_NOTE THIS FREE TEASER VERSION OF RECKLESS GRAVITY AND SHOULD NOT BE PURCHASED _
Copyright © 2015
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JD Myall & Becca Blake
This book is dedicated to J.C. and family for the miracle of creation. I also dedicate this to Destiny, Jelissa, Jayden, Brandon, and all those who love me in spite of my flaws. I appreciate the unending affection, support, and patience. I also want to take a moment to recognize Gunner, Cherrie, Sage, New Boy, and Blaze because the characters that are born of my imagination and conceived by my creative insanity make my life more colorful. I also dedicate this to you, the reader. Without you the words on this page wouldn’t matter. Thanks for reading.
AS HIS HANDS GRIP MY throat, I think about my mother. She never tucked me in bed at night or styled my hair with pretty bows. She never warned me about men like this. The heavy weight of him smothers my petite thirteen-year-old body. What else didn’t she tell me? Am I missing all the secrets mothers should tell their daughters?
His rotten breath smashes into my face as he squeezes my neck harder. He grips me with so much force that his fingernails dig into my flesh like a shovel into dirt. That’s what he makes me feel like, dirt.
My heart thuds against the walls of my chest. My breath catches and comes out in puffs, and then it seems to stop altogether. My vision begins to fade as I claw at Steven’s fingers and try to pry them from my neck. I kick, I struggle, I try to scream. But it’s hard when my mouth has no air in it. I fight to survive.
My mom never loved me. But I don’t want to die without meeting her.
We hadn’t expected him to catch us. He was supposed to be away on a hunting trip with some relatives. We were in Gunner’s bedroom kissing. Gunner’s hand was under my shirt. I knew we’d be in trouble if we got caught, but I never thought it would be this bad. Steven had given Gunner black eyes and bruises for years. Once, he even pushed him down cement stairs. He treated Gunner the way you shouldn’t even treat your dog, much less a boy you call your son. But this…
When he walked into the room we froze. Gunner’s eyes went wide and brimmed wet with fear as he yanked his hand from under my shirt. He seemed to be trying not to blink to avoid dropping tears. His small hand curled into a fist. He whispered, “It’s okay. I won’t let him hurt you.”
My boyfriend Gunner was fifteen, but small, and Steven was a full-grown man, a big one. Steven sat on the bed next to Gunner and me. Honestly, when he sat down my belly twisted and chewed itself.
His eyes terrified me. Steven had dirty blond hair and eyes like blazing blue steel. Something about those eyes felt wicked. His lips curled into a smile, revealing jagged teeth. His cheekbones were high and they formed sharp lines on either side of his face. He had a chin as pointy as the tip of a knife. His boots had red splatters on them, like paint, or blood. He just didn’t feel right. He made my skin crawl.
Steven let those terrible eyes run up and down the length of me.
“You’re growing up real nice. You’re beautiful.”
I shivered, feeling queasy.
With a thick finger Steven moved a strand of hair from my cheek. Next to me, Gunner sat trembling and pale.
“You look just like your mother. I love her movies. Her body is perfect…”
My belly dropped and I swallowed hard. My heart was skipping in my throat. Those words made me wish I was dead, or that he was.
“I love your dark curls.” Steven breathed the words on my face. They scalded me. I could have scratched his eyes out.
Gunner’s eyes went wide. “Leave her alone!” he shouted, his voice cracking.
His stepdad ignored him. Steven licked his lips. His eyeballs twitched as they wandered over my body hungrily, like a junkie wanting a fix. It made me sick. It made me hate the fact that I shared my mom’s face.
“Your mom’s amazing. I bet you are, too,” Steven said. He put a hand on the inside of my thigh, pushing my skirt up as he slid his fingers toward my crotch. I punched him in the jaw. He slapped me hard. Gunner sprang at him with all the might he could muster in his slim body. Gunn’s stringy arms swung wildly. Steven fell off the bed.
That really set him off. Steven jumped up and punched Gunner with such force that he knocked him out cold. Sent his body crashing into the dark wood of the nightstand. Gunn lay on the floor, bleeding, and Steven kicked him in the head over and over. I thought Gunner would die. His blood was all over Steven’s boots.
I charged at Steven, wildly punching his back over and over again. He turned in my direction and slapped me to the floor. I landed hard. The back of my head was throbbing. I kicked him in the balls. Steven flung himself on top of me and grabbed my throat when I tried to claw out his eyes.
And now here we are. It’s a fight I can’t win. His thick fingers swallow my small neck and he squeezes it so tightly I think he’ll break it. I’m going to die, but I’m not so worried about me. I’m thinking about my mom, and I’m scared to death Steven will kill Gunner. Gunner’s all I’ve ever had. I struggle with every ounce of strength left in me. I fight to live to see the day that I meet my mom, and I fight to live to make all the dreams and promises I’ve made with Gunner come true. But mostly I fight because I’ve had to fight my whole life. All I know how to do is fight to survive.
Just when I think that it’s over for me, Steven lets go of my throat. I gasp and cough and glare at him through misty eyes. Steven struggles with his jeans and pulls them down while still on top of me. I scratch and claw at his face as he forces my skirt up and rips my panties off. I scream for Gunn, pray to God, and punch Steven with everything I’ve got left.
Steven is about to pull down his boxer shorts when Gunner wakes. He sees Steven on top of me and rises on wobbly feet.
“Gunner, help me!” I scream. Just as Steven was about to penetrate me with his evil Gunner grabs the mirror on the wall, yanks it free, and hits Steven on the back of the head… Thank God the force of the blow stops Steven before he could really start. The mirror shatters and Steven’s head starts bleeding all over the place. His blood splatters my chest and I am stabbed by tiny, stinging specks of glass.
Steven rolls off me. He yanks up his jeans while Gunner stumbles over to the dresser and leans against it. Gunn can barely stand he’s hurt so bad, but for some reason he doesn’t look scared. He smiles at me. There’s a large statue of an angel on the dresser across from him. Somehow I know what Gunner’s going to do.
And I want him to.
Faster than I can smile back, Gunner reaches for the angel. It falls, but Gunn catches it. As Steven charges at him, Gunner swings the angel like a sword.
The wing goes right into Steven’s eyeball. He drops to the floor, twitching and jerking like someone being electrocuted. Blood pours from his face. His eye is pierced and dangling on the angel’s wing. Gunner stands, hands hanging at his sides, still holding the angel and staring at his stepfather.
Steven crawls toward Gunner, blood spouting from his face and dripping onto the carpet. He tries to grab Gunn.
An icy snake crawls up my spine and makes goosebumps rise on my arms. I can’t move. It’s like invisible vines lock my legs in place.
“Steven, stop!” I yell.
He takes a choppy breath and says, “My name is Sebastian.” Then his head slams sideways on the floor. He’s dead. His hollow eye socket stares at us as he lies in a pool of red mess near Gunner’s feet.
It’s sickening, his blood-clotted hair, his pierced eye. Like something from a horror movie. But it is real; I’m living it.
Gunner doesn’t move, just stares at Steven’s body. Blood begins to ooze down the wing of the angel in Gunn’s hand and drips onto the carpet by his feet. He’s perfectly still, except for the hand holding the angel, which is twitching slightly. It’s creepy and weird, but I swear Gunner looks more at peace in this moment than he has in his entire life.
When I shake him he snaps out of it. He turns a greenish color, starts shaking and crying.
“I need a smoke,” he says. “I need a drink. Shit. Shit, Cherrie. Oh shit.” He looks down at the red pool surrounding his stepdad. Gunn’s eyes are wider than I have ever seen them and they keep leaking tears.
“I-I-I did it,” Gunner says, sniffing heavily. “I killed him. He was touching you and I killed him. I couldn’t let him hurt you.” He inhales deeply and lets out his breath slowly through pursed lips. “The evil bastard is dead.” Gunner smiles, tears running down his cheeks. “It’s over. He can’t hurt me no more. He can’t hurt nobody no more.”
Panic washes over me. Gunn grabs me and holds me tight. He starts to lose his balance, but I grip him, hold him up. He sobs in my arms, shaking like a leaf. The blood on his head drips into his eyes, and I brush it away and kiss him. His heart pounds hard against mine as we cry together. He strokes the small of my back and whispers, “I’d die for you, I’d kill anyone before I let them touch you like that.”
Gunner hunches his shoulders and looks toward the corner of the room. “Shit. Maybe it’s not over yet,” he says.
I glance over and see a shadow at the corner of the window, by the open curtain. When I pull the curtain back further, I see a huge sickle-shaped black cloud in the sky above, like heaven is smiling as the sun beams down on Gunner’s mom’s car. She’s pulling up in the driveway outside. She can’t see this. She loves Steven. She’ll hate us forever. We’ll probably go to jail for the rest of our lives. I pull away from Gunner, close the curtains tight, and reach for the phone to call for help.
Five Years Later…
When I woke up this morning even the sky seemed bipolar. It was the same moody, confused sky that laughed outside the window when Steven was killed. The same sky that mocked me from above on the worst day in history. Its dark gray clouds were swollen with rain, as the sun stabbed through them and not a drop fell. It was a strange, uneasy dawn. The heavens remind us of the sins we buried, the secrets we hide. This is the kind of day when anything could happen.
Steven is long gone. Gunner, Blaze, Sage, and I are here. We are living our dreams when we should be living in a cell. We got away with murder. I smile defiantly at the dark clouds above as they start to give way to the warm beauty of the sun. The weatherman predicted gushes of rain. But the sun shines. Life is unpredictable. I want the warmth of the sun to remain constant in my life. Want every day roses and rainbows… But usually when I’m wishin’ for roses I end up gripping thorns…
When I think of that day… the worst day ever… it seems like fate is a bully because things didn’t happen the way I wanted them to. That day fate smashed down on our heads and forced us all to do things no one wanted to.
That was then. Now, I’m here, hoping this moment will be special. Special for the people coming—I don’t deserve it.
The hours pass. Bright stars set in above. I dig in my bag and see some black ‘Goth’ lipstick, some red, some glittery purple, and a weird brownish color. I roll the red lipstick across my lips and glare at my reflection before slamming my compact closed with short red and black finger nails. Then I shove the compact back in the bag. Kicking the bag under the seat, I exhale and finally smile.
My makeup is applied, my hair is styled, and the weather is perfect as we step out of the limo. Even Mother Nature approves of us. That thought gives me comfort: part of me has always longed for a mother’s approval. The other part… it craves a different kind of high.
Before he was a murderer,
Before he was a star,
Before girls fainted at the touch of his hand,
Before we had everything and before our world started to fall apart—
He was just my boyfriend,
THERE’S NOTHING LIKE THAT INSTANT when you play the first chords of a song on stage. The sound of the drums echoes through the building. The crowd screams, electric with excitement. The stage vibrates and rumbles like thunder beneath my feet.
Our music rattles my bones, flows in my blood, and tastes like honey in my mouth. It blankets me completely, stimulates my body better than any orgasm I’ve ever felt. It runs through me and explodes out of me, travels from my soul through my fingertips into the guitar. Its blast is magnified as the speakers push it into the world. I’m giving birth to sound.
Gunner stands beside me, belting out lyrics. He’s magnificent in front of an audience. His dark hair, sexy chiseled face, and tan were made for the spotlight. He stands six feet two, but he’s a giant on stage. And he’s a woman magnet. They adore him. Girls faint in the aisles when he takes off his black t-shirt. He has a rocker’s build and defined abs. He’s wearing dark jeans that are cut just low enough to show the sexy V that makes women imagine tracing it to where it leads. He keeps the ladies’ hearts hammering and their blood pressure high. The fire in his eyes and the passion in his voice are thrilling. I love to watch him when we play. His chest is already glistening in the spotlights, so perfectly structured that even now I want to kiss it. He’s the one. My Mr. Right. Mr. Forever. I’m sure of it. I’ve never been surer of anything.
He grips the mic tightly. “Are y’all ready to really get reckless?”
The crowd jumps up and down, mouths gaping, chanting, “GRAVITY, GRAVITY, GRAVITY!” Gunner smiles and looks back at Sage, who’s behind us playing drums. “Let’s give it to ’em.”
Sage slams on the energy and the beat becomes louder and more intense as Gunner starts belting out the lyrics to ‘Train to Paradise.’ I watch the crowd in front of me as they sing along. A fat, long-haired guy in a dirty t-shirt knows every word. I look for Mom in the crowd, but there are so many people. Some are jumping up and down because they’re squeezed in so tight that there’s no room for dancing.
A mosh pit forms in the front row next to this pretty blonde with huge tits who’s holding her beer above her head so the fans jumping around her don’t spill it. It’s a losing battle. The beer ends up all over her. I laugh really hard watching it splatter on her perfectly styled hair and soak her top.
Right now, I’m smiling as if my life is nothing but glitter and unicorns as my lunatic eyes dart everywhere. I keep scanning the crowd for my mom, but if she’s here, I can’t find her. The beer-soaked blonde is jumping up and down now, completely topless, waving her damp shirt above her head like a banner, as if she is signaling to get our attention. Her boobs are bouncing all over the place. For a second I fear they might end up on stage with me. Maybe she figures if you can’t beat them, join them, or maybe she’s feeling the music as intensely as I am. Either way, Blaze notices her. He’s standing to my right, on bass, smiling at her. I know what that smile means. He’ll send a roadie out into the crowd to find her and see if he can get her backstage after the show. That smile says, “I want you and if you’re a groupie, I’m gonna have you tonight.” Tomorrow we’ll be in another city and he’ll find another blonde. Or brunette, maybe a redhead, who knows? The point is he’ll find another one like her—there will always be another one like her.
I look at Gunner. His performance is hot tonight. The stage is burning up with his songs. I try to stop lusting after his body and focus on his eyes when I look at him. Gunner’s eyes are like no others I’ve known. They’re dark, deep, and tempting, but they can also be suspicious and frosty. They can be so cold that when he stares at you in anger, it shakes your soul. Sometimes, those eyes are so hostile that you can’t see a soul in them at all. At other times they’re beautiful, wild, dancing eyes that could convince a woman to submit to anything; eyes that make a woman’s heart melt when they are smiling and break when they are unhappy. On stage, those eyes are always full of excitement and glittering with manic energy.
Girls throw panties. If my fingers weren’t on the strings of my guitar, I might be tempted to take my panties off for him too. Gunner’s only twenty, but he has the stage presence of an artist with decades of experience. He’s always most himself in front of a crowd, and I swear he’s the most attractive then too.
I glance at the crowd in front of him. In the front row I see a cute, petite brunette with her chest-length hair dyed pink on the ends. She jumps up and down to the beat of the drums, the pink ends of her hair slapping at her teeny-tiny electric blue bikini top. Her tight black latex pants cuddle her hips. She has a sign in one hand that says, “Gunner! I’m legal, take me home.” I can tell by the expression on his face that Gunn notices her. He glides along the stage until he’s closer to where she stands in the crowd. She’s hot and he can’t stop staring down in her direction. She reaches up with the hand that isn’t holding the sign and keeps slapping the stage, reaching for his shoe or any part of him that she can grab, but he’s not on the edge of the stage and she can’t get close enough to grasp him from where she stands. Gunner starts inching closer as he sings. Her red nails almost reach the bottom of his pants. He leans forward, gripping the mic and tilting the mic stand toward the crowd. From where I’m standing, it seems he’s looking down at her boobs. A smile crawls across his face. There are tons of people in the audience, but his eyes seem to be glued to her as he belts out our lyrics.
My blood boils. I get the rage shakes. Everybody in the building knows I’m Gunn’s girl, and she brings a sign like that! Does she have to be that boldly disrespectful? I know this shit comes with the territory, but groupies can be totally ridiculous. I purse my lips tightly, my shoulders get tense, and I give a squinty-eyed glare at Gunner. I move to stand in front of Gunn to block his view of the girl. She puts her hands on stage trying to move my feet over so she can reach for him again. So I step on her pretty manicured fingers during my guitar solo.
I smile at the crowd as she rips her hand from beneath my shoe and clutches it to her chest with a pained expression. I look down and see one of her red nails lying on the stage. Bet she won’t reach up here anymore. I shake my head at her. Concerts should be about music, not advertising your desire to be used. That’s lame… But maybe my response was too.
