I made some sort of noise. Chip pushed me lightly into the seat and tossed everyone a Carlsberg, making sure Mickey got his first.

After I had gotten over the fact that Sage had just snubbed me, I was overcome by the girly, juvenile, dimwitted sensation of “Oh my god, I’m squished up next to Robbie Oliver. Oh my god, Mickey Brown and Noelle Clark are sitting across from me, drinking beer. Oh my god, Noelle won’t stop glaring at me. Oh my god, how did this become my life?”

Thankfully I wasn’t able to dwell on it for very long. Chip was shoving a beer in my hand while Robbie started rattling off the questions: How long had I worked for Creem Magazine, where was I from, what was my favorite band, what was my favorite Hybrid album, what was my favorite Hybrid song, and who was the best singer in the world?

Naturally I answered “you” to that last one.

He grinned and patted my hand. “That a girl! Great answers.” He looked at Noelle, who continued to look unimpressed. “See, she’s not a groupie.”

Then he leaned into my hair and whispered into my ear, “Not that I’d mind either way.”

I let out an awkward laugh. Was Robbie hitting on me?

“She’s a groupie with a badge,” Noelle shot in.

I responded with a look that could kill.

“Can I quote you on that?” I asked sweetly, finding my nerve. “Would look real good in the article.”

She narrowed her eyes back at me and I heard Robbie suck in his breath.

Chip laughed. “Wowee, boys, I think we’re going to have an interesting few weeks.”

“I wanted the guy from Rolling Stone,” Graham muttered.

“No one cares what you want,” Robbie yelled at him over my head. He then looked at Mickey. “Boyo, make your girlfriend behave.”

Mickey shrugged and took a sip of his beer. “Whatever, man, Noe can do what she pleases.”

“And what I please isn’t here yet,” she said. She leaned down and plucked one of the stolen mini liquor bottles out of her boot.

“Patience,” Mickey told her and proceeded to roll a joint.

I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I had a feeling it had to do with drugs. Before I could ponder that more, Robbie bumped me with his hip playfully.

“So what do you think, miss rusty journalist?”

I couldn’t help but smile. He had a nice way of making me forget the people on the other side of the table. “About what?”

“Well, let’s start with the bus.”

“I told her we love the piece of shit,” Chip added as he went to sit on the couch beside Graham.

“Piece of shit is right,” Mickey said, not looking up from his joint. “It’s only a matter of time before she goes off the road.”

“Such pessimism,” Robbie scolded him. He took a big sip of his beer before looking around, admiring it.

I did the same, if not just to take the pressure off of me. The table we sat at was small and kind of cramped, but would do to have a bite or play a game of cards. The carpet of the bus was this dirty green that matched the velour of the couch cushions. It probably sat three people comfortably and looked long enough that even the 6’3” Sage could stretch out on it. Above the couch were cupboards and a small stack of 8-track tapes and books. Further back, there was a closet, and then two bunk beds tucked into the side. Behind Noelle and Mickey was another set of two forward-facing seats, and behind that a tiny kitchen consisting of a mini fridge, sink, and one burner. I couldn’t tell what was in the back but I assumed it was a bathroom and more beds. It was a nice bus…or it would have been in 1965. Now it was down at its heels, a victim of too many wild tours.

“Our driver’s pretty cool too,” Robbie went on to say. “He used to drive around Elvis. He has many stories. We have yet to get him drunk to hear them, but we have plans. Ain’t that right, Boyo?”

Mickey nodded and lit the joint at his lips. After inhaling and passing to Noelle, he let out a slow puff of air that drifted off into the bus’s already smoky atmosphere. “Yeah. If Bob doesn’t have a heart attack on us.”

“So why did they send you here?” I heard Graham say from beside me.

“Pardon me?”

“Creem,” he explained, nostrils flaring slightly.

I gave him a look. His harping on about this was getting on my nerves.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Jacob arranged this, why don’t you go ask him?”

Okay. So chiding the members of the band that I was supposed to interview probably wasn’t the best idea.

And then I remembered. I looked beside me at Robbie, still finding it unnerving that he was just inches away, our hips touching on the seat. “Speaking of Jacob, he’s outside the gate. He gave me his pass because I didn’t have one. He said he wants one of you to go get him.”

Robbie shook his head and reached over for the joint dangling from Mickey’s slightly shaking fingers. “Rusty, don’t worry about The Cob. That’s rule number one on the bus. Having Jacob around is like having a creepy babysitter who owes money to the mob.”

“I swear Jacob is the mob,” Mickey said in between coughs. “Even the names rhyme.”

“That’s brilliant,” Robbie told him, blowing smoke in his face. “You should start writing lyrics for the band.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Mickey replied.

