“And then you showed up at my concert,” I almost accuse, though I’m not really sure why.
I just need the cycle of being bitch slapped with my failures to stop. What better way of doing that than to find an accusation of my own? Of course, bringing up the concert is as cheap as it is weak. It’s not like she sought me out.
She was just a dumbstruck to see me there as I was her.
Hell, she’d been set up.
We both had.
God, I was going to be sick, and it had nothing to do with the last four years of physical and emotional turmoil.
I was trying to practice scales on my guitar to help bleed off my nerves, but it wasn’t helping. I was about to take my first real step into what appeared to be a normal life, a life that I had never anticipated.
But somehow, unexpectedly, here I was, about to meet a crowd of rowdy twenty-somethings all having paid good money for me to deliver.
How did I even get here?
“Ash, this is awesome,” Kyla squealed, grabbing my arm and bouncing in excitement as the opening act exited the stage.
My eyes panned to hers and I grimaced.
Ugh, I was really going to be sick…
She rolled her eyes. “Stop being such a baby. You’re here, you’re loved, and you’re a rock star. I know it’s really damn hard and everything, but I’m sure you can find a way to cope with success.”
When did she get to be so sarcastic? It was way too much like me, and I didn’t like it at all. Only I got to be me, damn it.
I looked her over again, still recovering from the shock of seeing her, let alone seeing her as an adult. She was eighteen now, only just. But the last time that I’d seen her she had barely been a teenager.
She’d shown up on my doorstep two months prior, right after her birthday, and pissed beyond belief. At first, she’d hauled off on me, lashing out in ways that were both inventive and slightly frightening, though I’d never admit that to her.
Of course, after she’d wrestled my deserter ass into a brand new shape, I’d explained things to her, and she’d only gotten more pissed. From there, it had been silence and angry tears, but somehow she’d found it in herself to forgive me.
It’s not like I’d wanted to leave her or anyone else.
I think she really understood that and it helped her to let it go, but something in me knew that she’d never really let me live it down. I had a lot to make up for, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way, at all.
I wasn’t supposed to have to deal with awkward meetings or consequences of any kind. And I still didn’t want to.
But she’d found me, and while she’d had every intention of leaving after she’d given me that large chunk of her scary mind, nothing seemed to be going as planned for anyone.
She was already here, she was determined not to leave now, and I couldn’t very well run away again or kick her out, but that didn’t mean that I’d deal with anyone else.
It had taken every ounce of pathetic pleading I’d had to swear her to silence. I didn’t want anyone to know, not Christine, not Aiden, not Clay or Chelsea, not Glen or Madison… and especially not Spencer.
She’d agreed reluctantly, but I knew that it would never be over. She’d push and push and push until she got what she wanted.
And what she wanted was a full reunion with my past, a good, old-fashioned, come to Jesus revival with tears and hugs and maybe even a reality television personality narrating.
But I wouldn’t hear of it. I had enough to deal with. Things were still so up in the air, and every minute was just a timer counting down into the unknown. Yes, I had money and yes, my band was becoming successful because of it, but that didn’t mean that it was a real life.
It was all just biding time. And ultimately, running away would mean nothing if I abandoned my entire reason for running in the first place.
They just couldn’t know.
And she just didn’t understand that. She couldn’t. She still thought that I was a complete dumbass in how I’d handled the situation, but some things can’t be understood until they’re experienced.
And my reasons for running weren’t something that most people ever would, thankfully.
I did the best that I could with the information that I had. Or, at the very least, I’d tried to make it less terrible than it was for all those involved.
Kyla’s bouncing intensified and the roar of the crowd pulled me out of my thoughts just in time to see my drummer and best friend, Kate, taking a seat at her kit in the middle of the stage.
Jacinda and Jonica, or more lovingly known as Jac and Jon, pushed past me to go to their posts and I knew that it was time.
Kyla shoved me a little, screaming over the crowd. “Get your ass out there!”
I squinted my eyes at her over my shoulder, wondering how I’d put up with her even as much I couldn’t fathom being without her again, and made my way to the mic in the middle front of the stage.
The noise was deafening, the lights hot and blinding, and I shoved the scooped bangs out of my eyes on reflex. It did no good, but it didn’t matter. Once my fingers touched the frets and that first bittersweet, grungy chord rang out loud and ballsy, I was possessed.
It was just me at my very core, without all of the anger, pain, and regret, and doing what I did best while loving it.
