He looked over it, smiling from time to time and frowning sadly the rest. He peered in the envelope and whistled.

“I don’t think the man has much faith in me,” he remarked, leaning over to put it on the bedside table.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I admonished him. “You think they took everything from you?”

He gazed at me with dull eyes. “Almost everything.”

I placed my hands on both sides of his gorgeous face, feeling the stubble beneath my fingers. “You’re still the most handsome man I’ve ever seen with a body that any man would kill for. That’s still here.”

He looked down sheepishly. I held his face firmer.

“And you’re still a talented musician.”

He attempted to laugh but I tightened my grip. “I’m serious. Remember that song you wrote when you were young? You played it for me in the hotel room in Atlanta? When did you write that? Was it before or after you made the deal?”

“Before.”

I exhaled loudly, a rush of relief flooding through me. “See, it was in you all this time.”

“You’re sounding corny now.”

“No, Sage Knightly, you’re the borderline corny one.”

“I thought you would have forgotten all that.”

I gently tapped the side of my head, carefully avoiding my injuries. “Journalists forget nothing.”

He smiled, bright and beautiful, before it quickly faded. He shifted uncomfortably and looked down at his hands, dark bronze against the white sheets.

“I’m sorry about earlier.”

“You’ll have to be more specific,” I said. “A lot has happened.”

“I’m so sorry about everything,” he whispered. “I’m sorry for everyone.”

His eyes began to well up and I pulled his head into my chest, holding him there for comfort. I let him cry quietly for a few minutes. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t try and make him feel better. I just held him. I needed it just as much as he did.

When it was over, he wiped away his tears with an embarrassed look on his face. He shot me a quick glance then looked out the window at the blue, blue sky.

“I’m sorry if I made you feel stupid,” he muttered.

“What?”

“Last night. When…when I told you I didn’t love you.”

“Oh hush now,” I said, dismissing his sincerity with a wave. “That should be the least of your concerns.”

“I know it hurt you and hurting you was the last thing I wanted to do.”

I fixed my gaze on him. “Sage. Listen. There were two ways last night could have gone. You could have told me you loved me and I would have died. Or you could have told the truth, which you did, and the truth would have saved me. In theory anyway. Look, I’m a romantic like any other girl. But when it comes to life or love, I choose life. I’m here right now, ready to live and love another day. I could never regret that. I’m glad you didn’t love me. You gave me my life by doing so.”

“But,” he began.

I put my fingers to his lips. “But nothing. You and I respect each other, we trust each other, and I dare say we find each other immensely attractive. I think that’s a pretty good situation we’re in, don’t you agree?”

His gaze intensified, a subtle warning of what was to come next. His lips opened and took in my fingers, sucking on them slowly. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Careful,” I told him. “We’re not exactly in tip-top shape.”

He licked the length of my finger then gingerly placed his hands on either side of my face.

“I’ll be gentle,” he murmured.

We slowly fell back into the bed and played out a dance that could have been choreographed, grazing over our injured areas, gently stroking and teasing the more eager areas. He licked and sucked at my nipples in a slow, melodic fashion as I teased the eager areas on his hard chest, going round the bandages like a rat in a maze. When he finally entered me, filling me with need and heat, it was like we were born again, free and unbandaged. He held my hands above my head, much like that teasing time in the hotel room, and gave everything he had to me, letting me lie back and enjoy it all—from the view of his perfect body, a body I knew had the strength of many men, to his expressive face that betrayed a wealth of complex emotions. We both came at the same time again, but this time, instead of being fast and furious, it was achingly slow, and when I let go, I let go of a few tears I hadn’t yet found the time to shed.

Afterward, we held each other tightly, his naked cock pressed against my ass, his arms wrapped around me. I studied the snakes and Mexican skulls on his arms, wondering about the story behind each one. I could only hope I’d be given the time to learn them.

Outside, the Northern California sun streamed in the window. The sky was a brilliant blue and the leaves of a nearby oak had turned a golden red.

Summer was over.

A new season had begun.

EPILOGUE

I was lying on my bed listening to Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” when the phone rang downstairs.

I leapt to the floor, yelling, “I’ll get it,” and quickly ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time.

My dad was sitting on the couch watching his favorite Saturday morning Warner Brothers cartoon like he always did, sipping a glass of apple juice. He gave me a knowing smile as I moseyed into the room.

“It’s always for you,” he said. “I don’t even know why I bother.”

“Ha ha,” I answered. I tried not to peer at the glass of juice in his hand, tried to hide the ever present wonder if it was something alcoholic. But of course it wasn’t. Not that it would stop me from worrying, but my dad hadn’t had a drink for almost nine months.