“I’ve tried. My dick was too big.” Robbie leaned back in the seat, his legs spread open, knee bumping against mine. My goodness he had on tight pants.

I looked away and cleared my throat.

Noelle got off of Mickey’s lap, making annoyed noises.

“I’ll go get Jacob,” she said, reaching for a pass that was hanging off a cupboard knob. She looked back at Mickey and he tapped the side of his nose.

“Could you two be any more obvious?” Graham said.

“Shut up, Graham,” she retorted over her skinny shoulder and flounced down the stairs and out of the bus.

“You do drugs, Rusty?” Mickey said with glazed eyes.

I could feel everyone looking at me.

“I smoke a little dope from time to time,” I admitted.

“No coke?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“Acid?” asked Chip.

“Quaaludes?” asked Robbie.

“No.” I felt like I should elaborate with some excuse but there wasn’t really much to say other than the fact that I didn’t do hard drugs. I’d seen what my mother had gone through on prescription meds and that was enough for me.

Robbie put his hand over mine and squeezed it. It was warm, and his lovely well-formed fingers were delicate and soft. “Good for you. More for us then.”

He took another toke of the joint then added, “But don’t quote us on that.”

“Yeah, maybe don’t quote us on anything until we say when,” Mickey mused, suddenly sounding concerned.

“You’re just thinking about Noe. Your woman is going to get in trouble,” Robbie said to him.

“No,” Graham spoke up. “You’re going to get us in trouble. You always do. Starting with hitting on the hack here.”

I shot Graham another glare. Did he and Noelle make some sort of deal to tag team me?

Robbie took his hand away, looking chagrined.

“Sorry, I can be too friendly.”

Chip snorted. “That’s an understatement.”

“I do mean well,” Robbie continued, good naturedly. He looked over at Graham. “And I think you need to mind your manners over there. Oh wait, forget it. You don’t even have a soul.”

Clearly having enough of our company, Graham got to his feet with a sigh and looked down at us. “We all lost our souls when we joined this band. And despite what Mickey says, I think you should quote me on that.”

He pointed at me, his nicotine-stained finger right in my face, then left the bus. Now it was just me, a buzzed Chip on his fourth beer, a stoned Mickey, and Robbie.

At least the atmosphere wasn’t so volatile. I felt my body relax for the first time since stepping on the bus.

Or maybe it was the fact that the thing was now hot boxed.

Either way I took the opportunity to start setting some ground rules.

“Look, I’m sort of new at this going on the road with a band thing,” I told them, trying to get my brain to think straight. I figured being honest couldn’t hurt in this situation, or at least with these guys. “So I am not sure what the rules are about this sort of thing. I know I’m going to be traveling with you for most of the tour. I’d like to interview everyone separately at one point, and maybe do one together—”

Robbie sucked in his breath at that. I continued, my voice shaking with nerves.

“—and I’m also just going to absorb the atmosphere, the feeling of your shows, what life on the road is like, what life in Hybrid is like.”

“Do we get to approve what’s written?” Mickey asked.

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. “Well...no.”

Mickey shook his head and put the joint out on the table, adding to other burn marks. “I don’t know man, whose idea was it again to have a journalist with us?”

“Graham,” Robbie said. “But we all agreed. Even Sage.”

“Actually, I don’t think Sage ever did agree,” Chip put in. He was now lying down on the couch, a beer balancing on his belly. “In fact, I think I remember him saying, ‘You guys are all fucking idiots to think this wont fuck us royally’ and then he threw a book at Graham.”

Mickey let out a short and stupid laugh. “Oh yeah. Fucking Graham.”

Robbie turned to me. “We think Graham had this idea that if he got this dipshit ass-kisser journalist from Rolling Stone, that he’d come and focus just on him. You know, this ass has got a wicked hard on for drummers or something.”

I looked down at my hands. “Guess I kind of ruined that.”

“You didn’t ruin it, Rusty,” Chip said. “It was Jacob’s call in the end, and I’m sure getting a writer who’s an actual fan of the band—the whole band—won’t hurt us. Plus, like I said, you’re hot.”

I gave him a wry look even though he was watching his beer can rise and fall.

“Hot and smart,” Robbie added.

“Dude, stop hitting on her,” Mickey said.

“Why? Jealous?”

“If I were jealous, Noe would have both my balls in her purse already.”

I cleared my throat. “So, just to be clear, I will be observing you all, but you can always ask for things to be off the record.”

“Can everything be off the record?” asked Mickey.

I couldn’t help but laugh. He really was worried.

“No,” I said with a shake of my head. “I’m just saying…”

“She’s saying watch what you say and try to keep your drug use hidden, you moron,” said Chip.

“Drug use?” Jacob’s booming accent rolled into the bus.

We all turned to see him walk onto the bus and up the stairs.

***

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