A shiver ran down my spine. I thought back to Ted’s strange, otherworldly eyes and the way the girl in the backseat stared at me like she knew me somehow. I could barely see her but I had felt it.

“I know,” I told her, wiping the image out of my head. “I was being paranoid, don’t worry.”

“Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry.” She sang Ozzy on the spot.

“Don’t insult my Sabbath love,” I warned her. “Anyway, I’m home. I passed out in my clothes though so I’ve got to take a shower. I think Eric is about to lose his breakfast here.”

I winked at him, and after promising to hang out with Mel tomorrow, I hung up the phone in its cradle.

I turned to Eric and ruffled the top of his head, something he hated but I would never stop doing. I got the tall genes in the family, along with the red hair and tanned, freckly skin. Eric was small, short, skinny and pale with a shock of dark hair. Our eyes were the same though, brown as coffee, and we shared our mother’s slim nose and high cheekbones.

“What were you doing after school? You didn’t come home,” I asked him, pulling out a chair at the dining table. There was one brown banana in the fruit bowl and I decided to make it my breakfast. I wasn’t a picky eater. I couldn’t afford to be.

“I…I asked out Sheena Warner,” he said, clearing his throat in another one of his tics. I could tell he was trying to suppress them around me when he shouldn’t. See, my brother has Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s nothing like the stereotype. I mean, I guess there are a lot of similarities but my brother doesn’t go around making obscene comments or swearing at people. I think the doctor told us that was in a different category. Even so, my brother makes these little hoots and barks, sometimes randomly, sometimes during a sentence. He has three tics that appear all the time: his left shoulder shrug, his facial twitch, and his throat-clearing. The shoulder one can be really violent at times and the more he tries to suppress it, the more stress he causes on his body. Emotions make the tics wilder, too.

He had a crush on this girl in his class, Sheena, for the longest time. She was pretty but not too popular and kind of bookish, and they were friends as far as I knew. But growing up in a small town and having a noticeable affliction made Eric a target for mean girls and bullies alike. At least once a month he was coming home with a black eye, or he’d lock himself in his room close to tears. I personally wanted to go down to the high school and beat up every punk that looked at him funny, but I would only make things worse. Having my brother in my life was a constant heartbreaker.

“Oh?” I said. I knew from the way he kept clearing his throat and the way his eyes were focused on the banana and not me that this wasn’t going to have a happy ending.

“She said no,” he said softly.

I gave him a pained smile. “Maybe she just wants to be friends.”

His eyes flew to mine. They were watering from frustration. “She doesn’t want to be friends. She said I attract too much bad attention and I’ll distract her from her scholarship.”

“What a fucking nerd,” I spat out then put my hand to my mouth. “Sorry Eric, I didn’t mean it. I just mean…you don’t need someone like that in your life. Friends are your friends no matter what attention you get.”

“But I need someone in my life!” he wailed. “I don’t care who.”

His shoulder jerked up and he screamed at it in agony, as if it were another being.

I got to my feet and tried to embrace him to let him know things were okay, but he pushed his way out of my grasp. Sometimes I forgot that even though I was more like a mother to him than a sister, sometimes boys didn’t want their mothers either.

“Eric, I’m sorry,” I called after him.

“Leave me alone,” he mumbled and ran upstairs to his room. I heard the door slam, which made the spoon in the cereal bowl clatter.

When Eric was younger, we were told that he’d most likely grow out of the syndrome by the time he was eighteen. I know we were all holding our breath for that, but it seemed that he was getting worse over the years, not better.

Life, I thought. You can be a real bitch.

I threw the banana peel in the garbage and looked back at the message that was scrawled on the pad. It had somehow lost all the excitement I felt earlier, and I doubted it was actually Creem Magazine, the best rock and roll publication out there with all my favorite writers, because that was the stuff made of dreams, not the cards I’d normally been dealt. Still, I had to wonder. My dad was out at work, so I couldn’t ask him about it and I wasn’t about to bug Eric. It didn’t matter anyway, all I had to do was call and I’d find out. I just hoped it wasn’t a crank call or someone selling something because we couldn’t afford to call long distance very often.

I took a deep breath and dialed the number. After a few clicks and crackles in the silence, the other end started ringing.

“Hello, Creem Magazine, Maureen speaking,” a woman’s crisp voice answered.

Holy Toledo.

I swallowed hard.

The woman repeated herself. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

I heard some clattering in the background and a few people laughing. If I didn’t say something soon, she was going to hang up.

“Yes,” I said quickly. “Um, yes, hi. Hi…Maureen? This is Dawn Emerson. I got a message from you last night, I think?”

There was a pause then she laughed. “Oh, sorry could you repeat yourself again? Dawn, you said?”

“Yes, Dawn Emerson.”

“Of course! Dawn. Sorry, I’m dealing with a few hacks here blowing smoke in my face.” She gave a little cough. I had to wonder what the hell was going on at Creem Magazine. Maybe they really were a bunch of hooligans like they painted themselves.

A bunch of hooligans who called me.

