**BORN WRONG Full First Chapter Read**
Here is the very beginning of the book for you all that are so patiently waiting. This is the complete first chapter, copied over without italics, so if anything looks strange, blame the formatting on Facebook.
by C.M. Stunich
& Dax McCann &
I’ve never been so scared in all of my life.
“Oh my God, I am so nervous,” Hayden says, pretending she doesn’t see the exchange between Turner and Naomi. But I do. They’re kissing now, not just once, but twice, three times. I roll my eyes and focus my gaze back on the black curtains swirling in front of my face. The fabric flows like a specter, whirled around by the staff as they move Indecency’s instruments off the stage and move ours on. I crack my knuckles and try to breathe.
In my mind, the audience already hates me. I’m just that emo bitch, that stupid drummer fag. That’s what the Turners of the world think of me anyway. The number of people I’ve slept with isn’t comparable to the population of a small country, and I don’t post pictures of my dick online. I guess that makes me a loser. I get more hate mail than the rest of the band combined. But that’s okay. In fact, I try to think of it as a good thing. If their expectations are so low, then it shouldn’t be hard to impress them. One day, the audience will realize that I’m not just a robot on repeat, pounding out Naomi’s songs for their listening pleasure. There’s a little bit of me in there, too, and it is bad ass. Hey, her and Hayden might be the stars, but even stars need a sky, right?
I close my eyes and turn away, trying my best to drown out the roar of thousands. Outside this dark bubble backstage, there’s a sun shining bright, ready to burn. Turner and Naomi took care of that for us, took the audience from lukewarm to scalding. This is going to hurt, isn’t it?
“I am just freaking the fuck out. How about you, Dax?” Hayden asks me, reaching over and massaging my shoulder with her nails. I jerk away and wrap my arms around myself, casting a glance over my shoulder at the departing backs of Indecency. Unlike Hayden Lee, I really am nervous.
“I’m sick to my fucking stomach, Hayden,” I say, trying to keep my voice soft. I’m the only person on this earth that’s nice to her, the only one who thinks she’s redeemable. Deep down, she’s a good person. I know it; I just have to find a way to prove it to everyone else. Right now however, the only thing I’m really capable of is trying to give myself an internal pep talk. I’ve never felt like this before, not even at the show in Little Rock. There are cameras here, broadcasting us to the world. This moment, whether good or bad, is going to be written into human history for the foreseeable future. In the past, I’ve rationalized my fear of performing live by telling myself that the only people who could see me, who would even know if I fucked up, were the people in the audience. This time, everyone will know. Even Dad.
I feel my eyes growing wide, the blood draining from my face.
Arnold and the rest of the McCann clan could be watching. Ugh.
I squeeze my eyes shut, try not to think back on the last conversation we had.
You’re a freak, Dax, and I could never, never be proud to call you my son. And if your mother was still alive… Shame on you for wasting her life, boy. Shame on you.
Somebody touches my shoulder again, and I jump, spinning to find Naomi standing behind me with a slight frown. My heart is pumping like crazy, smashing against the inside of my chest and drawing breaths from me in ragged gasps. I’m such a wreck.
I untangle my arms from around my chest and dip my hands into the pockets of the sleeveless hoodie I’m wearing. It’s not really something I’d have picked for myself, but it’s alright. There’s a glow-in-the-dark skeleton design on the front, and it does a decent job of showing off my tattoos. I run one hand across the grim reaper tat on my forearm.
“Where the hell are they going?” I ask, tilting my chin at the door. Turner’s in a big, fucking hurry. So much so that he doesn’t even bother to turn around and look at Naomi on his way out. I figure it must have something to do with his friend, Trey. Yet another asshole, like a Turner clone. I don’t like Treyjan, but I also hope that nothing bad’s happened to him. This whole thing, this devious plot crap, is bullshit. Nobody deserves to die swimming in bullshit.
