Escaping Indigo (Escaping Indigo, #1)

Escaping Indigo by Eli Lang
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-590-6
eBook release: 
Jul 17, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-591-3
Print release: 
Jul 17, 2017
Word count: 
67,400
Page count: 
221
Cover by: 

This title is #1 of the Escaping Indigo series.

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Micah thought he’d always be in a band. All he ever wanted was to play drums and make great music, but when his best friend and bandmate passes away, Micah is left adrift. The thing that’s always lifted him up is now a reminder of everything he’s lost.

In an attempt to put his life back together, Micah takes a job as roadie for his favorite band, Escaping Indigo. He’s always admired the lead singer, Bellamy. On stage, Bellamy is confident, glittery, and radiant. But as the two grow closer, Micah realizes that in person, Bellamy is quiet, introspective, and a little uncertain. And that’s the person Micah is falling for.

Micah is determined to know all of Bellamy, both the rock star side and the side hidden from the audience, the side that creates music that touches Micah’s heart. Bellamy has secrets of his own, though, things he doesn’t want to share with anyone. And trying to uncover Bellamy’s truths might be the thing that ends up pushing him away.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

I wondered, sometimes, when exactly it was you could tell yourself you’d made it. When you could let yourself believe it. After your first show? After the first big venue? The first album? The first song to chart past one hundred? Past ten? Or was it when another band, a band you knew and loved, recognized you, called you by your first name, clapped you on the shoulder and said they loved your new songs? Was there ever a moment that you could look back on as the defining one?

I didn’t know the answer, because I’d never gotten there. Never reached a point where I could pause and look around, and tell myself that I’d really managed something. Really done something important. That we’d made it. Every new thing had been the most success I’d ever had, in a band, as a musician. But there had never been a time when I’d told myself that this was it. That I’d done what I’d set out to do and everything else after this moment was extra.

It was funny, because all that time—when we’d been writing music and gigging, all the times we’d been auditioning yet another bass player or keyboardist, when we’d been scrambling for every cent so we could drive to another city for a show, so we could put our album out, so we could make sure we had merch—I’d never felt anything even close to what I imagined that particular, pivotal moment felt like. That arrival. It had all been a frantic rush instead, no time to really think at all. Only time to swim as hard as we could and hope our heads stayed above water.

But I wasn’t in my own band anymore. Now I was in a gaudy but still rock-appropriate-grungy Chicago theater, working for someone else, for a band that wasn’t mine. Standing on the side of the wide stage instead of at the front of it. Handing out guitars and setting up drums instead of playing my own drums. Helping someone else entertain a crowd instead of doing it with my own band. And it should have been depressing as fuck. It should have been the worst place I could possibly have ended up. But it wasn’t. And when the band’s singer Bellamy turned away from the microphone and caught my eye, threw me that cocky half smile like he sometimes did, even though I knew he did that for a hundred people in the audience every night, it was almost like I’d made it, instead of having fallen.

That night, I watched from my spot off stage while Escaping Indigo, the band I now worked for, played. They seemed almost better than usual, pushing the music into all the corners of the room, out into the parking lot. The first few shows of the tour had gone well, and they were riding that energy. Bellamy jumped down from the stage to stand with the audience. People reached out to touch him while he sang, pulled at him until he had to hold the mic up and tilt his chin back to get the words out. A hand slithered up the front of his shirt, and he tugged it out, but then he held on to it, twisting his fingers with the other person’s. Everybody wanted a piece of him, something that they could make their own, and he made it seem like they could have that. I knew that feeling. I’d been a fan, the biggest fan, long before I’d ever imagined I’d end up being their roadie.

After, with the sounds of the show still ringing in my head, when the silence around me was almost smothering and my ears felt as if they’d been stuffed with cotton, I went around to the side of the building. It was darker and quieter there. I wanted to have one more cigarette before I headed to the bus and to bed. Instead, I ran into Bellamy. I wasn’t sure it was him at first—I had a moment when I panicked and figured I was about to get murdered in a city I’d never even set foot in before today, but then I saw the black jacket, the skinny jeans, the slight wave in the coppery-brown hair, and I recognized him.

“Got a light?”

His voice was soft, just this side of hoarse. I could still hear him, like an echo in my mind, calling out to the audience, singing songs I knew all the words to, his voice strong and sure, velvety. It was rougher now, but I could hear that richness behind his words, the depth he could coax out of it.