“Anyhow, Dawn do you mind holding? I’m just going to patch you through to Barry, mmkay?”

Before I could say otherwise, the line went silent. Barry. Barry Kramer, the pusher of rock and roll on America’s impressionable minds. The founder of hooligan central. The man I’d always hoped would be my future boss, who’d have me sharing a house with the likes of Lester Bangs and Lisa Robinson. See, that’s why I dug Barry. He put women like Lisa, Jann U, and Patti Smith to work for him. He didn’t subscribe to the Big Ears bullshit that women didn’t know rock from Adam.

The wait was agonizing. I started to fear it was a prank after all. Maybe Todd or some jerk got Creem to call me for kicks. Maybe Maureen had actually hung up on me. Maybe they were all laughing at me while I waited, sweating in the kitchen, reeking like stale cigarettes and yesterday’s ride.

Before I chewed off all of my split ends, there was a crackle on the other line and I straightened up, heart thumping.

“Hello, is this Dawn Emerson?”

“Yes,” I said pathetically, in a voice barely above a whisper. “This is she.”

“Dawn, this is Barry Kramer. I’m the editor at Creem Magazine.”

“I know.”

“Good,” he said. His voice was smooth and youthful, not as intimidating as I had imagined. “I figured you would. Listen, Dawn, we’ve had something rather unusual fall into our lap and it involves you personally.”

“I’m listening,” I told him, wondering what the hell he was talking about. How could anything involve me? The mystery was warping my brain.

He cleared his throat. “First of all, I wanted to say I’ve read your work and I really dig it. You show great potential and all that kind of stuff. Your live review of Bad Company was engaging to say the least. I got some copies of your school’s paper and the interviews are far-out. How did you manage to get Moe from Khaki Toast?”

“I ambushed him after a show,” I told him. I didn’t add the part where I bribed a roadie with ten bucks to let me backstage. I may not flash my boobs at rock stars, but I’m not above a little bribery. I had always thought it was too bad that the interview was wasted on such a small paper, but if Barry had seen it…well, this changed everything. My heart swirled at the thought of my idols actually reading my writing all this time.

“Well done,” he said. “I like a woman with balls. And I hope you have big enough ones for what I’m about to ask of you.”

He paused. My mind reeled.

“The reason I’ve read your pieces is because you were brought to my attention by Jacob Edwards. Have you heard of him?”

The name was familiar but I couldn’t place it.

“It doesn’t matter. He’s the manager of Hybrid and I know you’ve heard of them. I read your glowing review of Molten Universe and your little ditty on the evolution of their sound. Pretty insightful stuff, especially for a band that’s just coming into their own. We think they’re ahead of their time and so do you. And so does Edwards. He wants you to write for us, joining Hybrid on the road for a few weeks next month.”

“Come again?” He didn’t, couldn’t, have just said what I thought he said.

He laughed appreciatively. “Hey, it was a surprise to us too. From what I understand, Edwards caught wind of your work, loved what you said about the band, and he thinks a female voice would help win over the female fans. Hybrid is too aggressive for a lot of rock chicks, even though they have Noelle in the band, and that whole Graham and devil worshiping rumor definitely hasn’t helped. I mean, it works for Led Zeppelin, but as hard as these guys try, they aren’t Led Zeppelin.”

That was actually a line from my review: People keep trying to make comparisons between Hybrid and Led Zeppelin. I say, let the comparisons stop with their third album, Molten Universe. They aren’t Led Zeppelin. This album showcases a unique brand of metal, more grinding, thunderous and—gasp—sexual than the English rockers. In this case, Hybrid is heavier than lead.

It wasn’t groundbreaking writing but it obviously struck a chord with someone. I just didn’t think it would be with the actual band themselves.

And suddenly this was all too good to be true.

“Dawn? Are you there?”

“Yeah,” I said warily. “I’m here. I’m just…are you sure you have the right Dawn?”

“Do you think I have the right Dawn?”

Good question. If I could eventually get over what was actually being asked of me, if I could pretend this was all real, I had to wonder if I was strong enough—good enough—to actually take this on. Writing for Creem Magazine? Going on the road with an actual fucking rock band? And a band I actually loved, a band who was slowly joining the ranks of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Hendrix in the shrine of my heart?

I couldn’t afford to doubt myself.

I had to be made for this.

I pushed uptight, worrywart Dawn somewhere in the back of my mind and said to Barry, “Yes. You definitely have the right Dawn.”

“That’s what I thought.” He didn’t sound as relieved as I would have thought. I guess this was a story he could either take or leave. “Obviously, we’ll be paying you too for the story, if that helps. But the expenses for the hotels on the road and your food and all that stuff, that will be taken care of by Elektra, their record label. We’d probably want to run this story in the October issue, you know to take on a spooky slant or something like that, which means you’ll have to turn over your copy at the end of August, beginning of September at the latest. You’re green, so I expect we’re going to have a lot of editing and fact-checking to do over here. Also, this is just a one-off thing. We don’t know if you’re the next Cameron Crowe or not, and we’re not about to make any commitments beyond this story.”

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