The Sequels to Syrrah's Game SGSequels

chapter 28

Saturday, August 26th, 8:10 PM

Southaven, MS

 

At last. Southaven. Right near the border of Mississippi and Tennessee. Memphis, Tennessee, to be precise.

Once parked, Carter allowed everyone on their bus to get an hour break time. The team leaders on the other buses did the same.

Evan stepped out of the bus. Many of the guys, Greg included, were already making plans for Uber or Lyft rides into downtown Memphis, since it was only about twenty minutes away from where they were parked here at Landers Center. 

But things weren’t adding up right. Dana wasn’t supposed to perform at Landers Center until August 29th, a typical evening concert. She would perform only one show and then they would be heading out. Carter said they were going to stay in the bus tonight. But then tomorrow night, the 27th, and the 28th, they would be staying in motels. And, not only that, but most of the security team would have those days off, except for the time spent scoping out the venue. The setup crew would still be working most of the time on those days like usual.

So why would they be stopping here now instead of just heading straight to a motel already? Maybe Dana had some special accommodations or set construction work she needed to get planned now, days ahead of her concert.

It was already rather dark outside though the lights from Landers Center brightened things locally. Semis were still pulling in with Dana’s stage material, filling the dimly lit air with noise and exhaust. Didn’t help the air was still quite hot and humid.

Commotion erupted near the Landers Center building itself, people moving, laughing, yelling. Evan stared in that direction between some of the other guys standing nearby. Of course. Like usual, paps and fans, maybe about twenty to thirty of them were attempting to get past venue security. And then sure enough he could see Carter, Hal, and Brent walking Dana over to meet with those people.

Geesh. Why even be out here? Memphis didn’t offer him anything. And it appeared Dana was well protected with her top three security men.

But that Big Baby Taylor Acoustic-Electric guitar Carter had left on the bus for anyone interested would be perfect right about now.

He stepped back inside the bus. Ahh. Nice, cool AC air yet present. And no one else was on the bus. He walked over, lifted the Taylor off the sofa and eased himself down on the sofa seat, relaxing his body into the sofa’s cushy pillows.

After getting comfortable with the Taylor, he plucked some of the tunes he, Freddy, Oz and Randal were working on together. He next did a few scales. He strummed a few chord sets making sure to slide his fingers up and down the neck of the guitar. Yes. Of course. Some of his fingertip’s protective calluses were losing their padding, as expected. Been about two weeks since he last played. Yet he was still able to play quite exceptionally, like always.

The bus’s door suddenly got yanked open. Evan jolted slightly and stopped playing.

Greg stepped inside, with the other security guys following behind him.

He walked over to Evan and stood before him. “Well, I’ll be. Boss lady is rounding us all up for a talk.”

“What? Why?”

Greg smiled. “You’ll see.” He sat down next to Evans’s right side.

Evan placed the guitar down to the left of his knees.

Once all the guys were sandwiched inside the small living room area, their yet adjusting steps and motion shaking and swerving the bus in an eerie manner, Dana stepped in too, with Carter not too far behind her.

“Okay, go on, take a seat,” she told all the guys. “Don’t have all night here.”

Sure. Pack all the guys in here at one time. Evan quickly summed them up. Brent and Hal were not here. But Jackson was, that 40-something, white, balding man hovering around six foot five and loaded up with tattoos. And Vic. Thirty-something. A dark-skinned, broad-shouldered Hispanic guy. Probably stood around five foot eleven and sported dark curly hair. Lastly, Enzo. Light-skinned Hispanic guy, around six foot one, but thinner than the rest of them though muscled bound and another one loaded with tattoos, even on his neck. Twenty-six years old, a year older than Greg.

Of course. Now all that attention on social media made sense. He could see he was the best-looking guy of all of them. Yet did looks really matter all that much?

Carter leaned against the wall near the bus’s door.

But wow. Dana. She was looking gorgeous. She was wearing cut-off jean shorts and a tight, low cut black T-shirt. Her breasts were practically popping out of her shirt.

Dana crossed her arms under those fine breasts and glared at all of them for a short time. “Since all of you have been doing the absolute worst, terrible job protecting me, I wanted to have a talk with y’all. Notice my southern drawl…y’all.” Her face was stern even though she was attempting to be funny. “Terrible job. Couldn’t ask for worse security.” She glanced around at everyone again. “Yeah. You guys should be looking that glum.” Some of the guys were mumbling apologies or expressing their confusion. And then she threw her arms up and laughed. “Ha-ha! I had you all.” She pointed at some of them. “Kidding! Wow!” She smiled. “My apology guys.” Carter was smiling now too. “No. Seriously. You guys have been doing a rocket good job! And so have my other team members. So, tonight, we all, and I mean all of us, are having one hell of a crazy-ass party! We all deserve it, and damnit, I mean that!”

“All right!” Greg yelled out.

