I shot him the nastiest stink eye that I could and grabbed Mel by her hands. “I need to speak with you.”

I pulled her up and started to drag her towards the door.

“Ouch, Dawn, chill out,” she cried, but I didn’t stop until we were outside the dressing room.

“What the hell are you doing with him?” I sneered.

“What? He’s harmless.”

“Mel! He’s a fucking demon, he is the opposite of harmless!”

She rolled her eyes.

“See!” I exclaimed, pointing at her viciously. “You don’t believe me. I knew it.”

“I do believe you,” she argued. “But it’s harmless to just talk to him. What’s he going to do to me in there?”

“He can do plenty. He can get in your head. Look at what happened to poor Noelle.”

She folded her arms and gave me a twisted smile. “I just got here, first of all, and Noelle was weak to begin with.”

“You didn’t even know her!”

“And you did? Come on, Dawn. Anyway, what am I supposed to say to Graham? Don’t talk to me, I know you’re a demon? You think that would be the better solution?”

I sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm my aching heart. It didn’t really matter about Graham. There would be no more of it.

“Look, Mel, I’ve decided I’m not going with you back home. I’m staying here.”

She frowned. “No, you’re not. You’re getting the fuck out of here.”

“I don’t want to.”

She sighed and let her gaze drop to the ground. “Man, I get it. You do love him. I know it. You don’t want to leave him. I really get it, but you just have to…get over it. If everything works out later, maybe you can reconnect or something. I don’t know. But I do know you’re not staying with this band anymore.”

I crossed my arms and said in my calmest voice, “I am not going with you, Mel. I have made up my mind.”

She glared at me. “Dawn…why would you stay after everything you’ve told me? You’re coming with me or I’m staying here with you.”

“I don’t want to go with you, Mel. And you are definitely not staying here. You can go back to your sad life in Ellensburg if that makes you happy. These are my people. I belong with them. Not some small-town hick like you.”

Mel’s face fell as I speared her with my words.

“This isn’t you talking,” she whispered.

I laughed richly. “This is me. This is the real me. This is the me I was supposed to be. Did you seriously think I’d come back to Ellensburg after all of this? I’m somebody now. You’re still a nobody in a nobody town. You think I’d go back to that shithole with the likes of you? My god, you’re so fucking backwards, Melanie.”

She was so startled and so hurt. Her face contorted angrily. Anger was always Mel’s first line of defense when she was hurting inside. And I had known exactly what to say to hurt her the most.

“You’re being a bitch,” she spat at me. “A fucking mean bitch.”

Sage chose that time to walk toward the dressing room. He stopped before going in, looking at the both of us, perplexed.

Mel fixed her glare on him for a second before turning the weapon on me and looking me up and down. She was about to get nasty. Real nasty.

“A bitch and a major slut.”

I rolled my eyes, pretending I wasn’t bleeding inside.

“Oh,” she continued with false surprise. “You don’t like being called a slut, do you? A whore. Now the tables are turned, aren’t they Miss Always Judgmental? Well, that’s what you are now. You’ve become all those girls you look down on. Just some stupid slut who thinks she’s better than me because she spread her legs for some mid-level rock star who’s probably slept with everyone she’s condemned.”

Sage took a few cautious steps toward us, hands out, brows furrowed. “Hey, what is going on here?”

“Oh fuck you,” Mel said. Then she looked at me again. “And fuck you, too. I knew it was a mistake to come out here. I knew you’d probably changed and gotten a big head. Glad to see I was right. You can stay here with your lame ass honky band and go straight to hell for all I care. You think you’re better than me, after everything I’ve done for you? You don’t even deserve my worry.”

And at that, Mel spun around on her heel and marched off toward the exit. The minute she was gone, I fell to my knees in pain. Swirling, stabbing pain that ripped me apart. But the tears wouldn’t come. There was nothing in me left.

Sage crouched down beside me, peering at me with concern. He put his hand on my shoulder but I shrugged him off.

“What happened?” he asked softly.

“Just go away,” I muttered, closing my eyes.

“Angel, I—” he started.

“Angel!” I laughed bitterly at his term of endearment. “Get the fuck away from me.”

“Dawn.”

“Go!” I screamed at him, my eyes burning. “This is all your fucking fault! You did this. You did all of this!”

Now Sage’s face crumbled slightly, his eyes awash in regret. “I was so young.”

“You were an idiot. Still are.”

I don’t know why I was being so vicious to Sage. I guess I figured if I was going to turn into a complete bitch, I might as well sever all the relationships I had. I was probably burning away the bridges that tied Sage to me as his last point of hope. But I didn’t care. I just didn’t care anymore.

When he didn’t move and didn’t say anything, I glared at him, pushing and pushing.

