Another fascinating week with the voting!
It was all going one way and then suddenly the voting did a u-turn. Nothing like keeping me on my toes, darling readers :-)
I hope you’re happy with where I’ve taken the story this week.
Oh, the possibilities and the webs we weave.
Enjoy this week’s chapter and—DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!
Love Toni xx
“You mean that there’s something I need to know other than the fact that Calvin’s got a drug pusher on the road with us?”
“Take it easy, kid.” Liam took a swig of water from the ever-present orange drink bottle.
I decided to let his stab at my on the road naivety go. What use would it be to get on the wrong side of Liam now that it looked as if we might all be pushing in the same direction for once? Although, he did have a fucking irritating ability to wind me up the wrong way.
“Less of the kid shit,” Jesse stepped up with the tilt of his chin and came to my defence. “If there’s a fight to be had here, we at least all need to be in some kind of agreement.”
One corner of Liam’s mouth lifted in acknowledgment of the rebuttal from his friend.
“Try and ignore me,” Liam said his eyes back on me. “I’m not trying to rile you, this drugs bullshit pisses me off big time, but we need to keep our focus on the job at hand. We’ve got our first gig tonight and we need a fucking good sound man.”
“Well then what do you suggest? Do we go and see Calvin after the gig tonight to talk about it? Demand that he get a new sound guy?”
Liam sighed and shook his head. “Oh the first blush of youth,” Liam looked skyward to the old tiled ceiling in the motel unit. “Life’s so black and white when you start out in this business.”
“Quit picking on my age.” I couldn’t hide the irritation in my voice.
A wide smile lit up Liam’s dark eyes—mischief and the wisdom of years on the road were conveyed to me in a single look. Liam wasn’t trying to be an arse—he genuinely cared about the band and wanted us to succeed.
I sat down heavily, a sense of defeat beginning to claw at me.
A cloud of light dust exploded from the chair beneath me and became visible in the late afternoon light that spilled into the old motel room.
The weight of the predicament that we found ourselves in suddenly sucked all the fight out of me. I was beginning to realise that there were so many variables about life on the road that I didn’t have a chance of controlling.
“So what do you suggest we do?” I asked Liam. I may as well bow to the superior knowledge and wisdom of the drummer who sat in front of me.
Maybe that was all Liam wanted, some kind of acknowledgment from me and Marty that he did know what the hell he was talking about.
We were, after all, the new kids on the road.
“Calvin and Jeff go back a long way,” Liam said as he played with the top of his drink bottle.
“So?” I still didn’t understand. “Jeff’s pushing drugs, surely Calvin doesn’t want his name associated with that.”
“No, you’re right,” Liam said, “he wouldn’t but…” His voice trailed off as if he were pondering where to take his words next. Liam looked over to where Jesse sat on the other side of the room. Jesse was staring at his feet. As if he felt the power of Liam’s gaze he looked up, then he shrugged.
“It’s no use trying to hide it from them, they’ll find out soon enough,” Jesse said.
“Find out what?” Marty’s head had been turning back and forward as if on a swivel, taking in the surrounding conversation. “If we’re in the middle of some kind of shit storm, I think we should know what’s going on.”
It was me who’d talked Marty into giving up school and coming on the road—if I’d gotten us both involved in something shady, I’d never forgive myself.
Jessie held up his hands, palms facing outward, “Don’t look at me. Liam’s telling this story.”
All eyes in the room fell to Liam.
Liam’s gaze concentrated on Jesse. “It’s in the past,” he flung his hand in my direction, “Dylan’s outright said he doesn’t do drugs, so the same thing’s not going to happen again.”
Jesse shrugged and kept his mouth firmly shut.
“What fucking happened?” Marty stood up. The sudden movement brought all eyes to him. “Look you keep saying we’re a team,” Marty glared in Liam’s direction, “so be a fucking good team member and tell us what the fuck happened.”
“Easy, tiger,” Liam said to Marty with that soothing voice he used when one of us was stepping too close to the edge. “Okay. If you want to know. Jesse and I were in a band with another couple of guys, about the same age as us. We all started out together, under the careful eye of Calvin and his team. Headed out on the road, looked like we were going to make it big. Blah, blah, blah…”
Jesse leaned back in his seat and tipped his chin to the ceiling. Whatever it was that Liam had to tell us, it affected Jesse deeply as well—that much was clear from his body language.
“What happened?” I asked my throat suddenly dry.
“Jeff happened,” Jesse said in a flat voice, his eyes still closed and his head still tilted back at the ceiling.
“Who’s telling this story?” Liam said as he took a sip of water from his water bottle and then continued.
“Tell the short version,” Jesse said as he sat back up and re-engaged with the rest of us. “We’ve got a gig tonight and I want to grab something to eat before we hit the stage.
I checked Marty—his face had turned an ashen shade of white.
“Short version is that Jeff got our lead singer hooked on drugs. The band fell apart and I still don’t know if Steve’s ever made it out of the mental hospital.”
My head hurt.
“So why the fuck is Jeff still on the tour and even working for Calvin?”
“Because he’s a friend of the family.”
“Fuck!” Marty dropped his head in his hands. “I guess if we don’t take the shit he’s handing out, we’re going to be okay?”
“But he’s fucking offering it to anyone,” I said. “Look at the state Ange was in at the weekend?” A smouldering resentment still burned deep inside me—I was going to have to let it go—but for the moment it fuelled a much needed anger towards all things Jeff. “How many other people’s lives has he fucked up?”
Liam shrugged, “Besides mine, Jesse’s and Steve’s who knows?”
“How can you sit here and be so calm about it?” I couldn’t understand Liam’s apparent indifference to what Jeff had done.
