I was smiling foolishly as Tricky came down the stairs and embraced me in tight hug. For one, I was known as The Dawn, which meant Sage had talked about me before. For two, he had called Sage my man. God, it was stupid how incredible such an offhand comment could make me feel.

“You can let go now,” Sage said, and he reached for Tricky’s shoulder, pulling him off of me. Sage shot me an apologetic smile. “Sorry, this is my bassist, Tricky, and if he’d held on to you any longer, you’d never get him off.”

Tricky grinned at me. “He’s had to use the hose on me before. I go after chicks like a dog in heat.”

“Whether they like it or not,” Sage pointed out.

“Oh, they always like it,” Tricky said. He looked back to me. “I am no Sage Knightly, though. I usually get the chicks who Sage doesn’t want, but hey, Tricky ain’t a bad substitute.” He wiggled his brows. “You should try me sometime.”

I was too focused on what he said about “chicks who Sage doesn’t want” to realize he was hitting on me. I forced a laugh—maybe a bit too loud—to make up for the fact that I was dying inside. Tricky’s words made me go from amazing to shit in two seconds flat. I really needed to get a fucking grip on today.

Sage cleared his throat again, and I could tell he was nervous about our interacting. “The players in the lobby?” he asked Tricky.

“Yup,” he said, nodding sharply. “Only one Frenchman and the rest are Brits. Seem like they’ll be okay. One of them has more badass tattoos than you do.”

I had almost—almost—forgotten about Sage’s tattoos. They were covered up right now, but I could see the sugar skulls on his arms and shoulder as clear as day in my head. I could see my fingers tracing their outlines as we lay in a sun-drenched California bed.

I blinked quickly and here we were, standing under a grey Paris sky, looking at each other like strangers.

How time had changed us.

Despite the background noise of rolling suitcases, car horns, and flapping pigeons, I could feel the silence between us and pulled myself out of my head to realize that Sage was staring at me intently. His shades were pulled up on top of his head and his eyes were burning into me, startlingly clear. I wondered if he knew what I had been thinking. I wondered what he’d think about all of that.

“Do you guys need a minute?” Tricky asked us. “Because I don’t think we have another minute, Sage man.”

As if to prove his point, Jacob suddenly appeared, striding toward us out of the foyer.

“Sage, get your arse inside,” he barked. “We’re all waiting and we have dinner reservations.” He then looked at me. “Sorry, Dawn, it’s official business and all that. Nothing you’d need to cover. Feel free to order room service though.”

He put his hands behind Tricky and Sage’s shoulders and pushed them inside. Sage glanced at me over his shoulder but didn’t say anything.

“Uh, my room?” I yelled after Jacob.

“Oh, right-o,” he said, annoyed, and fished an ornate-looking key out of his jacket pocket. “Room 616. We’re all on the same floor.” He pressed it hard into my hand and ran off after the boys, the flaps of his ugly jacket waving behind him. He was in full-on stressed-out-manager mode, and I did not want to get on his bad side.

I sighed and watched as Sage shook the hands of three other men—I guessed they were the drummer, other guitarist, and keyboardist—and then I made my way up the narrow staircase with a red velvet runner to the sixth floor. Just like with Hybrid, sometimes you felt you were part of the band, and sometimes it was very clear you weren’t. I was certain even my rock journalist hero, Lester Bangs, felt that way on occasion.

I walked down the hallway, searching the doors for my room number. The hallway was dimly lit and very long and winding, with a low wood ceiling that would graze anyone taller than Sage or Max. The carpet in the hall was an ornate brown tapestry, and when I looked closer at the room numbers, I noticed the garish-looking heads that framed the plaques they were written on. I shuddered a bit at their pinprick eyes and kept walking.

Eventually I found my room and wondered which one was Sage’s. Half of me hoped he was right next door, and the other half feared the proximity. The closer he was sleeping to me, the more likely I’d do something that I now knew would be totally stupid.

Or I’d find him doing something totally stupid.

I opened the door with a few twists from the cranky keyhole and stepped in. It was dark so I flicked on the light. It stuttered, making the room look staticky and jarring for a second before it evened out. My suitcase was already on one of the luggage holders at the foot of the bed, and it took me a few moments to grasp how nice the room was. The bed was a four-poster one, queen-sized, and I had a chaise and coffee table by the windows, which were large and looked out on the city.

I let out a giddy squeal, quickly closed the door, and pranced my way over to the window. I could see the fucking Eiffel Tower from here! It was like looking out at a painting, but I was living it. Once again it hit me. Paris. I was here. I craned my neck so my face was pressed up against the glass and took in more of the view. We were on the left bank, close to the river, and I could see all of Paris spreading out before me in a sea of neutral-colored buildings and matching grey roofs, the domes and spires of the various churches and cathedrals sprinkled here and there.

I stood like that for quite a bit, pushing up the bottoms of the windows to let the fresh air in. Then the phone rang, making me jump. Despite the peaceful view, I was still a little jittery.

