Finally, the lights went dim. The crowd erupted as The Hitchcocks filtered onto the stage, Jax last of all. As soon as the crowd caught sight of him, they somehow screamed even louder. Jax was right. These people would have been very disappointed if he had cancelled. I just had to hope he would make it through the performance in one piece.
He stalked forward to the edge of the stage, took the microphone off its stand, and froze, standing there in leather pants and a black t-shirt that stretched around his shoulders and chest like a statue of rock god perfection. The stage lights came on. Chewie hit his sticks together with four rhythmic clacks, Jax sprang into motion, and the band began to play.
Like a taut bow finally released, the show was on, and the crowd was in a frenzy as they sang along with their hero. Several women toward the front, dressed in matching Hitchcocks t-shirts, screamed in unison before flashing the stage. Kev gave a sly grin to Chewie, who nodded back. Sky rolled her eyes, but Jax seemed not to notice.
Even through my exhaustion, I could see that for this set, he was in it. There was nothing else. It was obvious why he needed this. Between the music and the energy of the crowd, there was no time to think or worry. About his dad. About his demons. About anything.
As the band settled into the show, I watched as Jax moved around the stage as energetically as ever, seeming totally unaffected by his injuries. He was in full Jax Effect mode, and every woman in the building—myself included—was falling under his spell. With every song, my worries about the safety of Jax performing drained away more and more.
This was his element—and as I watched, I gave myself over to the energy of the band, unable to tear my eyes away from Jax. Somehow, the past twenty-four hours had changed something between us. Before, I had been trying to see past his stage persona to find the real him. But after sharing with me his true, traumatic past, I knew what fueled his passion for music, and what I was seeing on stage wasn't just an act for the crowd. It was about as close as Jax ever got to showing his true self to the world.
At least, as close as he got with anyone but me. We had something different.
The energy in The Roman continued to build as the band cruised through the first half of their set before coming to the set's first ballad. Sweating profusely from the performance, Jax took a drink of water and pulled out a stool to sit on as he typically did for this part of the show. While I couldn't see his face from my vantage, I could see the suddenly serious expressions on the faces of his fans, and it felt like everyone's mood had shifted. Now that they had rocked, it was time to get raw.
Jax looked around at the audience as he took a seat on the stool, microphone in hand. He seemed to be even more emotionally invested in this song than normal. The way he slouched down after he sat, collecting himself, sent a stab of worry through me. Were his injuries beginning to affect him?
But then the band began to play and he sprang back into life, crooning through the first verse of the song. He came to the chorus.
And when you pick at scabs before
they've healed you open up the door
to feel like bleeding might be best today.
You bare your secrets . . .
I had heard him sing this song many times, but this was the first time I had heard it and knew the secrets he was hiding, the scabs he was hoping would heal. Before last night, he had only ever opened up the door to those secrets to write them into his songs, but he wasn't alone anymore. He had me, and I was going to help him heal once and for all no matter what it took.
The intensity of my feelings as I watched him, glistening under the stage lights in front of adoring fans, scared the hell out of me. We had only known each other a few weeks, and yet the connection I felt with him was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
Was I losing my mind? Last night I had thrown a molotov cocktail and burned up a bunch of bikes belonging to a motorcycle gang. People were supposed to settle down as they aged, but with him I was feeling more out of control than I had ever been.
Still, I was crazy about him, and I couldn't shake that feeling. Even if life felt like it was spinning out of control, Jax made me feel more alive than I ever had before.
I shifted back and forth on my feet to the beat of the song as it built towards its climax. Even if the way I felt about Jax scared me, being with him was something I wanted. I knew he had demons he hadn't faced, and I knew it would be hard, but that didn't matter to me.
What mattered was the man who had trusted me enough to bring me to the heart of his trauma. After that, I knew he believed in me. And I believed in him.
Jax hopped up off the stool and wobbled as he went down to his knees for the end of the third verse. I hadn't seen him do this before, and even caught Sky send a questioning look over his way. She quickly wiped it from her face and returned her focus to the show. Jax kept singing, seemingly without problem, the volume of his voice rising as the music got louder for the last chorus.
He put his soul into it, clenching his free hand into a fist as he bent over, sat on his heels, and spat out the words inches from the fans in the front row. They ate it up and sang along with him, tears in their eyes and rolling down their cheeks. I blinked and realized I was crying along with them, the performance tugging at my frayed emotions. His music was so beautiful.
He reached the last line of the song. The lights went dark and the pyro kicked in, silhouetting Jax in an orange glow. Still on his knees, head back, he screamed the last note, his voice going through several levels of hell as he twisted and squeezed every ounce of pain he could from the song. Finally, his voice gave out, the music stopped, the final pyro flared, and he fell from his knees onto his back.
My heart stopped. Time stopped. Something was wrong.
The crowd cheered in the background like static from a radio station out of range. I waited for Jax to get up. A spotlight shone down on him as the last chord from Kev's guitar finally gave way to silence.
Jax's head lolled over to the side so that I could see his face. His eyes were closed, the lids almost snow white, a single strand of dark hair falling across them. His lips were faintly pink, almost blending in with the rest of his skin.
Now that I had a good look at him, I saw that his entire body was deathly pale. This was bad. Jax was not okay.
My stomach clenched in agony. A feeling of disoriented shock coursed through my body.
"Jax!" I screamed desperately.
I continued screaming his name at the top of my lungs and took a couple steps onto the stage before being hit in the shoulder and falling to the ground. I looked up and saw two medics rushing past me with a stretcher. My chest constricted painfully, like I was trying to breathe underwater.