“To the hospital,” Naomi says, voice cracking a bit. She’s exhausted; I can tell by the way her shoulders sag and her hands shake. Four years of playing together, touring together, and I know what she’s feeling just by looking at her. And that’s not just because I’m in love with the girl – I can read this band like a book. Kash is feeling guilty about his love triangle; he always texts a lot when he’s feeling conflicted. And Blair? She’s lonely. I watch her standing still, like a statue in a crowd of people, the only person in this room who isn’t hyperactive, brimming with energy. “Trey’s awake.” I look back at her face, let myself burn in the sienna glaze of her eyes. She doesn’t look away, just holds my gaze tight. “They’re going to go see him, and come back tomorrow. I guess after our set we’re heading to the hotel or something.” Her eyes stay locked on mine while she digs around in her pocket looking for something, probably a cigarette. When she doesn’t find any, a frown drags the corners of her lips down.
“Here.” I reach into the front pocket of the sweater and come up with a box of cigs, handing one to her and pulling out my lighter. Naomi takes the cigarette between her lips and sighs in pleasure.
“Thanks.” Droplets of sweat slide down her neck and slither across her chest, tempting my gaze downwards, over her tattoo and towards her breasts. It takes a physical effort from me to hold my head up and stay focused on her eyes. I don’t like how long she’s holding me here. Naomi has something to say; I can tell.
And I’m not going to like it.
“Dax,” Hayden whines from behind me. Naomi’s lip twitches, but I keep my expression neutral and ignore her. She just wants attention, is desperate for it. I think it’s because she misses her family so much, and I’m not just talking about her brothers and her dad. Her other family. The one nobody else knows about.
“You have something to tell me, don’t you?” I ask, getting out a cigarette of my own. I want to close my eyes and scream, let my voice curdle the blood of everyone backstage, melt them into nothing and get them the hell away from me. I already know what this is about. I’ve known for a long, long time. Since Naomi told Turner about her abortion. Since she came back from the grave. Since the hallway at the hotel last night. But mix this crap with my nerves? I feel fucking suicidal. Or homicidal maybe. Oh my God. Oh my fucking God, not now, Naomi.
“You…” Naomi begins and then pauses, taking a step back. It’s so hot in here; the air is swirling with the heat of a thousand plus bodies, too many voices, too much pain. We all carry some around, that’s normal. But the people here? They’re drenched in it, drowning in their own misery. And supposedly I’m the ‘emo’ one? Fuck. Why? Because I have ghosts tattooed on my freaking bicep? I feel like I’m one of the most stable people here. I have issues, sure, but I have normal issues. My family hates me, and I killed my mom. No big deal, right?
My eyelashes flicker and come to rest on my cheeks, blocking out the movement around me. Born Wrong. I know Naomi can see the words tattooed on my eyelids. I told her what they meant because I wanted her to understand me, at least a little. I wanted to try. She’s fascinating to me. I can’t take my eyes off of her when she’s onstage, can’t look away when she’s bent over her notebook, scribbling away. I’m in love with her and all she gives a rat’s ass about is Turner Campbell.
My lip curls involuntarily, and I take a step back, opening my eyes to find that she’s still staring at me. Naomi wets her lips and looks away suddenly.
“You kiss beautifully, Dax,” she tells me honestly, and my heart beat slows, comes to a complete stop, just so I can hear her better. “You could kill with that mouth, drop a girl into death and have her sighing in pleasure, desperate for it.” Naomi plays with her cigarette with shaking fingers, blowing smoke rings into the dense air around us. A roadie bumps into her arm and she frowns. Her eyes come back to rest on mine and stay there. Four years we’ve been friends. When I first met her, when Hayden brought Naomi back to my garage to play for us, I didn’t like her. Not one bit. But as the years went on … I sigh. This trip down memory fucking lane is going nowhere for me.