Blaze sees what I did and laughs as Gunner moves to the other side of the stage to perform there. Gunn’s probably scared that if he stands too close I may pretend I’m dancing so I can swing my leg out and kick him.
I keep staring at the crowd while I play. There are tears of joy and angry glares from the girl with the offensive sign. Guys in the audience whistle and yell to get my attention. Some of them look at me like a starving person looks at ice cream; that makes me uncomfortable. But when I see that most of the guys in the crowd look at me with pure happiness and admiration… that makes me proud. I love the raw emotion in the faces of our fans. I look back at Sage on the drums. He shakes his head at me in a way that lets me know he saw what I did to the girl with the sign a few moments ago. Clearly, he doesn’t approve. I lower my eyes and start slammin’ on my guitar with more intensity.
Sage is a big guy. He’s six feet of solid muscle. He has reddish brown hair, brown eyes, and he looks more like a hick trucker than a star. That’s his appeal—he’s different, he stands out. He’s bulky, tough, a gentle giant—kinda like Thor, only cooler.
There’s nothing stereotypical about him; he’s better than people expect if they judge him by his looks. His crooked smile has a way of lifting your spirits even when you’re at your lowest.
Sage is nineteen, flirty, funny, and has a huge heart. He has a protective instinct and an unshakable loyalty to me, our band, and the gang-like family we’ve become. Sage is like my big brother, and the person I trust the most. Words aren’t good enough to do him justice, but I will say that Sage is the glue that holds me together when things get crazy.
Blaze is to my right playing bass. His name suits him. A blaze can be warm and comforting, but it can also burn you. That’s our Blaze—smart and kind, loyal and loving, but dangerous as hell to anything that poses a threat. Sage keeps me together when I’m falling apart and Blaze binds the band.
There are no ‘beast boys’ in Reckless Gravity. The guys are hot; girls love them all, especially Blaze. Blaze’s high cheekbones, blue-gray football-shaped eyes, and slightly crooked nose that’s been broken in fights a few times seem to have an effect like magic on women. His rusty hair falls in strands and is medium-length in the back, just the right length to look rock and roll without scaring mainstream people. He’s a crook and a character, but he’s lovable as hell and he plays the shit out of a bass guitar.
Blaze always puts the group first and tries to resolve any conflict that we have in a way that’s best for us. At twenty-one, he’s the black sheep of his family. He pretends that doesn’t matter to him, but it does—it makes the family he’s made with us more important to him. His family’s disapproval is why he struggles so hard to keep the band together. He finds the acceptance he’s missing from his family in me, Gunner, Sage, and the millions of fans that adore us. When Blaze grew up no one wanted him, and now he makes millions of girls want him with his talent and bad-boy appeal. I think that’s really cool.
Blaze can’t stop watching the topless blonde in the front row. His eyes and mind are always focused on girls. Sometimes, he gets three or four different hotel rooms when we tour. He spreads them out on different floors and has different girls in them. None of the girls know about each other and he goes from floor to floor hanging out, getting high, and getting laid. It’s rock and roll. It’s life. It doesn’t bother me. It’s Blaze being Blaze. Boys will be boys, right?
And then there’s me, Cherrie Lane, on guitar. Cherrie—that’s the name fans scream out when I perform. Cherrie is a star, a sexy badass singer who walks into a room like she owns it and isn’t afraid to take on anybody. She’s my alter ego and who I aspire to be. My real name is Ria Charity Lane, and the real me is an eighteen-year-old girl who is a lot less dynamic than her public image.
I’ve been Cherrie for years now. It feels more natural to pretend to be Cherrie than to be who I am. My dad nicknamed me Cherrie when I was a baby. I used to hate it. But, my dad became sure the name fit when I was thirteen and dyed my hair cherry red for the first time. Gunner’s step-dad, Steven, said he liked my dark curls, said they made me look like my mom. So I colored them red after we threw him in a hole and tossed dirt on him.
I needed a do over, a fresh start. I’d rather be Cherrie Lane, and seem strong, than have anyone see me as the scared little girl that I was on that day. The worst day in history. It was crazy, don’t know why, but it seemed like my survival depended on re-inventing myself and not being connected to the hurt… Sometimes I pretend that the little girl Steven choked is still lying on a carpet somewhere. I tell myself ‘It’s ok… I’m not her anymore.’ Problem is, I don’t always believe me. Still, it’s what I hope for… I hope things will be ok.
I haven’t worn a skirt since the day Steven died. I can never feel safe in one again. It’s funny how almost being raped changes things.
I changed. My dad didn’t notice. He couldn’t tell that some Goth fog was swallowing me in one gulp, or see that my innocence had faded completely. Ria was fading into Cherrie. I was losing me… He thought I was becoming a star. Shit, maybe I was.
My dad is a rocker. He wouldn’t care if I dyed my hair purple. He doesn’t care what I do as long as it makes me happy and doesn’t land me in jail. Back then, you didn’t see girls with my bold hair color often, especially not girls as young as thirteen. My hair always got a second look. I liked being looked at. It became a part of my identity; people began to know me as ‘the girl with the cherry-red hair.’ I was known as Cherrie Lane before I ever started performing.
Gunner puts his own spin on my nickname. He calls me Cherrie Pop or Cherrie Pie. My friends, the guys in the band, they do the same. Gunner calls me lots of things: babe, pretty, sexy, loser, whore, slut. He calls me everything but my actual name.
Right now, my hair is vibrant, wild, curly, and cherry red. I’m wearing a black leather studded bra and skintight black pants. I feel safer in pants… My makeup is flawless now— my green eyes seem bigger and brighter. My nose is painted to look dainty and perfect, and my lips are full and kissably red. From the way the guys are responding to me, I guess I look pretty hot; but truthfully, I never feel like the beauty people say I am.
I’m just a girl with tan skin, dyed hair that’s often a little too wild, and hips that I think are a little too curvy. I’m way prouder of my band and how I play guitar than I am of my looks. I look like she does, like the person I’ve been searching the crowd for all night. I look like my mom. I hate it. It’s a blessing and a curse.
I’m playing my heart out and I’ve been racing around the stage to impress someone who probably isn’t here, someone who probably doesn’t care. I shouldn’t care, either. Cherrie Lane would be too strong to care, but the real me cares too much. The real me looks for her in the crowd every time we play a show in Tacoma, Washington. It’s her hometown. She loves a good rock band, and we are rocking. Are you here, Mom?
We do six hot songs and then things take a bad turn. A storm is brewing, I can feel it. But this one isn’t the kind that will be talked about on the weather channel.
Mid song, Gunner runs off stage. He drank way too much booze when we partied before the concert. From the corner of my eye, I see him bent over at the side of the stage, puking. The crowd can’t see him. He’s out of their line of sight. The music keeps playing, and he keeps heaving. Invisible bombs of confusion seem to fall on the crowd as the fans’ faces look puzzled by the sudden pause in the singing. I want a perfect show here, for her. No mistakes. Fighting the urge to run, I step into the spotlight and sing lead vocals. I won’t lie: the spotlight feels good. I love singing. But feeling every eye fall on me and me alone… Terrifying. I’m more comfortable tucked beside the boys and stuck behind my guitar. I guess the fans can’t tell when they hear me belting the lyrics, pouring my heart out, getting lost in the song. The crowd goes wild. They think it’s part of the act. Beaming uncontrollably, I look back at Sage and he looks impressed. Blaze even stops looking at the blonde with the boobs long enough to smile at me. They know how hard and scary it was for me to do that.
Gunner gets himself together and comes back and performs like nothing’s happened. His eyes mask his anger, but I can feel it. I’ve known him my whole life, and I know when he’s mad. The fans have no idea how intoxicated he is. But Blaze, Sage, and I can see it. We know him well enough to know when he’s drunk, when he’s high, when he’s off, and when he isn’t ‘his normal.’ But despite Gunner’s drunkenness, this concert is one of the biggest and best we’ve ever done.
Gunner controls the crowd like my father does. The way he has them spellbound turns me on—but then, most things about Gunner turn me on. He loves the emotional response he gets from the fans; he feeds off it. It makes him perform better. It makes him better in general.
Gunner’s upper body glistens under the lights as he races across the stage, belting out the last lyrics and leaving the fans in awe, especially his biggest fan—me. It’s breathtaking. The show ends and we stride backstage, the crowd screaming behind us. I rush to hug Gunner. He tenses up and pushes me away.
I’m irritated so I whisper to Blaze and he hands me a pill. I swallow something that’s supposed to soothe me as we walk. Blaze is like a pharmacist when it comes to street drugs. He can make you happy or sad and he gets you balanced so you can focus on what needs to be done. He helps when you’re higher than an astronaut and you gotta sober up to do an interview or a show.
Blaze has a huge careless grin on his face. He always gets cheery when we perform or when we’re doing somethin’ a little illegal. Blaze likes to break the law, just because he doesn’t believe in following it. He steals when he could pay, gets high for the hell of it, and even buys sex if he’s horny and she isn’t giving it up for free. Loyalty is the biggest thing there is to him, next to not violating his moral code. His moral code is simple: rape is immoral and a capital offense, murder (without justification like self-defense or some other valid reason) is wrong, and hurting women and children is never okay. Never.
Blaze shuffles his feet as he strolls, and my eyes are drawn to the boots he’s wearing.
“What the hell?! I’ve seen those. Those are Steven’s boots! Those are the boots he had on when…”
“Shut up!” the boys shout. Gunn looks even angrier now. Our bodyguards crowd behind us to see the reason for the fuss.
“Walk ahead,” Gunner tells them. “We need to talk.” Their big bodies float past us like cruise ships in black shirts as they move ahead of us in the hallway. Sage goes with them. I know him so well that his expression tells me he’s making sure they stay away from our conversation.
When they get out of earshot I say, “You can’t wear a dead man’s boots.”
Blaze just shrugs and gives me a ‘so what’ expression as we walk down the hall. “Boots are boots,” he says.
Gunner nods in agreement, lowers his voice, and adds, “The dark red splatters on ‘em look cool. What’s a dead man need boots for anyway? Blaze may as well wear ‘em.”
“They got blood on them… Steven’s, Gunner’s, and no tellin’ how many other people’s… Throw ‘em out! Blaze, how could you be stupid enough to keep those boots?”
“I didn’t keep ‘em. Gunn did. He said I could have ‘em,” Blaze mutters.
“That’s crazy.” I turn to Gunner. Then I glance ahead and Sage nods at me nervously, signaling me that the bodyguards he’s with still can’t hear us. “Why would you give him those boots?”
“They didn’t fit me.”
“They’re evidence people can use against us,” I say.
“What people?” Gunner chuckles. “As far as everyone knows, Steven just left. No one cares about my step-dad. They think he’s runnin’ from the cops again. You worry too much, Cherrie Pop.”
Sage says something I can’t hear to the bodyguards ahead of us and then they turn and disappear around the corner, following him. Soon after, we turn the corner too and stumble upon the long hallway leading to our dressing room. The guards are now in front of the door, waiting. Sage is standing in the hall across from them. A beautiful groupie walks up to Gunner. She’s tall, with a model’s body, waist-length long hair, and creamy ebony skin.
“Hey, Gunna,” she drawls in a pasty southern accent. “Ya want this?”
Gunner smiles at her and she stands directly in front of him, clutching a small bottle to her chest, stroking the top sensually, and grinning back at him.
“Thanks, Tiff,” he says, snatching the bottle from her hands.
“Who’s this?” I demand, hooking my finger in her direction, ready to call the bodyguards or have security drag her out by her hair if she makes a move on my boyfriend or becomes a problem.
“Nobody,” Gunn says as he walks around and past her. I follow him. Glancing back, I notice that the girl doesn’t look mad at his words. She has the grin of a conspirator and sly eyes that seem to whisper secrets. Gunn opens the vodka she gave him and starts gulping. People keep approaching, congratulating us, and talking as we inch closer to the dressing room.
Gunner acts cool, but his back is stiff, his fist gripping the bottle tight; a vein pokes out in his forehead. He’s pissed, but he’s professional. He’s not showing it. Despite his hostility, Gunner keeps glancing at Blaze’s feet. He has a wicked smile on his face, like the sight of Blaze stomping around in those boots gives him a sick thrill. Blaze doesn’t notice. He’s too busy checking out a few girls leaning against the wall outside of the dressing room door. One of them is a regular… And a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe when the actress was very young… Blaze usually parties with her, but for now he walks past her and speaks to someone else.
I exhale my frustration. Groupies, roadies, randoms, and friends line the hallways, and Blaze flaunts the boots of a man we killed. I think I even saw a magazine reporter. I swear, the stupidity of my bandmates is almost sobering. Almost. Gunner takes a long gulp and throws his now empty bottle in a trashcan by the dressing room door. We all go inside.
In the dressing room, there’s a banner for the radio station sponsoring our show, and a table with food. The tables are always supplied with our favorite things, including a shitload of alcohol. It’s the place where we get ready, eat, relax, and drink; but there is no relaxing right now.
As soon as the door closes behind us, Gunner explodes with rage. He tosses a chair at the wall and yells, “What the hell was that, Cherrie?! Why are you singing my music? That wasn’t your song!”
“I…” My hands start to shake a little. “You were sick, babe. The crowd was waiting. I was just trying to keep the show goin’ ‘til you got better.”
Gunner looks at the people in the room. It’s mostly the folks that followed us in, the people we know well: groupies, roadies, and our bandmates. “Get out!” he yells.
I look around, and just as I’d thought Blaze had sent for the pretty blonde with the huge tits from the front row. She’s wearing that beer-soaked t-shirt as she approaches Gunn, looking at him with wide, concerned emerald eyes. “You okay?”
“No. She’s trying to steal my shine. Can you go? I gotta deal with this.”
She hesitates. She looks much younger under the florescent lights of our dressing room. She’s beautiful, but she looks more like a girl in her mother’s makeup than a woman. Her dark roots show as her hair clings to her face in long golden ropes. She leaves with Blaze. I hope he checks her ID before he screws her. His criminal history is long enough without adding statutory rape.
Everyone files out of the room. Everyone except me, Gunner, and Sage. When everyone else is gone Gunner turns to Sage.
“I said get outta here.”
Gunner squares his shoulders and yells, “Mind your own business, Sage. Leave.”
Gunner pushes Sage’s broad chest, but Sage doesn’t budge. Then Gunner lunges at me like he’s going to hit me. Sage stops him mid-pounce, tackling him like a linebacker. I jump back to avoid them and slam into the table of food, knocking over a huge fruit tray. The guys fall and struggle on the floor, smushing melon wedges with their bodies.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?!” Sage barks. “That’s Cherrie, you drunk bastard! She’s a girl. She’s [_your _]girl. You can’t hit her.”
My hands tremble as I back away from Gunner, Sage, and the fruit mess on the floor.
“Gunner baby, don’t overreact. I was just trying to help,” I stammer.
He pushes his eyebrows together in a hard line and clenches his jaw as he rises to his feet. “No, you were showing off.” He tries to get near me again, but Sage jumps up and holds him back.
“I already gave you lead on a few songs.”
I lower my eyes. My hands won’t stop shaking. I wasn’t trying to upset him or set him off again. I just wanted the show to go well in case she came tonight.
“You’re a guitarist. Play guitar and look hot. That’s what I keep you around for. Your job’s to stand behind me and look pretty.”
Gunner turns and hits Sage hard. Sage’s face changes direction and his jaw is instantly red.
“I told you to get outta here, Sage.”
Sage grins at Gunner. He’s cool, he doesn’t even flinch. He can take a punch and he’s known Gunner long enough to be sympathetic to his issues.
“Go… Mind your business,” Gunner says.
Sage puts Gunner in a bear hug and holds his arms so Gunner can’t hit him again. He chuckles.
“Tough guy, huh? Trying to fight a girl. She’s five-two, asshole.” Sage looks at me and I put on my brave Cherrie Lane expression, but he knows when I’m pretending.
“When you calm down, I’ll let you go so you can take your drunk ass to the hotel and sleep it off, Gunn. You can apologize to Cherrie tomorrow.”
Gunner scowls at Sage. “Why don’t you get your own girl instead of worrying about mine?”
