"You getting into trouble at school? Never would’ve pictured that," I said jokingly.
He smiled and exhaled. "That’s when I picked up a guitar. Don’t know who came up with the idea first, but Sky and I decided to start a rock band. Back then we thought if we were going to be in a rock band, there’s certain things that we just had to do first. Like doing a lot of drugs, partying ‘til dawn, trashing hotel rooms, rocking out, and all that crazy stuff."
I’d partied hard in my day—especially back in college—but I was pretty sure none of it compared to any of the crazy stuff he’d done.
"I've always wondered what it would be like to be on stage with all the glitz, glamour, and groupies," I said as I motioned with my glass to the extravagance dripping from every inch of the bus. "Aren't you happy you’ve fulfilled your dreams?"
He shrugged. "Sure, all those things are nice perks, but that’s not why I play music."
I tilted my head, curious. "Is that so? Then why do you do it?"
He gave a wry grin. "Why not? It makes me feel good."
"Feel good?" I asked. I’d been half-expecting him to say something deep and philosophical, but what he said seemed fairly mundane.
He nodded. "Yeah. When you think about it, that’s really all that matters. Feeling good." He turned his gaze to me. "You know, to be able to forget about the shit from the past, stop worrying about the future and just feel good in the moment."
His words resonated in their simplicity. When I wasn’t working, I was always partying. The partying helped me forget about working—and the crappy parts of my past.
"Maybe you have a point," I replied.
"See, you and I aren't that different after all," he said with a smirk.
"Hey, that doesn't mean I'm agreeing that being a rock star and being an accountant are the same thing," I said playfully.
"Yeah they might be different, but we all want the same thing, no matter how we go about it," he said before his tone became serious again. "Whether you're a rock star or an accountant, some people are fueled by a drive to experience more pleasure. Others are just trying to avoid pain. But we all do it for the same reason: to feel good."
"I never thought about it that way," I said, pondering the implications. "Then which one fuels you?"
He took a long drag. "Pain," he said quietly. He turned to me and held up the joint, his onyx eyes focused on the burning end. "That’s what this is for."
I couldn’t help but stare at the joint’s simmering orange tip reflected in his haunted eyes. As magnetic as his charm was, his pain was just as palpable. Overwhelmed with empathy, my own painful past tried resurfacing in my mind, and I struggled to push it back down into its dark, hidden corner. I could tell that he was also hiding his own personal issues, no doubt fighting against them just like I had to fight against my own.
I reached out, plucked the joint from his hand, and brought it to my lips. He watched me as I inhaled, held in the warm smoke for a second, and then exhaled. Neither of us said anything, but then again, there was nothing else to say.
We passed the joint back and forth in silence, smoking it down to a burnt nub while we watched the sun sink behind the mountains, casting a long shadow all the way across the sundeck.
As soon as we finished the joint, Jax said he needed his usual uninterrupted alone time to mentally prepare himself for the show, and he left to get ready. I stayed up on the sundeck for a little while finishing the drink he made me and reveling in my first-time high. I felt so mellowed out, enjoying the gorgeous evening as a radiant purple and orange sunset disappeared behind the city’s skyline.
After sharing that connection with Jax, I was even more confused about him than I was when I woke up in his bed. I had to admit that he was giving me plenty of reasons to not only trust him, but also fall for him, and yet I still worried that I’d only end up getting used if I gave in to his seductive charms.
Once we were outside the venue, I flashed my credentials to security and headed inside. The crowd’s buzz was escalating as rapidly as I was sobering up. Having caught up on most of my work during the day, I had a bit more leisure time to enjoy the show.
As I was about to peek out from behind the red crushed velvet curtain to look at the crowded auditorium, a soft tap on my shoulder surprised me. "Excuse me."
I spun around and saw a squat bald man in a white button-up shirt and black tie with shiny badge on his chest. "Yes?"
He cleared his throat. "Sorry to bother you, but are you Riley Hewitt?"
I froze, the thought of weed raced through my mind before I remembered that it was legal in Colorado. "Yes, that’s me."
"Hi, I’m Jim Rairden, Denver County Fire Marshal, nice to meet you," he said holding out his hand. "I was told by your pyrotechnician that you’re in charge of all band expenditures."
"Yes, I am," I said as I shook his hand. "Can I help you with something?"
"Well, I was just inspecting the pyrotechnics for tonight’s show and it looks like you’re going to have to sign up for an additional ballistics policy. I’m afraid it’s gonna run upwards of ten thousand dollars to cover the deductible."
"Ten thousand?" I inhaled sharply. Holy shit! Even with the cuts Jax agreed to, we didn’t have an extra ten thousand dollars just lying around. "Wait a second, all the proper permits have been acquired. Plus, according to the pricing table I was reviewing earlier, none of the permits are priced at anything more than a few hundred dollars."
The Fire Marshal flipped through a stack of papers on a clipboard. "This isn’t about permits. It’s about insurance for the ‘Monster Inferno Fountain.’ That’s still classified as an experimental pyro device and it requires a special ballistics policy."
I eyed him skeptically. We didn’t have to deal with a Fire Marshal in Chicago, and this guy was pitching some expensive stuff. I wasn’t sure exactly which one was the "Monster Inferno Fountain," but I was sure that the band wasn’t introducing any new devices for this show.
I raised an eyebrow and said, "We have an insurance policy and we just used this in Chicago the other day."
"Unfortunately, a similar device caused a tragic high-profile incident here in Denver recently," he said somberly. "In response, the city council passed a strict fire safety ordinance to ensure that bands have the proper amount of fire insurance liability to cover pyro displays of that magnitude. And your policy doesn’t quite cover the full liability for that particular pyro."