I blinked a few times, afraid to open my eyes. Jacob’s big, ugly face was peering down at mine, red brows knit together, lips crinkled. The light hurt my head.
I was going to vomit.
I quickly sat up, pushed him out of the way, and keeled over the opposite side of the bed, puking onto the floor. Mainly liquid. I couldn’t remember the last time I really ate.
“Oh, now you’re just being a twat,” Jacob said, his voice pinched. Jacob hated vomit, but as my manager and Hybrid’s ex-manager, he had to be used to it by now.
When I was done, my head spinning like a washing machine, I wiped my lips on the back of my hand and sat back in bed. I needed something strong to pull me out of this hangover because I felt worse than a dirty dishcloth. Cocaine had a funny way of leaving the body, doing a number on your psyche better than any childhood trauma ever could.
Jacob was shaking his head, his big arms crossed against his chest and plaid suit that clashed with his red hair, his fat knuckles cracking and uncracking. He meant business.
“The hell did you do here last night?” He looked around the room before his golden eyes settled back on me, narrowing as they focused.
I shrugged, my eyes pinched shut. I needed something, anything. “I had fun; it’s what you do after a show.”
“No,” Jacob said. “It’s what other musicians do after a show. You don’t have fun, Sage. I know your arse well enough.”
I snorted, gently enough so it didn’t further damage my brain. “Two chicks, Jacob, and a fuckload of drugs. Sounds like fun to anyone.”
“This isn’t you.” His voice lowered, becoming almost wistful. I opened my eyes and looked at him curiously. His face was riddled with pockmarks and disapproval. And, most jarringly, concern. “This isn’t Sage Knightly.”
We stared at each other for a few moments. Jacob was probably right, but I didn’t feel like giving him anything. He was pretty damn good as far as managers went. Hell, he was Jacob “The Cobb” Edwards, and his knuckles and rings were responsible for scarring many a promoter’s face. He was even immortal at some point, as far-out as that seems. But now he was human, here to die like the rest of us, and he and I had gone through more than anyone should go through. He knew exactly what was wrong with me, that black blanket over my head, because he had lost as much as I had.
But just because he knew didn’t mean I needed to address it.
“I’m fine, Jacob.”
He laughed, a big, belly-shaking one, like a ginger Santa Claus. I thought for a second he actually was amused, but the smile cleared off his face as fast as it came on.
“Sage,” he said sternly, coming closer and stopping at the foot of the bed. He motioned to the tangled, stained sheets. “Cover your bits up and then listen to me.”
I sighed and pulled the sheets over my dick. Somehow my nudity didn’t even surprise me anymore.
He stroked his chin, the sound of his calloused fingers against his stubble terrifyingly loud to my ears. “I’m not your father. Your father is back in California. But when we’re on the road, I feel like your father. So help me God, it’s true and I hate it. Never thought I’d have a full-grown, half-Mexican kid, but there you go. Never thought I’d still be managing you well after I didn’t have to anymore. But I like the job. I like you. And I don’t want to see you get hurt any more than you already have.” He sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed, the mattress dipping with his weight. “You survived your curse, Sage. You survived the deal. And you still came out on top. Don’t do this to yourself. Not now. You have everything you need to be great. You’re just about to go to Europe on tour, where I can promise you people will dig you; they will get you and your voice and your sound. Don’t bugger it all up because you’re feeling sorry for yourself.”
I swallowed hard but managed to say, entirely defensively I might add, “I’m a rock star. It’s the 1970s. Wake up, Jacob, and get with the times.”
He smiled quickly. “You’re a rock star. But this is not you. Now call the girl.”
I raised my brows, ignoring the pounding in my head. “The girl?”
“You know the girl, you trollop.” He rolled his eyes. “Dawn. Call her. You know her number. Call her and invite her on tour with us. You’re going to need her, and she’s going to need you.”
At the mention of her name, my heart started beating faster. Dawn. Rusty. My muse. I rubbed my lips together, eyes blinking fast, trying to think with great effort. “She needs me? I gave her everything.”
He eyed me matter-of-factly. “You didn’t.”
Didn’t I? She was a small-town music journalist from the sticks of Washington State, thrust into the spotlight after covering the demise of Hybrid. She went on tour with us during our dying days because that was part of the bargain I made—that we go down in history. But ever since we parted ways, even though she was constantly on my mind in some abstract, dreamy way, even though I’d jerked off plenty of times to the memory of me slamming her on the faded tour bus, I hadn’t seen her. We hadn’t really talked. She was a part of me and a shadow of my past at the same time.
“Oh, she’s doing well,” Jacob went on. “But she still needs you, even though she may not know it yet.”
I frowned. “Are you being purposely vague or do you know something?”