“But that’s not good enough,” I say, and I try not to grit my teeth. I move back another step and stab my cigarette into a glass ashtray. “Because you want Turner Campbell. Because fucking everybody and their grandma wants Turner motherfucking Campbell.” I pretend I don’t see Hayden tilting her head, hazelnut hair spilling over her shoulder. I don’t want her to look at me right now, watch me be shot down. This a moment nobody should have to see.
“I want fire, Dax,” she says, and her voice gets breathy. Naomi is in so deep it’s not even funny. If Turner breaks her heart … I squeeze my fists at my sides. No, not if. When. When he breaks her heart. Fuuuuuuuck. “I want flame. I want to be engulfed and burned alive.”
“Sounds fucking pleasant,” I say, and I don’t look at her. I won’t look at her. Not right now. My nerves are shot; I feel like a fallen angel about to approach the gates of Heaven. Today is my second judgment day. I failed before, but here I am again, ready to receive the disdain, the anger, the pain.
“I like you, Dax, but I don’t … I can’t move on with my life if I don’t at least give this a try. Turner … I love him.” Naomi chokes on the words, but it doesn’t matter. They sting me so deep, I feel like I’ve got internal bleeding. My mouth goes dry and my whole body threatens to topple over. I spin around and put my hands on the edge of a table filled with water bottles. “I hope this doesn’t fuck up our friendship, Dax. I still care about you.” I try to summon some words to my lips, but nothing will come out. What am I supposed to say to that anyway?
“Why don’t you fuck off and leave him alone, Naomi?” Hayden growls, coming up behind me and rubbing her body along my back. I don’t need her to fight my battles for me, but I don’t have the energy to say anything. I knew this was coming, really. I did. But, man, Naomi’s timing fucking sucks.
“Why don’t you let him speak for himself, you stupid, anorexic bitch?” Naomi snarls, and then there’s a sudden draft of air behind me as she yanks Hayden away from me and shoves her into a roadie with an armful of sweaty towels. A fight breaks out as I turn around and try to step between them, but America is already there, yanking Naomi back by the waistband and using her sling as a barrier between the two girls.
“Self-control, please. I realize it’s a difficult thing for you ladies, but keep in mind that there are more important things to worry about than fighting over Mr. McCann here.” America gives Naomi a pressing look and drops her hands by her sides.
I purse my lips and push the surge of anger back, squeezing my fists so tight that it feels like the bones in my fingers are going to break. This is such crap. Fuck. Want me to be emo? Shit, man, I fucking hate my life right now. I look at Hayden, panting, eyes wide, gold shirt sparkling weakly in the dim light, and then I glance over at Naomi, tucking her blonde hair behind one ear and scowling. Two women, two completely different personalities, wants, needs, fears. They’re both fighting over me yet neither of them really wants me. Depressing.
“Let it go,” I whisper, staring between them, catching the stares of the staff from the corner of my eye. These aren’t our usual people. Most of the folks back here belong to the magazine, LMTV, or that rocker website, the one that’s famous for comparing every album they review to a recreational drug. And some of them are writing things down, not at all discreetly. Whatever we do back here is going to become public. This isn’t our tour, taking place behind locked gates and in the backs of buses with tinted windows. Our dirty laundry’s out in the open now. I sigh. As long as they don’t ask us to do a reality show. Dear God, please don’t let that happen. If somebody offered, America would jump on that faster than Turner Campbell on a hot, young roadie. “Just remember,” I say as Naomi rolls her eyes and Hayden lifts her chin defiantly. “Everything you do is being watched.” I whisper this last part and move away towards the curtains, peeping out to check on the progress onstage. It’s dark as hell out there, but in the dim lighting I can just barely make out the lines of my kit. It’s almost time. We are this close to the biggest day of our lives.
And here I am praying that nobody I know sees it.
How did I even get to this point? I close my eyes and slump sideways against the wall. My mind keeps recycling Naomi’s words over and over again, no matter how hard I try to block them out. Even through the nerves and the anxiety, it hurts like hell. I want fire, Dax. I sway on my feet and listen to the ache of my body, the throbbing soreness of my bones. That tornado really fucked me hard, left me lying on my back on the pavement wondering what the hell my purpose in life was. I was there dying for a woman who barely sees me, a friend I wish could be more but never will be.
