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I gave up counting many years ago the number of times I’d flown in by chopper to a rock concert. The first time had been a buzz. Thousands of my fans, waiting to greet me, Julian MacAvoy, rock star. I still struggled to come to terms with my fame some days.
The woman sitting opposite me today, however, was experiencing this particular thrill for the first time.
As the chopper’s rotors abated, the sound was replaced by the roar of my fans screaming for me. Years ago I would have been on a high hearing the roar of the crowd. Today, the only sound I wanted to hear was the woman sitting opposite me calling my name as I made her come.
Mags O’Brien looked at me with wonder in those big brown eyes.
“It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.
The medieval castle, the backdrop for this particular gig loomed on the horizon. The stone structure looked as bleak and dark as my mood.
“All right for you,” I said to Mags trying my best not to be morose. “You don’t have to get up there and perform in front of the fuckers.”
I was scared.
I was always scared before a show.
I didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but they all knew what was going through my mind. Everyone did their best to ignore it and I guess I had to be grateful for that. I’d heard them whispering in the corridors, make-him-or-break-him time they dubbed it.
Every show for a long time, regular as clockwork, I’d eat and then I’d bring it back up. So I started fuelling myself on a concoction of chocolate and caffeine—but I’d bring that back up before I stepped on stage.
Nothing settled my nerves.
But the woman sitting opposite me. I knew that she could go a long way towards settling me down. Only she wasn’t available.
Married to another fucking man.
I wondered what kind of a man would let a gorgeous creature like Mags out on tour with someone like me?
He must be an idiot.
If she was mine, I’d never let her out of my sight.
We’d stepped out of the screaming chopper and were making our way to the labyrinth of tent-like structures that served as backstage.
“Mags!” I heard Frederick bellow across the heads of the people surrounding us, “Get Jules settled, would you?”
Like the dutiful wife that she probably was to the jerk who’d let her come on tour with me, she grabbed my hand and said, “Come on, Jules.” She led me through the maze of tents and found the portacom with my initials on the door. I made sure they were plastered everywhere. My initials adorned my musical instruments, the chopper that had just dropped us to site and every piece of damn equipment that came with us on tour.
I’d worked my ass off to get here and I was going to make sure that everyone knew who they were dealing with.
“Mags, don’t you ever get sick of spending hours with me in these fucking igloos?” I tore my hoodie off my head and threw my dark glasses on the wooden table that housed the supply of fruit and chocolate that had been stipulated on my rider.
I scanned the room, looking for the coffee machine. “Where’s my fucking mug?”
“Here,” she said, like a breath of fresh spring air. My moodiness and my demands that had driven my last assistant to the bottle never seemed to phase Mags.
After pouring the fresh, steaming coffee into my favourite Rosenthal mug I made my way to the table and began to break up a bar of chocolate. I liked to start at the centre of the table and lay each piece out in an ever increasing spiral. Then I’d start eating the chocolate from the outside piece and work my way back to the centre. Some days I made it all the way to the middle and other days I didn’t. I wondered how far I’d get today as I washed the first piece down with a mouthful of coffee.
Some guys got pissed before they went on stage and then finished the job after the show. I couldn’t stand alcohol or drugs. I’d watched what they did to my brother and I wasn’t ever going there.
“I’ve checked your kit,” Mags said. “It’s all here. You ready to get suited up?”
“Nup.” I liked playing this game with Mags before every show. I knew we had the back-stage-meet-and-greet to get through and bantering with her about whether or not I’d do anything on time kept my nerves at bay.
“Thirty minutes to meet-and-greet,” she said. “You need to be dressed nicely for the fans.” She motioned for me to follow her toward the wardrobe rack.
“Where’s your manners?” I couldn’t help flashing her one of my killer grins and I watched her melt.
“Please,” she said. The way she said the word made my dick twitch. I was determined that I’d have this woman in my bed before this tour was done.
“Who’s coming today?” I asked trying to keep my mind on the job at hand. I ate a third piece of chocolate and sluiced it down with another mouthful of coffee.
I watched her fish out the daily schedule prepared by my tour manager, Dan. The two of them ran the tour like a military operation. “Two fourteen-year-olds from the local radio station.”
I winced. Teenage girls were a bloody nightmare back stage. “Any chance they might be bringing yummy mummies with them?”
Her face flickered at my words, just for a moment and then she recomposed herself. Maybe Ms Mag’s marriage might not be the fairytale she liked everyone to believe it to be.
“They have escorts, yes.”
“And the other four?”
She checked her notes again before looking up at me, her face unreadable, “Twenty-three-year-old and twenty-seven-year-old.”
