“I’m glad you didn’t run away, Dawn.”

“Me too.”

I sighed into his chest and we stood like that until time was wearing thin.

“You go get your friend and bring her back here,” he said, pulling away from me. “I want to meet her.”

“And she wants to meet you,” I grinned. I turned and skipped out of the bus.

It wasn’t until I was outside and in the golden hazy Texas afternoon that I remembered what I had planned. I had to protect Mel at all costs and I was already thinking of bringing her back to meet the band. One round in the sack with Sage and my mind was all over the place.

I decided a quick meeting wouldn’t hurt. Then she and I would do our own thing during the night. I focused on that and scampered across the parking lot toward the main security gates.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

I heard Mel before I even saw her, giving sass to the security guard. I spied her through the chain link fence, my heart beating loud in my chest, and waved her pass at the guard.

“She’s legit,” I told him. “This is her pass.”

He sighed, unfolded his bulky arms, and opened the gate. Mel ran toward me like a tiny little rocketship made of boobs and butt.

“Dawn!” she cried out, throwing her arms around my waist. I reached for her, squeezing her hard.

I broke down. I started bawling right there, holding Mel to me as tightly as I could.

“Dawn, whoa, what’s going?” she exclaimed into my chest. She tried to pull back but I wouldn’t let her. The tears wouldn’t stop coming and I didn’t care who saw. I felt like I didn’t even have the strength to stand anymore.

“Holy shizz, child.” She patted my back. “It’s okay. Let it out.”

I probably cried for ten minutes straight. Without me even realizing it, she had moved us over away from the guard and the hopefuls and placed us on the other side of a station wagon. I fell onto my ass and stayed there until the sobs dried up.

When I was done I felt as dry and empty as a husk.

“I’d ask if you are okay but you’re obviously not okay,” she remarked, folding her legs on the hot asphalt. “I’ve never seen you cry before.”

I nodded and wiped underneath my nose and eyes. I was a mess through and through.

“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” she asked carefully. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

To borrow a phrase from Jimmy Page (who borrowed a phrase from Jake Holmes), I felt dazed and confused. I shrugged. “I don’t even know anymore.”

“Okay, don’t freak, man. Relax. I’ll talk. I’ll let you know about the stinky pervert I had to sit next to on the plane. But first…”

She reached into her flower-dotted purse and pulled out a joint.

I gave her a wry look and leaned back against the car door. “How did you smuggle that on the plane?”

She beamed cheekily. “I’m good at distraction.”

She brought the joint to her lips and lit it up. She took a hit then passed it to me.

“I’m sure you’re up to your eyeballs in this,” she said through a cough.

I took it and puffed back, shaking my head. “I’ve had too much to deal with.”

“Dude, grass makes your problems easier to handle.”

“Not my problems.”

She sighed and took the joint back. “Okay, well let me tell you about how things are back in Ellensburg.”

She told me about her new man and how good he was in the sack. She said she thought she was in love and wanted to have his babies one day. She said she was debating about going back into nursing for another year, but decided to stick it through. She told me that her brother crashed the Gremlin one night and it’s totaled. He’s okay though and he said he’s going to get a sexy muscle car next but Mel’s not allowed to borrow it. It felt good to listen.

“What about Eric and my dad?”

“Eric’s okay. He looks happier. He told me this chick he likes that turned him down before has been calling him and wanting to do homework together when school starts. So who knows what that’s about. But he’s happy. And your dad is great. Really. Eric said he stopped drinking cold turkey.”

“What?” I cried out, nearly choking.

“Totally legit. I saw him a few times. Sober as a nail. He threw out all the booze and your house looks clean for once. I mean, really clean. Grass is mowed.”

“He never told me any of that,” I said absently.

“Well, you know how it is for alcoholics. He probably thinks you wouldn’t believe him. But so far, he’s doing good. I like it. I bet he’ll be like that when you get home. Oh, and Moonglow is fine. Eric’s actually been riding her. Just in the field though.”

The news felt so good that the feeling was surprising. Like I had forgotten that things had the ability to get better. Maybe not for me, but for my family. I nearly started crying again but the pot was at work in my system and helping me distance myself from the situation.

“So, you wanna tell me what’s going on with you? I mean, you said some stuff on the phone and it sounds all heavy but…what’s really happening, Dawn?”

I opened my mouth to speak but no words came out.

“Okay,” she drew out. “Let me rephrase that. Did you sleep with Sage yet?”

I blushed furiously.

She smacked my leg and exclaimed, “I knew it! I could smell it on you.”