“Oh yeah, that’s the spirit, Greg!” she yelled too. “Okay. So. Everyone. Get in your party gear and party mood and get over to room one-seventeen. You hear me? Room one hundred seventeen. Inside Lander’s Center convention area. We have a suite of rooms and our own restrooms. A karaoke stage too! Plenty of food and drinks. And I mean those kind of drinks, with the, uh-hem, alcohol in them.” 

A bunch of the guys hooted out on that, Greg included.

“What about security in there?” Jackson asked Dana. “Already a pile of fans and paps inundating us.”

“Oh, yes. Glad you asked. Landers Center security will be handling this. I mean shit! You guys need a break from constantly watching over me. Let them handle it tonight!”

“Awesome,” Jackson said. “Sounds fine with me.”

“Besides. I already did a bunch of selfies and had photos taken. Know what I mean? All right! So. I’ll see you guys over there. Very soon!”

Dana left the bus. Carter followed after her.

Alcohol drinks? Well, I guess that excludes me then.

Jackson, Vic, and Enzo promptly exited the bus.

“Come on, dude,” Greg said, standing up.

But Evan stayed seated and only looked up at him. “I’m not coming.”

“Bro, why?”

“For one thing, I’m not twenty-one. And for another, I’d rather stay here and play this guitar.”

“Bruh. No one says you have to drink and I’m sure Carter would prevent it anyway. But seriously, you would rather stay here and play that guitar?”

“Yes, really.”

“You sure?”

Evan smiled at him. “Yeah. I’m sure. You go have fun.”

“Ahh, all right then, dude.” Greg began walking away. He stopped at the door and looked back. “Maybe I’ll text you later. Sort of bummed you’re not coming.”

“Okay. Maybe I’ll come by later.” 

“All right, bro.” Greg stepped out of the bus.

Evan was alone again.

He picked up the Taylor. He caressed it a moment, holding it close to his chest. Confusing thoughts flooded his mind. How did I get here? What have I done to myself? Unnerving. Maybe he should just go to the party. Besides, could be a good time to check out Dana’s behavior.

But the drinking bull-crap and its consequences. Ugh. He needed to think a moment.

Waiting for his thoughts to materialize into some type of agreement he began strumming that difficult technique song Recuerdos de la Alhambra to give his fingers a good workout.

The bus’s door flung open again. He stopped playing. Dana stepped inside. And Carter was not far behind her, like earlier.

What the heck. Not again.

She walked right over, arms crossed, and stood before him. “I said everyone.”

He looked up at her. “I’m not twenty-one.” He tried not to even glance at her revealing cleavage. “I can’t drink.”

“I know that. You’re eighteen. I’m not stupid. There’s plenty of other drinks, and food. This is not an excuse. Although I have to say, even if you were of age, you look like you’d be a complete teetotaler.”

“Well, and you’re probably right.” 

“That’s admirable of you,” Carter said, and he gave Evan a nod.

Evan smiled at him. “Thanks, Carter. Appreciate it.”

“What are you doing?” Dana asked, turning to Carter. “I’m trying to make a point here.”

“Sure. Go ahead. Continue badgering one of my top security men.”

She faced Evan. She uncrossed her arms. “Okay. Enough of this. Of course you don’t have to get drunk, idiot. Probably best, because believe me, I am.”

“Yeah, you should come to the party,” Carter told Evan. “Just don’t drink any alcoholic beverages.”  

He gazed up into Dana’s dark brown eyes. “Okay. I’ll make sure you are safe.”

She glared at him. “I don’t need you watching over me. Just wanted everyone there.” She looked at the guitar. “Didn’t know you were musical.”

“I am, actually. Surprise.”

“Okay, surprising teetotaler. I expect you there in no more than ten minutes.” She turned and headed for the door. Carter rushed forward and opened the door for her. She looked back at Evan. “And no changing your clothes. Come as you are. It’s most certainly not formal. Oh. And bring that Taylor. I want to hear what you got.”

She and Carter stepped out of the bus, their steps on the bus’s ladder shaking through the floor and sofa.

Evan continued to feel the vibration through his body. Yet then he could hear their voices fading as they walked away from the bus. But the vibration continued. No. Wait. It was his own body. I’m shaking?  And his heart was pounding. She actually came back for me, because I didn’t show up?  No. Stop. Keep focused! The goal is to confirm Syrrah is within Dana, not to get swept up in some lustful, proud thinking because she displayed some interest.

He took in a few deep, cleansing breaths. His racing heart and trembling body finally near back to normal, he picked up the guitar, his phone and headed out the door.

After he had walked a good twenty yards from the bus, Carter greeted him. Carter talked a lot, his conversation a helpful, needed distraction, his words centering on how venue security had moved fans and paps away from their private party entrance. Evan looked up and around. Landers Center was a stunning venue, surrounded by spacious lawns, numerous trees, and nearby upscale, suburban homes, visible even in the partial darkness. But Carter also explained Landers Center was a sprawling maze of hallways and doorways and would need a good scrutinizing before they could successfully secure it.