“Males from the local wheelchair basketball team.”
I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t enjoying the game. But why? We did this night after night. Pretending that we didn’t find each other attractive. How long was she going to deny that there was an undeniable tension between the two of us?
“Tell me you’re saving the best for last—I’m still missing two.” I cocked my head to the side.
Mags looked away from me and back at her notes, “A couple of twenty-somethings that Ted took a shine to at the local club last night. He think they might be right up your alley.”
“Pay dirt!” At the sound of my words, she looked up at me. I wanted to tell her that we didn’t have to play this game anymore. Instead I said, “The dirty bastard hasn’t shagged them already has he? You know how grubby drummers are.”
“You’d best go ask him—he’s three doors down on your left.” She motioned for me to leave and I thought that might be the best solution tonight.
“I shall,” I said. Grabbing a handful of chocolate I made my way to the dressing room of one of my closest friends and wondered how many more nights Mags and I would have to play this ridiculous game.
* * *
After I’d gotten the lowdown from Ted about the two scorchers he’d met last night I made my way back to my dressing room.
Some nights I felt as if I was simply going through the motions. I knew that the woman I really wanted was in my dressing room right now preparing for me to go on stage.
I’d promised myself years ago that I would never have anything to do with another man’s woman. I’d seen the fallout with my brother around how that kind of indiscretion ended.
In our case, it ended badly.
I didn’t steal other men’s wives and I wasn’t about to start on that particular road to ruin, no matter how tempting the woman.
I stood outside the door of my dressing room, I could hear voices coming from inside. Mags and Sheree were talking.
“Jeremy’s complaining there was nothing in the marriage contract about me being dragged all over the world for months on end, and simulating sex on stage with a gorgeous man in front of hundreds of thousands of people,” Sheree said.
Jeremy was a complete dick as far as I was concerned. What was it about the men that the women on my tour chose to marry? I shook my head. I shouldn’t be out here listening, but something prevented me from opening the door and walking in.
“He must have realised what your work involved,” I heard Mags say, “Jules was at your wedding for crying out loud.”
And what a pain-in-the arse event that turned out to be. The press mobbed the reception and I ended up being shuttled out the back door and home. I should have sent the press a thank you note. I’ve no idea who leaked them the information that I’d be there, but poor Sheree—it ruined her day.
“I know, I know,” Sheree agreed. “I didn’t think it worried him until after we got married. He’s gotten strange about it all in the last couple of months. Constant snotty phone calls and texts. I think he wants me to just give up and go home.”
Over my dead body, I thought.
“And what do you want to do?” Good girl, Mags. Looking out for my interests.
“I love my job,” Sheree said. And I loved having her on my team. I trusted her with my life on stage. I couldn’t imagine trying to get through some of the dance routines we managed with anyone else.
“But you love your husband.” Mags wasn’t taking this conversation in the direction I wanted it to go anymore.
“I don’t know what to do,” Sheree whined, “How do you do it? Have a marriage and tour?”
I’d heard enough. I didn’t want to hear Mags’ answer to that question. I pushed the door open and made sure that it banged against the wall as I entered.
“Heya, darlin’,” I said to Sheree as I planted a friendly kiss on the crown of her head. “How’s my number one girl?”
“I’m good, J,” she said throwing me one of her beaming smiles. “How about you?” She didn’t sound so good to me a few seconds ago.
“Ace,” I replied. “Ted’s got me a couple of scorchers sorted,” and I couldn’t resist giving Mags a wink. I might not be able to have her because she was married, but if there was any chance that her marriage might be on the rocks… Well, there was no reason not to let her know that I wouldn’t throw her out of my bed now, was there?
“I saw. At the Club last night,” Sheree said.
I needed to change for the show and I’d given up years ago caring who might see me in my dressing room. I pulled off my hoodie and shirt in one movement and then dropped my jeans.
We’d been on tour for weeks. I was fit and I kept myself in shape when we were on the road. Exercise was one of the things that kept me sane. I’d seen the way that Mags looked at me when I took my clothes off. I knew I wasn’t playing fair, but that didn’t stop me.
I took my time, running my thumb over the rack of clothing in front of me.
“What’s up first, Mags?”
I looked across to her and watched as her eyes came back from my muscled chest to my face.
“The usual,” she said. “Black kicks, black sleeveless T with black shirt over the top and white tie.”
“Right,” I knew the ensemble almost by heart, but I wanted to connect with her before I dressed myself again.
We worked hard to layer me carefully for the show. I started out looking like some clean-cut young man then morphed to dirty rock god in three songs.
I ate another piece of chocolate and then washed it down with some more coffee.