I wish love was like a faucet, something you could turn on and off at will. I’d switch my flow away from Naomi, from my father. I touch my fingers to my face, wishing I was wearing gloves on my hands. They feel naked without them, raw, like everything I touch is twice as rough as it should be. I press against the bruise on my cheek gently and decide that the pain level has dropped from hurts like a motherfucking bitch from hell to simply hurts like a bitch. A definite upgrade.
“Are you alright?” Blair asks, coming up close and whispering so nobody else can hear. We’ve been friends since elementary school, so I know she knows me just as well as I know her. No point in bullshitting.
“I’m lonely,” I whisper back because I know Blair understands how that feels. But at least she has a family that loves her, that cares. They might be a thousand miles away from here, but they’re there and they don’t hate her guts. But then, that’s not the kind of lonely Blair is. She’s desperate to find that other half, the one person out there in the universe that understands her. I get it.
“It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely,” Blair quotes and then grins. “Einstein,” she says, and I smile. “Don’t be so down in the dirt, Dax. Things’ll get better, they will.” She pats my arm gently and then reaches down to adjust the waistband of her designer jeans. They don’t look right on her, not at all. Whoever styled Blair today either completely misread her or wanted to rebrand her in a different light. Blair Ashton likes to wear clothing fished from the bottom of clearance bins, torn up and sewn back together, mixed with fabric scraps she’s up-cycled from God knows where. “Naomi’s in a hard place right now. Things are … complicated.”
“I’ve been after her for a year, and she’s only just now noticed. Now, after she started getting mixed up with Turner Campbell. I have the worst luck, don’t I?”
“At least you’re standing all by yourself today,” Blair jokes, reminding me that just a few days ago, I could barely walk. I can’t say I’m completely healed, but a handful of Vicodin goes a long way. I stand up straight and flex my bicep, proud to see that I’ve actually got a good amount of muscle there. Drumming is no easy task; I’ve built up quite the arsenal from playing my instrument. That, and I make an effort to work out at least three times a week. The zombie tattoo on my arm shifts as I roll my shoulders out and try to work the kinks from my bones. Being this sore all the time blows. My body tenses all on its own, without my even knowing it, and I end up with these cramps and aching bones to match the bruises. No fun at all.
“At least there’s that,” I say with another smile, sliding my hands down into the pockets of my black jeans. “Almost makes up for getting shot down.” Blair’s eyes widen, her white feather eyelashes fluttering gently against her forehead.
“She didn’t?” I laugh. It’s not a nice laugh, but at least there’s some sound coming out of my throat. My chest feels so tight, it doesn’t seem like I should be able to talk. “That bitch!” Blair whispers, glancing over her shoulder. Naomi’s looking this way, so maybe she knows we’re talking about her. Oh well. “What did she say?”
“She wants to be engulfed in flame. I’m a nice guy, but you know.”
“Turner,” Blair supplies with a sigh.
“Turner,” I say and we both turn to look at Naomi then. She flips us the bird and spins away. “But I could kill a girl with my kiss. She did say that.” Blair looks back at me, flipping some of her hair over one shoulder. One of her dark brows raises in question. “Want to die?” I ask in my most horrible Dracula imitation. “Want to live forever?” I grab Blair by the cheeks and press a chaste kiss against her lips.
“Ugh, gross,” she growls, shoving me back and wiping her mouth on her forearm. “Now that is disgusting. No wonder she turned your ass down.” I laugh again, and this time, it’s a little more me, a little more real. I wish I felt something with Blair, some spark, some … magic. But I don’t. Naomi is the only woman that’s ever been able to stir my heart and my crotch at the same time. I suppose that eventually I’ll have to move on. I look back over at her again and catch a glimpse of her throat moving carefully, water sluicing between her lips as she downs a water bottle. My dick immediately rises to the occasion, and I groan, dropping my hands down to hide the rising bulge. Eventually. But not yet. Naomi still has my heart, and she’ll continue to own it until I figure out a way to get it back.
