“Yup.” And I could see on her face that Mel was serious. And why wouldn’t she be? When we became friends back in Ellensburg, we both took a lot of flak for it. At first her mother didn’t trust her hanging around a “honky” white girl, always suspicious that I was going to turn on her daughter. She came around, of course. As for me, I was personally called a bunch of negative words that made my skin crawl, all because I was a white girl with a black friend. But through it all, we stuck together. And she was still here, all these years later, sticking with me when I needed her most.

“Dude, I love you,” I cried out, tears threatening my eyes again.

“Dude, I love you, too. But I’m serious about getting you out of here. I’m sure my flight out won’t be packed. We’ll get you a ticket in the morning and this will all be over.”

“But it won’t be.”

She leaned over. “But it’s not your problem. Think about yourself. And your dad. And Eric. And your horse. And me, of course, Melanie Jones.”

I nodded, knowing she was right.

She patted my knee. “Okay, writer girl, how about you introduce me to your rock star sex god?”

***

I always thought my best friend was one of the coolest chicks on the planet. And when I say cool, I mean cool as a cucumber.

She was not cool when she met Hybrid. Not in the slightest.

But that was to the benefit of the band. They were smiling and cracking jokes like it was day one of the tour all over again.

First, Mel practically fainted when she saw Robbie, and when she recovered, she started jumping up and down and hugging the poor bastard. I’ll always remember seeing her wrap her dark legs around his waist and him raising his injured wrist high in the air, trying to keep it out of her way.

With Sage though, she was totally the opposite. She giggled demurely and coyly and Mel doesn’t do demure.

At one point on the bus, while she was in the midst of reveling among rock gods, she whispered into my ear, “I’ve been watching closely. Sage has gotten at least one boner just from looking at you.”

I decided after that I wouldn’t talk to her until her perverted mind was under control and she stopped staring at Sage’s crotch. It was probably my fault he kept staring though, since I had slipped on that blue dress of hers that she had originally given to me to wear on tour. It was one hot number and a nice change from my jeans and vests.

But the way Mel acted around me, I had to wonder if she really did believe in the deal Sage made. To her it was just fun and games. But I had to remind myself that when someone throws something absurd at you and then plunks you in a room full of famous rock stars whose music you love (because that makes a huge difference), you’re going to giggle at those rock stars. It was like if someone came up to me and was like, “Hey, my friend Mick Jagger is actually a woman and the gender-confused leader of a Satanic cult,” and then in the next frame they were like, “Oh and here’s Mick Jagger,” I’d probably forget all about that first sentence and start drooling on Mick’s shoes.

Mel didn’t lose her enthusiasm during the show either. Hybrid had never played San Antonio before and they weren’t sure how western Texas was going to take them, but they actually pulled it off. There was a definite drop in numbers compared to the other shows on the Molten Universe tour, but it was a lot better than New Orleans and that’s all the band needed for them to play with a little more verve.

Being with Mel and seeing the show through her eyes gave me a new appreciation for the music all over again. With everything going on, it was hard to see Hybrid the way everyone else saw them. Just an awesome metal band who made awesome music. I needed that step away from being Dawn Emerson. I needed to know what the band was capable of doing to other people, and looking at Mel as she stood beside me on the side stage, moving her ass to the music and grinning like a fool, I remembered that Hybrid still knew how to rock.

Then the fact that this was going to be their last tour, their last album, hit me like a ton of bricks. There was nothing as heartbreaking like one of your favorite bands breaking up. It’s like they are breaking up with you. Those bands, you plan your life around them. You plan vacations around concert dates. You save babysitting money for records. You live for those days when Creem magazine arrives in your dusty mailbox and you frantically flip through it for any information on your favorites. The bands, the musicians that you love, they love you back. And when they quit, when they fall apart, when they die—they ruin that future you thought they’d always be a part of.

My eyes were filling with tears again near the end of the show. Understanding, or at least anticipating, Mel put her arm around me and hugged me. Even Jacob shot me a sad smile which made my heart break even more. He was no longer putting on a brave face. This was really going to happen. This band was really over.

When the show was over and everyone was relocating to the lounge, I pulled Jacob aside and told Mel to go on through and drink all the band’s booze.

“You know we’re having some budget cutbacks, Rusty,” Jacob remarked as he watched Mel sashay backstage. “Booze ain’t cheap.”

“Look, Jacob. I think I’m going to leave with Mel on her flight out of here.”