Sage gives a crooked smile. “What for? Somebody’s gotta worry about Cherrie. You don’t.”
Gunner struggles wildly to get free, but he can’t. Sage is as big as a refrigerator and all muscle. Gunn starts muttering the kind of curse words that make me wish my brain would liquefy and drip out of my eyes like tears.
A brainless girl wouldn’t understand his words. They wouldn’t hurt.
“Calm down and I’ll let you go, bro. No one wants to fight. You’re drunk, you’re all amped up for nothing. Just chill. We’re family. Don’t be a jerk.”
Gunn seems to calm down a bit. “Okay. Just get off me.”
Sage lets him go. With a burst of angry energy, Gunner punches a hole in the wall. His knuckles bleed and instantly start to swell.
“Good move, smart guy,” Sage mutters. “You’re gonna regret that tomorrow. That’s gonna hurt like shit when you sober up.”
I pray Gunner hasn’t broken his hand. How would he play guitar? But there is only anger in his eyes, no pain, so I guess he has no broken bones. Nothing is injured but his pride. He leaves.
I don’t chase after him. I grew up around alcoholics, so I know it’s dangerous to argue with a drunk, especially if that drunk is Gunner. His rages are legendary. Toying with him when he’s angry is like taunting a hungry lion. The best thing to do is wait it out and let him calm down.
I sit on the floor, put my head between my knees, and let the tears come. My breathing is short and labored, more like panting, and I feel like I’m on the edge of an asthma or anxiety attack. Today was supposed to be special.
Sage sits next to me and tries to comfort me. He rubs my back.
“Breathe, Cherrie. It’s over. No one’s gonna hurt you.”
I can feel my cheeks flushing.
I lift my head and look at Sage. He strokes my cheek, wiping away my tears.
“I’m fine,” I say shakily.
“You don’t look fine.”
“I’m okay. Lately, Gunner acts like he did when we were kids. He gets mad and throws tantrums. I should be getting used to it, but it still hurts.” I sigh. “Sometimes I wish I’d called the police instead of calling you and Blaze when Steven… that day. Maybe they could have helped us. Gunner’s been losing control since it hap—”
“Quiet! Someone might hear you.” His voice becomes softer than a whisper. “We all swore we’d never talk about it.”
He mutters, “The cops might have ‘helped’ you two right into a jail cell. Blaze said that with Gunn’s record the cops probably never would have believed it was self-defense. And if we went to jail we wouldn’t be sittin’ where we are now. We did what we thought we had to, to protect you and the band. Don’t bring it up.”
“Sorry.” I look around, making sure we’re still alone, and that no one else heard me. My heart is banging loudly. I try to look like a badass rocker chick, but I can’t. I inhale deeply, shuddering. It’s hard to pretend right now.
“The evidence is gone. Gunn took it.” His eyes drop like they feel heavy. “My soul rots knowing I’m the same species Steven was.” He swallows hard. “I know that sounds corny, but it’s true. We had to… shit. If we had known then… all the women he hurt… killed… If we knew… of course we would have called the cops. Found out too late.”
“We shoulda told when we heard the truth about him,” I say.
“Nah. Too late. Besides, it’s illegal. Hiding bodies. It would have made it look worse, like we planned to kill him or something.” Sage’s hands get shakier than mine. “No one will ever find him. It’s over. Don’t mention it.”
“I’m not. I’m just saying Gunn’s been different since—”
“We all have.”
“He’s never sober anymore.”
“Neither are you.” He swallows hard, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we made the choice to deal with Steven or if that choice made us.” He breaths softly, “We all cope in different ways.” Sage holds my hands to calm them but instead our hands shake together as he speaks.
“I know Gunn can be moody and hard to deal with sometimes. Gunner is Gunner. He’ll be over it soon.”
I blink out more tears. “I know, I know him. He’s the only boyfriend I’ve ever had.” Sage lets go of my hands and pats my head like I’m his pet or something, his clumsy way of showing affection. “When I was a kid and I dreamed about love, I didn’t think it would be this hard or hurt this much.”
“It doesn’t usually,” says Sage. “Gunn has issues. He can be a good guy, but he can also be a jerk. He loves you, but he’s got problems. Be patient with him.” Sage touches my hair gently. “I’ll never let him hurt you.”
“I’ve been patient. I’m always patient. I have to be. We’ve been together since I was twelve… He’s sick. Bipolar. I wish things were different… really I do.” I sigh through clenched teeth, “It’s so hard… But I know he didn’t mean it.”
Sage stands up and paces back and forth, almost slipping on the fruit on the floor. He has this look on his face, like a cat with a Blue Jay in its jaws, trying to decide if he should swallow or let go.
“He’s my best friend. I love him like a brother, but he’s a jerk. Face the facts, Cherrie. He meant it. He doesn’t like to share the spotlight, not even with you. Yeah, he’s bipolar and drunk, and he shouldn’t have said it, but he probably meant most of it. He likes being the center of attention.”
I tap my toe on the floor, trying to get pieces of cantaloupe off my shoe. “I don’t mind letting him be the center of attention, but he was puking and fans were waiting. You know I don’t like any mistakes in our shows… Especially here.”
Sage looks down. “Do you still look for her in the crowd?”
“Yeah. Silly, huh?”
“No. No, it’s not. But we’re your family, too. You got family,” he says. My breathing starts to go back to normal. “Even when she doesn’t show, we’re here,” Sage adds. “We all come from messed-up homes. Family isn’t just sharing blood, it’s sharing a bond. You’re more family to me than any of my blood relatives. I understand why you look for your mom. But we’re here for you, whether she comes or not.”
I push my hair behind my ear. “I know.” I pick at my fruit-covered heels. “I shouldn’t have sung his song. I thought I was helping.”
Sage smiles at me. “You were.” He looks at the mess on the floor. “If you want to crash in my room tonight, you can. I can sleep in Blaze’s room, so you can have my bed.”
“No, I’m fine. I gotta face him eventually. I may as well do it tonight.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Sage.”
He hands me a small white card. “Take my extra room key just in case. If he’s too bad and you need to leave, just come over. It doesn’t matter how late. I can go to Blaze’s room or sleep on the floor, so you can have the bed. Okay?” I nod. “I mean it, Cherrie. I don’t want you hurt.”
“Gunner wouldn’t hurt me.”
“Maybe, but Gunner isn’t Gunner tonight.”
I look down at the mess on the floor. I know he’s right.
“You’re my sister, you know that?”
I smile through my tears. “You always tell me that.”
“It’s true. My hot stepsister.” He messes up my hair playfully and grins. “Cherrie.”
“You did great tonight. You’re a great singer.”
“You’re my friend, Sage, you’re supposed to say that.”
“No, I mean it. When we get done with the tour, we should record some of the songs you’ve been writing.”
I frown. “What? Why? Gunner is the lead singer. He’ll never put them on a record or let the fans hear them.”
“That’s not true. He let you sing lead on a couple songs.”
“Just two, and he did that to shut me up. I begged him for months. You heard him. I’m supposed to look pretty and play guitar.”
Sage scratches his head. “You’re too good just to stand behind somebody and look pretty.”
“Look how well he took to me singing tonight. Reckless Gravity is a band thing, a group thing. It’s not a me thing. It’s not about my music.”
Sage gives a crooked smile. “It’s a family thing. It should be about all of us and include all the music. Let Gunner get mad if he’s gonna get mad. He’ll get over it. He always does.” I shake my head. He adds, “Seriously, instead of playin’ video games, riding dirt bikes and going to that Comic-Con shit with Gunn we should spend some of our off time working on your music when the tour is over.”
“You’re sweet, Sage, but no one will ever hear it. It will never be on a Reckless Gravity album.”
“So put it on a Cherrie Lane album.”
My cheeks flush. “I could never do that… I couldn’t.”
Sage locks eyes with me. “You scared? You’re the bravest person I know. Don’t let fear stop ya from shinin’ your solo star. Fear is not an option. It’s a beast. Slay that motha fucker.” He sighs. “Cherrie, if you ever choose to sing your music, you don’t have to worry about hiring a drummer. I’ll always back you up.”
“I’m gonna get out of here. Call my cell or come over if you need me, okay?”
I nod and he leaves. It’s comforting knowing he’ll always be there for me. He always helps calm the crazy in my life.
I gain my composure and walk toward the table. I’m supposed to be a superstar—my band’s on top of the world. But when I look around, all I see is mess. I tidy up. I pick up the chair Gunner threw and put it where it belongs, and I clean the fruit. Maybe I don’t want the staff to work extra hard when the people come back in the room, maybe I’m ashamed and I don’t want them to know what happened here, or maybe I’m just used to cleaning up after Gunner. I’ve been trying to fix his messes since we were kids.
When the fruit is mostly cleaned up, I pick up a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I guzzle it straight from the bottle. I drink until I feel better, until I’m not scared to go to the hotel room I share with Gunner.
Only then do I go.
Carefully, I open the hotel room door, not knowing what to expect on the other side. The room is dimly lit by a gold lamp attached to the wooden headboard, and Gunner is lying on the crimson comforter.
“Where you been, Cherrie Pie? I was worried.”
I pause a sec, carefully considering my words, thinking through them, trying to figure the best reply. Then I blurt the truth, “I stayed backstage for a while. I thought you were mad at me.”
He shakes his head. “Nah. Worried. You were gone almost an hour.”
He smiles. “Is that Jack in your hands?” He gets up and walks over to me, and takes the bottle from my fingers. “Damn. You drank half the bottle. Your speech ain’t even slurred. You hold your liquor like a man.”
“Had a lot of practice.”
“I ordered some drinks and food from room service, in case you’re hungry or somethin’.”
I don’t want food, but the liquor on the cart looks great. I take my bottle of Jack Daniel’s back and smell it.
“Why do you always do that?”
I look in his beautiful eyes. “It reminds me of home. It smells like my daddy.”
“Do condoms smell like your mom?”
I frown and cross my arms.
“Sorry, babe, it was a joke. Just wanted to make you laugh.”
I don’t say anything. I take another sip from the bottle and look at the floor.
“Hey, let’s take a bath,” Gunner says. “I want to wash you.”
“I lit some candles in the bathroom and got some drinks, and donuts. I just thought it would be nice. I want to see that golden skin, naked and covered in white bubbles.” I blink. He takes my hand and walks me to the bed. He sits me down and starts to massage my shoulders. “You look beautiful tonight, babe.”
This is typical Gunner. His mood swings are constant. They make me dizzy. He’s high then low, happy then grumpy. He’s like all seven dwarves in one hot body. It’s hard to find emotional stability when you’re in love with someone so inconsistent.
I’m way more hurt than I am angry at this point. He didn’t mean what he did. He can’t help it. Gunn’s father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had schizophrenic traits, too. But bipolar is what ran wild in his family. Gunner’s crazy—crazy because he doesn’t want to take meds and admit that he’s ill so he can start getting better. He thinks he can control it, but it controls him. And drags me along for the ride.
Gunner’s a puzzle that’s constantly changing and impossible to figure out. But I can never stay angry at him. You’re not supposed to be mad at the sick, you’re supposed to care for them and help them get better. I chose Gunner before I knew he had so many issues and I chose to stay and help instead of running away when I realized what was going on. I try to keep him out of trouble, keep him from making rash, absurd choices when his bipolar is acting up. Don’t want him to do anything that could wreck his life or cause him mountains of regrets. He needs me.
“I love you, Cherrie,” Gunner says. “I just got mad. I didn’t mean to—”
He looks nervously at me. “I couldn’t help it. I can’t stop myself sometimes. I go over the top. I black out when I’m mad. Sorry, babe.”
“I know, Gunner.”
His dark, beautiful eyes are red and brimming with tears. “I’ve been sitting here wondering how I was gonna make this up to you. I shouldn’t have tried to hit you, and I shouldn’t have pounded Sage. I was drunk and stupid. Can you forgive me?”
“I’ll always forgive you.”
“Do you want that bubble bath now?”
I shake my head.
Gunn looks like a puppy that was thrown into a dogfight and then kicked after it was over. He holds me and kisses me deeply.
“I’m sorry, babe,” he whispers. “I love you. In the future, when I’m ready to get married, it will be to you.”
Odd as it seems, I sometimes envy his bipolar disorder, because he can be angry and say or do awful things, and then his mood changes and he’s fine, almost like it never happened. I know it’s probably messed up to think this way, but when he’s healed instantly, and I’m still stuck in pain, I can’t help but be jealous. I wish I had his ability to bounce back from injury so fast. I’m still hurt by his words in our dressing room, but I love this side of him. He comforts me with kisses that make my body tingle. And he says all the right things.
“We’ll have a kickass church wedding. You’ll see. We’ll make beautiful musical babies one day too.” No one can melt my heart like Gunner. I forgive him. He kisses my cheek.
“We’re special, Cherrie. We are immortal.”
He kisses my lips and whispers, “Our sound will be remembered forever, and the world will remember our love. Music makes us immortal.”
Seductively, gently, Gunner bites my lower lip. He runs his fingertips down my sides and across my hips. He peels off my studded leather bra and leather pants. We drink, passing the bottle of Jack back and forth between lingering kisses. His fingers trail down the small of my back, around my waist, and between my thighs. As my lips touch the bottle, I feel the warmth of his mouth on my neck and his fingers stroking my skin. Then he drinks as I taste his salty flesh. He moans softly as I lick his neck, and run my lips along his collarbones. He passes the bottle back to me.
When I feel his warm breath in my ear, my arm goes limp and I drop the bottle off the side of the bed. The alcohol splashes the crimson comforter as the bottle clunks down. The liquid inside spills out and forms a puddle on the carpet. Neither of us cares.
I lean back and wrap my legs around Gunner, staring down at the spilled drink below us as I scratch his shoulders and feel his body crashing into mine like ocean waves. The moments turn to hours, the hours to faded memories.
By dawn, the hurt and anger are forgotten.
“Babe. Cherrie Pie, wake up.”
I blink, unaware of where I am, trying to force my sleepy eyes to focus. Gunner is standing over me, naked. I grip the sheets and imagine throwing darts at his face. I’d never imagine sharp darts that would draw blood, but dull ones that would annoy him the way he’s annoying me. The last thing I want to do is leave bed. Its cozy, warm, a happy place.
“Hurry. We overslept. We’re late. We gotta pack and get back on the tour bus. It’s time to go.”
“Wait. What do you mean ‘time to go’? Where are we?”
“Are we doing a show here?”
He laughs. “Wow, you really were drunk last night, weren’t you? We already did the show. It’s time to leave.”
I am always coming or going. Right now, everything’s a blacked-out blur. My head aches behind my eyes and all the way to the back of my skull. Lifting it off the pillow hurts.
“I don’t remember doing a show. I don’t remember much of anything. What happened last night?”
He chuckles and jokingly thrusts his hips in my direction.
“Did I have fun?”
Gunner licks his lips. His dark eyes are dancing. “You were a lot of fun, Cherrie.”
“Babe, my head’s killin’ me. We did a show last night? For real? Are you playing with me?”
Gunner sits on the bed beside me. “We really did.” He reaches on the nightstand and hands me a flyer for the show. “You killed it. Who knew you could kick ass on guitar even when you’re piss drunk? That’s sexy.”
“What? I never get drunk before a show—that’s something you would do.”
Gunn chuckles, leaning over and kissing me on my sore head. “Last night, it was something we both did.” He kisses my lips, tender and gentle. I look in his eyes, and Gunner smiles and tries to be romantic.
“Your eyes look pretty in this light, like sparkling pools of green slime,” he says. Gunner’s usually about as romantic as a quarterback is dainty. I chuckle, but the laughter echoes pain through my skull.
“Gee, thanks, Gunn. Your eyes look good too, like puddles of chocolate mud. Now shut up and let me rest. I’m sick. I feel like I’m dying.” I bury my face in my pillow and close my eyes. He playfully snatches the blanket away, revealing my naked body.
“Get your ass up! You can’t rest now! It’s time to go!” He hands me a bottle of vodka. “Here, medicine for your hangover.”
I drink the vodka straight from the bottle, just enough to get regular and cure my hangover, like we do every morning. I squeeze into tight jeans and a t-shirt, and start shoving my clothes into a suitcase.