“Careful there, Mr. McCann, you might put an eye out.” America smirks at me and then snaps her fingers, turning around and backing towards the curtain, drawing the attention of everyone in Amatory Riot. It’s like a flip switches then. Naomi drops her water bottle by her side, Wren sits up and opens his eyes, and Kash puts his phone down. Blair and I exchange a glance and turn to face her fully while Hayden moves up beside us.
Oh crap. Oh motherloving crap. This is it. This is it, right here.
I do my best not to let my dad’s voice filter in through my gray matter, but there it is, a haunting plague, a shrouding pall, always overhanging me, always stifling me. Enjoy your brief moment in the spotlight, boy. When it moves on and you’re left in the dark, you’ll come crawling back to me. I’m sure of it. I swallow hard and squeeze my hands at my sides, trying to relieve some of the stress that’s just come crashing back into me like a freight train. On the bright side, my erection is completely and utterly erased. I adjust my belt and listen carefully, keeping my hands away from my hair. The stylist put so much gel in it that it, at least, is stiff as a board.
“Listen up,” America says, her blonde hair coiffed and perfect, her suit pressed and styled just so. She looks like the president of a first world nation, one seriously bent on destruction. Team America, fuck yeah, I think and try not to smile. Sometimes, when I get really nervous, I get goofy. It’s a pretty shitty tic to deal with. Try making Sesame Street jokes at a funeral. You see what I mean? “We’re following Indecency, not an easy act to compete with.” Her smile gets tight and her teeth shimmer white as fresh snow. “You can thank Naomi for that, for setting the bar here.” America levels her hand above her forehead, catching her gaze on each and every one of us. “So we need to be here.” She raises it up a couple of inches. “Indecency is good, epic even, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be. In the world of music, you’re only as good as your last live show. Make this one count. And remember, if you guys suck tonight, we can’t market this concert as a DVD/Blu-ray package.”
Naomi groans, but Hayden smiles, scooting over and leaning her forehead against my arm.
“Tell me I can do this, Dax,” she whispers, but I don’t know what to say to her because I’m not even sure if I can do this. I pull Hayden into a small half-hug anyway and pretend nobody’s watching. They don’t know the things I know, why she does what she does, but I do. I do and that’s why I slept with her. Because I felt sorry for her. I feel horrible, but I can’t say it’s because I love her; I don’t. Well, not like that. I mean, I do love Hayden, but not the way I love Naomi. Hayden doesn’t make my mouth dry or my body ache, but I care what happens to her.
“You can do this,” I respond automatically. “You can because you have to.” You can because your daughter is counting on you to make it happen.
& & &
“Oh, beg for this body, baby,” Hayden growls as she pushes between the curtains, transforming right before my eyes. She turns from an insecure, frightened girl to a powerful woman. Her hair changes from mousy brown to chocolate, burning bright under the spotlight as it trails across the stage. The gold shirt she’s wearing reflects across the darkness like a disco ball while Hayden sways her hips and bends low, breathing into the microphone. Beside me, Naomi sighs begrudgingly. No matter how anybody feels about Hayden, they have to give her credit for being able to put on a good show. And her voice onstage is pure magic. She might not be a Turner Campbell or even a Naomi Knox, but she has fans that adore her. “Can I get some love?” she asks, pouting out her lips, putting her hand on her skinny hip.
Backstage, the collective breath of the staff is hushed, waiting for America to give us the cue to walk out. For whatever reason, she’s letting the crowd get fixated on Hayden. I was under the impression she was in the anti-Hayden camp, so I’m a little confused. I don’t get her intentions and that makes me nervous. America might’ve just fessed up to the whole Travis-Tyler-Stephen fiasco, but that doesn’t mean she’s told us everything. Naomi and Turner, even Ronnie, they all see this is as black and white. Good guys versus bad guys. But I learned a long time ago that the world only functions in shades of gray.