He didn’t show any expression nor did he say anything for a few beats, he just blinked. “Dawn…”

“You know I’d do anything for this band. Tonight, I mean, I know it. I love them. Warts and all. I love them, all of them, almost. But…I have a dad at home. He’s been having a rough time, well, forever, and he’s finally getting better. I have a brother with Tourette’s Syndrome that I look after. They need me. They need me to be alive. My mother killed herself when I was young and I’ve been the mom ever since.”

Jacob nodded and stroked his chin, letting me continue.

“I even have a horse. I have Mel, too. I have a future. I have things I don’t want to lose and people who don’t want to lose me. I know you said it’s too late but I just can’t accept that. As much as it fucking stabs me in the gut to leave the tour, I have to. I won’t write the article in the end. It’s not worth it.”

He was silent, golden eyes searching the ceiling of the venue, lost in thought. Finally he lowered his head and smiled weakly. “I’m sorry, Dawn. You can’t leave.”

“But why not?” I stamped my foot like a child. “What could happen if I did? Who is going to stop me, you?”

“No, not me,” he said calmly. “I would love to see you leave, Rusty. Like I said before, I like you. But that’s not how this works. This is out of human hands now. Your fate has been decided.”

“So tell me. Give me one good example of what’s going to happen to me.”

“If you fly out with Mel tomorrow, your whole plane will go down.”

I was startled. “But…then I’d be dead. Who would write the story?”

“They have ways of working that out.”

“But if they do—”

“They are demons, Rusty. Demons. They want you dead and dragged to Hell above all else. They want all of us dead but they can only do what they can do. The contract will be fulfilled.”

“So why don’t they kill me now? Get it over with and get some other writer.”

He let out a dry, sad laugh. “Because what is the fun in that? They are like cats with a mouse, batting it around. Just because you don’t see them right now, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. They know what they’re doing.”

“But the code…”

“Yes, the code. But we are still at their mercy. Why do you think I’m here, for Christ’s sake? I make things fair. If I wasn’t around, I don’t think there would even be a Hybrid anymore.”

I grabbed onto Jacob’s arm. “So help me. Help me escape.”

He shook his head vigorously. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I just can’t. Look, I’m sorry, I really am. All I can say is the longer you stick around me, the longer I will do my best to keep you and everyone else in this band alive. But the minute you walk away, I can’t help you. My duties are to Sage first, then to you. He has to come first. This is his contract. Yours will come later.”

I gave him a funny look. “What do you mean mine will come later?”

He smiled and twirled around his gold rings. “Dawn Emerson. Stay with me. Stay with Sage. Why do you think I went out of my way to choose you?”

“You said because it should have been a fan to write the story.”

“I chose you partly because I thought maybe a girl like you would give Sage something to live for when everything is taken from him. You’re hope. So, write about the band and live your destiny. I promise we will do everything to protect you. But the minute you leave, I can’t help. And you invite the danger of destroying everyone you love and know. I’m sorry, love. But you’re stuck with us.”

My heart thumped loudly in my chest, like it was just remembering to beat.

I swallowed hard. “But what do I tell Mel? She won’t leave without me. And she can’t stay here.”

“I’m sure you’ll know the right things to say.” He patted me on the shoulder and disappeared into the darkness.

***

After Jacob left, I spent a few minutes on the stage staring out at the empty venue, ignoring the roadies who were packing up behind me. I wondered what they’d do after Hybrid was no more. I wondered if they’d get other jobs in the industry. I wondered if they’d care if the band ceased to exist.

I wondered exactly how the band would end. Would there be a massive fight? Would Sage pick it with Robbie, destroying his relationship with him for the sake of destiny? Or would it end in something worse than that? Would the next stage collapse consume us all? Would it end in flames? That last thought struck a familiar chord in me and I remembered seeing that man back in Ellensburg, Ted with the beige Bug and his arm in a sling. He told me I wouldn’t be able to save Sage and that it would all end in flames. I remembered seeing a white-haired girl in the backseat and I wondered how long the chess pieces had been set in motion and where my spot on the board was. Where was Dawn going to be moved next?

I sighed, hating myself for what I had to do next. Just like Sage might have to do with Robbie, I was going to have to sacrifice my relationship with Mel in order to save her.

I took in the view from the stage one last time and headed back into the backstage area. I had left Mel with Sage, knowing she’d be safe, but when I walked into the dressing room where everyone was hanging out and drinking like they hadn’t a care in the world, The Guess Who’s “No Time” aptly playing from the speakers, he was nowhere to be seen.

And Mel was talking to Graham. Scratch that, she was sitting beside him on the couch hanging on his every word.

I marched right over to her and stood in front of her until she finally looked up.

“Hey, Dawn,” she said brightly.

Graham stared straight at me and sang in a high falsetto along with the song. “No time for the killing floor, there’s no time left for you, no time left for you.”

***

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