“Babe, did you check all the drawers and make sure we didn’t forget anything?” I ask.
“Yeah. Check under the bed, make sure nothing’s under there.”
I get on my hands and knees and look under the bed. He walks by and slaps my ass affectionately. There are empty beer bottles, what looks like a half of a blunt, a used condom, and his sneakers.
My brows crumple. “What the hell is a condom doing in here?” I know that if I was drunk last night… I didn’t insist on using protection… because I always forget to do that when I’m drunk. And Gunner won’t use condoms with me unless I make him.
Gunner laughs. “It’s a hotel, dizzy. Do you know how many people screwed in that bed before us?”
I feel silly and my cheeks go hot like I’m starting to blush. I don’t say a thing.
Our tour bus is long and black. It has a picture of the band on the side and the words “Reckless Gravity” in large, bold print. To get on it we have to sift through an ocean of people, like a human obstacle course. Luckily, the roadies and staff have packed most of our stuff on the bus already, but we have a few things we carry on with us. The police are here. They hold back the reaching crowd and make a small path for us to hurry through.
“I see Gunner!”
“Cherrie, lift your head so we can get a picture.”
Two bodyguards walk out first. Gunner follows them. I stare at the ground with Gunner’s hoodie pulled over my head to block my face. I trail behind him, clinging to his hand as he trudges ahead of me; behind me I have bandmates Sage, then Blaze, and then two bodyguards snaking behind us all as we move through the thick crowd of paparazzi and fans. A hand from the crowd reaches over and jerks my hoodie off and my head snaps up. The force of it makes the back of my neck hurt like hell. I drop Gunner’s hand and reach to soothe the ache.
Flash. Flash. Flash. The light from the cameras blinds me.
“Take the picture!” someone shouts. The buzzing of voices overwhelms me.
“Can I get a picture?”
“She’s showing her face! Take the shot. Cherrie is giving us a picture.”
The crowd explodes! People start pouncing on each other, pushing past the line of cops, almost breaking the path we’re walking through. My heart races and I look for Gunn. I can’t see him. All I see is white light as the flashes from the cameras explode around me. I reach forward, thinking he must be beyond the light, but I can’t reach him. He must be inside the bus. My breath pushes out in short spurts. My damn asthma. Or an anxiety attack… I can’t get enough air.
The crowd thrusts forward, pulling and tugging at my clothes. They fall on me like a tidal wave. My heart races. I freeze on the gritty concrete when I should be trying to get the hell out of there. The crowd grips me more, someone yanks my hair. It feels like they’re trying to rip my skin off. The police struggle, but they can barely hold back the crazed mob.
My head throbs. I can’t see. Flash. Flash. Flash. Everyone’s pulling at me. Taking pictures. Yanking hair, trying to take pieces of me. They won’t leave me alone. Where the hell is Gunn?
“Cherrie Lane! We love you!”
“Cherrie Lane and Sage!”
“Cherrieeeeeee! Marry me.”
“Can I get a picture of you guys?”
More blinding flashes. More people tugging at me.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. Once we were just a band of kids, playing locally. Gunner and I were trying hard to prove that we were more than just the offspring of our famous fathers. We wanted to make it on our own, without the help of our parents and the powerful people they knew. We started out as real losers. We played shows in dives with no audiences. It never discouraged us. Nothing could. Not even in the beginning when some of the crowds would boo. I’d leave the stage in tears; and Gunner, he’d leave ready to brawl with them for hurting me. Despite it all we stayed together, stayed determined, and stayed hungry for success. We tried to be optimistic too, dreamed out loud about the days when our talent would make the haters shut up.
Our fathers raised us around the music business. We knew the steps involved and the work that had to be done to sharpen our skills. We were young but hardly naive. In time, we turned those boos into cheers that would roar. Slowly the crowds grew from zero to twenty, from twenty to fifty, and we started the slow crawl toward success. Then, right before Steven died, we got lucky. Hit the jackpot.
We got a manager, Gunner found him. He was a good guy who was good friends with an A&R from a major record company. He convinced his friend, Hal Landin to come to our show and before we knew it we were signed. From there the ball was rolling. The cards were in our hands, we just had to play them the right way. Our dreams were so close to being real that we could taste them. They tasted like chocolate sunshine. We were on the verge of everything. Then Steven died.
It was the worst day in history. Steven died the night after we signed with our label. Reporting his death to the cops could have meant never getting to be where we are right now. Back then, hiding the truth and ignoring what happened seemed like the only option. Our only chance. We needed a do over. A new start. Steven was a monster… Burying him and our secrets was probably for the best. It seemed like a public service. After our career skyrocketed, the band just acted ‘normally,’ as if what happened didn’t really happen. We all shut the door on the event, and locked it in. Tight.
It was our appearance on the Jimmy Fallen show that first time that really skyrocketed our career. Not only were we the children of great performers, but we were genuinely talented. We brought the house down: cute kids with a rocker edge. And who wrote all their own stuff. Jimmy loved us and jammed with us on the show. The audience loved it! So did the radio stations. I couldn’t believe the YouTube hits we were getting. Millions of people loved our sound, our words. All of our songs got lots of airplay, but ‘Crash’ got the most attention. That song was an instant number one on Billboard, last year’s biggest-selling single. The party we had the night it hit the top was epic and excessive! We partied like rocks stars… Daddy would be proud. The records sold well—really well. And this, our second national tour, was making our reputation surge. Fans come to our shows and see us play: we perform hard and don’t need a ton of smoke and mirrors to make our sound hot. We love the music, respect our craft… And the fans love of us for it; they think it’s hip and fresh to see artists who actually strive to make good music instead of striving to make record sales. Or at least that’s what I’d like to believe is why the fans are so into our band.
“Ouch!” Someone yanks my hair again. Flash. Flash. Flash. The people feel like walls closing in on me. It gets harder and harder to breathe. Damn. I hate the paparazzi. Sage rushes up from behind. He smacks the groping hands off me and moves closer to shield me from the crowd. My eyes focus for a moment. The cops who try to form a path for us using their bodies are overwhelmed by the madness and swaying from the force of the mob. People are everywhere, reaching over, pushing through and trying to get past them.
“Stay back!” a cop yells to the crowd.
“Cherrie. I can reach her! I touched her!”
Flash. Flash. Flash Blinded again. More voices. A million voices. They boom through my aching head and make me want to shout.
“Keep walking!” Sage hollers.
He ushers me in through the bus door. We hurry inside; Blaze and the bodyguards behind us keep the crowd from following us. The door slams and locks after we enter.
“What the hell?!” I scream.
“That was epic!” says Gunn. His eyes dart around excitedly and he’s making the same face he makes when he has an orgasm. Fame is his favorite drug.
“There were so many people! How did they know we’d be coming out that door?”
Gunn looks back at me and then leans to stare out the bus window. A wide grin melts across his face. “I put it on Twitter,” he says.
He taps the glass and points to the mob outside. “It drew a crowd, didn’t it? Got the fans pumped.”
“No. It got us caught in a stampede!”
“It was a rush! I love the crowd. Bet we’ll be on the front cover of every paper in Washington.”
“The cameras were blinding me!” I stamp my foot and chew on my lip. “I thought they were gonna rip me to bits. And you left me out there!”
Gunner rips his eyes away from the window and stands straight. He shifts uncomfortably. “You think too much. I figured you were behind me. When I saw you weren’t, they wouldn’t let me back outside. Said it was a security risk.” I watch his eyes glitter with energy. “You were with the guys. You were ok.” He sighs. “It was a blast, huh? Why live if it ain’t on camera?” He moves closer, grabs my hand. I snatch it back.
Calming down a bit, I walk back to see the driver, a short, Asian man with dark crescent moons under his eyes. Gunner never speaks to him, but I always do. I give him a small wave. “How are you, Mik?” I can’t say his full name—it’s so long and unpronounceable. But ‘Mik’ is in there somewhere. Besides, he seems to like the nickname.
Mik looks out the window like he’s trying to figure out the best way to get around the masses. “Good. Loved the visit with my wife yesterday. Thanks.”
I blurt, “Glad that the docs let her come… How far along is she?”
He presses his back against his seat, grips the wheel and smiles proudly, “Three months. Didn’t want to say goodnight or goodbye. Missed her terrible. Be glad when this tour’s over…”
I playfully slap the shoulder of his blue jacket. “Wow. You that excited to be away from us?”
His eyes get smaller and his smile goes huge as he laughs and shifts the bus in gear. “Nah. This job pays the mortgage; it’ll buy my kid diapers, too. Just looking forward to takin a break that’s all…Gettin’ back home.”
“Me too,” I say as I turn to leave.
“Thanks again… for flying her out.”
I look back. “Anytime,” I say and then I head back to Gunn. My stomach feels uneasy, it’s been acting up since I got on the bus… Maybe it’s all the liquor I had, but it feels like something worse.
The cops finally get the crowd back and under control, and the bus jerks forward and darts off.
This bus usually feels like home to me, probably because we spend so much time on the road. The interior is dark brown, the walls are the color of an oak tree’s trunk. The front of the bus is kind of like a mini-kitchen. There are two small booths on one side, navy blue with brown trim, and enough seating for all of us to eat or relax. In front of them, directly behind the driver, there’s a large flat-screen TV built into the wall so you can see it from almost anywhere in the front of the bus. The television has a gaming system we play way too much. On the other side of the bus there’s a small sink and a black microwave oven.
A regular home away from home.
By now, we are rolling down the road comfortably. Sage is sitting in one of the booths, eating Cheerios. He drops his spoon in the bowl with a clank. Then smiles, takes pictures of me with an imaginary camera, and pretends he’s a fan from the mob we just left. In a high-pitched squeal, he says, “Oh my gosh! It’s Cherrie Cum Lately and the Late Gunner Blue Bryant!” His voice returns to normal. “What a shock. Gunn and Cherrie making us late as hell, and getting on the bus smelling like sex again! I guess it’s Tuesday.”
Gunner playfully punches him in the arm. “Jealous much.”
Sage laughs. “Absolutely.”
I open my eyes wide and pretend to be pissed at his comment, but I’m used to the boys in the band being crude and direct. I slide in the booth beside Sage and grab his spoon and shove a mountain of cereal in his mouth. “Shut up,” I say before I yank the spoon out and scoop up some cereal for myself. As I chew, milk drips off my lip and falls into his bowl.
Sage grins at me. “I’m playin’. I love you like a sister, Cherrie Pops,” Sage says, winking. “Like a very hot stepsister.”
Sage is adorable. Sweet and cuddly like a teddy bear, he will always be parked in the friend lane. I’m with Gunner and I’m no cheater. This time, I shovel a tire-sized spoon of cheerios in his mouth while he’s still talking.
He says, “Veery Funnsy. I sweeear yawls are procrastination personified.” He gulps and swallows hard before adding, “Maybe if you guys had taken a few seconds longer to meet us in the lobby the two people in the entire state who missed us leaving could have found the hotel,” he chuckles sarcastically and snatches his spoon out of my fingers.
I stick my tongue out at him. He laughs more.
“Thanks for the offer, but no,” Sage says. “Gunner might get mad.”
I get up and giggle. “Oh stop! Why are you always flirting?”
“Because you’re beautiful. But you need a shower!”
I smile as he eats so much that his jaws look like they are nine months pregnant. I grip his neck and give him a bear hug, lifting my pits high as I squeeze him.
Sage swallows hard. “Seriously, take a shower! Get off me.” The tips of his ears are pink.
Gunner laughs hysterically. “Nah. Inhale deep, smell the love.”
Sage struggles until I let him go and Gunner strolls over and kisses my cheek. His nose crinkles. “He’s right, babe…”
I feel my cheeks flush with embarrassment. Half the people in the city just surrounded me outside the bus. And I smell. Grrr. I bet ‘#CherrieStinks’ is trending on Twitter already.
It’s hard to be merely human when people expect perfection from stars. Truth is, I’m not my image. I’m not always sexy, always strong, always feministic, or always a badass. I’m just a girl trying to figure things out while the world stands around judging.
I leave the boys and walk the rest of the way down the hall. Gunner follows, only he’s heading to his bunk. The bus has a bathroom that’s barely bigger than an airplane bathroom. It’s white and it has a tiny shower, a small sink, and a toilet—for peeing only. The hallway in the middle of the bus is small and it carries smell in a huge way, so if there’s an emergency and someone has to take a shit, we all know it and we hate them because we have to ride with the smell.
The hallway is so narrow it’s hard for two people to walk down it side by side. Just past the bathroom on each side of the hall there are four bunk beds. They’re so tiny it’s almost impossible to get more than one body on a bunk. They’re a lot like the bunks inmates get in jail, except ours are less roomy and they’re framed in something that resembles wood instead of metal. There’s a light above each bunk, a comfy blanket, and a small curtain that we can close for privacy. Back behind the bunks is the last space on the bus. We call it the ‘sex room.’ [_Barf. _]It’s a room with another TV and an actual bed, the only bed that can fit two people comfortably, sometimes three or four people if they squeeze in tight. Here, the boys get drunk and high and screw groupies. It’s pretty nasty. The sheets are usually stained because the laundry doesn’t get done enough when we’re on tour. The room always reeks of rapture and regret. Though it pains me to admit it, Gunner and I have crept back there to make love on a few drunk and horny nights while we were traveling.
Gunner and Blaze are in their bunks with their curtains closed, listening to music, sending text messages, jacking off, or doing whatever boys do when they’re alone. I put my stuff on my bed and go to take a shower.
Sage is right. I stink. I smell like stale booze, armpit, and last night’s sex. Eww. My tired body relaxes, and I savor the warm water as it flows through my hair and dances across my skin. The drops are rejuvenating and soft as angel’s kisses as they flow down my face. The smell of ivory soap fills the tiny room as I lather myself in thick white bubbles.
And then I’m jolted forward. Tossed into the wall like a bag of flour. Arrgh! The impact shakes my insides.
Tires squeal, metal crashes, screeching. There is the sound of broken glass. The small shower suddenly gets smaller. It begins to compress, tries to swallow me. And I scream.
I’m pinned inside, smashed against the wall. I taste blood. My heart is racing. I yell, scratching and clawing at the wall that’s crushing me, but my soapy scratches accomplish nothing. I’m stuck. Squeezed in hard and tight. I can’t move my foot at all. Smoke fills the room and makes me gag.
I can hardly breathe. It feels like something’s squeezing my chest, not letting my lungs expand. Chaos, shouts, sobbing… Then I hear a muffled voice.
“Oh God! Where is she? Is she all right?”
I hear dull, running footsteps charging toward me that sound like they’re underwater. I start fading in and out of consciousness, pinned inside the white box.
“Oh Cherrie! Oh shit, shit, SHIT!!” Gunner says. He’s crying, pulling me from the wrecked shower. “Blaze, help, for fuck’s sake! Her feet are stuck. I can’t get her. Please God, don’t let her be… I can’t live without her. Cherrie, oh shit, Cherrie baby!”
Blaze helps him pull me. I feel their hands wrap around my throbbing naked body. Their fingers are like needles in my wounded flesh. They yank hard in panic until I spring free. I plunge into Gunner’s arms with a huge burst of pain. I lie limp and weak against him.
Gunner looks at me. “Breathe, Cherrie. Relax, babe. You have to breathe.”
I inhale and exhale shakily. “My in… haler… Where’d ya put it?”
“Ow! I think m’ foot’s broke… When ya pulling me out, it snapped free. It hurts. Oh God, ev’thing hurts.”
“You’ll be okay, Cherrie Pie,” Gunner says. “I’m here, it’s okay.”
I gulp for air, my heart banging in my chest.
“Just look at me, babe. You’re okay, you’re gonna be okay. Just breathe.”
I slip in and out of consciousness. I don’t want to rest. I think I’ll die if I rest. I keep fighting it.
Smoke starts to engulf the bus, and I cough. It stings my eyes and makes it hard to see. I force myself to focus. I look toward the front of the bus, but it’s no longer there. I blink in shock, and wipe away the drips I feel coming down my face. It must be water. I’m wet. I wipe my face again and look at my hand. It’s covered in blood.
