Too bad it’s all a façade.
The only thing I really want, I can’t have — Anna Dresden.
When I decided to follow my dream, she was the price. But I never forgot her. Never moved on.
And then she was there, backstage after one of our shows. That’s when I knew — Anna was mine, would always be mine. And if she gave me a half a chance, I’d convince her.
The last thing I expected Sean to do was follow. Especially since I was wearing another man’s ring. Never mind it was just for show.
My marriage was over — had been for a year.
But that didn’t matter. Sean was my past. I couldn’t survive his brand of hurt ever again.
Soul mates, he used to call us. Too bad there was no such thing.
4 YEARS AGO
The front door slammed, shaking the walls in our small apartment. I snuggled closer to Anna’s side and buried my face in her hair.
Logan’s agitated voice cut through the fog of near sleep.
“Dude, wake up!”
Whatever mess my best friend had gotten himself into, he’d have to solve it on his own. This was one of Anna’s rare mornings off, and since we’d had the apartment to ourselves, we’d stayed up late, listening to the rain and having lazy sex until we’d passed out.
Smiling at the thought of a repeat, I grumbled in Logan’s general direction, “Go away. I don’t have any condoms. Carry your ass to the store like a normal person and leave us alone.”
His footsteps echoed in the tiny room, and then he was beside me, his long fingers digging into my shoulder as he gave me a hard shake. “I’m serious. Get up.”
A frustrated groan escaped my lips when Anna twisted in my arms. She propped herself up on one elbow, wiping the sleep from her eyes. “What do you need, Lo?”
A swift kick in the ass.
Rolling onto my back, I smothered my face with the pillow, hoping he’d get the hint. Of course, he didn’t.
Cursing under his breath, Logan rooted around under the comforter.
“Hey!” I snarled, tossing the pillow at him. “Whatever you’re looking for, I don’t have it.”
Running an agitated hand through his blond hair, Logan glared at me.
“Where’s your remote?” Anxiety laced his tone when I didn’t answer right away. “For the TV, douchebag—where’s the remote?”
Anna fumbled around on the nightstand and then handed him the clunky device. “What’s wrong with the TV in your room?”
Logan walked to the end of the bed and took a seat.
Anna sat up, scowling. “Make it quick.” She slumped against the headboard, glaring at the back of Logan’s head. “Seriously, Lo, hurry up. I have to pee.”
Logan ignored her, all his attention focused on the screen as he flipped through the channels. His shoulders sagged when he reached CNN.
Cable News? Now he had my attention. The only things Logan ever watched were MTV, VH1, or the Cartoon Network.
I popped up to see what was so important, but something told me I didn’t want to know. “What’s going on?”
“Quiet,” Logan whispered.
Buttoning my lip, I reluctantly focused on the screen where a stone-faced commentator stood in a field, fat droplets of rain pelting her microphone.
“. . . live footage from the scene of the tragic accident outside of Fredericksburg, Texas this morning where two members of the super-group Damaged lost their lives in a fiery crash. At this point, we’re unable to confirm the identities of the deceased. Damaged, arguably the hottest band in the country, just completed a series of shows in the Southwest and . . .”
The camera panned out for a wide-angle shot. Wisps of smoke rose from the wreckage, dissolving into the gray morning sky.
A gasp from Anna. “Oh my God.”
She crumbled against me, her small hand curving around my waist as she buried her face in my chest. Unable to make sense of what I was seeing, I stroked her hair with numb fingers.
After a few moments of stunned silence, Logan jumped to his feet. “What the fuck is she smiling about?”
Confused, I blinked at him. “Who?”
“The fucking reporter.” He pointed at the TV with a shaky hand. “What the hell is she grinning for?”
I shifted my gaze back to the screen, and sure as shit, the reporter was smiling. Just a slight upturn of her glossy lips.
I tightened my grip on my girl. “It’s her job, man. She doesn’t . . .” Emotion clogged my throat, and I struggled for breath. For words. “She doesn’t know them.”
But then, neither did we. Not really. Damaged hailed from Austin, our hometown. And over the last five years, as their star ascended, our paths had crossed on occasion.
Our band, Caged, was one of the many groups on Sixth Street that loosely followed the Damaged blueprint. Since high school, we’d been playing the same bars where Damaged got their start, hoping a little of their magic would rub off.
The news report abruptly cut to KVUE, the local ABC affiliate. Terri Gruca, the nighttime anchor, sat stoically behind the half-lit desk, her co-anchor nowhere in sight.
