couple of gals at a nightclub, she didn’t mind. I think she was just as scared as I was.

But were we scared of the same thing?

Eventually Jacob noticed something was going on. Or he’d always noticed and had waited for the right time to bring it up. With normal Jacob flavor, it happened to be a few minutes before the show.

“Tell me what’s on your mind, Rusty,” he said dryly as we stood at the side of the stage. He was running a nail file underneath his fingernails and flicking out the dirt.

“I got a call from Barry today.”

“Oh?”

“He said he’d been receiving some letters about me.”

“Oh?” he repeated, a bit more interested.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Terri or one of the other Get The Fuck Outs is behind it. It kind of gels with what you said back…well whatever city that was in. That it was groupie high school.”

His golden eyes remained on his nails. “Oh yes, ain’t that the truth, love.”

“So, that’s going on. I’m mildly freaked out.” I crossed my arms, feeling a chill.

“I can see that. I don’t blame you. Do you think these girls are…dangerous?” he said the last word like it was laden in silk.

I gave him a weird look. “You tell me! I’ve just learned who they are. You’ve dealt with them longer.”

He exhaled sharply through his nose and finally looked me in the eye. His red hair flamed under the stage lights, giving him a hellish aura. “Everyone has the chance to become dangerous. If the right weather patterns are created, if the right feelings are invoked…feelings of injustice. Jealousy. Feelings of being owed something they believe they have a right to have. To…collect. We all have it in us to become a danger, either to others or to ourselves. It’s only a matter if the right clouds are brewing. Certain clouds will create a storm.”

“And?” I egged him on impatiently. “What clouds are brewing? Are these groupies dangerous or not? Do I need to start sleeping with a switchblade underneath my pillow?”

A slow smile spread across his rough lips. Then he shrugged and turned his attention back to cleaning his nails. “Couldn’t hurt, could it?”

I mulled on that cryptic comment for a while and tried to pay attention to the show as Hybrid wowed the Philly audience. But I couldn’t. I had this weird feeling like time was running out—probably a by-product of hanging around a pessimist like Sage who seemed to act at times like there was no tomorrow.

When the show was over and everyone was sweaty and exhausted to the core, I went to the bathroom with Noelle. While she was in the stall doing her business, I examined my face in the mirror. I had dark circles under my eyes and the nice tan that had dusted my skin during the heat of summer was dwindling. Thanks to late nights and never-ending bus rides, I was on my way to having a skin tone as appealing as a cadaver.

I sighed and blew a strand of hair out of my face.

“What’s up?” Noelle asked, flushing the toilet and coming up beside me to wash her hands. She was looking tired too, maybe even worse than I was. She’d lost a lot of weight in the short time I’d known her and she’d already been skinny to begin with. Her striped sailor dress with a ripped hem hung off of her and the flowered headband she wore made her look like a wilting stalk.

“I’m just…tired,” I said truthfully. “You?”

Her eyes faltered for a second, then she straightened up and eyed herself in the mirror with a hardened gaze.

“Just tired.”

I felt like Noelle and I were dancing around the same subject—the same fears—but I had no idea how to approach her about it without sounding like a loon. I wouldn’t even know where to start.

“I have a question,” I started, trying to plan out my sentence. “About some of the groupies the band gets.”

Her eyes dropped from her reflection, and she cast her gaze to the ground with lowered lids, listening.

“I think you know—” I began, but shut my mouth as soon as the bathroom door swung open and one the girlfriends of someone in Grand Funk Railroad, the band that Hybrid had opened for that night, came in. She shot us a defensive look at first but relaxed once she recognized Noelle. She gave her a shy smile and went into the stall.

I looked back to Noelle to tell her we’d talk about it later, but she was already leaving the bathroom, like she was trying to escape the subject. Given the way Mickey sometimes was with groupies, I couldn’t really blame her. I followed her out the door and into the hallway. The lounge at the end was bumping tonight with tons of lucky fans and media personalities around to see Grand Funk, but by the bathrooms it was quiet and eerie.

I saw Graham leaving the lounge and heading toward us, presumably going to the boys’ bathroom which was further away. Noelle and Graham didn’t even acknowledge each other as they passed and he sure wasn’t about to look at me. But, for some stupid reason, I thought I could get to the bottom of something tonight.

***

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