“Ain’t nothing calm about what’s going on over here,” Liam assured me, “it’s just who I’ll show the torment too. Look,” Liam said leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “Old Jeff out there might have even done me a good turn. I don’t want to blow smoke up your arse, but you’ve got ten times the talent that Steve had and you,” he tipped his head in Marty’s direction, “write amazing songs. If Jeff hadn’t gotten Steve hooked on smack, I could still be drumming for some second-rate band that was on the cusp of making it for years. Instead,” Liam said, “I’m sitting here waiting for opening night on a tour that’s likely to take me somewhere.”
If that was some kind of backhand compliment, I wasn’t above taking it.
“But what do we do about Jeff?” I asked.
“Nothing right now,” Liam said. “Let’s get tonight’s gig out of the way and we can regroup and make a decision, as a band, tomorrow.”
I couldn’t argue with Liam’s logic—even if a part of me still wanted to rail against the injustice of what was happening.
“We got a gig to play tonight,” Jesse said. “Let’s keep our focus on that, okay?”
“Cool,” Marty said, then he looked at me.
I sighed. “Okay.”
“Don’t sound so down, kid,” Liam said as he stood up and then slapped me on the back. “You did the right thing and you’re going to slay ‘em tonight and that’s, frankly, all that matters.”
I wished I could be so sure.
Dinner done, I had an unexpected bout of nerves before we got into the van to head down to the local hall for the gig.
“Okay?” Liam asked, it was as if he had some kind of barometer on my feelings.
“Yeah, good.” Essentially, I was good and essentially I was looking forward to the first gig of the tour—but I still felt as if a dark cloud hung in the surrounding air.
When I caught sight of Jeff getting out of Calvin’s car my sense of injustice and hatred came to the boil. I stood looking at him, fists clenching and unclenching at my side.
“Don’t let him get to you,” Jesse said as he came and stood by me.
“How do you do that?” I asked, my question genuine.
“Ignore him. Concentrate on the good shit. Hey, there’s something I want to show you out front.” Jesse called across the carpark to Liam and Marty. “Guys! Over here!” He waved them in our direction.
We all duly followed Jesse who took us out the front doors of the hall.
The entranceway stood barren and empty.
Where were the crowds who were coming to see us?
Was it the right night?
“I thought that there’d at least be a few people here,” I said to Jesse.
“They’ll come. Have faith,” Liam said as Jesse turned and spread his hands in the direction of the front wall of the hall.
Then I saw it.
For the first time.
Something inside of me snapped.
A large poster, with the publicity shots of the band on it.
“Strike a pose!” Jesse yelled as he pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket.
“Come on, humour him,” Liam said as he pushed me and Marty in front of the poster.
This was it.
We were a band. We even had a hashtag with our name on the poster.
Something inside of me shifted as the four of us pulled gawky poses in front of the poster and Jesse took selfies of the entire proceedings.
“Hey, it’s them!” I heard a call from over the other side of the road.
A gaggle of young women proceeded to dodge the traffic and made their way over towards us.
“Can we have a photo?” a short, curvy woman with bright purple hair and huge glasses asked.
“Sure,” Liam was in his element.
He dwarfed the woman and remained head and shoulders above the rest of the women in the group.
“Get in here, guys,” Liam ordered the rest of us.
A couple of poses and all of a sudden we were surrounded by people.
“Where the fuck did they all come from?” I asked.
“I told you they’d come, didn’t I?” Liam said with a wink as he continued to work his way through the gathering females.
We posed for a ridiculous number of photographs.
By the time Calvin eventually called us back, the once empty looking and barren reception area had begun to hum with the sounds of voices and excited chatter.
A tingling excitement began to build in my chest.
I wanted to get on stage and I wanted to give this my all.
“You got this, guys,” Calvin said as we listened to the last few bars of the support band’s act.
We were the main event. I could scarcely believe it, we’d gone from support band to the main draw card in a ridiculously short amount of time.
The power of Calvin’s name and reputation.
No doubt the reason Liam wanted us to be careful about demanding that Jeff be fired.
I couldn’t think about that now.
My phone buzzed.
I could always rely on Mum to send her love at the critical moments in my life.
I typed, “I love U2” and turned off my phone.
Like we’d rehearsed so many times, I waited for the introduction.
Took a deep breath.
We hit the stage.
It felt as if the crowd were on stage with us—they were so close and overpowering.
A wall of heat hit me.
Lights blinded me.
Sound washed itself around me.
Checked in with Liam, Jesse and Dylan.
Liam counted us in.
We were away.
I could barely hear my fold back over the roar of the close crowd.
I found Jeff.
Pointed at my monitor.
Signalled for an increase in the mix.
Was immediately rewarded with the sweet sound of the four of us.
Time passed in a blur of lights, sound and choreographed band banter that looked, from the outside, as if we were simply goofing around on stage.
Every single word.
Every single action.
Every single movement had been polished to perfection.
By the time the crowd called for a second encore, I was dripping with sweat.
We came back on a second time and they went wild.
“Fucking brilliant!” Calvin said as he handed each of us a beer back stage. “Great start to what’s going to be a great tour.”
I was parched. I’d finished the first beer and was reaching for a second.
“Take it easy,” Calvin chided, “you gotta pack the gear down and get it in the van.”
I didn’t even give a shit that we didn’t really have any roadies.
The night had been a total success.
There was only one matter that needed to be addressed.
I was packing my gear down when Liam loomed by my side. “You still want Jeff gone?”
“Yeah, but I thought we were going to talk about that in the morning.”
Liam shrugged, “No time like the present if you ask me.”
“Jesse and Marty of the same opinion?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said. “Hey, Calvin,” Liam called across the stage. “There’s something the band needs to talk to you about.”
* * *
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