“It’s time for me to move,” Sheree said, “literally.” She stood up, peeling herself from the couch and stretched out her long limbs.
“Yeah, go get yourself warmed up.” I began to turn my mind to the coming show. It needed to be perfect. “See you out the back shortly, yeah?”
Sheree popped a light kiss on my cheek. “Aye, you will, boss.”
“Crap!” I couldn’t help the explosion.
“What’s the problem?” Mags sighed as she too got up from the couch and crossed the room towards me.
“There’s a bloody button missing. What’s up with Wardrobe?”
“Give it here—I’ll take care of it,” Mags said.
There were other things that I’d like Mags to take care of, but for now, I needed to keep my mind on the coming show.
* * *
I stood in the wings, listening to my band driving the crowd to a frenzied peak.
The soft hand of Mags caressed my back as I emptied my stomach of the rubbish I’d consumed backstage. Every time I did this I had a fleeting moment of thinking that I should stop eating shit. But like so many of the vices in my life—I couldn’t stop.
My body heaved convulsively almost in time with the music that rose to a crescendo.
“Okay?” Mags asked as she wiped my mouth with a tissue. What must she think, having to be my nursemaid in the wings like this?
I nodded in the affirmative, shaking the tension from my body and wiping a hand over my mouth. I turned my mind to the job at hand—to make this the best fucking night that the people out front could have this year.
Mags walked with me to the spot where I’d enter the stage. Bouncing on the spot, I closed my eyes and said the prayer that I always recited before I stepped on stage.
Dan touched me on the shoulder.
It was time.
I walked into the deafening roar of the crowd. As I strutted from one side of the stage to the other, sucking up the adoration, I slipped the fold back buds into my ears and readied myself for my opening song.
As much as I loved the energy coming from my fans, it was the worship of the unavailable woman standing in the wings that I secretly wanted.
By the time I’d lost most of my costume and was looking like the bad boy rockstar they’d all paid their money to come and see, I looked to the side of the stage and was surprised to see Mags still standing there. Normally, she’d be gone by now. But tonight, for a reason known only to her she stood watching me from the shadows.
Seeing her there made me smile. When she returned my grin with a genuine look of affection, something inside of me snapped.
I turned my attention back to my job. Back to my fans. But I held on to the warm, private moment we’d shared for the rest of the first act.
By the time I got back to the wings, I was soaking. The heat of the lights and the physical nature of the work simultaneously excited and exhausted me.
Mags towelled me down and not for the first time I wished we were in a private hotel room somewhere, not back stage at a rock concert.
I stripped off my sodden clothes and took the offered bottle of mineral water from Mags.
“How’s it looking?” I asked as I stared into her eyes, trying to rekindle that feeling of connection we’d experienced early in the show. “Do you think they’re loving me out front?”
“You appear to have them in the palm of your hand, as always,” she replied.
I couldn’t help myself. “Maybe it’s not just them I want in the palm of my hand.”
I shimmied myself into the dry white t-shirt she’d handed to me, flicked the last of the water down her front and was back on stage before she had a chance to work out what had happened. I hesitated a moment before I hit the stage proper and turned back to call to Mags. “You looked like you needed cooling off.”
I knew I was flirting with a married woman. But to hell with it. I was going after what I wanted and be damned with the consequences.
* * *
After the show, I assembled the crew in my dressing room and they stood in front of me waiting for the usual backstage debrief.
I asked them the same question I asked them every night. I wanted them to be honest. Most of the time they were, but on the odd occasion, when I was feeling particularly vulnerable, they might have bent the truth a little.
“So, how did it look tonight, team?” I knew it looked good, so they could be honest.
“Three out of ten,” Dan said as he winked at Mags.
“We aced it!” Frederick lifted me off my feet in a huge bear hug.
“Get off me, you oaf!” I struggled to free myself. I was still soaked from the exertion of being on stage. Water flew from both of our bodies in all directions.
“God, you dickheads,” Sheree wailed as she began to brush the droplets off her skin. “I practically swim with him on stage. I could do without the shower now.”
Once free of Frederick’s vice-like grip I dropped to one knee in front of Sheree, blocking her exit and bringing her hand to my lips. “Forgive me my sweet maid.”
“Sweet maid, my arse,” she snapped, pulling her hand from my grasp.
Dan dug me in the ribs and gave me a leery look. “The way you two cavort out there for all the world to see, if she’s a sweet maid then I must be Mother Fucking Teresa.”
“Grow up!” Sheree growled throwing Dan the kind of look that should have been reserved for reptilian creatures as she stalked out of my dressing room.
I knew something was up with her, but I couldn’t be sure what.