The crowd roars and ripples, a dark demon crouching in wait, just a taste of the evil that lurks behind the massive monitors that flank either side of the stage. Those are the eyes of the devil. I shiver and close my eyes, counting to ten under my breath. When I open them, I see the other members of Amatory Riot are already three steps ahead of me, shifting as they go from unseen to noticed, from invisible to ubiquitous. America is giving me a hurry the fuck up look and before I know it, I’m out there, too, smiling tightly, keeping my gaze focused on the dais at the back of the stage.
The dichotomy of a drummer: worshipped but forgotten. We all feel it at some point in our careers. Look at me, I’ve got this raised bit of stage all to myself, a veritable throne of shimmering cymbals and glossy black shelled tom drums. I’m the only person in the auditorium who’s seated, like a judge presiding over his court. At the same time, I spend the majority of my time shrouded in darkness, the single still body in a waving sea of motion. I don’t get to put on a show with anything but my sticks. No hair swinging, foot stomping, shirt tearing madness.
But I can still work it. I have to work it. This is all I’m good for, all I want to do with my life. I have to prove myself not only to the world, not only to my father, but also to me. I have to convince myself that my talent is worth something, that I am worth something. I move behind Naomi and Kash, watching as they swing their instruments over their shoulders, as their backs expand with massive breaths.
I keep my eyes downcast as I ascend the steps to my kit, settling myself on the black leather stool, the throne as it’s quite literally referred to. My hands find my sticks, my body finds a rhythm. I let my eyes close and listen to Hayden warming up the crowd, clapping her hands and swaying in time with the beat. My arms move, as if by their own accord, seeking that same rhythm, honing in on the gentle murmur of Naomi’s guitar and the haunting whisper of Blair’s keyboard.
“Beg for this body, baby, but don’t be surprised if I say no. Oh, no. Don’t be surprised if I tell you to take a hike.”
“Oh no, no no,” Naomi murmurs into her mic. Her voice is more subdued now than it was when she was singing with Turner, softer somehow. I open my eyes and watch her as she strums her Wolfgang with gentle fingers. It’s like stepping back in time. Even though we’re playing in front of God knows how many people, changing the future forever, I can see her onstage at the county fair, hugging the area near my drums, too shy to move forward and step into Hayden’s spotlight. Something isn’t right here, I tell myself as I picture that day under the sun, our audience less than a hundred faces. If one of them hadn’t been America, we wouldn’t be here today. I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing.
“I’m a girl with the worst intentions, the darkest desires, the deepest dreams, so beg for this body, baby, but don’t be surprised if I say no.”
“Oh no, no, no.” Blair comes in alongside Naomi, slipping her voice into the fray and melting the words into simple vibrations. My foot pumps along with their words, teasing my bass drum with a deep undertone, one that worms into the floor and roots the audience to the ground. They might not know it, but I can control what they do, too. And they’ll have no idea I’m doing it. I grab a quick hi-hat bark and watch the massive scourge of audience jump.
“I shouldn’t have even invited you here. Shouldn’t have gone anywhere near. My heart is crying out to you, and my pain is rife, taking over, taking over and destroying my life. So, okay, baby, beg for this body, but don’t be surprised.”
Hayden drops into a low squat and hums into the microphone, singing Naomi’s words without even understanding what they mean. Poor Hayden. No, seriously poor fucking Hayden.
I hit the snare with my left hand and try not to let my feelings show on my face. She didn’t ask for this. Could she have handled it better? Sure. But she didn’t want this to happen, any of it. All Hayden really wants is her daughter back. I feel the skin on my forehead tightening, and I imagine the camera zooming in on it, panning down across my arms, the tattoos that my dad hates so much. I relax my face and drop my chin to my chest, letting the music writhe inside of me, taking over me like tentacles. I don’t even want to be in control anymore, but they do, so I let them consume me, body and soul and watch as everything comes crashing down around me.