“WEST HOLLYWOOD,” I shouted.
And like good little lemmings they responded in kind.
I laughed almost evilly. Here I was a Goddess, a master of my domain, and these my loyal subjects.
“YOU WANT SOME FUCKING MUSIC?”
Hell yes they did. Who wouldn’t?
The energy was palpable, arcing from their writhing, bouncing bodies in a sweaty stream of endless movement until it sparked and the first song kicked off.
I lost myself in the excitement, in the feel of the smooth wood in my hands, in the bend of every string and dissonant note. The songs continued pouring forth from us like a well-oiled machine as the crowd jumped, and screamed, and used the stage like a spring board for crowd surfing.
The energy was just crazy and the few security guards were having hard time containing the pit.
Venues like these, people like these, had been my surrogate family in my time spent running, and this is where I felt most free, as if all of the realities of life and loss didn’t exist.
I couldn’t help but feel empowered and excited as I watched them react to the sounds that my fingers made, as I watched them open their mouths to shout out the lyrics with me.
By the end of the set I was exhausted but revitalized. There was no high like playing to a receptive crowd, they were more and more receptive with each show if tonight was any indication.
This had been our biggest show yet, and I was feeling pretty amazing. Apparently they were too, because when the band and I bid them a goodnight and exited the stage, they weren’t ready for the show to end.
“EN-CORE,” they chanted.
I looked around to locate Kyla backstage, and that’s when the club owner came up to us, a worried expression on his face.
He yelled to be heard over the booming noise. “The crowd hasn’t been this out of control since BRMC came through here! You guys need to play another song, something to mellow them out!”
I looked to the band to see that I wasn’t the only one at a loss. We didn’t do mellow. I mean, I had a few songs that I hadn’t played since my days on the street taking tips, but that was all acoustic stuff. Besides, the band hadn’t rehearsed any of them.
“We don’t have any other songs,” I told him.
“Then play a cover,” he shouted nervously, his hands twisting together and sweat beading at his temples. “I don’t care, but do something to calm them down!”
I took my electric guitar off and placed it on a nearby stand before peeking out from the side of the stage. Fists were pumping wildly, the chanting hadn’t relented in the slightest, bouncers were pushing them back with outstretched arms, and I had no idea what to do.
I glanced over at Al. He was always with me. He was my security blanket.
I picked him up and began to fit the wireless receiver from my electric onto him.
“Ash, what are you going to play,” Kate asked as she began to help me.
“It’s just a stupid song I wrote a long time ago. It’s mellow and kind of dark.” I turned to venue manager. “I’ll do my best.”
He exhaled heavily and swallowed so hard that his Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat.
“Thank you,” he said desperately.
Kate and I finished and I walked out onto the stage. The crowd lost it when they saw me and I smiled at them as I clicked one of the pedals beneath the mic. The little light bounced and I watched to make sure Al was tuned to drop D.
I clicked open the channels to clean and did a quick test strum while I talked into the mic. “Alright, you guys asked for more…”
They went even more nuts and I did my best to calm them by speaking so quietly that they’d have to in order to hear me.
“Okay, since you guys have been so great tonight, I’m going to a play a song of mine that nobody’s ever heard before. I need everyone to really pay attention.”
It worked. They weren’t church mice or anything, but they had at least lowered the volume.
“It’s called Cellar Door.”
I started to pick out the slightly complicated intro. I mean, I had small hands and this required me to do full extended chords while clamping my thumb down over the dropped E string. But I’d played this song a million times when I first got here, so muscle memory took over.
Before I knew it, I was picking out the verse and singing.
“I guess I should be thankful for given seldom chance, to see what lies in front of me before that time has passed. I’m going through the motions, like swimming in a dream, and all the things that brought me here have led me to this brink.”
Damn, I forgot how hard it was to belt out that buildup and move into the driving acoustic-punk style of the chorus.
“And all the paths lead to one cellar door. We’re born into this life with nothing to live for. And I look forward to dying young.”
I let the note ring out before picking back into the verse. The crowd was fairly still and as I scanned the faces, I felt a little better about sharing this song; that is until my eyes landed on a smug Kyla at the front left of the general admission floor.
Well, not so much Kyla, but the very Spencer looking blonde standing next to her with her mouth agape.
“Now I’m stuck,” I almost missed the opening and the lyric was so true. “With my hands above my head, I’m giving up. And what I do, I do for the sake of her. I took the long way out, out of love. I close my eyes, shed a smile without remorse.”