I dug around in my pocket, fumbling for my lighter. He took a step back, into the shadows, and I followed. When I flicked the lighter, the flame lit up his face, highlighted the angles of his cheekbones, made the makeup around his eyes stand out, stark and black against his skin. He held his cigarette up for me, breathed in, then moved away. I took out my own pack and lit one for myself.

Bellamy leaned against the wall. He wiggled his shoulders a little, settling in, getting as comfortable as he could. He drew on his cigarette once, but then he pulled it away and held it by his hip, tucked between two fingers.

I didn’t know whether I should stay or go. Bellamy and I had been traveling together, obviously, and we’d spoken, but never much more than “Good morning,” and “Good show,” and “Please tune this guitar like this.” He’d been kind and polite, but standoffish. And I . . . I had been so nervous to meet him, to be around him, that I’d basically clammed up every time he was near me. It’d be nice to be able to actually have a conversation with him, but I didn’t want to intrude on his solitude. And I didn’t know what conversation I’d be able to come up with, anyway.

I took a tiny step back, and my foot scraped against a patch of gravel. Bellamy jerked his head up and glanced over at me.

I was probably blushing already. I blushed hard and obviously, despite how tan I was, and it was probably visible, even in the dim light here. I waved my hand over my shoulder, trying to play it cool.

“I’ll, ah . . .”

His hand snapped out and grabbed my wrist, but not hard. Only enough to keep me here, enough for me to feel his touch on my skin. Then he let go. “You don’t need to go.” He turned away again, but I didn’t think he was blocking me out. He tilted his head against the building and stared up at the sky. It was clear, but the city lights were too bright, even back here, and there weren’t any stars to see. “I was . . . looking for a place to come down, you know?”

I stepped forward this time, and leaned against the wall next to him. Not close enough to touch, but enough that I could feel the warmth of him, smell the smoke of his cigarette, earthy and bitter. I took a drag off my own, but it seemed almost beside the point, now.

“I missed this,” he said, soft, his voice fading away, blending into the sounds of traffic and people shouting and laughing.

I turned my head to him. His profile was all in shadow, just a sharp nose and chin, hair that was a bit too long. He looked as much like a rock star standing still as he did when he was moving around on stage. He gave off an energy, more contained now, but no less forceful in its magnetism. I thought of him like a live wire, something dangerous and electric and lovely.

“I missed being on the road.” He glanced at me. “There isn’t anything as good as touring, as playing.”

I nodded. That made sense. I supposed it was different for everyone—I knew some people liked the recording the best, and thought the touring was a chore—but there was definitely something raw and beautiful about this, even when it was tedious or uncomfortable.

“I’m glad you have the bus, though,” I blurted out. “Quinn said you used to ride around in a van.”

Bellamy laughed, loudly. “We did. Not for a few tours now. But, god, that was a pain in the ass. We were all so crammed together. This is better. But it was fun.” He trailed off, and he sounded almost wistful. I could imagine it. There was something freeing about being on tour, no matter how you got there. Quinn had told me about the van like it was his own personal hell, though. He’d laid a nearly reverent hand on the bus, and the expression I’d seen on his face had made me laugh out loud. It had reminded me of how long he’d been working with the band, from the time they’d been tiny and he’d been the only roadie they’d had, to where they were now, just big enough to have a tour bus, big enough that we had somewhere comfortable to sleep instead of shitty hotel rooms.

“Are you liking it?” Bellamy asked, surprising me out of my thoughts. “Being on the road?”

I took in a deep breath, but I tried not to make it sound like that was what I was doing. I thought about the first time I’d been able to say I was on tour, when I’d been a drummer and not a roadie. When it had been my band out on the road. It was laughable, because we’d only stopped in three cities before we’d gone home, and it hadn’t been anything like this. No tour bus, no roadies, no venues that held hundreds of people. We’d driven a friend’s van, like Escaping Indigo had once, packed with our stuff, and we’d slept in the back on a tiny pile of blankets. We’d carried our own gear, set up by ourselves. And we sure as shit hadn’t been headlining. But the crowds had liked us all right. We’d sold some of the handmade CDs we’d brought, with our initials written on them in place of a band name, because we never could decide, and people had asked us if we were going to be coming by again. It hadn’t been like this at all. But it had been good. It had felt so good. Freeing and exciting and like we’d been on the brink of something incredible.

