Authors: Vivian Lux
The miles rolled out beside me, flat and featureless. The gray sky was still somehow glarey, casting weird shadows on the array of writing tools in front of me, notebooks, voice recorder, laptop....
I squinted at the screen of my laptop and adjusted it for, like, the fifty billionth time. It didn't help.
Two weeks in and I still had a fat wad of nothing.
As if on cue, a shadow fell over my lap. "How is the story coming?" Keir asked, looming above me.
I set down my notebook, squinted at him and sighed.
He slid into the seat next to me, throwing his arm over the back in a way that could have been casual, could have been intentional. It was all in the way I chose to interpret it.
I had no idea how I chose to interpret it.
But I didn't want him to move it, either.
"I'm not exactly sure," I said, staring down at my notes and chewing on the inside of my lip. I felt like I was at the edge of coherence. There was something there, in those scribbled pages. A germ of the best piece I had ever written in my life.
I just needed to find it.
Keir leaned forward, studying my indecipherable scrawl with pursed lips. "How are you not sure?" he asked.
I interlaced my fingers and stretched my arms over my head. My shoulder accidentally brushed the bare skin of his bicep.
He was very, very warm.
I set my arms back down in my lap and cleared my throat. "You know how it is," I exhaled. He was already listening intently. Had his eyes always been this color? Halfway between gray and blue, the color of the dark clouds that rolled in from Lake Erie ahead of a winter storm. I looked away. "For a while, you're just sort of…gathering." That was the right word. "Gathering, yeah. Getting it all down. All of the thoughts and impressions, even if they're complete shit, you still write them down. Then you sit down and see what you have. It's not until you sit down and look at all that you've gathered that the story really begins to form. Before that, it's just pulling everything together."
He blinked once, slow and sleepy, like a cat, then nodded. "I get that."
His arm was warm, and somehow, his voice was even warmer. Sitting next to him was like stretching out in front of a cozy fireplace with a mug of hot cocoa in your hands.
I smiled over at him. "I thought you would understand. Is it the same for you guys? When you're writing an album?"
He chuckled. "Oh yeah. We are the kings of throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks."
I had to laugh. "I never would have thought to describe it like that, but you're absolutely right." I nodded, staring down at the scrawled on scraps on my lap, on the seat, on the floor... "I have to write down all the shit first. Then I have to figure out what's going to stick."
He leaned in even closer so that I could only take him in in pieces. A forearm, strong and corded from playing the guitar. A cheekbone, heavily shadowed with dark stubble. The corner of his mouth, raised in a little nostalgic smile... "You should know all about our 'process,' Scar." He put the word process in very firm air quotes. "You were there. You saw it." I was nodding without meaning to. "You were there when everything we did was shit. You saw us just starting to throw it at the wall."
I shook my head. "It never really sounded like shit to me," I said.
Keir leaned back, laughing. "Now you're just making fun of me."
"I am not!" I protested. "I always knew you guys were going to amount to something." This time, I moved a little closer to him, greedy for his warmth again. "Wasn't I always telling you that?"
He smiled, and just like that, I felt myself pulled back helplessly into the memories. But there was something else there, too, something besides memory.
"Well, you know, you did say that, now that I remember," Keir drawled. "But I guess I kind of always thought that was just sweet talking me to get to my magical dick."
"Your dick isn't all that magical," I huffed.
"Really now? There would be a few who disagree."
I looked at him sharply. His red tongue poked tantalizingly out from between his lips. Then he was laughing. "She won't even let me lie! Cold as ice."
He said it so casually. I was stunned.
"A...few?" I ventured.
His smile faded. "No. Not a few."
I hesitated. "It would be okay with me, you know," I said after a moment. "If other girls...you know…"
"Enjoyed the magical power of my dick?"
I snorted. "Yes. Exactly."
The smile was completely gone. "No," he said, standing up suddenly. "Actually, no, it wouldn't."
I was about to ask why, but he suddenly stood up and strode to the back of the bus, mumbling loudly about not drinking so much pop.
He still says pop instead of soda.
Why did that hold my heart so tightly? It seemed like everything he did, everything he said, left a mark on me that lasted much longer than the moment itself.
I opened my laptop and began to write.
A tour bus is its own world. A self-contained ecosystem with its own histories; past, present and future. A show only lasts for a moment in the grand scheme of the tour, but tying those moments together is the blurry world of the bus.
Some things are true, even if they aren’t real. All great artists have understood this. There is no lie in fiction, in the worlds they create, but neither is there fact. It exists in the gray, in the blurry space between reality and fantasy, the distorted reflection of your own face in the bus window staring back at you
In that reflection, everything looks a little warped, and it's hard to know if what you're seeing is truly you.
And if it is, could you really have changed that much?
I wobbled unsteadily to the back of the bus. On my right, I passed the snoring lump that was Balzac, on the left, the drawn curtain of Pepper's bunk. From his perch near the ceiling, Twitch grinned down at me from his handheld game, then went back to swearing and killing zombies.