“I’m bleeding, I’m hurt! Gunner!”
I want to look for Sage because I don’t see him, but I hurt so bad that I can’t move. Gunner holds me. I see Blaze next to me. For a second I’d forgotten he was there. Tears are streaming down his cheeks. He never cries. The amber light from the flames reflects in his tears and for a second I think I see the shadow of a flame on those awful blood-splattered boots he’s wearing.
He says, “You’ll be okay, Cherrie. Someone called an ambulance. You’re gonna be okay.”
I look toward the front of the bus again. All I see is a heap of twisted metal pushed together and smoking. Flames start to cover what was the front of the bus. Tiny embers fall and sting my tender body like mosquito bites. The heat makes me sweat.
Gunner looks at the glowing red wall of fire ahead of us. “This isn’t safe. I can feel it. That fire’ll spread. We gotta get Cherrie out of here.”
“Sage!” I scream. “Where is Sage? Get Sage first!” The salty, metallic taste of my blood still fills my mouth. We’re surrounded by glass, broken metal, blood, and rising red spears of fire. “Oh God, what happened?”
Sirens sound in the distance.
Gunner scrunches his face and closes his eyes and pulls me to him. “We crashed, Cherrie.” He gently puts me down and starts to search for an exit. “I’m gonna find a way to get you out, babe.”
“Gunner, where’s Sage?” No answer. I scream as the fire grows wilder. “Where is Sage?!” Still, Gunn says nothing. The fire roars. “Sage! Where are you?!” I cry out frantically. “Sage, answer me!”
Blaze looks at me, bloody and wounded. Tears spill from his eyes. “I think he’s dead,” he whispers.
DAMN. I THOUGHT THE DAY Steven died was the worst day in history… But losing Sage, that was like falling head first into a pit of shadowy grief with no doors or windows. No air. I miss him awful bad.
My mind twists knowing that I almost died twice, in the crash and again in the fire after it. I’m a murderer. I deserved to die. I don’t know why I didn’t.
I passed out cold, but somehow Gunner found an exit and he and Blaze got me off the bus before it got swallowed by flames.
That was six months ago. Six months since Sage died. Six months since I felt alive.
Sage was better than me. He deserved the life I’ve been given.
Somehow I’m here. My heart still beats, despite the fact that a large chunk of it died on that bus. My injuries have healed on the outside. My ankle wasn’t broken, just badly sprained. I had a gash in my hairline that required six stitches, deep tissue bruising, and a concussion. The physical pain was easier—meds helped me cope with it. But there is no pill to cure a shredded heart. That hurt hasn’t eased a bit.
After I lost Sage, I couldn’t even think. I still can’t believe a head-on collision with a Mac truck stole my best friend. The driver of the Mac fell asleep at the wheel. He woke up. Our driver never will. His child will never know him. I know Mik depended on his salary to pay his bills, take care of his family… So I’ve been racking my brains coming up with ideas to help them as much as possible. Helping them and making sure all the roadies, staff, and crew that depend on a check from us is the reason I’m here now. We need a do over. We gotta do a new tour—or finish the last one—so they can make the money they need to pay bills. They gotta get what was promised to them, what’s owed. And I want to earn more money to help Sage and Mik’s families. I already told their folks that when we complete this tour I’m donating a hundred percent of what I earn to them. Hope it’s enough to make a difference.
Sage wasn’t blood, but he was family to me. My mom abandoned me when I was two months old. My dad was always on tour with his band or in and out of rehab with Gunner’s real dad; he was never around. Sage was there for years, from middle school. He was my big brother, my champion, my bandmate. Someone I could always count on.
And now he’s gone.
Gunner and Blaze sat in our house and drank and got high nonstop for days after his death. They didn’t leave the house unless they needed to re-up on booze or drugs. “Please come with me,” I said to Gunn on the day of the funeral.
“No,” he said. “I’m not gonna go look while people throw dirt on my best friend. I’m not seeing Sage put in the ground, Cherrie. His body’s in a box. His soul isn’t. The soul doesn’t die. He’s still here, so why should we watch them bury an empty shell?”
So Gunner and Blaze mourned the way they always do, with their favorite poisons. Blaze overdosed on women, too. A parade of them came in and out of our place, giving him orgasms and condolences.
Finally, after a seemingly endless period of existing without really living, the boys say it’s time to move on. I’m not ready yet. But if we are gonna be prepared to get back on the road and finish this tour, like we are supposed to, then I have to get ready.
Sage’s death has changed all of us. Before he died, we felt immortal, untouchable. But now the reality of a frail life has slapped us in the face and given us a wake-up call we can’t ignore. We’ve learned the hard way that death is absolute. It reaches everybody and comes without invitation.
I’ve spent years falling down, throw-up drunk and partying with the boys, but even alcohol isn’t fun now. It doesn’t fill the hole in our hearts. As full as the boys’ bellies may be with liquor, their souls are still empty, just like mine. I hate the empty place that I can’t fill, and I wonder if life will ever be fun again.
Now that we’re getting back to the music, I’m trying my best to be optimistic, to move on for the good of the band, but it’s hard. I’ve never felt more incomplete.
I lean against a wall of silver-painted bricks, pretending to be happy, trying to be. It’s kinda hard when every breath feels like the buildup to the apocalypse. Part of me keeps wishing I was anyplace but here. Sage’s spirit is in these walls, and it lives in the music. Every inch of this building reminds me of the friendship I miss so much. We jam without him, but even the music misses him, and the sound’s not the same. I stare at my reflection in the shiny wax on the ebony hardwood floor.
Blaze stands by the door. I glance at him in time to see his eyebrows get lower and form a firm line above his acidic glare. His voice gets louder and more and deep. “Gunner, we don’t need another drummer. Cherrie plays drums and guitar. Put her on drums when we do shows.”
Blaze kicks at the floor with his boots. I glare at the dark red splatters and stains on them. I hate the shame and evil those boots represent, but he won’t stop wearing them. Blaze would have stopped for Sage if Sage had lived long enough to ask him to.
“No. Cherrie belongs on guitar,” Gunner replies.
Blaze wrinkles his forehead. “It doesn’t seem right replacing Sage with some rookie.”
Gunner holds firm. “He’d want the band to go on. He’d want us to keep making music. Sage was all about the music.”
I look around again, our rehearsal space is the size of a tennis court. There are amps on the floor next to four guitars on guitar stands that lean against the brick wall. There is a drum set—his drums. Every time I see them, my heart shivers in my chest. Near the drums there is a keyboard we never use, plus three microphones with skinny black stands. Black and white images of legendary rockers decorate the walls. Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, Joan Jett, Velvet Slayer, and so many others adorn the walls to bring inspiration. Despite the items in the room, the place still seems a little bare and uninspired to me. It’s missing Sage.
Blaze digs into a back pocket in his jeans and takes out a pack of Newports. He lights a cigarette and inhales. “We can’t just add a new him. He ain’t replaceable.”
Gunner rolls his eyes. “No one is trying to replace Sage. No one could.” He takes a quivering breath. “We need the sexy in front. Cherrie needs to be seen in those little outfits. She can’t be hidden behind drums.” I look up as he points at me. “Look at her. She’s the Rock God’s daughter. She burns the strings, she’s amazin’ on guitar. But that ain’t what guys like about her. You know what it is, that Latin skin. Guys love a hot Spanish chick.”
“I’m not Latina,” I say.
Gunn looks at me sternly. “You’re all kinds of mixed up. You got a lil’ Spanish in you. Some girls pay to get your color. Be grateful.”
The way Gunner spits those words makes them feel like insults, but I choose not to upset him. This is supposed to be about band business, about finding a new member so we can get our sound right and complete this tour for Sage… in his memory. So I choose to be professional. Once again, I start to imagine throwing darts at his face as I swallow the urge to respond. I look away.
I take in the new boy, who’s standing to the side with his shoulders hunched, one hand in his jacket pocket. His face is flushed red and the hand that isn’t in his jacket is balled in a fist. He looks uncomfortable with the way Gunn speaks to me. I smile at him and he smiles back. I look at Gunner again and try not to show how much his conversation bugs me.
It’s nice to be seen as attractive, but this is too much. I don’t want my appearance to be the focus. Most guys can’t see the talent I inherited from my dad because they only see my mother’s looks. I’ve done everything to try not to look like her, but nothing works.
Mom has green eyes and dark, exotic features. She’s an interesting mix: a lot of English and Italian, a little Spanish, some Romany blood, and some Black. My dad is Irish, so I guess that makes me a walking version of the United Nations. Some would say I got the best of the both of them—her looks and his musical ability—but I would trade her genes in a flash if I could avoid living in the shadow of my mom’s bad choices.
Gunner’s still talking. “Cherrie always looks like she just got laid. That wild hair, them full cherry red lips and her mom’s porn star curves.”
Blaze studies every part me.
I lower my eyes and frown. My mother was a porn star and a groupie. Those are two facts that I never want to be mentioned. I heard enough of it growing up. Kids teased me about it. Even Dad used to get drunk and go on and on about it.
“Your mother was a slut,” he’d say. “She was the best slut I ever slept with, but she was a definitely slut, Cherrie. A good girl wouldn’t be so talented in bed. I knew what she was, and I was cool with it. It was supposed to be about a party, not a lifetime commitment. I didn’t mean to have a baby. Life happens. You were a good night on tour that went bad nine months later. But I love you, and I’m gonna raise you right. I’m gonna make you a badass rocker like me, so you won’t be no groupie slut like your mother.”
Those words used to hurt. They shamed and horrified me the first time I heard them, but by the fiftieth time I was numb to it. According to all the stories I’ve heard about my mom, she met my dad backstage after a show. They had sex, he liked it, called her again, slept with her some more. They became friends—friends with benefits—and eventually she had me. She was never his girl, never anyone he took seriously. At first, he’d call her when he did shows in her city so he could hang out with her. She was a guaranteed lay; so if he didn’t find someone new for the night, she was on standby, just a phone call away. At some point, he let her tour with the band. It was a match made in heaven since they both loved to party and get high, but she was never his official girlfriend. She traveled with him and his band until she got knocked up. Then he put her in an apartment until she had me.
When I was born Dad tried to form some freaky family thing with her, but it didn’t work out. When it starts bad, it ends bad. You know the old saying, ‘How you get them is how you lose them.’
Hearing Gunner mention my mom feels like tiny grenades of a betrayal exploding inside. I’m trying to keep it together, but he’s testing the limits of my professionalism. Gunner knows I hate this topic, but he still uses her to make his point.
Blaze undresses me with his eyes and Gunner draws all the attention in the room to my most intimate parts.
Blaze licks his lips and nods in agreement. “I hear you,” he says, “but it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s too soon.”
Gunner winks at me. “Blaze, you gotta trust me on this. There’s not a lot of bands with guitar players that are as good as Cherrie, or as hot.”
“Why is this about me?” I question, folding my arms across my chest, covering it, without even intending too. When no one answers, I look down at the hardwood again. I wonder if my mom still looks like me if she ever misses me, or regrets leaving me in a bad situation. I wonder what she’s like, if she ever loved me. What was so wrong with me that it became impossible for my mom to stay and love me the way a mother should love her kid?
“Cherrie stays in the front on guitar,” Gunner says with finality. “We need a drummer. Her dad sent this guy to play for us, and her dad knows rock. If he says the kid is good, we should at least hear him play.”
Blaze shakes his head. “I hear what you’re saying about keeping Cherrie at the front. She’s hot; the fans love her. I get it.”
I interrupt. “Seriously. Why is every comment about me? Are we talking about a new bandmate or my body?”
Gunn and Blaze look at me at the same time and say, “Both.” They look at each other and laugh. It eases the tension a little. Sage’s death has bonded the guys in a way only they can understand. They’ve always been close, but now they’re even more united. Blaze looks at me like he’s trying to read my expression. I know the debate between them could last all day. They’re stubborn, and I’m tired of it. I lift my head, tap my fingers on the silver bricks behind me, and speak up.
“Give New Boy here a shot.”
Blaze’s eyes widen. He knows how close I was with Sage. He clenches his jaw.
“We need a drummer. Dad says he’s good. And my dad knows music. Besides, he’s cute. He’ll be eye candy for the girlies and groupies. Let’s hear him play.”
“Majority rules,” Blaze grumbles. “Okay, I’ll take a listen.” He flicks the ashes from his cigarette and inhales again.
Gunn frowns, probably because I called the new boy attractive. “Okay, New Boy, out of respect for my Cherrie Pop’s pop, you get one shot. That’s it. This could be your last rehearsal if you don’t kill it. You’re not really wanted, so prove us wrong. Show us that we should let you in our band.”
New Boy looks at me, and for a second it feels like he’s the only one in the room. We connect without words, and he holds my gaze. He looks like the impossible love child of the young Chris Hemsworth and Justin Bieber. He’s prettier than some girls, but at the same time all man. He has a strong jawline and a tough edge that seems to say, ‘Don’t let the pretty face fool you. I’ll kick your ass if you push me hard enough.’
New Boy hesitates slightly before he sits down behind the drums. His fingers tremble but, but his expression stays cool, like he’s trying to hide his jitters. His eyes seem to tell me that this is maybe the biggest moment in his life, that he’s scared pissy that he may blow this audition. He fumbles his drumstick and drops it before quickly scooping it up. Then he pushes his long blond hair out of his adorable blue eyes, and gives me a dimpled smile. His smile sparks a feeling I can’t explain, sort of like butterflies and fate, like he’s the only person on earth that should be behind those drums if Sage can’t be. I smile back and then notice Gunner glaring at me so I quickly stop smiling and look away.
He plays ‘Crash’ on Sage’s drums. He plays that song better than Sage did, but none of us would admit it. Sage was an amazing person, but New Boy’s an amazing talent. He is so good I find myself moving to the beat. I don’t want to, but it happens without thought, without trying, like the music has put my body on autopilot. My hips sway. I float away from the silver wall, step to the microphone, and begin to sing lyrics with his killer sound, almost without thinking. It’s like the way he plays wills my body into song.
“I don’t blame you for hurting me,
It’s my fault that I feel.
I don’t blame love for heartbreak,
Pain’s the only thing that’s real.
I open myself completely, give my heart, and reveal my shame.
Need that high, it’s a rush for me, for you I open up my veins.
Addicted to the feeling, flying high, and craving the fame.
Need that high, just to complete me, need to hear you scream my name.
If I crash and burn tonight, baby, I’m the only one to blame…”
The guys join in, and after rehearsal it’s certain that New Boy is the newest member of Reckless Gravity. Hell, his place in the band couldn’t be more solid if it were etched in stone. Blaze and Gunner walk up to him. Gunn moves really slow. I can tell Gunn is struggling somewhat with the idea of making him our new bandmate, even if he respects his talent, but I also know that Gunn and Blaze will make the right choice for the music, the band. They want us to stay on top.
New Boy gets out of his seat. He stands in front of the instruments, holding his drumsticks in one hand.
“You’re in,” Gunner says with only one corner of his mouth hitched into a smile.
Blaze slaps New Boy’s palm reluctantly and says, “Welcome.”
“Thanks,” he replies. “Blaze… Got minute? Can we chill? Talk about b—”
Blaze grabs his stuff, pushes past him hard and leaves so he doesn’t finish his sentence. Unaffected by the hard brush from Blaze, New Boy says, “Hey Gunner you got time to—”
“No.” Gunner follows Blaze out.
I sigh and approach New Boy. “Welcome to the family.”
He smiles real bright, like he’s excited that at least one of us took the time to talk to him. He starts spinning the drumsticks, twirling them like wooden batons as he speaks.
“Cool. Thanks, Cherrie.”
I lift an eyebrow and glance at the drums behind him. “Don’t thank me now. And don’t blame me later. You did it. Your talent got you in the band. Hope you survive it.”
“What’s that s’posed to mean?” he asks.
I give an impish smile. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
He nods. “I’m a big fan… of your music.”
I beam. “That’s cool. Should be easy for you to learn the band’s songs if you listen to our music already.” My eyes follow his sticks as he feeds them through his fingers more rapidly to make them dance in circles.
“I didn’t say I listen to the band. I listen to you. You’re amazing on stage, and I love your guitar solos and the two songs you sing lead on. That’s why I played ‘Crash’ today.”
