Her bags, her gear, and her phone were all loaded onto the bus, which normally they piled into immediately after show, and it whisked them out and away, toward the next gig, while the crowds were still filing out of the venue. But this wasn’t normal. This was opening night, this was the Garden, and there would be a party. There was loud music in the reception room, endless glasses of champagne and all manner of industry types and local musicians. And Anders had his own coterie of women and hangers-on. Corey kept her distance from him—she needed to cool off after his little stunt if she was going to ride a bus cross-country with him. At some point, one of the roadies, Sophie, tapped her on the shoulder and said, “You gotta see this.”
She led her down a long hallway, and they turned a corner to see the backs of dozens of waiting women.
“More Anders groupies,” said Corey. “You know, I didn’t miss this bit.”
“No.” Sophie whistled loudly, and as the crowd turned to see where the piercing sound came from, Corey realized most were wearing black tee shirts, designed with twin rows of gold circles running down the front, just like her drill jacket.
“They’re here for you,” said Sophie.
When the women saw Corey, they rushed forward en masse, bubbling with excitement. Squeals, cheers, and tears.
“I’ve loved you for years…”
“Reveille? Oh my God, I can’t even…”
“Counting down the days until Running Light…”
Corey looked at the roadie with amazement.
“Take your time,” said Sophie, smiling. She beckoned for Corey’s last bag. “Here, you’re going to need both hands to sign all those autographs. I’ll load it on the bus and let them know where you are.”
“Thank you,” she mouthed.
The after-party would go until the wee hours, but here she was, beset by fans. In the melee, it took her a moment to recognize the women surrounding her, thrusting pens and notebooks at her and pressing their cheeks against hers for selfies, were younger. Not just younger, but young. A new generation of fans.
She vowed on the spot to sign whatever the hell they wanted her to sign, to take as many pictures as they wished, and to hug every last one of them.
An hour later, when she had done exactly that, she returned to the reception room to find it empty. A single custodian pitched empty beer bottles into a large plastic garbage can.
“Where is everyone?” she asked.
The custodian, bored, answered, “Gone.”
“What do you mean ‘gone?’”
The man shrugged.
She headed for the bus bay, a sinking feeling in her gut. After a few steps, she began to jog. Then sprint. She burst into the cavernous bay beneath the Garden to find it deserted.
“You Corey?” came a voice from behind her.
She turned to find a man in a Garden staff tee shirt.
“What?” she said, out of breath. Panicking. “Yeah.”
The man handed her an envelope.
She tore it open in front of him with shaky hands. She pulled a note out of it and unfolded the paper with trembling fingers.
You shouldn’t have made me beg, babe.
She dropped the note at the foot of the man, turned and sprinted up the ramp toward the open air, following the route the bus had taken.
At the top of the ramp, she saw nothing. No buses. No Toddlers. No Anders.
They left her behind.
“You fucking slash!” she screamed into the night.
She was nine years old again, abandoned by the woods, darkness falling, her parents far down the road. Stranded in Kansas, no ride to the airport. Deserted by legions of fans in a steady trickle for the last fifteen years. Being used and erased by boy band millionaires.
Anders’s cruel genius pierced the rising tide of her panic. The contract stipulated that she play every show, no tardiness accepted. In two nights, they would play the west coast, and she had nothing. No phone, no license.
Just a little girl playing dress-up in a toy soldier costume.
After all of it, she realized, at the end of the day, every victory was Pyrrhic. Every road, she would have to travel alone.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
This time, she threw her head back and roared, “Is that the best you got?”
I haven’t been left behind, she thought, not really. She had Josh and even Kincaid now. She had Lou—she always had Lou and Lou always knew what to do. And now she had Ricki too, a true sister and mentor. And hadn’t the last hour shown her that her fans weren’t truly gone, that their ranks had swelled with new blood? All she had to do was march back up to street level, where any number of them would be only too happy to let her borrow their phone to send a flare up to her allies. Who cared how it looked? She was strong enough to be vulnerable on her records, why not real life too? What could be cooler than that? Hell, her fans would probably jump at the chance to be pressed into service by Corey Fucking Lyondell.
And who was Corey Fucking Lyondell now?
I’m a professional, she thought, an artist. A warrior. I pass through gauntlet after gauntlet, emerging bruised and brokenhearted but still breathing, still fighting, still rocking. Indispensible and undeniable. I committed, I went deeper than I thought possible, and I surfaced with my best record yet, and just maybe, my best life. She looked up at the stars and smiled. Wherever he was, even Kyle would have to be proud of that.
“Time to make one lucky fan’s night,” she said.
“How about this one?” he answered.