Rane's bunk was at the very back of the bus. My brother spotted me and gave me a look of blank disinterest before looking back at his phone. His thumbs were flying over keypad of his phone. If I had to guess, I would venture to say he was distracting the hell out of Maddie as she was on set.
I plopped down at the edge of his bunk, jostling him.
"What?" he grunted, still staring at his phone screen.
"Always so quick with a kind word," I said.
A little chime sounded, and he smiled at his screen. Whatever she had written seemed to please him immensely. I did not want to know.
He set the phone aside with a sigh. "I wasn't sure if you even remembered I was on tour with you."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh, save me the butthurt. I came all the way back here to talk to you."
Rane leaned back against the wall and regarded me skeptically. "Oh yeah?"
I sighed heavily. "So," I started. This was going to be painful. "You know how you like to play benevolent big brother?"
His mouth worked. "I like to think I do more than just play, asshole."
Flattery will get you everywhere,
I reminded myself
"Well, I'm here looking for some brotherly advice."
The curl of his smile straightened back out again. "Fuck."
"You're falling for her again, aren't you?" Rane darted a look towards the front of the bus where Scarlett sat buried in her notes. Was I imagining the shaft of sunlight that seemed to light her from within? I had to be. It was rainy as fuck outside.
I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my knees. "That's the shit I'm here to ask about." As soon as I said that, the words seem to fly out of my reach. I fumbled, stuttering, feeling Rane's eyes boring into the back of my skull. "I feel like there's all this...
…in the way. Past stuff." I looked out the window, watching the whizzing cars, the passing trucks. "I feel like I can't see what's happening past that s
and when I get one little glimpse through it all, when it shifts for a second to let me look past it, it's out there on the other side of this sort of...grimy window." I shook my head. I wasn't making a damn bit of sense and I knew it, but I was still trying to make him understand, even though I was pretty sure I didn't. "I see something. But I can't get a clear view of what's really there."
When I looked back at my brother, his eyebrows were raised in surprise. "Shit," he finally said. Then he reached for the notebook at the side of his bunk. "I dare say that was some fucking poetry, right there."
I had to laugh. "Yeah? Maybe you shouldn't be hogging all the songwriting duties after all."
Rane scribbled something on the notepad, then handed it to me. "Here. Write it down."
"Write what down?"
He sighed in exasperation. "You're not a fucking Neanderthal. And you're not illiterate; I've seen you with all your books, your fucking suitcase full of them." He spoke slowly and carefully, like I was a brain-damaged child. "You've got some words
your head. Writing them down will get them
of your head, see?"
"You're pretty obnoxious; anyone ever tell you that?"
He ignored me. "Get the words out of your head, where you can't see them, and onto the page where you can."
This time, it was my turn to raise my eyebrows. "You're obnoxious as fuck, but maybe you're smarter than you look."
Rane chuckled. "Shut up. You'll ruin my reputation."
I looked down at the notepad. It was covered with Rane's terrible penmanship, scratchy and illegible. I could make out a few lines that I recognized from the song he'd written about Maddie,
. This journal was clearly something pretty private. I felt oddly touched that he was letting me use it. "Hey."
He had already picked his phone back up again. "What?"
I recognized Maddie's chiming little notification sound and knew I wouldn't have his attention for long. "Thanks for not being a dick about this."
He smirked. "Oh, trust me, it's my first instinct. I don't want you anywhere near her, much less putting your feelings about her down on the page. But what the fuck am I going to do? You're my bulldog little brother. You're not going to let go just because I tell you to. Even if she's bad for you, you're still going to hold on to her."
For a second, the grime that covered the window cleared and I could see what truly lay on the other side. I slowly shook my head. "That's the thing. I'm not actually sure she's what's bad for me." I drew a thick line across the page, moving my pen, feeling the words starting to come. "I think... I think
what's bad for
" I bent my head and wrote her name on the top of the page.
Then I began to write.
The words were stubborn. They were shit. But after a half an hour, when I looked down at them, it was clear what they were saying.
I was wiping the grime away and looking at reality for the first time in five years.
When I fell in love with Scarlett, it was with an idea. An idea of who she was, an idea of who I was, and what we were when we were together. I built her up like an idol, the same way my fans built me up.
That girl in front of the bus? That girl, with her notepad and her strange shorthand, her long neck and hesitant smile and layers and layers of depth that she only allowed you to peel away carefully, one at a time? That girl—the one I thought I knew, the one I assumed was the same person I had revered in my head for so long—was not an idea to be worshiped. She wasn't an idol. She was like me.
She was real.
A real person whose pain, joy and sorrow I didn't know. How could I?
I knew nothing.
I'd wasted five years on the memory of a person I didn't even know.
I stood up from Rane's bunk, letting the notebook fall to my side. I didn't care if he read what I had written. Maybe it would help him to understand. I think I did now, anyway.
Writing it down let me learn that I didn't want the memory anymore. I was free of that. I wanted
Scarlett. Not my memory. The real one, the flesh and blood reality, who looked up from her notebook and smiled at me as I returned to the front of the bus and sat down next to her.