“I like it,” I said. I thought about adding something else to it, to explain that I’d done this before, but not in the same way. To keep the conversation going, more than anything. But I didn’t want to bring all of that here, into this quiet space between us, and I didn’t know Bellamy well enough to guess how he’d react.

He didn’t ask me for any more than that, though. He slid me a wry smile. “But you were hoping for a quiet place too, huh? And now I’m talking your ear off.”

I smiled back. “I don’t mind.” Bellamy could talk to me anytime. I’d never even imagined I’d be able to stand here with him, like this. He’d been an untouchable idol for so long that this felt unreal.

He dropped his cigarette and ground it out, then bent and scooped it up into his hand. “It’s good to have a quiet space.” He turned to me. “Touring’s the best, but it’ll wear you down, being with everyone all the time.”

“And I intruded into your space, this time,” I answered, asking without words whether that was okay.

He shrugged. “I didn’t mind, either. My boyfriend and I used to sneak away. Find the dark corners. He was a roadie for us too. So it’s . . .” he laughed, “similar.” His smile went lopsided and sad. “But not the same. Sorry, that was awkward.”

I shook my head. “Why isn’t he working this tour?”

“’Cause he dumped me,” Bellamy answered without skipping a beat. “Middle of last tour, he up and left, no note, no nothing. Guess he’d had enough.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.” He took a step, and I couldn’t see his face anymore in the dark. “Hey, I’m glad you came over. I was worried about . . . It was good to talk to someone. Thanks.”

I nodded. I didn’t know what else to say, but it didn’t matter. He nodded back and then headed off, in the direction of the bus. I stood outside for a little longer, took the last drag on my cigarette. I thought about Bellamy picking his up, careful not to litter, about the way the fine lines around his eyes had tightened when he’d talked about his ex. He’d told me about it like it was simply a thing that had happened, but I wondered if that was what he really felt about it.

I wondered, too, who would be stupid enough to dump someone as talented and gorgeous as Bellamy.

* * * * * * *

I didn’t exactly try to avoid Bellamy over the next day, as we drove, but I didn’t seek him out, either. I was still mulling over our short conversation. I’d only ever really thought of Bellamy as a rock star, even for the short time I’d been his roadie. And he definitely was a rock star in my eyes, even if his band hadn’t yet reached, might never reach, the level where they played stadium shows and slept in luxury hotel rooms. That was nice as far as status went, but I was interested in the music, and Bellamy made music like no one else could. He shone, so bright, whether I was watching him play a show, or listening to his voice through my headphones. I’d never thought of him in any other way. But the night before, as much as he’d still sparkled, he’d seemed . . . more contained. A person instead of a figure. Quiet and focused inward.

It was easy enough not to bump into him. We had the whole tour bus to spread out on—two rooms, a large front one and a cozier back room, where one or two of us would sometimes go for some privacy, plus the middle section where our bunks were. And even though it had only been a few days, we’d sorted out spots for ourselves, and we tended to stick with them. Sometimes Bellamy wrote music with Tuck or played a video game with Ava, but more often than not, he tucked himself into a corner of a couch with a book or his guitar, or had a quiet conversation with Lissa, our merch person and Tuck’s girlfriend. We all tended to congregate in the front room, but even then, my spot was at the end of the room, opposite Bellamy’s, so we were still apart, just enough to make conversation difficult.

We parked for the evening in Columbus, Ohio, at the next venue. In the dead time between sound check and the show itself, I walked around the building, to the back parking lot, hoping to sneak in a cigarette and some time to myself, and walked almost smack into Bellamy. Again. It was like déjà vu of the night before, except it was light out now, and I almost laughed at the ridiculousness of it.

Bellamy must have heard me come up beside him, same as last time, but this time, instead of asking me for a light, he waved me over. He was sitting with his back against the building’s side wall. Most of the sidewalk he was sitting on was in the shade, but he had his feet stuck out into a patch of sunlight. I walked over, but stopped before sitting down.

“Aren’t you getting some quiet time again?” I asked.

A smile flickered over his mouth. “Awful lot of space one musician needs, huh?”

I shook my head. “I can see this being stressful.” Hell, I knew it was. I just didn’t know it like he did.

He shrugged. “Come sit. Don’t stand there hovering over me.”

