Authors: Kay Layton Sisk
Tags: #rock star, #redemption, #tornado, #rural life, #convience store, #musicians, #Texas, #addiction, #contemporary romance
Kay Layton Sisk
To those who are the music
t was the music. Always the music. It started somewhere deep in his soul and coursed through his body in a mad rush to explode on the surface. He had felt it as a small child, this urgent need to touch the piano keys, to hear the notes, to reach inside the old upright in his grandmother’s parlor, close his eyes and feel the strings and make the vibrations. To release the music from within himself and then take it back inside, remold it and start all over again.
He felt it now. Eyes closed, hands splayed on a keyboard, his foot pumped, his head moved, his body swayed. He felt the music, was the music and both started and stopped with the music. Smoke, lights, crowd, video screens, revolving stage—all enhanced his music, helped others feel it. But no one knew the music as he did. No one was the music as he was. Not the four other members of Bone Cold—Alive, not even his twin brother, who lolled his head as he sang to the 75,000 fans that screamed and yelled and gyrated with them. The drums modulated the rhythm, increased, called to him. He felt them. The crowd called to him. He felt them. Shifting his weight, he took a deep breath, and began to sing into the mike attached to his headphones. His words, his song, his music.
The crowd exploded, chanted. “Ed-die-T! Ed-die-T!” He was surrounded, engulfed. The vibration consumed him through his ears, his skin. The adulation was better than sex, better than the drugs that were just now taking hold of his mind and body, pushing his music to the edge, taking him with it. Take, take, take: the drugs, the message, the music.
Then he saw her. How she got past the guards to the stage was security’s problem, not his. Young. God, they just kept getting younger, so he sang to her as she tripped on a cord and then crawled to him, her leather mini hiked up past the point of decency. Tears streamed down her face, her ecstasy at being this close to him so complete. She reached up to him, and he stopped playing and took her hands and slid them up his thighs. He unhooked the mike, dropped it to the stage and leaned down to kiss her, pulling her to her feet as he did. Her lips were hesitant, then hungry, and she came to him so easily and they moved together so well. His hands rested on her hips, moved both of them in an age-old rhythm.
He caught sight of Eddie C out of the corner of his eye. His brother grinned broadly, picked up the lyrics. “Score, bro” his lips said and Eddie T’s hands moved to his jeans waistband.
ake up, Fletch.” Eddie T jostled the sleeping man as he pulled the red Mercedes convertible under the shade of the gas-pump island. The parking lot of the two-story convenience store was deserted. Steam rose from the pavement under the August afternoon Texas sun, an open Jeep the only vehicle in evidence. Nothing stirred. No vehicle approached on either of the two county roads that crossed at the four-way stop in front. He hadn’t passed another car since leaving the main road in Jinks and that was five miles back. The golden retriever snoring in front of the store's double doors hadn’t twitched a muscle since they’d pulled up.
“Where are we?” Fletcher rubbed his eyes and reached for his glasses on the console. “This it?”
“That’s what I’m waiting for you to tell me before I cut the air off and fill up. Where are those instructions?”
Fletch turned toward the back seat and fished the paper-clipped computer pages out of the seat pocket. He adjusted his glasses and focused, first scanning the Internet
vacation rental ad: “Secluded log house with dock access on major fishing, recreational Texas lake. 2/1. By week —1500/weekend —750. References given/required.” The rural route address in Jinks, Texas, followed.
“She said stay on the county road past the Readily store in Jinks, follow signs for Lee Marina. That would be a left turn and two stop signs and then a Quickly store and she’d take us from there.” He ducked his head to see out of the windshield and peered at the bright sign over the entrance. “Okay. Quik-Lee. If we’ve been through Jinks, we’re here.”
“Well, I had that pleasure while you snored.” T killed the engine.
“What’re you doing?”
“Might as well fill up. I’ll pump, you go get the key to this pleasure spot you’ve chosen for my recuperation.”
“Not the end of the world, T.”
“That’s the God’s truth. I’ve already been there.”
He opened his door, slammed it, stretched, shook his now-burred head. It was hard to get used to no hair. Now that he and the Betty Ford Center had parted ways, he could begin to let it grow again, although it still wouldn’t be right for the Thanksgiving concert that was to begin their new tour.
Fletcher emerged from the passenger side. “Why don’t you get the key?”
“You rented this piece of recovery paradise. Hell, according to her, it’s so back in the woods, we can’t find it on our own. How much farther back can we go? You get the key.” He lifted the nozzle and zeroed the pump. As the gas began to flow, he reached for the windshield squeegee and paper towels. “Pump’s so old, there’s no credit card reader. Jesus, Fletch!”
“I’m the big time recovering alcoholic Hollywood author, remember? My minions do that kind of work. You’re my chauffeur. Recalling any of this,” he paused, “Sam?”
“Recalling all of it. In fact, I’d like to recall you.” He finished with the front window, shook off the excess water in Fletch’s direction, moved to the back. “You know, I think you’re taking way too much delight in this charade and its implications. I grew up in a place like this. I know what people will think!”
Fletch rolled his shoulders. “Let ’em think it! I’m just trying to protect you. Anyway, it’s the twenty-first century. They can join the world. Besides,” he calmed, “I’ve had three ex-wives.”