I bite my bottom lip and push my hair behind my ear.
“You’re the real singer in this band,” he says. It fascinates me that he can twirl his sticks so fast, for so long, and move them both at once with no mistakes. He never looks down at them. He stares into my eyes as he makes them move like magic.
“Thanks. Have you been to our shows?”
“Uh, yeah.” New Boy looks at me, amused.
He just said I’m good on stage, so of course he comes to our shows. I feel silly. I’m supposed to be a cool rocker chick, and he’s bringing out my closet awkward side. He smiles as if he doesn’t notice what a train wreck this conversation is, and twirls the sticks with even more speed. They’re a brown blur in his fingers.
“C’mon. People go to see you. You’re the star. Not Heckle and Jeckle.”
I giggle. “So you watch Boomerang and retro cartoons. That’s a shocker. You look more like the modern anime type… Like Gunner.”
“I’m nothing like Gunner.”
I smirk. “Really? Are you into my music or the little costumes I wear?” Finally, I say something fun and flirty that goes with the image of Cherrie Lane!
His eyes sparkle. “With or without the costumes, you got talent.”
He lowers his eyes to study my curves as though he’s looking through my clothing with x-ray vision.
“Are you flirting with me, New Boy?”
He looks at me mysteriously as his drumsticks whirl in his fingers.
“If I’m flirtin’, you should know it.”
I can’t help but smile. My eyes wander over to the drums, and I think about Sage’s playful, harmless flirting. I miss him. I want my friend back. I want a friend. I look at New Boy again. He tosses one drumstick in the air and catches it with ease while still twirling the other.
“I love a man that knows how to work his stick,” I say, smirking. “I’m flattered. What you said is real sweet, but it can only be music and conversation between us.” I look toward the door. “I’m Gunn’s girl. The band’s a business, New Boy. Let’s keep it about business. You just got in… Hate to have the boys toss you out.”
New Boy’s baby blues linger around my hips then slowly lift to reach my eyes.
“What’s your real name?”
“Cherrie Lane,” I say, but the lie feels like the truth because I’m always trying to be Cherrie. “What’s yours, New Boy?”
“Justin,” he says.
“You look like a Justin.” There’s the hint of a smile. “So how do you know my dad?”
“He liked my dimples.”
“Well, to start, I love ‘The Ballad of Cherrie Lane,’” he says.
Every time someone mentions that song it feels like a kick in the stomach from someone rocking boots with steel toes. Trying hard not to wince, I ball my hand into a fist as my nails dig into the skin of my palm. When I was younger, I cut myself because physical pain was a welcome distraction from emotional hell. It gave me a weird sense of release. I don’t cut anymore, but I still claw at my palm when things bug me.
Dad wrote that song for his band and let the whole world see the skeletons in my family’s closet. It was one of Velvet Slayer’s biggest hits. It told the whole world my shame. I try to brush off the bad feelings that return with the mention of it.
“Glad to hear that,” I say.
“I mailed your dad letters and demos for years, but far as I know he never listened to them.” His eyes crease at the sides and shine like Christmas tree lights as he speaks. “So I stalked him. Drove all night to where he was going to be next.” He chuckles. “It’s true. Don’t judge.”
I laugh playfully. “It’s cool. You’re not really a rock star if you haven’t been stalked.”
He smiles and scratches his head with a drumstick. “Didn’t have much choice. Had zero connections… And I wanted to be in the music biz, so I took a chance. Found the hotel he was staying at. This huge, black glass skyscraper that had a doorman in a red jacket. Fancy business people and ladies in fur coats.”
“He must have been easy to spot, then. A rocker has to stand out in a hotel full of suits.”
“Yeah. It was December, freezing. This mix of snow and rain was falling. It was a pretty scene. Looked like a postcard at Christmas.”
“Were you in New York?”
“Manhattan. I was freezing my balls off. My toes were numb, waiting outside to see him. When he finally came out, I tried to give him a demo. He blew me off and rushed into a car.”
“Dad hates the cold.”
Justin’s hair falls in his eyes, and he pushes it aside with one hand, still holding his sticks with the other. “I waited for hours until he came back. My fingers were numb; my nose was running. When he stepped out of the car, I handed him one of my demos and asked him if he needed a drummer. He recognized my name and face from all the demos and pictures I’d been sending him. He was like, ‘You still here kid? I think I listened to your stuff before. You been out here this whole time? It’s cold as a bitch out here. You’re a persistent kid, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He smiled at me and said, ‘Stop calling me ‘sir.’’ He looked at my face. ‘A drummer, huh? I know a band that needs a drummer. And Cherrie likes dimples. Besides, I know a lead singer that could use a little competition.’”
I roll my eyes. That’s my father.
“Your dad said he’d rather Gunner be your bandmate and not your boyfriend. He thinks Gunner’s an asshole. He’s a wise man.”
“Maybe.” I grin. “But Gunner’s my asshole. I don’t care what my dad thinks. Be nice to Gunn, or I’ll beat you up.” I try to look serious as I make a threat, but it’s a little hard to do when my lashes bat involuntarily. I’ve never cheated on Gunn. Never will. Despite my public image of being sexy, fun, and flirty, I don’t want to flirt with New Boy. Problem is, I can’t stop myself. The guy’s movie-star handsome.
“Do yourself a favor and don’t tell anyone else that story. If Gunn found out my dad only suggested you because of your dimples, you’d be out of the band as fast as you got in it. And after such a warm welcome too.” I laugh.
He twirls his drumsticks and gives me a cocky smirk. “You’d still need a drummer, Cherrie.” He looks around the empty studio. “Don’t see a better man for the job.”
I dig my heel into the hardwood. “We had a better man. We lost him. We’re settling for you.”
“Sage was my best friend.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t trying to put him down.”
“I know. You’d be fired if I thought you were.” He shifts from one foot to the other and looks at the ground as if he’ll find the right words to say written on the hardwood.
I like New’s confidence and his smile. He has the kind of smile a girl wants to sit on. Sucks that it’s attached to a mouth that may get him in trouble. “This is your winning lottery ticket. You made it to the big time. Your life just got crazy. Crazy beautiful,” I say.
As I walk away, Gunner storms back into the rehearsal space. “Cherrie Pie, what’s taking so long?”
I sigh. “Nothing, babe, just congratulating New Boy.”
“You did it, let’s go.” Gunner goes back out and I turn to follow.
“Hey, Cherrie,” New calls after me. I look back in his direction. The sticks in his hands are whirling faster than ever, so fast they’re just flashes in the air moving above his fingers.
“Why do they call you Cherrie Pop and Cherrie Pie?”
I turn and stare at him. “Gunner gave me those nicknames.”
“Let me guess—because you’re so sweet.” New Boy tosses one drumstick in the air. I give him a devilish grin as he extends his hand to catch it.
“No, because I taste good.”
I wink and the drumstick he threw in the air clunks to the floor. His eyebrows lift quizzically as he stares at me with beautiful widening eyes. He rubs his chin with the hand that missed.
“Wow.” Something in the way he says that makes him sound interested and aroused at the same time. I make that my cue to walk toward the door.
I hear New mumble to himself, “Damn. I thought he called her Cherrie Pie because she liked that song by Warrant.”
I can feel his eyes on me and hear him fumbling to pick up his drumstick as I leave. I smile inside, surprised that he likes old rock music the way I do. Gunner hates it. He likes his jams current.
I like the way Justin looks at me, at all of me, not just the parts guys usually focus on. He sees the whole person, not just a nice rack and a cute ass. And as much as I tell myself I’m nothing like my mother, I’m still a woman. I like how this new guy looks, and I can’t help wondering how he would feel.
THE CLATTER OF BREAKING GLASS shocks me awake. I sit up in my bed, then toss my legs over the side and race down the hall to the living room. I see Blaze next to the doorway. Gunner is standing by a shattered frame.
“Babe, I broke us.” He bends to pick up the frame, but he’s so intoxicated that he almost falls over. Gunner looks up at me with a sloppy smile. “I’ll fix it.”
He’s wearing a black leather vest with no shirt under it and black jeans. His chest peeks out, showing off his solid build and a small platinum cross on a necklace. On a longer platinum chain three dog tags hang. One says Machine Gunn and has a small image of a firearm on it. The second says Cherrie Lane, with an etching of my favorite guitar, and the third reads Reckless Gravity, and has tiny images of Gunner’s, Sage’s, Blaze’s, and my face etched in a mountain, like the faces of the presidents on Mount Rushmore. We used the image for the cover of our first album.
Gunn fumbles clumsily, trying to repair the damage he’s caused. Blaze leans heavily against the doorway in dark jeans and a navy tee. He laughs and almost loses his footing.
Gunn tries to retrieve the image from the shattered glass and cuts his fingers.
“Stop, Gunner! Don’t hurt yourself. I’ll clean it up.”
He falls back and lands on his ass. “Stop trying to mother me.”
“Stop being a bad boy. You need guidance and discipline.”
Gunn pulls himself up on wobbly feet, licks the blood off his fingertips, and says, “Chill, Cherrie. That ain’t true. All I need is love.” He walks over and grabs me by my waist. He stumbles and falls onto me and grips my rear. “Give me what I come home for, babe.”
Blaze just has a stupid grin on his face like the Joker. He finds Gunner amusing when he’s this drunk. I say, “Stop. I’m tired.”
“Whatcha mean? You too tired to love me?”
I push him away and stomp into the kitchen and look at the clock on the microwave. It’s five in the morning. I grab a broom and come back into the living room to clean the mess. Gunn and Blaze sit on the couch, laughing at who knows what.
“Cook somethin’, babe. We’re hungry.”
“No. Where have you guys been? What’s open at this hour besides some tramp’s legs?”
A stupid laugh is their only reply. They are plastered off their butts, so I figure I’ll find my answer once they sober up. Going by the stamp on Blaze’s wrist they were probably at a club. Hopefully it wasn’t a strip club. “Any friggin’ way… We have rehearsal in four hours. Get to bed.”
“Not yet, Mommy,” jokes Gunner. “You get to bed. We’ll be fine.”
I sweep the glass into the dustpan and look at the two of them. “So. Since Justin’s going to be part of the band and the family, he should have a stage name. What should we call him. I think—?”
Gunner interrupts me. “He’s not part of the family. We call him New Boy.” Blaze nods in agreement.
“He’s in the band now. Can you guys try being nice?”
“No,” Gunn says.
“Leave it alone, Cherrie Pop,” says Blaze.
“Really, I’m the one that should leave it alone?” I scoff. “When you guys act like this it makes me want to high five your faces. Seriously. Sometimes you two making decisions for our band feels like I’m letting the lunatics run the asylum. Everybody in the band has a name. He should too.”
“He ain’t earned one,” Blaze says.
“New Boy is what he is…And it fits. It’s his name,” says Gunner.
“C’mon, guys. Give him a chance. Sage dying left a big gap in the sound, and in our lives. Maybe having this guy will make things better. Maybe he can fill the gap, or at least distract us from it.”
Gunner grips his fist even tighter, Blaze’s eyes turn cold. And they both look at me in a way that says this conversation is not one we should be having.
“He’s not the next Sage,” says Gunner. “He’s just the first New Boy. Get that through your head, Cherrie.”
I roll my eyes and empty the glass into the trashcan with a jingle. Then I head down the hall to the bedroom and slam the door. When sleep comes for me, Gunner still isn’t in bed. He’s not there when I wake either.
Gunner is passed out on the floor in the living room next to empty beer cans and bottles of liquor. Blaze sleeps on the sofa. Normally, I would have been passed out right next to them, but before they went out last night I was informed that it was a ‘boys’ night’ and I wasn’t invited. They never used to go out without me, so until that moment I’d thought that being in the band made me one of the boys. Guess not.
I shake Blaze. He won’t budge so I try to wake Gunner.
“Go away, Mom.”
“You gotta wake up. It’s me, Cherrie.”
“I know.” He pushes my hands off and rolls over. “Go away.”
“We got practice.”
“Screw practice. I’m sleeping. Leave me alone.”
Getting the boys up is mission impossible. They won’t open their eyes and they refuse to budge. They went out without me last night, so I decide to go to rehearsal without them today. Besides, this is supposed to be the first time we get to practice with Justin since he ‘officially’ joined the band. At least one of us should show up.
Annoyed as I am, I try to mask my feelings when I walk into our rehearsal space alone. Justin is swinging at the drums so ferociously that his hands are a blur. He smiles excitedly when his eyes meet mine. I try not to notice how the blue in his t-shirt makes his startling eyes pop or how dazzling white his teeth are. He stops playing and looks around.
“What happened to the guitar heroes?”
“Jack Daniel’s and Patrón,” I say wryly.
Justin’s sticks flash in his hand—a tight drum roll and a cymbal bang before he stops playing again.
“Good. I get you all to myself.”
“Keep it business, New Boy.”
Justin tilts his head and gives a sly smile. He stands up from behind the wall of drums between us and walks closer. He puts his thumb in the pocket of his dark jeans.
“You could have called. Didn’t have to come all the way here to tell me that they couldn’t make it.”
“You just joined the band. We can’t stand you up yet.” I exhale. My mood improves, I feel calm somehow, each time his eyes grip mine. “Figured you and I could at least work on lyrics to songs or something.”
“We could, but we can’t perfect our sound with half a band. Maybe we should take a day off.”
“No. I don’t want to go home and watch Gunner and Blaze sleep all day.”
“Then don’t. Hang out with me instead.”
“I can’t. Gunn might get mad.”
“Don’t tell him.”
“Ha! If he found out, there’d be drama. So I don’t really hang out with other guys.”
“I’m not just another guy. I’m your bandmate. We should get to know each other. Come on, we can make today fun.”
“There’s a carnival in town.”
“You can go. I can’t. Carnivals are too crowded. People know my face.”
“It’ll be fun, Cherrie. I’ll disguise you. C’mon.”
I chuckle. “Disguise me how?”
“There’s a costume shop around the corner. Let’s go.”
Part of me says this carnival thing is a bad idea. It could be dangerous if too many fans recognize me. But the other part of me gets a rush from the thought of doing something that resembles what I think normal girls do. To be free to walk around in an ocean of people like everyone else, to be part of the crowd… that would be a killer rush. I’d love to be free to go to a carnival with a boy and ride the Ferris wheel, like every other girl on earth.
“It’s the middle of the day, the place will be packed. I don’t have security with me. Things like this have to be planned and organized so I can do it safely. I can’t just show up like everyone else.”
“Why not? If you’re in a costume you’ll blend in with everyone else.”
“Blend in how? I’ll be the only idiot in a costume.”
“No, you won’t. I’ll wear one too.”
I shake my head. “Gunn would flip if he knew I was going out with—”
“He won’t know. I won’t tell Heckle and Jeckle. It’ll be our secret.”
I bite my bottom lip, trying to decide. “Fine,” I say, “but not for too long.”
I walk fast to keep up with his long strides as he walks down the hall and out into the breezy city streets. I follow him as he enters the costume shop. I’ve passed it lots of times over the last three years, but I’ve never been inside. The counter is full of circus makeup and colorful clown wigs. I put a curly, rainbow clown wig on my head and giggle at Justin.
“Would this be a good cover for me?” My life’s a freak show, maybe I should dress like a clown.
He shakes his head and tries on a top hat that says ‘Happy New Year’ in sparkly silver letters. Then he throws on a big fake gold chain that looks like it belongs in an old rap video. I chuckle at his strange get-up, take off my clown hair, and reach for his top hat. I plop it on my head and look at the wigs displayed on shelves hanging on the wall beside the counter. Justin spots a wig with dark, loose flowing curls and peels it off a mannequin head.
“Put this on.”
“Your natural hair color is black, right?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Your roots and your eyebrows.”
My hand automatically touches the arch of my brow. Wow, he’s observant. Most boys wouldn’t have noticed, since my roots are barely visible.
“Let’s leave Cherrie Lane on the curb today,” he says. “Wear a costume no one has seen before. Go as a regular girl.”
It’s like he’s read my mind. I’d love to go on a vacation from my life and experience what everyone else does. It would be great to just be a girl walking down the street with a guy, just the two of us, without fans, paparazzi, and some cameraman from TMZ sticking a mic in my face.