I lowered myself down next to him, but instead of continuing a conversation with me, he turned to face forward again. He was staring off across the street. There was a tiny neighborhood there, small scraps of lawn passing as backyards. He watched the grass move with the breeze and seemed very much like he didn’t have a single care in the world. I couldn’t help staring at him, taken by him in this moment of almost stillness. He was smoking again, as slow as last time, his hand moving in a lazy arc from where it rested on his knee to his mouth and back. The wind was tossing his bangs in his face. His skin looked almost translucent, his cheeks flushed pink with the late-summer heat, and his body was as relaxed and elegant as it was on stage. He came across so comfortable, so confident, even though there was no one to see him, no one he had to impress. It was natural for him.

I wanted to sit for a minute, and take in the smell of the soil and the breeze on my skin and Bellamy beside me. It was quiet out here, a quiet you didn’t get while stuck on a tour bus, or when you were always in a new city, a new venue filled with people, taking and giving instructions, with music and banter such a constant background noise that it became a hum that it felt strange to be without. The wind through the dry grass and the distant sound of traffic were the only noises here, and I thought if I listened hard enough, I could hear the soft scrape of Bellamy’s finger against his cigarette, the shift of his T-shirt against his skin. His breath, moving in and out of him, slow and steady.

“What were you going to say, last night?” I asked without thinking.

He turned toward me, slow, like he was coming back from somewhere else. “What?”

There was that blush again, hot and probably so much more visible here in the daylight. “Never mind.”

His hair tangled in his eyes, and he reached up and pushed it aside with two fingers, his cigarette still tucked firmly between the others. Then he glanced away, took one last drag of his cigarette, and stubbed it out on the ground next to him. His movements were efficient, but unhurried. “No, what?”

I clasped my hands together. I hadn’t gotten out my own cigarettes, and I wished I had, just to have something to do. I twisted my fingers together instead. “Last night, you said you were worried about something. But then you didn’t say what. And I . . . wondered.”

“Oh.” He stared down at his knees, the sun creeping up his jeans. “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to be coy. I was just tired.”

I nodded and stared across the street. I wanted to kick myself for asking at all. It was as good as prying. But I was . . . curious. Had been curious about it since he’d let it slip. Had been curious about him long before that.

“I was worried about being on tour,” he said after a minute, when I’d been sure he wouldn’t say anything at all. “I love it so much, but I . . .” He trailed off, and I held my hand up.

“You don’t have to tell me. I shouldn’t have asked.” I couldn’t even make myself quite meet his eyes. I was mortified.

His hand brushed my shoulder, so soft I wasn’t sure it had actually happened. But when I looked over, he was watching me. “My boyfriend leaving . . . It messed me up. I wasn’t . . .” He took a deep breath. “I wasn’t myself. I was in a bad place, and it’s taken me a long time to get away from that. And I was worried that being on tour again might . . . put me there again.”

“I get that.” I could have told him, then, exactly how much I understood it, but I couldn’t quite make myself do it. This was his conversation, and I wasn’t going to hijack it with my own story.

“Yeah?”

I nodded. “Has it? Brought you back there?”

He slumped against the wall. “Here and there. Little things. I’m still . . .” He waved his hand through the air, and I wanted to ask, because I was only more curious now, not less. But I couldn’t do that, either. He shifted to face me, and his lips lifted at one side in a smile that was wry and unhappy. “Sometimes I get . . . nervous. Stressed. That’s all. I’ll be fine, I think.”

I nodded again. I didn’t know what else to do. We sat there together for a while longer, and it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I’d have imagined. It wasn’t, actually, uncomfortable at all. We watched the trickle of traffic move past, watched people go about their day, and I soaked up the sights of a city I’d never set foot in before this. The sights I was willing to bet most tourists never saw at all. I liked seeing places from this view, from the back alleys and parking lots, from street level.

I had to get up after a while, so I could go help Quinn. He probably wouldn’t need me quite yet, but I figured I’d intruded on Bellamy’s space enough already. He stopped me when I turned to go, though, like he had the night before. He said my name this time instead of reaching out for me, but it worked just as well.

“Micah.”

I glanced at him, shielding my eyes from the sun so I could see him sitting there in the shade.

“Thanks for asking,” he said. “No one ever asks. Everyone knew we were together. But it’s like they’re afraid to talk about it. They tell me I’m better off or whatever. But they don’t want to know if that’s what I think.”

“Is it? What you think?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.” He smiled his stage smile at me, the one he gave to fans, the one that made people fall in love with him. “But I’m glad you asked.”

I nodded, even though I wondered if he was teasing me a little. “Me too.” And his expression went sweeter when I said it. I walked back to the bus confused and flustered and strangely happy, as if something good had happened to me. I just wasn’t exactly sure if that was right.