I snapped it up. It was Max.

“Hey, little lamb,” he said.

“Hi, giant red potato.”

He snorted. “Red potato? That’s a new one.”

I sat on the bed and smiled into the phone. “Oh, I have plenty more. That was the most flattering one.”

“Listen,” he drawled. “While the band is out having fun, what say you and I get some dinner? I’d love to chat. Get to know you better.”

I know I should have been swooning at the idea of having dinner in Paris, even though Max wasn’t exactly my type. But just the thought of getting dressed and ready for such an occasion was making me feel tired to the bone. My jet lag was coming in full force, seeping into every crevice.

“I’d love to,” I told him, “but I think I’m just going to stay in. I’m exhausted.”

“Don’t fall asleep too early,” he warned. “Jet lag will fuck you up, and you’ll end up waking up in the middle of the night.”

“Yeah, yeah. Have a good one, anyway.”

“Sleep tight, little lamb.”

“Baaaa,” I bleated before hanging up.

I lay back on the bed, testing the comfort of the mattress. The duvet was fluffy and silky soft. Even though the hotel was extremely old and seemed dated and a bit creepy in the halls, there was just enough luxury in my room.

I sighed and stared up at the wallpapered ceiling, wondering what time it was back home and if I should call my dad now or in the morning.

Before I could even calculate an answer, the jet lag pulled me under.

I woke up, completely disoriented. I was lying on top of a bed, my clothes on, the overhead light shining in my face. There was a strange droning sound, like my ears were buzzing. I groaned and slowly sat up. I wasn’t in Ellensburg anymore. I ran my hand over the lush bedspread as I blinked hard at the light and looked over to the windows, wondering what time it was. It was black outside, any city lights lost by the glare from inside.

I eyed the clock ticking on the bedside table. Three o’clock in the morning. Despite the weird vibrating sound in my ears, a headache, and a mouth that felt like it was crammed with cotton balls, I was feeling more awake by the second. I should have listened to Max and not fallen asleep.

I eased myself into a sitting position and rubbed my hands up and down my arms, feeling a chill. There was something very unsettling about waking up in a hotel room in a foreign country in the middle of the night. It was a weighty feeling, the kind that makes you look over your shoulder even though you know there’s nothing there. That coupled with the loneliness that only comes to you at three in the morning meant I’d probably be spending the next few hours reading a magazine and praying for daylight. I always felt dawn brought with it safety.

The light above my head flickered for an instant, enough to make my heart skip around with the same erraticism. I got off the bed and headed to the washroom to finally wash the makeup off my face, which had been caked on there since JFK.

I closed the door behind me and, once I figured out I should be using the toilet and not the bidet, peed like hell. Then, deciding I needed it and it would probably help me sleep, I quickly undressed and jumped in the shower. I was in there a long time, using up all the cute little hotel toiletries and relaxing in the hot water. Steam filled the bathroom, and I slowly felt my muscles relaxing and willed all my worries to swirl down the drain.

So what if things were weird between Sage and I? A lot had happened in those months we were apart. I scored some good gigs, I graduated college, my family had never been better, and I felt like a stronger person (when I wasn’t worrying). I was strong enough to handle this, to adjust my thinking. Yes, I wanted to be here because I wanted to be with Sage. He was my reason, above his music. I just had to approach things differently, to turn that around. I couldn’t control where he was at or what he was thinking, but I could certainly control the way I saw the world. Music and career first, love later.

The internal pep talk made me feel a little bit better about being awake in the middle of the night, though I wasn’t sure if it would last or not. I stepped out of the shower and toweled myself off, scrunching my hair so it would maybe air dry properly.

With the towel wrapped around my chest, I opened the bathroom door and…

I stepped out into utter darkness.

My heart thumped in surprise, the light from the bathroom spilling in behind me and creating dark shadows all around. I had left the light in the room on. I knew that for a fact. The curious droning sound from earlier still continued, seemingly louder now, adding to my confusion.

Jet lag was a fucking trip.

Thinking the bulb must have burnt out, I let my eyes drift to the window. I should have been able to see the lights of the city now with the glare eliminated, but it was still black.

And there was something weird about that black, about the windows now in general. Somehow they weren’t inanimate…they throbbed. Pulsed.

Breathed.

A sick feeling crept up in my throat and I took a step forward, trying to focus on what was making my skin crawl.

The windows weren’t black because the world outside was black. The windows were black because they were covered by something. Something that moved…pulsated. Like a textured black curtain, except it was somehow…alive.

The light in the room suddenly came back on with a flicker. It made me gasp.

With the room illuminated, I got a better look at the windows.

They made me scream.

The windows were covered by hundreds of thick, shiny black flies. They were all crawling all over the glass and each other, coming together like a throbbing blanket from hell. Their tiny wings vibrated against each other, the buzzing sound more horrific now that I knew what it was coming from.

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