“Come on, it could be fun. What would you wear if you weren’t a rock star?”
“I don’t know.” I yank off the top hat and plop it back on his head. I pull my hair up and pin it down, and put on the wig. Standing behind the silver folding chair at the vanity, I stare at myself in the long square mirror, in awe of the black-haired stranger smiling back at me.
Justin peeks over my shoulder and watches my reflection with bright blue eyes, messy hair under a top hat, and the big gold chain around his neck. A smile curves his lips.
“It’s natural. I love it,” he says.
I make a pouty face at my reflection.
He whispers into my ear, “They say that once you go black, you never go back.”
I tug at a curl. “If that were true I wouldn’t have colored my hair in the first place.” I sigh at my reflection. “I look like my mom.” The girl in the mirror is staring back at me with tears in her eyes.
“You have her DNA. She’s a part of you, like it or not,” he says.
I catch him checking me out in the reflection in the mirror. He glances down at my ass and then back up at my face reflected in the glass. He acts innocent at first, but then smiles like he’s happy I caught him looking.
“If I were you, I’d like it. All your parts are beautiful,” he says.
Despite the tears still brewing in my eyes, I smile.
He strolls over to a square rack of wacky sunglasses displayed on the other side of the store, directly across from the counter. He puts on a pair of star-shaped glasses and points to his left. “They have clothes hanging there.”
I walk across the room and look through the circular displays of clothes. When I look for Justin again, he’s sitting in the silver folding chair by the mirror, talking to the elderly, humpbacked salesclerk, who gives him a wide yellow-toothed grin.
The old man glues a black mustache above Justin’s lip. Then he glues on a short black wig that looks like it once belonged to Elvis. A loud laugh escapes me. Justin turns in my direction and gives me a heated stare. It’s[_ _]oddly seductive. Even in the silly wig, he’s handsome.
“Cherrie, come and get your hair glued on!”
I laugh again. “No. How would I explain the fact that I have curly black hair glued to my head when I get home to Gunn?”
“You could tell him you were trying to be a female version of Slash.”
“Ha! You’re funny. I don’t need to glue it on. It should stay in place fine.”
“Okay,” he says with a shrug. “But don’t blame me if it comes off on the Tilt-a-Whirl.”
I flip through the costumes and find a purple dress, a sequined flapper outfit. I glance over my shoulder at Justin again. He’s leaning back on his chair with his arms folded behind his newly styled head.
“What do you think? Am I tall, dark, and handsome now? Is this what you like?”
“You’re tall, dark… and barely attractive,” I lie with a laugh, and then hold up the purple dress. His idea is silly, using costumes as clothes. Nothing here looks like anything you should wear to a carnival. But I guess that’s part of the fun. I find some bell-bottom blue jeans that look like they’re from 1976 and a sparkly black halter top, and start to take them into the small dressing room.
On the way, my stomach growls and I press a hand against it, hoping Justin didn’t hear.
I try not to eat more than once a day so I can fit in my little costumes, but I always feel hungry. Everyone says sex sells and my body is supposed to be perfect, but perfection is hard, damn near impossible to reach. People don’t know what I go through, how much work it is to be Cherrie Lane. Everyone’s constantly reminding me that my body is a product. They say it’s the image that sells records just as much as the talent. So I do my best to stay in shape, but it’s hard to live up to everyone’s expectations of Cherrie Lane. Sometimes I’d rather just be free of it. Just be me. It’s funny that I feel that way now, because in the past it never seemed like being me was enough. Back then I wanted a do over to escape my ugly reality… Now I’m starting to miss it.
I squeeze myself into the tight jeans and top. The back on the halter dips low, so I leave off my bra. Other than the fact that the pants have bell bottoms, the clothes could actually pass for a regular outfit. It looks more like something you’d wear to a nightclub than to an outdoor carnival. But it’s cute… not overly costume-ish. The retro top has a thin, scarf-like headband that I decide to wear as a belt. I top off the look with my black high-heeled boots.
When I step out of the dressing room, Justin is still leaning back in that silver folding chair. When he sees me, his chair tips and he almost crashes to the floor. He grabs the vanity in front of him and catches himself in time. With a sexy, confident walk and an irresistible smile, he approaches me.
“Wow, vintage pretty.” He takes me in from head to toe with a gaze that holds both curiosity and attraction.
I glance at his dark Levi’s and boots.
“You’re not changing your clothes?”
“Nah, jeans and a blue shirt are good for a carnival. My hair is my costume,” he says.
“It works. You look nothing like you.”
“Ready to go?”
“Yeah,” I say as I carry the clothes I was wearing and walk to the register to pay for what I have on.
The silver-haired, humpbacked salesclerk slowly moves behind the register. He smoothes his black sweater and looks at me with kind eyes that have wrinkles at the corners. “Power to the people,” he says as he raises his fist and chuckles. “You look very sixties. Going to a party?”
“It’s weirder than that. I’m going to a carnival.”
He shrugs his deformed shoulders and mumbles, “Kids today…” as he rings up my purchase. He puts my old clothes in a bag so I won’t have to carry them under my arm.
Justin’s car is nothing like Gunner’s sexy Lamborghini or his other cars. It’s an old blue Chevy Impala with a dent in the passenger side door. He opens the dented door for me. I get inside and he closes it and smiles before darting to the driver’s side.
“Ever been to a carnival before?”
“Yeah. I went to this carnival downtown. They call it Fortune Island. It comes to town every year.”
He laughs. “That’s where we’re headin’ now. I didn’t know you’d been there before.”
“Once, when I was thirteen. Me and Gunn went with our dads’ band.”
“Thought you said carnivals aren’t safe. How’d your dads’ band go back then? Velvet Slayer was huge.”
“He had them open for us when they were normally closed. It was the only way we could all ride in peace.”
“Was anyone else there?”
“Yeah. The staff. And a few randoms who came with us. Other than that it was empty, cold, and lonely. It didn’t have the people and excitement that carnivals have on TV. Kinda disappointing.”
He grins at me. “That won’t be an issue today.” Justin points his attention to cars ahead. Then a hint of a smile crosses his face. “Let’s play truth or dare.”
“C’mon. It’s a good way to get to know each other.”
I look at Justin in his hilarious get-up. I want to know more about him. “Okay.”
“Truth or dare?”
“What’s your real name?”
“Told you. It’s Cherrie.”
“When you choose truth, you’re supposed to tell it,” he says.
“I did tell the truth. My family’s not traditional. My name isn’t either.”
“Really?” He laughs, looks over his shoulder. “Damn… I think I missed the exit.”
“What exit?” I look at the highway. Cars fly by, but I don’t see an exit anywhere close.
“I was looking for Charity Lane,” he says with a smirk. My cheeks go hot and I smile. He’s screwing with me.
“So, you know my name.”
“Yep. Ria Charity Lane.” He presses a button on his CD player. ‘Crimson and Clover’ by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts comes on. My favorite song.
“Did you Google me?”
“No.” He crinkles his forehead and twists his face in disgust like he’s tasted something sour. “Didn’t have to. I’m a fan. I know a few things.”
“Really. What do you know?”
“I know you love this song. You were born on February fourteenth. You love Chinese food. Joan’s your favorite singer. And your favorite color is crimson red because of this song. You love roses, pink ones. And you were raised listening to your dad’s music, and your granddad’s really old-school rock.” He grips the wheel and looks over his shoulder for a second to make sure the lane next to us is clear before he pulls into it.
“What’s the point in playing truth or dare if you know everything about me?”
“I wanna know more. Who’s your favorite guitarist? No relatives or boyfriends allowed.”
“Fine. Kirk Hammett and Slash. How ’bout you?”
“Pfft. Come on. I call bullshit on that answer,” I say as Justin laughs out loud. I do my best imitation of his voice as I say, ‘When you choose truth, you’re supposed to tell it.’”
“I did. What other singers do you like?”
“Too many to name… Pink, Alanis Morissette, The Offspring, Shinedown, The Sex Pistols, Black Veil Brides, and Sid Vicious. Your turn.”
“You.” I roll my eyes and he adds, “I also like Velvet Slayer, Volbeat, and Hinder.”
“I love Hinder!” You ready for a dare or do you want to keep telling the truth?”
“Okay. I dare you to close your eyes and drive to the next exit.”
“Nah. I like breathing. It’s kind of a habit.”
“Gunner would have taken that dare.”
“I’m not Gunner. More truth,” he says. “It’s not safe to dare and drive.”
“What’s your biggest secret?”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret. But okay. You first. What’s yours?”
I can’t tell him about the murder, or about the way my band helped hide a dead body and lied to the police. So I tell a smaller secret.
“I’m secretly a geeky Harry Potter fan. I even have a red and black jacket that says ‘Hogwarts’ on the back, and I sometimes imagine what it would be like to fondle Harry’s magic wand.”
He chuckles, “Why is that a secret?”
“Doesn’t go with the rocker image.”
Justin laughs loud as hell. “I need a better secret. A secret obsession. Do you have one?”
“England. I love everything English. Writers. Music. Everything.”
“I read that you used to have a crush on Prince Harry too. You wanted to marry him because you thought his accent was sexy…”
“Oh yeah! Wow. I forgot about that. It wasn’t true. Harry is hot but I don’t want to marry him. I only said it because I didn’t think people would like my real fantasy.”
“Why? Who was he?”
“In my daydreams I was dating Harry Potter, but my secret lover was the vampire Lestat from Anne Rice’s books.”
“You wanted to screw the villain?”
I laugh. “Bad boys are sexy. My dad is a bad boy. I grew up around bad boys. Besides, the bad guy makes the story. If a story doesn’t have an interesting villain, the hero would have nothing to do.”
“So, a man has to suck blood and empty a few veins to get your attention…” He gives an exaggerated sigh. “Guess I’ll always be a hostage in friendship jail.”
“Hostage? Haha. No. If I was single, I could definitely go for a guy like you. You’re different. I think I’m starting to like different.”
Justin’s blue eyes sparkle as the sunlight hits them. “The weird things like your crush on Lestat are the kind of things I want to know. I want to know what others don’t.”
“The fact that you know so much about me already is either really sweet or really creepy.”
He stares out the window, his cheeks red.
My stomach growls again and I press my hands against it.
“We’ll eat somethin’ soon. Okay?”
“Tell me more about you,” I say.
He looks back in my direction and gives me a confused expression that says he doesn’t know where to start, before pulling his eyes back to the road.
“C’mon. What were you like as a kid? What did you wanna be, besides a drummer?”
“Oh God. Seriously.” But I can’t keep from smiling. “You’re trying too hard.”
He glances at me and chuckles. He fumbles as he changes gears, like I make him nervous or something. “Not good at this. Sometimes I say the wrong things when I really wanna get to know someone.”
“What did you really want to do?”
“I always wanted to play drums. Didn’t have any other goals till I met you.”
“What are your goals now?”
“You’re not ready to know yet.” Justin’s eyes follow the traffic ahead.
“Try me.” I take in his deep dimples, his full lips. He looks at me deeply, almost like he’s trying to figure out if it’s safe to say what he wants to. My idiot eyes betray me… They flutter flirtatiously when I wish they’d be still. His face melts into a reassured, confident grin.
“I want to kiss you.”
My eyebrows rise and so does my blood pressure. “You won’t,” I blurt.
He turns his attention back to the road. “Not yet… But maybe… I will eventually.”
“I have a boyfriend.”
“I’d be a better one.”
“Shut up. Your confidence is cute, but that’s not gonna happen.”
“I’m being honest. I might flirt and joke around, but I’m not just trying to get in your pants.”
“Whatever.” I roll my eyes. “People lie, especially people in our business. I’m not impressed…”
He glances at me and grins. “You look impressed. Your eyes look intrigued… And a little excited.”
“Look, New. I told you. We can be friends or we can keep it business, but it will always be one of those two. I love Gunner and I’m not a cheater.”
“Okay. Keep reminding yourself.” He crinkles his nose and presses repeat on the CD player. ‘Crimson and Clover’ starts again and Justin drums his fingers on the steering wheel, playing the beat. The nervousness I thought I saw earlier is gone. He glances over at me, gives me a bit of a smirk, and sings along with Joan.
“Yeah, my my, what a sweet thing, I wanna do everything…”
His voice is so nice that it surprises me, it turns my insides to liquid. I can’t help but join in on the chorus. “Crimson and clover, over and over…” Justin looks over at me like I’m the most beautiful creature he’s ever laid eyes on. The car starts drifting out of the lane, but he doesn’t notice.
“Watch the road!” I yell. I grab the wheel quickly and turn it with a jerk, putting us back in our lane. Justin’s fingers brush mine as he grips the steering wheel tighter. His touch makes my empty stomach flip and I bring my hands to my lap.
Maybe hanging out with him wasn’t a good idea. I like it too much. I feel a pang of guilt. I’m impressed with the fact that Justin has memorized more facts about me than Gunner even knows, and Gunn has known me since forever. And that Justin treats me like I’m the star and not like I’m something that shouldn’t get in the way of his shine. And that he acts like nothing matters but being by my side. It’s hard not to like those things.
I take a deep breath as we park at the carnival. Justin opens the car door for me, and when I get out he grabs my hand.
“You’re shaking, Cherrie. Nervous?”
“A little. It’s really crowded. Someone might recognize me.”
“They won’t. We’re in disguise, and even if they do, I’m here.”
I smirk at his dark wig. “Thanks, Elvis. You gonna be my bodyguard now?”
He squeezes my hand tighter. “Not now. Forever.”
I roll my eyes again, and we walk to the carnival. We head under the arch of the big neon red and yellow sign that reads ‘ENTER FORTUNE ISLAND.’ The lights, the sounds, the smell of popcorn, and the colorful cotton candy that kids hold on sticks eases my fears and lifts my mood as high as the tallest ride. This day is awesome-sauce already just because I get to move with the crowd for a change instead of being on the outside, watching their movement from a stage. I’m not in the middle being tugged at by paparazzi or overwhelmed by screams. I’m a regular girl. No one notices me. It feels amazing. It feels like belonging, like being part of something way bigger and better than a rock band: I’m a part of the human experience, a normal one. I inhale the heavenly scents of food and exhale with ease. I walk with a spring in my step and a heart that skips beats.
“Wanna eat?” Justin asks.
“Heck no! I wanna play.”
We head directly toward the biggest rollercoaster in the park. It’s called Hell’s Viper. Rock music blares so boldly from the speakers that it almost hurts the ears. The coaster has huge flames painted in red all along its sides. Inside the flames are scary- looking snakes with green and black designs on their backs. They’re wrapped around headstones painted on the side of the rollercoaster. Demons crawl out of the dirt in front of the headstones, their mouths wide like they’re shrieking with rage.
Loud screams from the cars of the coaster flying above us pierce the sky. We wait for ages as the line inches forward. And then ‘Crash’ starts blaring out of the speakers. My music. My heart thuds and I look around nervously to see if anyone recognizes me. Three girls are in line ahead of us who look like they belong to a sorority. They are wearing expensive, preppy clothes and too much eye makeup.
“I love this song!” exclaims the girl with the cute charcoal pixie cut.
“Yeah, it’s hot. Cherrie Lane has a good voice, but you know what they say about rockers…” says her friend as she touches her shiny, waist-length, chestnut brown hair.
“No, what?” her redhead friend asks.
“They’re all white trash with new money,” says the girl with the chestnut hair.
“But Cherrie Lane isn’t all white.”
“My dad says that makes her worse. He won’t let them play her music in the nightclubs he owns. He says it’s like sacrilegious for her kind to be playing rock, anyway—she’s a whore.” She accidentally drops her purse and bills spills out everywhere. She bends over to get them.
“How do you know?” asks the redhead.
The chestnut-haired girl turns and looks at her friend with an expression that seems to say, ‘don’t be stupid.’ “Everyone knows. Look at her family. Her dad’s a rocker junkie, her mom’s a porn whore, and Cherrie’s almost naked on stage—and you should read the stuff the tabloids and blog sites say. I wouldn’t be shocked if the whole band is doing her.”