As Hayden’s on her knees moaning and riling up the crowd, Naomi sneaks up behind her and puts her boot on her lower back, strumming her guitar in a pattern that definitely doesn’t suggest she’s onboard with this performance. Goddamn it and crap, I think as the rest of the band follows Naomi’s lead and switches into a completely different song. This is exactly what I need. Naomi trusted me enough to bring me into the fold, but at the same time, I can’t abandon Hayden. If I do, she’ll sink faster than the fucking Titanic. I know things nobody else does. She doesn’t deserve this, even if everyone else thinks she does. At least this explains Naomi’s supposed meekness. That girl goes straight for the throat.
I watch as Hayden’s entire body goes still, like she’s caught in a time warp, a frozen entity completely at odds with the writhing chaos around us. Please God, let her make a good decision right now. Naomi keeps strumming her guitar, moving us along into that Believe song, the one we’ve never played before. I have no choice but to follow along with her. It feels like a betrayal, but what else can I do? I take my frustration out on my cymbals, smashing the wooden sticks into the metal like they fucking owe me.
“I can’t believe I was ever that stupid,” Naomi sings, bending down low and breathing into Hayden’s microphone. It only lasts a second before Hayden is standing up and spinning away. Naomi moves back in a turn, wrapping the cord of her guitar around her ankles and owning it like she’s Turner Campbell incarnate. She retreats back to her own mic just in time to sing the next verse. “And I can’t believe I was ever that young. That my heart beat that fast. That my voice sung that bright. I can’t believe I ever fell in love with you.”
The crowd flips shit, exploding with excitement and barely restrained violence. Naomi is owning it, I’ll admit, but this is not my thing. I like a different vibe, a darker, more melodic strand of anarchy and disjointed disapproval. I don’t want the fans to lose their minds and go crazy with need. I want them here, with me. I want to hold their hands and show them the other side of life, a different avenue, a beautiful sky. This whole crazy, murder your next door neighbor and smash the venue to shit thing isn’t our usual MO. I guess I’m just not used to going onstage after Indecency. Naomi’s making things worse, bouncing up and down, destroying her guitar with her pick and belting out the lyrics to a song she knows Hayden doesn’t know.
“Most of all, I can’t believe that I wanted to believe.” The room is bouncing, the audience taking a page from our books and smashing the floor with vibrations that travel up through the soles of my boots and into my toes, infiltrating my bones and making me grit my teeth. Hayden stands at the side of the stage, completely and utterly lost, sides heaving, mouth turned down in a frown. The cameras keep zooming in on her, flashing her frustration to the world. Hey, if I was worried about my family seeing me, I needn’t have been. Doubt I’ll be getting any airtime today.
I send up a silent prayer of strength for Hayden to get it together. She’s the Queen of Show Business. Pull yourself together, Goddamn it. After another thirty seconds passes however, I can see that she’s not going to. Her cheeks are flushed red with rage and her fists are curled so tightly at her sides that her knuckles are white.
I’m the first one to stop playing.
“Hayden, don’t!” I shout as the other members of my band keep going, dragging the song along without me. After a second, Wren falters a bit and drops his game, but Naomi keeps playing. Even when Hayden starts moving across the stage towards her. “Hayden!” I stumble down off the dais, but I’m not fast enough to stop the explosion of rage and jealousy and hatred that’s been brewing for a long time coming. If Naomi only knew about the kid. If she only knew…
I know shit’s serious when Hayden says nothing, no fuck you, no stupid bitch, nothing.
