"There's still plenty of time left," I offered. "I'm sure Jax will come walking in any second now . . . " Laughing nervously, I pointed to the doorway, naively hoping he'd magically walk through.
Tapping my foot, too much on edge to stay still, I started pacing back and forth in the green room, anxiously checking my cellphone every minute. I started getting a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, and every minute that brought us closer to cancellation made the queasiness grow stronger. How could Jax do this on such an important day?
A terrible thought snuck into my mind. What if Jax was doing this to hurt me? Was he trying to prove that he was still a loner who wouldn’t be tied down by our relationship? I shook my head. Given how much Jax seemed to care about me, the idea seemed too far-fetched.
I watched as Kev strummed his guitar so roughly that I thought he was going to snap the strings. Sky stared ahead frowning as she ran through chords on an acoustic bass while Chewie puffed on a joint, filling up the room with a cloud of smoke.
Half an hour passed and the pay bump for the film crew went into effect. It was going to be a hassle making room for that in the budget. And that hassle would become a headache if they canceled this show.
A knock on the door startled us. We all exchanged expectant glances and I headed to open the door. I didn't think Jax would bother knocking, but there was always a chance . . .
I opened the door to a middle-aged woman standing there with red wavy curls tangled in a headset microphone. "Last call for showtime."
It was the concert producer, Ms. Deetz. I recognized her nasally voice from having a pleasant phone conversation with her regarding the show’s ticket pricing.
"Since we’re an outdoor venue," she continued, "we have a city-mandated Midnight Power Down Policy, which is stipulated in the contract. Once the clock strikes twelve, it’s lights out. So it’s now or never folks. What's it gonna be?"
Unsure how to respond to her, I spun around and saw the band huddled together in the center of the room. Their disillusioned faces spoke volumes.
Kev threw his hands in the air. "Fuck it. Let's do it without him. I'll sing the songs."
Sky crossed her arms and gave Kev an unimpressed look. "You know that's impossible."
"She’s right," Chewie said, scratching the back of his neck. "You rock, Kev, but f**k, we need Jax here."
"Fuck this noise." Kev kicked the couch. "I can't believe we have to do this."
Sky exhaled loudly. "Looks like we're going to have to cancel. I'll give the bad news to the fans. Hope I don't start a riot."
She trudged out of the green room and we all followed. It was one thing to cancel a show in Anytown, USA—but canceling one in L.A. would be a disaster. Every trendsetting gossip blog, radio show, and podcast in the city would blast the band back into obscurity. It seemed like in one fell swoop, Jax’s absence was going to destroy all the Hitchcocks’ hard-earned hype.
As we dragged our feet to the stage, the crowd's chants and cheers echoed through the darkened wings of the sidestage. No one said a word and I felt absolutely terrible about everything.
A shadow shifted from a recess and for a split second, I thought I saw a ghost. I looked again but didn’t see anything.
But then, from the dark corner, a voice growled, "Everybody ready to rock The Roman?"
Jax suddenly stepped into the light and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief at the sight of him. Dressed in leather pants and a tight black t-shirt with his dark eyes glittering in the backstage lighting, he looked ready to jump on stage.
"Jax!" I cried.
He acknowledged me with a brief smile. I wanted to smile back, but his sudden calm and collected appearance, combined with his day-long lack of communication and last minute arrival, left me too pissed off to manage a smile.
"There you are!" Sky shouted, with her hand over her heart. The relief on her face quickly faded into anger and she punched Jax in the shoulder. "You pompous ass**le. I was just about to cancel the show!"
"Dude, finally," Chewie said, slapping Jax’s back. "Thought I’d have to be a one-man band up there tonight."
"Now I'd pay to see that," Jax said. Turning to Kev, he held out a small package wrapped in brown paper. "Hey, Kev, I just wanted to apologize for yesterday. There was . . . there was a problem, but it's gone now. I cleared my head and it’s over. We cool?"
Kev eyed the package skeptically. "There was an even bigger problem today."
"I'm here now and everything's good to go," Jax said, shaking the package for Kev.
A smirk crossed Kev’s lip and he accepted the package. As he slowly unwrapped it, he revealed some sort of electronic device. I had no idea what it was, but Kev’s face lit up. "Holy shit, an original Craftmaster Treble Booster? It’s impossible to get one of these nowadays. My guitar’s gonna sound so sweet now. Thanks, man."
"It was no problem," Jax replied, shrugging it off.
Kev stuck out his hand and said, "Okay, now we’re cool."
Both smiling, the two of them shook hands.
The band started heading toward the stage and despite my relief that Jax was back and had made up with Kev, I couldn't help but stew in anger. His disappearance was the sort of untrustworthiness I came to expect from guys like Connor. I’d thought Jax was above and beyond that sort of behavior, but I guess I was wrong. And if running away and not discussing our problems was the only way Jax knew how to deal with things, I didn’t know how long we’d be able to keep this up. I needed to talk to him before the show.
I grabbed his arm and held him back. "Jax, where’ve you been?"
He ran his fingers through his black hair and shrugged."I had to make amends with Kev."
I waited for him to say more, but when he didn’t, all my pent up frustration came bursting out. "I know sometimes you need your space but why didn’t you call or text me? I’ve been worried about you all day. You could’ve at least let me know where you were."
Jax grabbed my shoulders and kissed me on the forehead like nothing was wrong. "I'm here now, aren't I?"
"That's not the point! We need to talk about this, maybe not right at this moment, but you can't just pretend like nothing is wrong when you disappear for an entire day and almost blow off your own concert."
"Don't worry about it, Pepper," he said, giving me a small smile and a wink. Then he turned and strutted out onto stage as the crowd erupted into cheers, leaving me standing there by myself.