“Thank you, Sandy.” Terri blinked into the camera. “We’ve just got word at the studio that Rhenn Grayson, lead singer for the Grammy winning band Damaged, and Paige Dawson, lead guitarist, were pronounced dead at the scene of the accident on Highway 290 this morning.” She looked down at the copy wobbling in her shaking hand. “Rhenn’s wife, singer Tori Grayson, and drummer, Miles Cooper, were airlifted to Brackenridge Hospital via Care Flight. According to band manager, Taryn Ayers, Mrs. Grayson and Mr. Cooper are both in critical condition. The bus driver was also pronounced dead at the crash site.” Still photos of Rhenn and Paige appeared on a split screen in the background behind Terri’s head. “Our prayers go out to the families. After a brief commercial break, we’ll cut to the CNN studio for further updates on this tragedy and a look back at the lives of these two gifted musicians.”
My head pounded as a commercial for toaster strudel flickered across the screen. Smiling faces and cheery voices, touting the virtue of strawberry jam tucked inside a fluffy pastry shell. Somewhere, people were probably eating that shit.
But not Rhenn or Paige.
“They were twenty-four years old,” Logan murmured.
As he turned to face me, questions clouded his arctic blue eyes. The same questions I’d seen every day since the first time we met. About death, and why it visited some while leaving others alone. Death was what brought Logan and me together, after all. Our shared bond. Two kids whose mothers would never sit at the long table in Mrs. Varner’s classroom handing out cookies. Because our mothers had “passed.”
That’s the polite term people used when someone died. The same folks made sure to tell you they were “sorry for your loss.”
Which I always found funny, since my mother wasn’t lost. She was dead.
Rhenn’s voice boomed from the speaker on the worn-out TV. Smiling his most iconic smile, he stood back to back with Paige as he crooned the band’s latest hit.
I leaned forward to drink it all in. Because that’s all that was left now, bits of light and shadow caught on tape.
Slithering from my loose hold, Anna stumbled to her feet. “I’ve got to pee.”
Before she got away, I swung my legs over the side of the bed and then slipped my arms around her waist to pull her between my knees.
Resting my forehead against her chest, I breathed deeply, her peach scent soothing me like a balm. “I love you, Anna-baby.”
She sifted her fingers through my hair until I stopped shaking, and then kissed the top of my head. “Love you too.”
Reluctantly, I let her go, and she retreated into the tiny bathroom. Through the paper-thin walls, I heard her crying softly.
When she returned, her face splotchy and her eyes glistening with leftover tears, I gave her a soft smile and lifted the covers so she could crawl in beside me.
An hour later and we still hadn’t moved, like if we stayed here, it wouldn’t be real.
But it was.
When they showed the Care Flight helicopter on the roof of Brackenridge Hospital for the second time, I snapped. “Change that, will you?”
Logan flipped the channel to MTV while I reached for the pad of paper I kept beside the bed to jot down lyrics.
Like everyone else, the music channel was covering the Damaged story. But instead of reporting what everyone already knew, they were running a special broadcast about the three lesser-known bands that had followed Damaged up the ladder.
A solemn voice spoke over a montage of snippets flickering on the screen.
“While it stands to reason that Leveraged, Revenge Theory, or Drafthouse will fill the gaping hole left by today’s tragic event, a few lesser-known groups from Austin have amassed quite a following.”
Jolted by the familiar beat, my gaze snapped to the television where footage of Caged performing at the Parish flashed on the set.
“One such group, Caged, is currently playing the same venue where Damaged got their start some five years ago.”
The camera panned to the front of my drum kit where the band’s logo, a lion inside a gilded cage, shimmered under the lights.
“Like many of the smaller Sixth Street bands, Caged is still fighting for notoriety outside this small, but illustrious, stretch of road.”
“Oh my God,” Anna whispered, squeezing my hand. “That’s you.”
Guilt flooded my insides, sweeping away the momentary jubilation.
They’re dead, I reminded myself, turning my attention back to my lyrics.
Voices dying on the breeze, eyes now see what no one sees.
Will you be among the masses, forever frozen as time passes?
As I pondered the morbid compilation, the incessant ringing roused me from my next thought.
“Answer that call, dude,” I grumbled to Logan’s back.
He glanced down at his hand as if he just realized he was holding the phone. Swiping a finger over the screen, he took a deep breath before lifting the device to his ear.
“Hey, Chase.” Logan pushed to his feet and began to pace in a tight circle, glancing at the television every few seconds. “Of course I heard.” Stopping in his tracks, he listened intently. “Tonight?” He glanced at me, brows drawn together over troubled blue eyes. “I don’t know. Let me talk to Sean first.”
Tossing the phone on the bed, Logan dropped his head back and stared at the ceiling. “That was Chase. He wants us to do a set tonight.”
My stomach twisted as the shock rolled through me. “Why tonight?”
Logan’s eyes met mine, conflicted. “There’s going to be some kind of candlelight vigil.” He cleared his throat. “They’re expecting music, so someone’s got to take the stage.”
Might as well be us.