A lot had happened during that time. After what happened at Lake Shasta, I went with Sage to live at his father’s for a few days while I organized my flight home. His father was back in dire straits and the property was about to be seized. But thanks to the money that Jacob had left Sage, he was able to get his dad out of the red for the time being.

Sage decided he would take Jacob up on his offer and work as a manager’s assistant. We said our goodbyes at the Sacramento airport. He wanted me to join him but I had unfinished business at home that I couldn’t ignore any longer, not even for a rock star. I had my family. I had a relationship with Mel that I needed to repair. I had school and a career that was only just starting. I still had a calling I needed to find but I knew I wouldn’t find it in a rock star’s shadow.

And yeah, I say rock star because that’s what Sage is and what he will always be. The talent he has was God-given, not brought on by any contract. After a few months of working for Jacob and working on his craft, Sage released a solo album, creatively titled “Sage Wisdom” (groan). I bet Jacob came up with the name considering how redundant it is. Anyway, the song he played for me in the hotel room ended up being called “A World of Want” and it was quickly climbing up the charts. The last time I heard from him he was about to go tour in Europe, where the audience was more accepting of experimental music.

I didn’t hear much from Jacob except in a postcard that told me he was proud of me for landing a part-time writing position with Creem Magazine. After I learned the article was sent in to be published, I called up Barry and got him to read me the end of it, the part I didn’t write. I was certain that the demons would have made some crazy libelous shit up but they didn’t. They actually went into my notes and composed the end from interviews I did with Noelle, Robbie, and Mickey. There was no Sage, but Barry didn’t even care—he said it kept together the idea of the man as a mystery. It really was the article of the century and was printed around the world. I, Dawn Emerson, recorded the fall of Hybrid.

The funny thing was, I didn’t mince words either. I talked about demons and Graham and deals and the GTFOs but everyone thought it was some clever, poetic metaphor for the demise of the band. And I couldn’t argue with anyone. Who would believe me?

Well, Mel did. Eventually I won back her trust. It took a few months of harassing her house until her mother had enough and forced us to make up. Once I told her the reason behind things, she came around, slowly but surely.

As for school, well, I just finished a few weeks ago. Todd is working for the paper in Spokane, but I’m working for Creem and Creem always rises to the top.

“Are you going to answer it or not?” My dad yelled good-naturedly. “I want to see the coyote get the road runner for once.”

I snatched up the phone before it could annoy my dad anymore.

“Hello?”

There was a crackle and a pause. Then, “Dawn?”

“Sage?” I asked. He sounded so far away.

“Hey, angel, how are you? I hope I’m not waking you up.”

I looked at my watch. “It’s ten thirty in the morning, I’m no longer a lazy college student.”

“I figured that. Congratulations. Welcome to the real world. How does it feel?”

“Eh, it’s okay. I think I might look sexier in this so-called real world, though.”

I didn’t have to look at the couch to know my dad was looking mighty disturbed.

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Sage growled seductively. “Listen, what are you doing next month? Is May busy for a retired rodeo queen?”

I laughed. “No. Not yet. There’s supposed to be a bunch of good albums released that I’ll have to review right away but that’s about it.”

“How do you feel about flying to Paris and meeting me there? I’m about to go on tour and I’d love a sexy, talented journalist to cover it.”

My heart felt like it was being massaged. “Are you kidding me?”

“Do I ever kid? I’m serious. Tell me when you’re free and I’ll fly you over here. I’ll take care of you, angel.” He lowered his voice. “I really miss you.”

I shot a look at my dad. He was pretending not to listen to every single word.

‘”I really miss you too,” I told him. My insides ached just thinking about him. When you’ve been with someone for weeks straight during a traumatic experience, someone you’ve fallen in love with…your idol. And then you’re pulled apart and the only thing you get from him for months is to hear his raspy, whiskey-soaked voice on the radio, in a song he sang privately to you, it hurts. It damn hurts.

“So you’ll come? Tell me the dates and I’ll make the arrangements.”

My heart soared in relief.

“Can you call back later tonight? I need to talk it over with the family.”

“Of course. Talk to you soon.”

He hung up and I was left staring dumbly at the receiver like I had done so many months ago. I could still hear Alice Cooper blaring from my bedroom.

My dad was staring at me expectantly. “Well?”

“Sage wants me to cover his tour in Europe next month.”

My father shook his head and turned his attention back to the cartoon. “I swear, 1975 is going to eat us alive.”

***

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