Her tiny body barrels into Naomi mid-riff and sends her stumbling, tripping over the cord to her guitar and sending her flat on her ass. At this point, Blair is the only one still playing, drowning the audience in haunting melodies stripped from the ivory keys of her board. The ghostly murmurs belt out the speakers, highlighting the sudden lack of sound from down below. Everyone’s watching with bated breath, sucking up this angst and tragedy through a fucking straw. See, and that’s my problem with this whole thing. I love the music, and I want to marry the crap out of my drums, but I don’t like this desperate greed for trouble and drama. Why can’t we just play? Why can’t we just transform their souls with melodies and carefully drawn out notes? These people, most of whom have never truly suffered a moment in their lives, they don’t know what it’s like to feel pain so deep it becomes a part of you. So they show up here in flocks and herds and they drink us up, lap our blood like candy and smack their lips on the way out. I don’t want them eating my pain anymore, not mine or Naomi’s or Hayden’s. Fuck you Tyler Rutledge, Stephen Hammergren. You’re a petri dish to this virus, a breeding ground for this shit.
The mics screech as they roll away in the scuffle, and Naomi’s Wolfgang howls its darkness to the soaring ceilings above us as the girls break out into a brawl that’s twice as tough as the one at the safe house. This is a no-holds-barred, claws out, break the skin sort of a fight right here.
“Stop!” I scream, reaching in, getting hit in the jaw by Naomi first and then Hayden. The bruises on my face explode in white hot agony, and I stumble back. These two are a hell of a lot tougher than they look, rising to their feet in a flurry of blood and rage. Nobody else moves in to help. Why the fuck would they? This is too good to pass up. Perfect press, the right amount of violence, sex, jealousy. If America didn’t already have this planned out, I’d be surprised.
I shake my head and move back in, grabbing Hayden around the waist and physically lifting her out of Naomi’s reach. It takes a lot out of me, but it doesn’t stop the fight, not by a long shot.
“You like this?” Naomi asks, grabbing the mic from the stage and lifting it back up to her bleeding lips. “Are you enjoying the show?” The crowd starts off in a gentle murmur and then rises up, as if in protest. “Because I know I am. I know I’m tired of being pushed around and played for a fucking fool. I’m tired of people getting hurt, and I’m tired of playing second best.”
Hayden growls, and even lets out a small scream when I won’t let her go. If she gets to that mic, it’s only going to make things worse.
“Remember why you’re here and what you’re doing this for,” I whisper into her ear. Hayden doesn’t stop struggling, her body a lithe mixture of lean muscle and bones. She hasn’t been eating enough lately. Not that I blame her. “You have a daughter that’s counting on you, Hayden,” I say and even though her eyes well up with tears, she doesn’t stop fighting, kicking and elbowing me as hard as she can. All of that practiced professionalism, the white-toothed smile, and the glowing stage presence, it’s fading away. Even her arrogance, that shield against the pain and the frustration, it’s starting to go, too. Eventually, this woman is going to wither away into nothingness, consumed from the inside out. All I want to do is make sure that doesn’t happen.
“Yeah, that’s what I fucking thought,” Naomi says and then drops the mic on the stage, sliding her Wolfgang off, and moving offstage like she could give two fucks less than none.
“Hayden,” I whisper into her hair, trying to get her to calm down, to remember that the world is watching, that he could be watching. “Tyler wants you to play a part, remember?”
“Tyler doesn’t give a fuck,” she growls out, finally breaking from my grasp as I take a step back and try to calm the white spots blurring my vision. Fucking tornado. Hayden spins to face me, tucking brunette strands behind her ear, struggling to catch her breath as she stands there pink cheeked and fuming. “Tyler. Doesn’t. Give. A. Fuck. Because Tyler isn’t here.”
“But he could be watching,” I say, well aware that for probably the first time since we’ve come onstage, the cameras are focused on me.
“He could be,” Hayden says, her mouth twisting up into a smirk, emotions being crushed under a veil of false bravado. “He could be, but he’s not. Right now, Tyler Rutledge is at the hospital.”
(All text Copyright CM Stunich, 2014)