God, there was so much remorse. I couldn’t move my eyes or even blink. It was like my eyes had been propped open with toothpicks and fixed on her.
How could Kyla do this to me, to her…?
“Because all the paths lead to one cellar door. We’re born into this life with nothing to live for. And I look forward to dying young.”
The outro slowly grew into an anthem-esque strum as I began to repeat the last few lines of the song.
“I look forward to dying young…”
Over and over again, those lines poured out, and I felt the words choking in my throat. She was never supposed to be here. She was never supposed to see me again. She was never supposed to hear this song.
None of this was ever supposed to be this way.
None of this was ever supposed to be at all.
The sadness flowing through speakers did the trick because the energy had been sapped from the mob. Some of them even had glossy eyes, and then like they were mocking me, they picked up on the line and started it with me.
“I look forward to dying young.”
It really did have an anthem feel.
After a few more measures, I let the song go and nearly ran from the stage, only stopping long enough to say, “Thank you.”
Jac, and Jon wore teary smiles and gave warm congratulations, and Kate was mainly pissed that I’d never shared that song with them.
I practically threw Al in his case, generally ignoring them all.
I needed to get out of here quick.
And then I needed to kill Kyla. I knew that she’d push, but after only two months?!
I mean, for fuck’s sake…
Speak of the devil and he will appear, only he’ll be an eighteen-year old girl with big brown eyes, a button nose, and an obvious death wish.
I glared at her for a moment, but said nothing as I packed up my electric.
“Ashley,” she tried again, this time grabbing my arm.
I whirled on her, ready to lay her open, but then I noticed that Spencer was just behind her… with someone else.
Spencer had her arms crossed over her chest as her friend spoke animatedly with her hands. She glanced at me for a moment, her face impassive before dismissing me like so much garbage.
I shook Kyla loose when Spencer focused back on her partner and tried my very best to evaporate her with my eyes.
I still couldn’t say anything, not here and not now. I needed to just run away…
“Ash, let me explain…”
I picked up both guitar cases, bent on leaving, but then Spencer left her now obviously seething friend and approached us.
Age had treated her well. Tight jeans hugged her hips and legs before disappearing smoothly into her high-heeled, lace up boots. A black tank top trimmed in lace was only barely holding her together, and I figured that one good bend of the waist would send her breasts spilling out of it.
Her skin was tan and almost glowing with the flush of being down in the crowd, and her hair fell in long waves of golden silk around her shoulders.
“Ashley,” she said, her voice indifferent. “You did well. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” I said while Kyla stepped back to observe us.
“You look…,” Insanely beautiful? “Good, Spence.”
God, that was lame.
She just smirked at me. “You too.”
Kyla started to smile a little bit and I glanced over at her. It was a good thing that I had my hands full of guitars or I’d have slapped it from her face.
“Well,” Spencer continued. “I thought it would be rude not to at least say hello. I should probably get going though.” She gestured to the brooding brunette behind her. “Good luck, Ashley.”
And with that she was walking away and all I could do was stare, that is until the brunette broke into my field of sight and not so subtly let me know that I wasn’t to look at Spencer.
She turned to leave, and with one last rueful look at Kyla, I did the same.
Kyla was right next to me the whole way to my black Humvee, but I ignored her as I loaded it up.
“Ash, I didn’t tell her anything, I swear…”
There was a group of people waiting to meet me, but I couldn’t deal with it just now. Besides, Jac and Jon were soaking up the attention.
“You can’t keep hiding away from the people who love you, who miss you…,” Kyla continued.
I was undeterred.
“Ash,” Kate called out as she ran over to me.
“I’ll call you later, Kate.”
“What’s going on,” she asked.
“She’s being an ass,” Kyla replied and I’d finally had enough of her.
I slammed the back door to the Humvee and turned to my sister. “You had no right to do that, Kyla!”
“I’m your sister! I have every right!”
“No, you really don’t. You promised me and you knew that I wasn’t ready, that I probably never would be! I still don’t even know…”
Angry tears welled in my eyes and Kate put her hand on my shoulder, but I shrugged her off to finish. “Do you even realize what you’ve done, how much this could further hurt Spencer… me?”
Kyla was crying now but I didn’t care. I couldn’t deal with this so I opened the door and stepped up into the driver’s seat.
“Everyone’s hurt anyway, Ashley,” Kyla said as I closed the door and peeled away.