“You can smell it on me?”

She grinned. “When I was hugging you, yeah. Your chest smelled like cologne and man tongue.”

“Oh come on.”

“Truth. Anyway, tell me how he was!”

“Mel, I don’t even know…”

“That bad, huh?”

“No! He was…it just happened. I haven’t even had a chance to process it yet.”

“Did you come?”

“Did I ever.” I couldn’t help but smile at that admission. She joined me and soon we were both giggling like schoolchildren.

When we calmed down she asked, “What’s he look like naked? Tattoos everywhere?”

“No, just on his arms and shoulders and down his back a bit. I couldn’t really see because he had me flipped around.”

“Oh man, I wish I had popcorn. Big dick?”

I grinned and didn’t say anything.

She nodded, smiling slowly. “Right on, child, right on.” Pause. “So do you love him?”

The question caught me off-guard. “What?”

“Hey, I’m just asking. You do or you don’t.”

“I…I don’t think I do. Do I?”

“Beats the fuck outta me. Does he love you?”

I shook my head adamantly. “No. I don’t think so. I don’t really think he can love anyone. Or he doesn’t want to.”

“What if he does love you? Would you marry a rock star?”

I gave her a dry look.

“What?” she protested. “I want to plan a rock star wedding, what is so wrong with that? Oh my god, it would be so brilliant! You could accidently invite Ryan and that creep who works at Big Ears with you and—”

“Mel, let’s drop it.”

“Okay, but I’m just saying it would be cool. Of course you don’t have to get married if you don’t want to. You’re a fine, independent young woman. Look at you, child, you’re living the dream.”

“I’m living the nightmare.”

“Oh come on. It can’t be all that bad.”

I took in a deep breath, steadying my nerves. I leaned over and pulled her sunglasses off her eyes so I could look into them. “Mel, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to listen and listen good.”

Mel’s face fell. She snatched the glasses from my hand and put them on the top of her head. “Dawn…you’re kind of scaring me.”

“You’re about to get a lot more scared,” I warned her with as much sincerity as I could express. “I need you to just listen to me. You’re not going to believe me and that’s alright, I don’t expect anyone else to. I just need to talk. I need someone to know the real story—someone who’s not part of it.”

And I chose that point to take my tape recorder out of my bag. Mel’s brows shot up.

“I’m going to record this just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“You’ll know by the end.”

So, for the third time in as many days, I rehashed the entire Hybrid tour. As with Jacob and Sage, I didn’t leave out anything. Mel wouldn’t believe me, but she was my best friend and she deserved the whole truth.

When I finished, I sat back and waited for her reaction. I wasn’t nervous. I was planning on her telling me I was bat-shit crazy.

It took a while for her to speak. It surprised me that she looked a bit frightened. The whites of her wide eyes positively glowed against her skin.

“Dawn,” she said slowly. “You’re not part of a cult, are you? Hybrid’s not secretly the new Manson family or something?”

“No and no. Well…Graham might as well be.”

“And you haven’t been meditating in weird barns or drinking weird punches or doing drugs, have you?”

“None of the above.”

“Your name is still Dawn Emerson?”

“That’s what the press pass says.”

“Huh,” she said. She fell silent for a beat and dug another joint out of her purse.

“Mel?”

“I’m thinking.” She lit it up, crackling burning papers, and took in a deep breath of smoke before rubbing the joint out on the ground.

“Oh, just tell me I’m nuts, Mel.”

“Bitch, you ain’t nuts. I believe you.”

My brows rose to the heavens. I had to shield the overbearing sun with my hand to get a better look at her. “What, are you serious?”

She nodded quickly. “I do. Dawn, you’ve never lied to me. Except when you told me that you hadn’t been kissed before Ryan came along because I know Doug Campbell got you in a closet at Sheena Meister’s party. And when you lied and said you weren’t in love with Sage just now. Those were the only two times. I know you aren’t lying about this.”

I paused. “So you believe me in the sense that you believe that I believe what’s going on.”

“I don’t even think you believe what’s going on.”

“Sometimes I don’t,” I said with a sigh. “So what do you think?”

“I couldn’t tell you. Except that you have to stay with me and my cousin for a few days and you need to get off this tour. Like, now. If I didn’t think it would break your heart to leave Sage without saying goodbye, I’d suggest we leave right now and forget about them. Never look back.”

“But you believe me? You believe that Sage Knightly made a deal with the devil? And now they are coming back to collect before his twenty-eighth birthday and I may or may not be included in those terms and conditions?”

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