 

Chapter Two

The next day, when we were on the road again, headed for Toronto, it was Bellamy who sought me out.

I was drawing. It was something I’d done on and off for a while. I wasn’t very good at it—it was only a hobby. But Quinn had warned me, when he got me the job, that being on the road, those long hours stuck on the bus, was about the most boring thing imaginable, and he’d been right. He’d told me to bring books or whatever else I could think of to keep myself occupied for a few hours in that enclosed space. I was glad I’d brought the sketchpad and the handful of nice pencils. I’d drawn so much over the past week, I thought I might even be getting better at it.

Tuck had gotten excited when he’d first seen what I was doing. I’d only been drawing objects—the hang of the curtains over the bunks, a guitar propped sideways against a couch, a stack of games at the front of the bus. I hadn’t wanted to draw the band without asking, and I’d been too shy to ask. But Tuck thought I was some artistic genius. He’d insisted I draw whoever I wanted, and he’d gotten everybody else to agree. So I’d drawn Ava laughing and Bellamy’s hands, resting on his knees, his eyes glued to his book. Tuck and Lissa leaning in toward each other, smiling that secret smile that lovers gave each other when they were totally infatuated. Tuck had started hanging the sketches up, which I found kind of horrifying, but everyone else seemed to like it, or at least tolerate it. Now my pathetic attempts at art littered the front section of the bus. Tuck had taped stuff to the walls between the windows, and then, when he’d started running out of places he liked, moved up, so my drawings hung on the ceiling.

It was weird for me to see them all the time. Made me half-nervous and half-bubbly with a warm feeling I couldn’t define. And it made my skin crawl a little, because they were only sketches, and every time I saw them, I saw things I could have done better.

When Bellamy found me, I was tucked into my corner of the couch at the back of the room, out of the way and slightly separate from everyone else, trying hard to ignore the sketches that were already slathered on the walls, and working on a new one.

There wasn’t a lot of room on my little stretch of couch, and Bellamy jammed himself right up next to me, so our bodies were touching from knee to hip to shoulder. My first thought was to shy away, because he made me nervous and I couldn’t imagine he’d meant to sit so close. But he didn’t pull away, and I realized that, as nervous as I was, I didn’t want to move.

“Are you drawing?” He didn’t lean over me to see, but waited, patient.

I nodded and turned the sketchpad toward him. I was drawing Ava. She was my favorite subject, whether she was at the drum kit, or sitting in front of her games, or walking down the street. Her whole body was always in motion, even when she was seated. Energy hummed from her. She was sitting on the floor now, in front of the TV, with a game controller in her hands. In my sketch, she was leaning far forward, her body almost rising from her spot on the floor, her hands thrust out while she yelled at her character, trying to get him to move where she wanted.

Bellamy laughed, soft, and glanced up at me. “You’re good.”

The compliment brought a smile to my face. “Thanks.”

He gestured at my sketchpad. “Do you draw me?”

I glanced up at the ceiling, and my drawings, all scattered just a few feet above us. “You know I do.”

He tapped his fingers on the rings of the pad. “Recently?”

I hesitated, then flipped back a few pages to the drawing I’d done after our last conversation. I hadn’t been able to get the image of him—sitting there against the wall, cigarette dangling between his fingers, eyes staring far away—out of my mind. I’d gone back to my bunk, picked up the pencil, and drawn him in hard, dark lines, the whole thing more an impression than a clear picture. I’d drawn his sharp nose and the smooth line of his shoulder, and the flex in his hand. His elbow, pressed to his knees. His hair, just in his eyes.

It wasn’t that good. I wasn’t under any impressions that drawing was some secret talent I had. But it wasn’t completely terrible, either. Bellamy stared at the picture for a long time, until I started wanting to fidget. His hand hovered over the page, like he wanted to touch it. He didn’t, though. After a bit, he carefully flipped the pages back and shut the cover, tapping it once with his knuckles. He leaned forward until he could look up into my face. His hair fell into his eyes again, like it had been in the drawing.

“Stop being afraid of me.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” I said, surprised.

His lips quirked up. “Stop being so afraid to say the wrong thing.”

For a second, I let myself close my eyes and be embarrassed. Then I opened them again, and he was still watching me. “I seem to do it a lot, though.”