Her words make me want to crawl under the rollercoaster and die, or bury her there instead. My embarrassment boils into rage and pain, and my jaw clenches. I hate the fact that Justin heard her say that. My cheeks burn and I ball my fist. I’m a second away from punching her in the face when Justin hooks his arm around my neck and presses his face against my wig.
“Ignore her,” he whispers. His breath is warm and moist against my ear. “She’s just jealous because she’s not as incredible as you are. Don’t let her mess up our good time.” He takes his arm off my shoulder and holds my fist in his palm. “If she were a guy I’d handle it… but you shouldn’t knock her out. She isn’t worth the assault charge. Be cool. Don’t blow your cover.”
I relax my hand as Justin holds it. Energy gushes between us and my blood streams faster inside my veins. I take a deep breath and pull my hand away from his.
“Icky,” the redhead says to the girl with the chestnut hair. She bends over to help her friend pick up her cash and charge cards. “I hope not. Anyways, Cherrie has great taste in hair color and I love her music. And Gunner’s hot. I want him.”
“He’s taken. He’s with Cherrie,” says the girl with the pixie cut.
“I didn’t know…”
“Now you do. And Cherrie’s not icky.” She pushes her eyebrows in a hard line. “I love Reckless Gravity. You remember when my dad died and all that bad stuff happened in my family? It was awful. I probably would have slit my wrist or something if I didn’t have their music to get me through it. Cherrie’s clothes don’t matter, and if your family’s messed up, doesn’t mean you have to be too. My family was crap and I came out okay. Reckless Gravity makes hot music. That’s what matters!” She takes a deep breath and glares at the chestnut-haired girl. “You know your dad has issues anyway, Janelle. And he’s racist. Why repeat the messed up stuff he says? If he’s not playing Reckless Gravity in his clubs, I’m not going. Cherrie’s hella cool in interviews and Blaze is adorbs. Stinkin’ gorgeous! I’m gonna meet them one day.”
“Look, I didn’t mean anythin’ by it. It was just talk. Don’t go all ‘psycho fangirl’ on me.”
“Then don’t go slaggin’ Cherrie Lane.”
I want to hug this girl and cry. But I don’t want to reveal my identity in a crowded carnival, so I wear a grin like the Joker instead. The rollercoaster stops. People get out of cars and the girl with the pixie cut and her friends hurry in. When we walk through the revolving gate, I smile at pixie cut. Her eyes lock with mine.
“Oh my gosh! That looks like…No. Can’t be. She’d never be here,” she says.
“Who?” the redhead asks.
I panic when I hear her, and hurry past them. This place is too crowded, it’s too risky. People know my face.
“What if my wig flies off? I didn’t glue mine on like you did!” I say to Justin.
“Better hold tight then!”
We sit in the last car. Justin sits close as the attendant lowers a metal bar on our laps and locks us in our seated position. I put both of my hands on my wig and hold it to my head tightly. Justin laughs.
“You gonna ride like that the whole way?”
The rollercoaster rolls back slightly before jerking forward and thundering down the tracks. We start to climb, and I keep my hands glued to my head. When we reach the top Justin screams, “And it begiiiins!” We sink at lightning speed.
I scream, with my body pressed up against the metal bar, hands still clinging to my wig, but when I look at Justin, he’s laughing, his arms raised. My wig’s flying upward, and I hold it down tight. Deep inside, I’m wishing I could raise my arms and let it fly like a rocket.
The car jerks into a turn that flings our bodies to the left and I slam into Justin, his touch sending a jolt through me. He turns his sky blues on me as if sensing it, too. One side of my wig flies up a bit. He reaches across with a grin and pushes it back down on my head. We hold it tightly as the wind blows the dark curls around in all directions until they spank our hands. We laugh uncontrollably, our hands together, holding my hair on.
He smells good, a sweet, musky scent. When the ride is over and we’re on the ground again, I grab his hand and race like a schoolgirl, dragging him behind me.
“That was so awesome! Let’s do somethin’ else,” I say with glee. We push through the crowd.
“Stop here, Cherrie. You’re hungry. We gotta eat.”
“Ew. Carnie food. No.”
“You ever ate at a carnival before?”
“No. Those little trucks look dirty.”
“They’re the best. The funnel cake is the reason I love carnivals and fairs. You gotta try one.”
“Gross. No. There’s a million calories in that stuff. I can’t.”
“Says who? Just try a little. It’ll be fun. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
I wrinkle my nose and dig my heels in the dirt. “I don’t think so.”
“Come on, Cherrie. Step out of that twenty-carat diamond box that you live in. Eat like the rest of us. You don’t have to take more than a bite. Try it.”
I shake my head.
“Please. You can’t starve to death.” He scratches his brow. “You do something I want, like eat off the truck, and then I’ll do something you want. Sound fair?”
We wait in line and by the time we reach the front, the smell of the food has won me over. I can’t wait to dig in. Justin orders hot dogs and a funnel cake. He dresses my hot dog with ketchup and mustard and feeds a bite to me. The bun is soft and warm and the hot dog tastes… oh my God—great! But I won’t let him know that. I try to look unimpressed as he puts the hot dog back on my paper plate. I want more, but I keep thinking that every bite I take will make it harder to squeeze into my clothes. So I don’t eat it.
“Okay, so you’re not into hot dogs. I know you’re gonna love this. Everybody does.”
He breaks off a huge piece of funnel cake and feeds it to me. Powdered sugar sprinkles on my black halter top. I giggle and try to clean the specks off my shirt as I chew. The cake is warm, firm, and golden on the outside but soft and fluffy inside. I close my eyes and savor the sweet sugar and velvet melting in my mouth. Oh. My. God. I forget about my figure, and break off another huge hunk and demolish it.
“I’ve never had this before. This is better than sex.” I eat more. “No. It’s better than sex on a rollercoaster while eating ice-cream.”
“You must be having sex with the wrong person.” The tip of his ears turn deep red and he looks down at the table.
I feel my cheeks go hot and I giggle, and then reach for the plate in front of him and break off another piece of funnel cake. This time, I playfully jam it into his mouth to shut him up. He chews with a dimpled smile.
“Funnel cake. That’sh what’chou call this, right?” I ask as I demolish more.
He nods yes and stares at me with sparkling eyes.
I lick my fingers. “It’s like… like a little piece of heaven on earth.”
“Knew you’d like it. Change is good sometimes.”
I grin and gulp down more of the cake.
“I love this,” says Justin.
“Well, yeah. But I mean hanging out with you.”
A thrill passes through me. “Me too,” I say, and a puff of powdered sugar spills out of my mouth and onto my shirt. I brush it off and seal my lips before I splash enough sugar on my clothes to make me look like a snowman. Justin is all grins and dimples as we finish eating. He throws away our paper plates. I pull him by the arm.
“My turn. Let’s go in there.” I point across from us. Next to a tattoo place called ‘Fated Ink,’ there’s a red tent with gold trim. In front of the tent is a wooden sign advertising psychic readings. We cross over and step inside the tent.
Dark shadows twist ominously in the corners. A chill runs through me as a small but beautiful young brunette woman with dark exotic eyes, spiral curls, and tanned skin approaches us.
“Welcome. I’m Anjanett. Would you like a reading?” she says in a thick Romany accent.
Justin steps back apprehensively. But I step forward and smile at her. My eyes are glued to her huge gold hoop earrings and the lovely way they frame her face.
“Yes,” I say. She sits us at a small round table with a maroon tablecloth. Instrumental music chimes in the background and the scent of jasmine fills the air. Justin hooks his hand around the leg of my chair and scoots me closer to him.
“Tarot, crystal ball, or should I read your palm?”
“Palm reading,” I say.
Anjanett nods. “Let’s start with your mystery man. Quiet one, isn’t he?”
“I wish,” I giggle. Justin places his hand on the table palm up; a jingle dings from the half-dozen gold bracelets on her wrist as she cradles his palm in her hand and smiles down at it.
“You like a girl. A redhead, I think.” I squirm in my seat and check to be sure my wig is still covering my hair completely. It is. She can’t see a strand.
“Your future is a rocky road, a muddy one. I see dark days ahead.” Anjanett smiles at Justin. “You like this girl… Because she reminds you of your mother… how cute.”
Justin jerks his hand back. Her bracelets jingle again. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I don’t want to know the future. Rather wait and see.” He puts his palm down on the table so it can’t be read. He looks at me.
“Sorry, Cherrie. I tried, but this isn’t for me. Besides, if you know too much about me this soon, you might not like what you learn.” He sighs. “I’ll wait outside, okay?”
He heads out the tent flap and I give Anjanett my palm. When she looks at it, the temperature in the room seems to drop. A shiver runs down my spine, as though someone’s scraping it with the tip of an iceberg. The hair at the nape of my neck stands at attention. Anjanett gets goosebumps, and she looks at me with wide eyes that cut into my soul. My throat contracts so tight I can’t swallow.
“You’re not who you think you are. You’re not who anybody thinks you are.”
“What?” I whisper.
She looks around to be sure we’re alone and leans in close. Her voice is barely audible. “You’re not your mother. And you’re not who you pretend to be…”
My eyes bulge wide as hub caps and my heart stops beating. I can’t breathe.
The ghost of a smile touches her lips. “I see a death. One you feel responsible for… One you may have desired… Everything has its consequences.”
“What do you mean?”
“People reap what they sow. Even if they sow with good intentions.”
A tear slides down my cheek.
“Save your tears for when they are needed. There will be many reasons for them in your future. Your friend, the boy you came here with. He doesn’t know the truth. Don’t dare tell him.” She squeezes my hand tighter as her eyes slash into me again. “Give him only what he can handle. Protect the lie. Protect your secrets.”
She releases my hand and brushes the tear off my cheek with her palm. When she touches my face her eyes go cold. Her hand trembles.
“I see something else… A dark gift. Vision that kills. What is not becomes what is.” Her fingertips touch the bottom of my chin and lift my face. “Is it in you? You feel things, don’t you? Ever know things you can’t explain?”
My bones shake so hard my flesh moves.
“Wait… You’ll meet a power that is more developed than what lies inside you. I see it in your future. Guard yourself. Heed your intuition. It whispers warnings from doves and angels.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“You will.” She takes a quivering breath and grabs my hand again. Her eyes scrutinize the lines of my palm. “Be careful. Your heart will betray you. Love will lead to pain and destruction. And… more death.”
She turns my palm downward, her eyes red and brimming with terror, as she grips my hand tightly.
“I see love for you… But some love is dangerous. Love kills. You’ll make a choice that changes everything… You’ll… pay for that choice. Be careful… you are in danger.”
I yank my hand from hers; her bracelets make a clatter as I push my chair back. The wooden legs leave lines in the dirt. I stand up and turn to go, but when I see Justin behind me I freeze. He forces the corners of his mouth up into a barely there smile. I turn back toward the psychic.
“How do we avoid the darkness you see?” I ask her.
Anjanett glances at Justin. “You can’t. It’s happened for lifetimes. It was destined. It has already begun.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? Why would you tell me something bad is coming and not tell me how to fix it?!” I yell.
“Not everything can be fixed.”
A woman enters the tent. She looks just like the psychic except that she has a dragon tattoo that starts on her shoulder and travels down her arm. She wears a revealing red dress and a concerned expression.
“Is everything okay in here, Ange?”
“It is fine. They’re just leaving.”
The woman in the red dress gives me a mysterious expression. “My sister told you what you needed to know. You should leave the carnival now.” She pushes her brows together and looks more intently at us. “Hurry, you need to go before they come inside.”
“Who?” I ask.
“The ones who love you. Go quickly, the bus is here now. Remember what you’ve been told—and remember, you can’t drink from a broken glass.”
We leave the tent confused and spooked. I have no idea what those women were trying to say, but their words have freaked me out. The psychic couldn’t have known I feel responsible for a death, that I feel like a murderer. We’ve never told anybody about what happened the night Steven died.
We walk out of the carnival. In the parking lot, near Justin’s car, are two school buses. I freeze, remembering Anjanett’s sister’s warning. At least fifty teenaged kids pour out of the buses into the parking lot. One pimple-covered boy with long dark hair, wearing a black t-shirt with a white skull & crossbones on it, stares at me. He hooks his thumb on a belt loop of his blue jeans and stares without blinking as Justin unlocks the car and opens the dented door for me.
“Oh shit! That’s Cherrie Lane!” the kid yells. In an instant, they’re all racing toward us. Justin pushes me in the car and slams the door. I buckle up as he races around to the driver’s side. The second he’s in, the kids reach the car and start banging on the windows of the passenger side. Some even thump the rear window and scream my name.
Justin revs the car and peels off; the smell of burning rubber floods the car. I rip off my wig and throw it out the window. I look back as the boy in the black t-shirt cheers and puts it on. I’m shaking; the thrill of the day, along with the kids chasing the car, has sent me into overdrive. Justin glances at me with wide, petrified eyes.
“It’s a good thing we got out of the carnival before they went in it! Bet they would have chased us all over the park. Who knows what could have happened if they caught us?”
I laugh wildly. “You’re gonna be a star now. Get used to it.” I give him a big sloppy smile. “That was epic.”
“What? The fans chasing the car?”
“No… the moments when no one chased us. You showed me the best time ever! I didn’t think I could ever have fun like that after…”
“Fame. Losing Sage. After everything.”
“We just went to a carnival. We did regular stuff.”
“I know! That’s what I loved about it. I don’t usually get to be a regular girl.”
In fact, I’ve never had fun like this while sober. I love hanging out with Justin so much that I haven’t even left his side and I want to be with him again already. Today I feel like I did before the murder, before Steven almost raped me. I feel better than I have in years. I love being with Justin because he’s just a regular guy and he makes me feel normal too. Gunner can’t give me that feeling. He has no desire at all to be anything even close to normal.
Back at the studio, Justin walks me to my car and runs those striking blue eyes over me as I get in before saying goodbye. His gaze makes me think about the psychic’s warning. Was it brown eyes or dimples, she saw? She said that love will betray me. That love kills. Part of me is shaken by her words, but the rebel in me sees what she said as a dare, a challenge. I crave the heat, the excitement, the freedom, the feeling of being alive that comes with taking a risk like we did today. How long can you dance in the flames before love burns you?
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MORE ABOUT BECCA & JD
J. D. Myall is called the literary lunatic for a good reason. Myall is crazy about novels. Reading books and writing them comes as naturally as breathing to her. Myall is a former army wife and survivor of domestic abuse who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and work as a counselor for crime victims, addicts, and the mentally ill. She channeled her experiences in the music scene, including a stint as a groupie on an MTV documentary, into her debut young adult novel, Reckless Gravity. Myall is the proud mother of four children. She is donating a portion of her book’s proceeds to help victims of abuse.
Becca Blake is a former army wife who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. Blake is a native New Yorker and lover of rock concerts who is working toward becoming a correctional officer. Currently a tattoo artist who also dabbles in web design and photography, she is a member of the Polar Bear Club charity organization and the Order of the Eastern Star. Blake is the loving mother of one daughter.
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Permissions: Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint from the following:
“Crimson **And **Clover” by Tommy James and Peter Lucia
Copyright Hal Leonard Corporation. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Front Cover Photography and Design by K.R. Barbour, IStock Photo & Asha K.
Book One In The Reckless Gravity Saga.
Edited **by Cristina Moracho And Jay Lewis Allchin Barrado Books
P.O. Box 6592 Columbus, GA 1917
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to actual events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. All names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 J.D. Myall with Becca Blake
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying or other form without written permission of the copyright owner, and publisher.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015902691
Barrado Books, Columbus, GA
Free Teaser Version of Reckless Gravity. And family means sticking together—even when one of their own commits murder. With the evidence long buried, Cherrie and her bandmates eventually manage to make it to the top—with all the fame and money they could ever imagine. But their rock star lifestyle, complete with plenty of music, sex, and drugs, begins to unravel at the seams when a band member turns up dead. Soon the police have launched an investigation into the murder that Reckless Gravity thought they'd hidden. Meanwhile, Cherrie's love for their erratic lead singer Gunner hits a crossroads when she begins developing feelings for their drummer as well. But as Gunner has made clear before, he's willing to kill for Cherrie—a fact that won't make it easy for her to leave.