“Owe you one,” he tells Shawn.
“You’re up to like five now,” Shawn corrects, and Van laughs as he pulls away and hugs the rest of the guys too. When he gets to me, instead of a hug, he takes both of my hands and stretches them away from my sides so he can get a good look at me.
“Damn. You’re the new guitarist?”
If any other guy was inspecting me like he is—like I’m a juicy piece of Grade A meat—I’d yank my hands away and probably knee him where it counts. But because he’s Van Erickson, because he’s one of my idols, I just stand there with my tongue tied in my sandpaper mouth. “Kit,” I finally rasp in a single quick syllable.
Van smirks and lets my hands fall back to my sides. His arm wraps around my shoulder, and he turns to face the guys.
Shawn is watching me closely, and I suddenly realize that I’m standing there with Van’s arm around me, like I’m his property, like I’m a fucking groupie. My cheeks redden, and Van’s implication is barely veiled when he glances at me one last time before saying to the guys, “You’re sticking around after the show tonight, right?”
He’s asking if I’m sticking around after the show—me, the girl with her bra mostly showing; me, the girl who just let him inspect her like a cut of prime rib; me, the sure thing.
In a moment of absolute insanity, I lift my hand to my mouth . . .
I suck on the tip of my finger . . .
I shove it right in Van Erickson’s ear.
In an instant, his arm is flying from my shoulder and he’s jumping out of reach, hollering at the top of his lungs, “What the fuck!”
A heartbeat of silence, and then every single one of my bandmates is laughing his ass off—loud, probably loud enough for the kids to hear outside—while I just stand there with an oh-my-fucking-God look on my face.
Did I seriously just give VAN ERICKSON a wet willy?
Oh my God. Yes. I just gave Van Erickson a wet-freaking-willy.
“Why’d you do that!” he shouts at me.
With my eyes still wide, I simply say, “It seemed like the thing to do . . . ”
“It seemed, it seemed—” Van is stuttering his ass off, which only makes the guys laugh even harder. Mike grips his side as his laughter echoes off the walls of the venue. Shawn and Adam are cracking up so hard they’re crying. Van stops stuttering to gape at me and say, “You’re fucking crazy!”
Mike howls, and I just nod. “A little . . . But I play good guitar.”
“You—” Van cuts himself off as his brows pinch together. He studies me for a long, long moment, before his expression softens and he shakes his head. “You play good guitar,” he repeats, like it’s the craziest thing he’s ever heard, and then he laughs a little. When his face cracks into a smile, I manage a cautious one back. “Okay, Kit. You play good guitar? Let’s hear you play guitar.”
DOING A SOUNDCHECK with Van Erickson and his band watching is even more nerve-racking than playing a full set for a sold-out venue, but I’m the only one who seems to think so. It isn’t until Adam starts belting out lyrics to Donna Lewis’s “I Love You Always Forever” that I have no choice but to loosen up. I can’t help laughing along with everyone else, and when Joel accidentally snorts, I have to let my guitar hang loose from my neck because I’m laughing too hard to support it.
With a crowd this big, here to see a band as popular as Cutting the Line, the opening act can go one way or another. The audience can like our sound and we can gain new fans, or they can get impatient and float in the pit like dead fish in the sea.
The first song, we get mostly dead fish. A few kids know us and sing along, but most are just biding time until Van takes the stage. Then comes some banter, during which Adam introduces our band, gives our names, tells where we’re from. He explains what happened to the scheduled opening act, and then he and Shawn joke back and forth about rushing four hours to get here to give the kids a show. They tell the entire crowd about my wet willy incident, teasing me about it until the crowd is cheering loudly and my cheeks are burning red.
By our third song, we’ve completely won them over. Everyone is jumping in place, hands in the air, screaming their heads off at the end of each song—and even though most of them don’t know the lyrics to our stuff at first, by the third time Adam sings the chorus, new fans are singing along with him.
Song after song, we convert them, and at the end of our set, Adam makes them go crazy. “ARE YOU READY FOR CUTTING THE LINE?”
The crowd cheers for the headlining band and for the kick-ass performance we put on, and I practically bounce off the stage, high off the show and for a chance to see Cutting the Line—from right backstage. A year ago, I would’ve killed for this, and now, this is my life.
Van’s band is heavier than ours, with his backup singer growling hardcore lyrics into the microphone and Van’s voice assaulting all sides of the room. The girls in the front row are showing even more skin than Adam’s groupies do, considering they all have breast implants that are about five sizes too big. I wonder if that will be us someday, staring down at G-cup tits and playing to a room this big.
When Shawn’s hand discreetly sneaks into my back pocket and gives my ass a squeeze, I don’t risk acknowledging him. The guys and I are all standing in a line just offstage, and he’s using the leverage of my pocket to coax me closer to his side. I pin my bottom lip between my teeth as he teases me, and then, when I can’t take any more tempting or I’m seriously going to mount him where he stands, I slip my hand in the back of his T-shirt and rake my fingernails down his lower back.