“What’s the matter with her?” Dan’s cocky expression vanished.
“Husband,” Mags said.
I should have guessed. Why the hell she married the moron was beyond me.
“She’s not going to leave me, is she?” I directed the question at Mags. She seemed to have a handle on what was going down with Sheree.
Ted decided now was a good time to join the conversation. “Not unless she wants Dan to sue that tasty arse of hers from one side of the European Union to the other.”
We all glared at him.
Mags looked as if she was going to hit him. “Could you try not to be a typically insensitive drummer for once in your life?”
I unclenched my fist. Sheree wasn’t my wife, but for some reason I wanted to defend her honour. “Jesus,” I sighed. “Don’t let her hubby hear you talking about her like that.”
“Hey mate, I’m not the one who simulates sex with her every night in front of the punters. And he’ll be an ex-husband in no time if he doesn’t sort himself out. She’s not going to give this up for him. He should pull his head in.”
“Just cut it out.” Mags was bringing the conversation to a close. “Don’t you lot have some groupies you can grope or something?”
“Don’t feel like it.” I said depositing myself on the floor in an exhausted heap. Somehow the elation of the show had vanished.
“Guess we’ll be on our way,” I heard Frederick say.
I was still staring at the floor of the dressing room when I realised that Mags hadn’t left with the others.
“Come on, you.” The tone of her voice reminded me of the tone a nanny would use with a child. I guess I was behaving like a child, but sometimes the pressure of everything got to me.
Tonight was one of those nights.
I couldn’t get the image of Mags stood in the wings of the stage with her soaking shirt out of my mind. I’d been overzealous with the way I’d treated Sheree on stage. Truth be told, I think I was playing out my fantasies around Mags.
I was in trouble here.
Mags tried again. “If you’re not going to go out gadding you should head back to the hotel to bed.”
“Don’t want to!”
Well, not unless Mags was offering to climb in there with me and I didn’t think that offer was on the table. Not tonight, anyway.
* * *
Mags had come back to the hotel with me. She should really have been out on the town with the others, but Mags didn’t really do out on the town. I wondered if it had something to do with the fact that she was married—but then I never liked to think about Mags being married.
A married woman shouldn’t be out on the road as far as I was concerned. Not without her husband anyway and especially not holed up in a hotel room with the likes of me.
I watched her graceful form as she walked across the hotel room, picked up the television remote and turned on the large TV. The LCD screen burst into life and I was washed in a blue light—not unlike the light I’d spent a lot of my time on stage standing beneath. I should have missed daylight while we were on tour, but somehow, with moving from country to country and the jumbled timezones I learned to live beneath artificial light.
“I want National Geographic.” Mags cast a glance at me that for a moment I thought may have been full of sympathy. I didn’t want her feeling sorry for me. I didn’t want her feeling anything for me. It was too dangerous. If I behaved like a complete jerk, then maybe she’d decide touring with me wasn’t for her and she’d go home to that damn husband.
Idiot man. Letting a woman like Mags out on the road with me.
There was something about the way the under sea creatures swam across the screen that began to have a calming effect. I lost track of time. A stingray danced across the screen, seeming to fly though the water.
“We should go there,” I announced.
“Go where?” Mags asked, sounding almost asleep.
“The Pacific Ocean.” Mags needed waking up. I jumped on the couch beside her and marvelled as her eyes grew wide in surprise.
I threw my arms around her. Fuck her husband. If he let her come touring, then I wasn’t going to be responsible for what happened. “You know. You, me and the lads. A bit of scuba diving, lying in the sun.”
“You don’t know how to scuba dive and besides,” she added in a serious tone, “you can’t swim.”
“I can see it now,” I said, getting to my feet, throwing my arms wide and making sure I was the centre of Mags’ undivided attention. “We’ll hire a huge boat.” I began to pace the large room and the ideas started to flow. “You don’t like that idea?” I was all about trying to please Mags now. I thought harder. “I know—a resort.” Everyone loved the idea of lying around the pool, enjoying the sun. “It’ll be great. Sun, sand, scuba.” There was a song there somewhere. I made a mental note. “You need to book something for after the tour.”
I should probably have kept my mouth shut, but there was something about the faraway look in Mags’ eyes that told me she liked the idea.
She wanted me. I was certain of that. She didn’t want me in the way that the fans who threw themselves at me wanted me. Mags’ attentions were more subtle and of more importance to me. They were genuine.
I’d forgotten what it felt like to be wanted by someone for me—not for the persona who got up on stage every night, but for Julian MacAvoy—the man.
It was endearing and intoxicating and terrifying.
* * *