Keir cleared his throat. "Ah," he said, staring down at his calloused fingers. "This is a little awkward."
"What is?" I wondered.
He looked up, gave a sheepish grin, then glanced at his hands again. "I sorta just realized something."
He was acting oddly. Certainly out of character from what I had seen this past week. He seemed...chastened.
"What did you realize, Keir?" I asked as patiently as I could.
"There's something I never said to you."
My fingers clenched into a fist, quickly, before I could catch myself. But I saw him notice it. And then I saw him wince a little. "What is that?" I asked, though I wasn't sure I wanted to know.
He took a deep breath. "I never said hello to you. I never asked you how you are."
I sat, stunned for a second. "I have to say, I wasn't expecting that."
"I know. Hi, Scarlett. How are you?"
He said it so earnestly that whatever sarcasm I normally would have flung at him evaporated on my tongue. "I'm...a bit overwhelmed, if I'm being honest."
"I hope you'd be honest with me."
"Well, then yes. I'm overwhelmed."
"By what? Anything I can help with?"
I stared out the window for a second. "Can I still be honest?"
"You'd better be."
"No, you can't really help. Since you're pretty much the reason why I'm overwhelmed."
I looked back at him, expecting to see him looking chastened or irritated. I didn't expect his smile, and I definitely didn't expect what it did to my stomach. Making it fall away like that. His smile was like riding a fucking roller coaster.
"Yeah," he murmured. "I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed myself." There was no mistaking his meaning. Not when he licked his lips like that.
He settled back into his seat, then leaned forward to pull a battered paperback from his back pocket. Then he leaned back with a sigh and started reading.
He was reading.
Back when we were dating, I used to have to drag him to the library with many idle, empty threats, and when those failed me, I resorted to tempting him with promises of 'what we could do afterwards.' "Finding new books puts me in a good mood, and you really like when I'm in a good mood, don't you?" I'd purr in my fake sex kitten voice, and he'd laugh and grumble and allow himself to be dragged along.
But he never read.
This Keir was reading avidly, eyes darting across the page. A little muscle jumped at his temple, and I watched, fascinated. This Keir was the same Keir somehow.
I desperately wanted to know how one became the other.
"When did you start reading?" I piped up.
He paused, turned the page, then dog-eared the corner. "First tour," he said, setting it down in his lap. "As you may have noticed, there's a lot of downtime."
"Yeah. A lot of time to think." I stared hard out the window for a moment, taking in the corpse-like pallor of the sky outside and the flat land that stretched in all directions toward a horizon of nothingness. "Where are we?"
Keir leaned in towards me, peering out the window. His nearness made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. "If I had to guess, I'd say we were somewhere in the region of Bumfuck, Florida."
I giggled. "The glittering metropolis of Bumfuck?"
"You've heard of it, I see."
"How could I have avoided hearing about Bumfuck? It's so noteworthy!" Outside of the window there was nothing. No mountains, no hills, no real landmarks of any kind. Just a vast emptiness dotted with pro-life billboards and signs for a topless steakhouse coming up at our next exit.
Keir sat back in his seat. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him, not daring to take him in head-on. He curled up, bringing his feet inches from my thigh, and picked up his book again.
His T-shirt rode up on his side. Just a bit, exposing a half moon of tanned skin.
I've touched that skin before
, I thought, perversely.
At one point I promised him that I wouldn't rest until I had kissed every inch of his skin.
Did I keep that promise?
He was sitting close to me, but not too close—not so close that we touched, and yet, I could feel the heat of his body all the same. And I couldn't stop thinking about how I
that body. At one time, I knew everything there was about that body, but now it was like he was a stranger to me.
If I lifted his shirt, right now, would that dark scar still be on his flat stomach? I know exactly where it should be. I remember pressing my lips to it, feeling the smooth tightness of it, the knot under his skin. It has to still be there; scars don't just disappear off a person. I want to see it again. Just to be sure. Just so I know.
I don't want him to be a stranger anymore.
The realization made me startle, and when I did, he looked up from his book and caught me staring at him.
Suddenly, his chin tipped and his eyes caught mine and he smiled that smile.
"Scar?" he said. Playful, teasing.
The way he and I should be.
I looked down, feeling the way I always did when he looked at me—like he
me, like he was watching me undress in the middle of the road.
I don't want to feel naked with him. I want to
I turned away, heart thundering, and squinted up at the blanket of gray clouds, pregnant bellies swollen toward the earth. We were passing a cow pasture now. I could see their brown and black bodies prone in the grass. Lying down, feeling the change in the barometric pressure.
The hurricane was coming but it was no match for the storm inside of me.
I squinted harder, feeling a little flutter in my head. Then a thud. Something beautiful danced in the corners of my eyes, something I imagined might be the material of fairy wings. Shimmering and translucent with danger.
I knew what it was. An aura. The shadow of a migraine bearing down, brought on by the same pressure that made the cows lie down.