His grin got wider. He sat back and pushed his fingers through his hair. “I like it when you do.” I wanted him to touch me again, like he had yesterday.

“And when you change your mind about that?”

He laughed. “See?” His expression mellowed a little, became something gentler, more personal. “I liked talking to you. That’s all.”

I sighed. “I didn’t mean to pry. About your boyfriend and you, and . . .” I hadn’t realized, until I’d said it, that it had still been bothering me. But I had never expected to have a conversation like that with him, at all. I’d always imagined what I might say to him, if I got a chance, and poking around into his painful spots was definitely not it. I didn’t want him to think I was the type of person who went around doing that. Even if the evidence he had about me so far proved that I did.

“It’s fine. I don’t . . . I probably said too much.” He flashed me a smile, and it was as bright and bold as any he gave on stage, but this close, I thought maybe there was a tiny edge of uncertainty to it as well. “Probably bored you with my whining.”

I shook my head. “You didn’t. Not at all.”

“Good.” He stretched the word out, and I could hear the gravelly depth in his voice. “We’re good, then?”

I nodded.

“Okay.” Another smile. Then he must have decided to have mercy on me, because he stood up. He gave me a tiny bow, the movement perfect and precise and practiced. Graceful, the same as when he was on stage, performing for an audience. I wondered if he was performing for me too, or if he was always performing a bit, no matter where he was, or who he was with.

I was still thinking about Bellamy and the conversations we’d had while I set up Ava’s drum kit for sound check that evening, a few hours before the show. When she’d interviewed me—or given me what could be called an interview in terms of getting hired as a roadie by a rock band—she’d hovered over me, watched me pull out each drum and piece of hardware. Some guys would probably have minded, especially since she was a girl and I was expected to cater to her.

I didn’t care what gender someone was, though. I’d never seen it have any effect on someone’s ability to play an instrument. I’d talked to Ava, and I’d been listening to her play for years. She was no fool, on or off the stage. Even when she was playing video games, which she did nearly every spare minute she spent on the tour bus, she played them with a forceful, dedicated precision, the same kind she used when she drummed. She could hover if she wanted to. She could tell me I was doing everything wrong, and I’d have listened, because she was that good. But she didn’t. I had asked her questions, when I’d first met her, about how she liked everything to be, the tuning and the spacing of the kit. She still finalized everything, even now. But now I knew her, and what she wanted. We could set up together and make it go faster, or I could set up for her by myself if she had somewhere else to be.

I liked working with the drums best, because it was what I was used to, what I knew, but I did guitars and pedals and mics too. I was doing the final sound check for the drums and vocals, noodled around on a guitar and listened to drunk people cheer for me like I was the coolest thing ever. Then I got out the set lists and stuck them to the floor, dashed around one more time, made sure everything was perfect, and scooted off to the side of the stage. I liked to stand a tiny bit behind the line of the curtain, where I could see the band in profile, and half the crowd, but no one could see me unless they were really searching for me.

The lights went out. There was always that deep pause, the sharp intake of a thousand breaths in the dark, the swell of anticipation. It was heavy, that excitement. A weight I could feel in my chest, a chain that connected me to every other person in the room. I remembered the first time I’d experienced it from the other side like this. I hadn’t been a roadie then. I’d been a drummer in an opening band, first on the stage. The crowd hadn’t had a clue who I was. But I’d walked out on stage in the dark, sat down, and picked up my sticks, and I’d felt it. Like magic that clung to my skin. It had been different from being in the audience. Far more nerve-racking. But it had made me feel tingly and powerful and giant too. Like that two-foot gap from the floor to the stage made me a king, if a humble one. I’d been so happy then. So blissfully happy, like I was finally full, complete, like all the hollow spaces inside me had been filled. I’d thought then that I’d never want anything like I wanted to be on the stage, waiting for the lights to come up.

Tuck and Ava went out now, followed a second later by Bellamy, and when the lights rose that little bit, the crowd went nuts. People actually screamed so loud it sounded like it hurt, but I understood it. I’d been one of them, once, screaming for the same band.

On this tour, so far, Escaping Indigo had always opened with the same song. I heard that, along with nearly the same set of songs following it, night after night. I hadn’t gotten tired of them, though. I didn’t think I ever would. I wasn’t standing in the crowd, wasn’t getting the wild, surging rush that being with all those people in front of a band I loved gave me. I wasn’t looking up at Bellamy while he was on stage, in awe, hoping to catch his eye. It wasn’t quite the same, standing off to the side. But it mattered less than I’d thought it would. Seeing them, right there in front of me, watching them play all those songs I knew so well, still filled me with a sparking, fiery electricity. Like the music was getting into my veins, pumping into my heart.