“Just proves my point. Ex-wives.”
T continued to wash the back window as he reflected on what they hoped would be an adequate cover story. Every tabloid in the country was aware that Bone Cold—Alive’s leader had been contemplating his sins in rehab after the debacle on stage that caused them to cancel the rest of the tour and pay five million in perceived damages. He had been released and now the search was on to find where he was recuperating. Eddie C and the band scattered to Tahiti and Europe, wreaking havoc in their wake and trying to take the pressure off him. It was, no doubt, a ploy he’d more than pay for when they regrouped here in three weeks. Fletcher, the group’s manager, had rented an off-the-beaten path vacation home to ease the transition from rehab to the real world. It was as closely guarded a secret as the honeymoon spot for Hollywood’s latest chi-chi couple.
The last months had been hellacious, starting with T trying to burn his own hair in a lack-of-drugs induced hallucination. That episode found his head shaven—and kept that way. Embarrassed by his near baldness as well as momentarily contrite for his behavior, T agreed to Fletch’s scheme. He would be the chauffeur and Fletcher would assume the role of recovering addict. Hoping the backwater Fletch had found would prove to be safe, they took his name and turned it around: Edwin Thomas Samuels became Sam Thomas for the next three weeks. Sam Thomas: a good solid name that bespoke no nonsense, just lots of sobriety and strength, the latter of which he was using to practically take the tint off the windows of the rented vehicle.
The pump handle jerked and the gas shut off. Fletcher still stood by the passenger door. T put the nozzle back and held out his hand. “Let me have the gas card, Dad.” Fletch reached inside for his wallet, extracted the card, and handed it over.
“Just go pay for the gas and see if you can find our landlady.” Fletch sat back down in the front seat and rested his chin in his upturned palms. “And remember, it’s just for three weeks. On top of everything else, what’s three more weeks?”
“Trying to convince me—or yourself?” T followed the question with a crude gesture and continued to the door.
Lyla Lee watched the pump activity with interest. A red Mercedes did not by itself rate a second glance. The extremely good-looking, well-built man in his thirties did. She watched him pump the gas, move lithely around the small car, argue with his slightly plump, fiftyish passenger whose thinning hair and wire-rimmed glasses seemed to suggest an attorney more than a writer. Her new guests? In the three years she’d been renting out her house for extra money, she’d never had a guest that was this immediately appealing. She knew he was handsome even if he was hiding behind sunglasses. From his slim hips and broad shoulders all the way up to his clean-shaven jaw and straight nose, the sight of him brought a smile to her lips. But didn’t it just figure—nowadays all the hunks were, as so stealthily implied by Mr. Fletcher, gay.
These two did fit the bill as the new guests, though. Mr. Fletcher had sounded middle-aged, educated, affluent. He needed time to rest, recoup his strength from the pressure of a publisher’s deadline. He’d been under a lot of strain. He’d drunk a little too much. Three weeks in the country, good air, and no hustle-bustle city, just what he needed to get his juices flowing in the right direction again. His chauffeur would be along. That was okay?
You bet, Lyla informed him. There were house rules, nothing she was sure that they couldn’t follow. She’d explain the details later. She’d need half the money up front. A certified check for the full amount arrived two days later. At that point, she effectively shut her ears to the mumblings of her father-in-law. Dub didn’t approve of her renting her home, not even to the occasional fishing party. But to “artist-types,” the moniker he had finally settled on, he was decidedly opposed. Real men hunted or fished on vacation, they didn’t bring a chauffeur and “recover.” How would they affect Harrison? Lyla didn’t see that it would affect her son at all. At least not any more than a bigoted grandparent and she’d told him so.
At that point, her mother-in-law Red decided a smirk was her best defense against Dub’s grumbling. Even now, Lyla couldn’t believe he wasn’t here to hold an impromptu inspection. She’d bet he’d be around before nightfall. At least he’d kept his assumptions to himself and not shared with the good ol’ boys down at the marina. Probably too embarrassed for her ‘lack of judgment.’
Lyla watched the chauffeur slow his walking speed as he neared the glass fire-break doors. Shep roused himself and gave him a good going over in the sniff department. He passed because the dog followed him in and readjusted his sleeping pattern to accommodate the inside linoleum. He was slightly over the six-foot mark on the height chart on the inside of the doorjamb. Glancing swiftly around the store, he came over to the cash register and laid the card down with a snap. Lyla wished he would remove his sunglasses.
A quick glance around the Quik-Lee was all T needed to confirm his suspicions. Even though it was almost pristine in its cleanliness, it was still the end of the earth. The refrigerated coolers held milk and soft drinks lined up like soldiers. No beer in evidence. The shelves were full of convenience store items, things needed at ten at night when the real grocery store was closed. Wherever that was. He had seen nothing that would pass for a real anything in an hour. A lunch counter shot off toward the back from the cash register. The six low stools were empty, but the smell of hamburgers hung in the air and the pie container held two pieces of chocolate cream and one of lattice-topped apple. His mouth watered. Despite the deserted appearance, there must be a sufficient populace around to support this operation.