“Your stupid, selfish mistake has cost you everything good in your life. It’s cost the lives of innocent people. How does that make you feel, Sage, knowing you’ve destroyed so much in order to have so little?” I breathed heavily, waiting nervously for him to strike out at me in some way.

But he didn’t.

He brushed the hair off my forehead and planted a kiss there.

“I’m carrying this burden just as I’ve carried it every day since I was fifteen. You’re going to live a long and happy life, Dawn. I promise you this.”

He stroked my cheek sadly, then got to his feet and walked into the dressing room. I was left on the floor, dying inside.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

The drive from San Antonio to Phoenix was one of the longest of my life. I was so trapped in my own head, wallowing in my own misery that I couldn’t sleep. I just sat at the table watching the bus’s headlights shining on the dark, open road. I knew Graham was also up, lying on the couch, but he didn’t say anything to me. I started to question my sanity, how I could just sit there with an actual demon close by. Maybe it was because Graham had so many sad, pathetic human qualities that it was hard to imagine he was anything but human. But I remembered what his face looked like that one time, and the creepy vibe, like tendrils of underlying horror, that came off of him was pretty hard to ignore.

It was probably two in the morning when Jacob came over to me and gently placed my notebook and pen in front of me.

“Write, Rusty,” he told me in a hushed voice. “Write the story you were born to write.”

I looked at him and then at Graham. Both of them were staring at me with otherworldly intensity. One leaning toward darkness and death. The other promising safety and light. Both of them wanted me to write the article to fulfill the terms of the contract so Sage’s request could be completed. And I wanted to write the article for the same selfish reason I had in the first place: I wanted respect. I wanted to be admired. I wanted the world to know I was a writer.

I picked up the pen and started to write.

***

I woke up with my head on the table, the pencil leaning out of my hand. I couldn’t remember when I had fallen asleep but I had written several pages of the article already. It was probably all shit, but in my sleep-fogged brain, I was proud.

I raised my head and looked around. The bus was rolling down the desert highway, red rocks and craggy, cactus-dusted hills spreading as far as one could see. It was hauntingly beautiful in its bareness.

Bob was at the wheel as usual, humming along to the gentle strumming of Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California.” Graham was snoring on the couch. Everyone else in the bus still seemed to be asleep. It was quiet and the early morning light spread through the windows, enveloping everything in a hazy warmth. I felt strangely optimistic, considering what had happened the night before. The way I had hurt Mel. That terrible look on her face. But the optimism was usually a side effect of having written something I’d been putting off for a long time. It was the high that came from conquering procrastination.

I got out of the seat and stretched, then whispered good morning to Bob and set about making coffee and a bit of breakfast with the leftover eggs and bacon that were in the fridge. Nothing works like the smell of bacon and the sound of Zeppelin to get everyone on their feet. The children of the sun begin to wake, I sang along in my head.

Soon I was dishing out more food than I had. Robbie, Mickey, and Fiddles were hung over, which was actually nice to see. It meant they were back to their partying ways and things were feeling normal even though they very much weren’t.

Sage sat next to me at the table and Robbie raised his brows at us, eating his eggs gleefully. “So a little birdie told me he caught you two banging on the floor yesterday.”

“Fucking Chip,” I mumbled, while Sage just glared.

Robbie shrugged and shoved bacon in his mouth. “Hey, dudes, I don’t care. Good for you. You know Sage here needs to get laid more. So uptight, brother!”

Sage shook his head in amused annoyance. I could tell he was going to miss being with Robbie when all was said and done. So many years, so much blood between them. Robbie with his joy and insecurities. His voice. I hoped he would come out of this okay. If the demons left him alone, Robbie could go on to become one of the best singers the world had ever known.

“What the hell is that?” Jacob asked.

We all turned to look at him as he stood in the aisle, his eyes focused on the road ahead. I craned my neck around Robbie and peered through the windshield.

In the far distance where the golden haze met ragged cliffs, a gigantic, all-encompassing dust cloud was rising on the horizon. It was so big it almost curved with the earth, and it was growing bigger—and closer—by the second.

“Looks like a dust storm,” Bob remarked. He shifted gears and the bus began to slow down.

“That’s a dust storm?” Robbie exclaimed. “It looks like the fucking apocalypse.”

“Yes, it does,” Jacob said grimly. He was now staring steadily at Graham. Graham was grinning. He looked like a monkey baring his teeth.

“Is this your work?” Jacob asked.

Graham laughed and slapped his knee theatrically. “You think I created a dust storm? Who am I, God?”

Jacob shook his head and fixed his eyes back on the road.

“Definitely not,” he muttered under his breath.

“How far away from Phoenix are we?” asked Sage.

***

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