He shrugged, suddenly blasé. “I don’t know what I know. Call it a residual hunch. Even if I knew something, I’m not her manager. I’m not a guard or a guide. I just know she might need help. Somewhere deep in this dead old chest of mine, I feel like her story is just getting started.”
I could tell there was something else he wanted to say.
“And?” I pressed. I wanted him to leave the room more than anything so I could dig out the rest of the coke and get a little morning lifter going on, but Dawn was front and center.
He straightened up. “Call her. When you’ve got your brains together. Invite her on the tour. If you want, I can make sure she covers it for Creem, or you can just bring her along for kicks. Tell Rusty I’m the one who misses her if you have to. But just call her. Talk to her. And if you save her, maybe she can save you. And this time, maybe you’ll let it stick.”
With that, Jacob left the room, leaving me alone in the darkness brought on by black-out drapes and a raging hole in my heart.
I waited a few moments, then before I got too scared, I picked up the hotel room phone and asked to be connected to her number. Though I rarely used it, I knew it by heart.
Her voice came through the crackling line with clarity. It did something to my head, shaking out the cobwebs better than a line.
“Dawn?” I asked, just to make sure.
“Sage?” was her response. Unsure, brimming with nerves. So adorable. My whole body immediately melted into the bed. My heart surged with guilt.
“Hey, angel,” I said, trying to hide the fear. “How are you?” I glanced at the clock on the table, trying to figure out her time on the West Coast and failing. “I hope I’m not waking you.”
“It’s ten-thirty in the morning. I’m no longer a lazy college student.”
What fucking month was it? April already?
“I figured that,” I said smoothly. “Congratulations. Welcome to the real world. How does it feel?”
Dude, I was sounding like a complete fucking moron.
“Eh, it’s okay,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I think I might look sexier in this so-called real world, though.”
All I heard was “look sexier.” Suddenly my mind flashed with an image of us tangled in the sheets at my father’s house in Redding, one of the last times I saw her. She was firm and soft all at once, big dark eyes, hair thick and shiny as chili oil. A smile that could power a thousand cities.
“I don’t think that’s possible,” I said, hoping she could feel the lust in my voice. Hoping I still interested her the way I used to. “Listen, what are you doing next month? Is May busy for a retired rodeo queen?”
I had to ask. She was a barrel racer before she became a full-fledged music journalist. The thought of her in rodeo queen gear was a harbored fantasy of mine, and barrel racing, her dismounting a horse all sticky and sweaty and then mounting my horse, was just icing on the cake.
“No, not yet,” she responded. Keeping me on my toes, I see. “There’s supposed to be a bunch of good albums released that I’ll have to review right away, but that’s about it.”
I gulped down the next question then dug for the strength to ask it. Bite the bullet. Be the rock star.
“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 music journalist to cover it.”
And, once again, I sounded like a moron. A desperate, cheesy moron. I should have heeded Jacob’s advice and waited until my hangover was gone.
But to my surprise, she enthusiastically replied, “Are you kidding me?” like she’d just won a trip to Disneyland. I guess, in a way, she had. The Disneyland of rock ‘n’ roll. All rides included.
“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.” I remembered what Jacob said. “I really miss you.”
I fucking meant it. But she’d never know how much. She’d never know that I’d give anything for her to try to fix me again.
We could save each other. Right?
“I really miss you, too,” she said.
Holy fuck. Way too much for my chemical-laden heart to carry this early in the…well, afternoon.
I cleared my throat, trying to sound breezy. “So you’ll come? Tell me the dates and I’ll make the arrangements.”
She paused, thinking, and during that, I wondered if she was rethinking it all. Maybe this was too out of the blue and I was too presumptuous. But then she said, “May fifteenth would be good. I could come for a week or two, depending. Maybe three if I’m lucky.” She lowered her voice. “I don’t like leaving home for too long.”
I could live with that.
She continued, her conscience getting the better of her. “Can you call back later tonight? I need to talk it over with the family.”
“Of course. I’ll talk to you soon.”
I hung up the phone, got out of bed and opened the black-out curtains, peering out at the white-hot spot that was Detroit. We had two more weeks on the East Coast and then it was off to Europe. Sage Knightly and his mediocre solo tour was going overseas, a place Hybrid had never gone.
New ground. New territory.
And, if I was lucky enough, an old flame.
“Here’s to Dawn,” Melanie announced, holding her can of Pabst in the air. Despite the Creedence Clearwater Revival pumping through the speakers we had brought into the barn, everyone could hear her. Mel always knew how to be the center of attention.
“To Dawn!” everyone cheersed in drunken unison, raising their drinks as Mel quickly motioned for me to get into the middle of the circle that was haphazardly forming.
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