I tried to keep my mouth shut while I watched. While I let my hands roam over guitar strings, tuning, getting them ready for the next song. I knew all the words, but I didn’t want Ava or Tuck or Bellamy, especially Bellamy, to glance my way and catch me singing.

I couldn’t decide, some nights, whether I was happier knowing them, being the guy who handled their instruments and lived on their bus with them, and watched from the side of the stage, or whether I preferred having been the anonymous fan. Whether I would still rather be that guy in the middle of the crowd, staring up at Bellamy and screaming the lyrics with him, hoping he looked my way and taking comfort in the idea that I could be anything or nothing to him. Wondering if he would notice me. Half fearing that he would or he wouldn’t. Being just a fan had sometimes made me feel so far away, so separate, and so desperate to be there myself, in that spot the band occupied. Jealous, almost, of the bands that had made it. I didn’t want to take anything away from them. I just wanted a piece of it for myself, sometimes so badly that it ripped through me with an envy and want I couldn’t control.

But now, knowing the band even the little bit that I did made things feel almost too close, too personal, and I wasn’t sure which was better. When I’d been nothing more than another face in the crowd, I’d harbored that little fantasy of being noticed, being closer to them, but now that it’d actually happened, it didn’t seem real. It was hard to make myself remember that it was. That I was part of this now, even if it wasn’t in the way I’d always assumed it would be.

I hadn’t been lying to Bellamy, when I’d told him I liked being on the road. I did. It had given me something to do, to focus on, when I’d been hollowed out and cast adrift. I liked the instant gratification of it, the simple contentment of a job well done. I was grateful to Quinn—sound guy, roadie, and unofficial manager for Escaping Indigo—for hiring me, because I had no idea what I’d be doing with myself now if he hadn’t. Rotting away somewhere, I supposed, and thinking about what might have been.

After the show, Quinn and I, and whatever house help the venue provided, would find ourselves alone on stage for a few minutes. We started to tear down: loading gear, coiling up cords, packing away instruments so they wouldn’t be damaged while we traveled. Most nights the band came back after a bit, when the crowds had gone, because they weren’t jerks and the job was really meant for more than a couple of people. Ava and I took apart the drum set and packed everything away in its particular case. She always looked drained, tired, but usually she seemed somewhat euphoric too. Floaty. They all did. There wasn’t much talk, after a show, at least for that short period of time when we were on the stage together taking things apart, but Tuck and Ava and Bellamy gave off this hum, like all that energy and magic they’d created was still buzzing through them, giving them a kind of glow.

Tuck was about to roll the last guitar case away when Quinn ran over and asked him to wait. He ducked around the side, then clapped Tuck on the shoulder and jogged across the stage to me, a paper flapping in his hand. He handed it to me. It was this night’s set list, dated and with the venue name printed on it, that I’d taped to the crate at the start of the show.

“Oh, thanks. I forgot.” I’d been collecting them since the first night of the tour. The sets were slightly different, so Quinn gave me a new list for each show so I’d know which guitars to get ready and such. They were similar enough that it was probably foolish to keep them, but I thought of them as some kind of proof. When I’d been on the other side of the stage, I’d been the kid reaching up, hoping to take a set list home with me, to remember, to hold on to as tangible evidence that I’d been there, seen this incredible, amazing thing. Now they did the same thing for me, told me that this had been real, from the other side of the stage. Proved that I had been a part of this. I needed that, craved it, needed to hold on to the idea that I was here, that this was happening. That my life hadn’t stopped with the end of my music career and everything else.

Quinn must have seen that I was collecting them. It surprised me that he’d noticed. Before I could say anything else to him, though, he was already turning away, gathering the house help and thanking them before we headed out.

I folded the paper carefully and slipped it into my back pocket. When I looked up, Bellamy was watching me. His face was blank, and for a second I wasn’t even sure he was seeing me at all. Then he blinked, and I realized he’d been watching me put the set list away. He met my eyes, and for a heartbeat his expression stayed the same—as if he was trying to figure something out. Or something was only now occurring to him. Then he smiled, a bit smug, before he turned away.

from Publishers Weekly

Lang masterfully captures the hesitancy and insecurity of both men as they try to move beyond their pasts.