Up ahead, across the parking lot roadways and wide sidewalks were two entrances. Carter kept them heading toward the one on the right.

They entered through tall, majestic glass doors. Seven big, husky-looking security guards were monitoring the entrance. One of the guys stamped the back of Evan’s left hand and mentioned if he was heading outside for any reason, show the stamp. Beyond the security guys, two long, high-ceiling hallways laid out before them, at ninety-degree angles to each other. But their target doorway, 117, in black numbers on a silver plaque background, wasn’t too far down the hallway straight ahead of them.

After chatting briefly with one of the security guards, Carter led them to room 117. Another security guy stood next to this door. For a flashing second, the whole scene brought memories of the DFR guards in Tauring’s underground base. Evan shrugged it off and followed Carter into the party room. 

They walked down a short hall and arrived in a larger room. Instantly it felt like entering a nightclub. Dark walls and ceiling colors. Subdued lighting and the presence of some black lights. And this was a convention center room normally? Sure got fixed up elaborately.

Carter headed to the right, down another hallway and continued walking away, without saying a word to Evan. 

Fine. Be like that. Maybe he needed to use the bathroom or something.

Evan stood in place a moment, keeping the guitar down low against his legs so no one accidentally bumped into it. He looked around. More dark colors and subdued lighting. In the room where he stood, he noticed sofa seats to the left with elegant coffee tables nearby. To his right was a long bar. Further ahead were more comfy sofa seats, with some of Dana’s crew members crowded around them. And beyond that area, through a wide doorway there appeared to be a dance floor. Lights flashing. Music playing. People twirling around or hopping. Sounded like they had an EDM DJ working things.

From what he could tell the entire nearby area was about the size of your typical large nightclub. But then that room with the dancing and EDM looked much larger, like the size of a smaller school gym.

Great. I’m just standing here like a statue. He walked over to the end corner of the bar, away from bar stools, away from anyone. He carefully leaned the guitar against the bar’s wooden side.

He rested against the bar’s counter and glanced around some more. Definitely wasn’t just a security team party. He noticed people from all aspects of Dana’s tour crew. Lighting, sound, and front house techs. Construction techs. Musical instrument setup crew. The truck and bus drivers. Even some of those production, stage, and merchandise managers he spoke with briefly before. He had roughly counted all of Dana’s tour team once recently and figured seventy to a hundred people total. Wow.

Yet Dana was nowhere nearby. So much for her interest in him.

A group of women walked into his view. He recognized most of them. Dana’s backup singers. And some dancers. Many of them gazed at him, but then abruptly turned away. That was definitely a bit unusual. Had Dana instructed them to do that?

But then one of the women did lock eyes with him. A smile beamed across her face and she started walking toward him.

The ten yards or so distance between her and his location lessening with every step she took, Evan quickly summed her up. Petite. Slim. Light-skinned. She had flat-soled sandals on her feet. About five foot four? Probably a little taller than his dear Syrrah. Shoulder-length wavy, brunette hair. She was wearing a sleeveless, short-length white dress, quite body-hugging on her tight little frame. He recalled seeing her before. She was one of Dana’s backup singers. And she was prettier than Dana, with small, feminine features.

But no way was she prettier than Syrrah.

She arrived near him. She held a glass filled with wine-colored liquid and ice cubes.

“You’re obviously twenty-one or over,” he told her.

She put out her free hand. “Hey, there. I’m Chella. I sing with Dana.”

Evan took hold of her small hand, gently giving her a proper handshake. “My apologies. Sorry for my rude introduction. I’m Evan, with security.”

“And correct,” she said, grasping her glass drink with both hands once done with the handshake. “I’m just twenty-one. But I heard you are quite young. Only eighteen?”

“Word travels fast around these parts I guess. Yes. Only eighteen.”

She laughed a moment. “Oh. You have no idea.”

He smiled at her. “But I can imagine.”

“Carter’s obviously not letting you get wasted, I see.” She gazed down at the Taylor. “I saw you come in, holding a guitar.” She looked up into his eyes. “Do you play? And sing too?”

“Yes, I do. I was actually part of a band, before getting this job.”

“Oh really?  Why did you quit the band?”

“Oh, umm, I didn’t quit. Just taking some time off. I want to save up some money.”

“I see. For college?”

“No, for another reason.”

“Oh. Well. Are you planning on going to college later on?”

“Yes, eventually.”

“For music?”

“Maybe.” Which was sort of true. He could change his mind. “Not exactly sure yet, but tech stuff most likely.” The less she knew the better.

Greg suddenly approached, also with a drink in hand, and wrapped his arm around Evan. “Hey. My main man Evan.” He looked at Chella. “We need to hear this guy sing. I’ve heard him play the guitar, and he’s awesome, but let’s take it to the next level!”

Evan gave him a disgruntled face. “What? No.”

“Bruh!” Greg shoved him slightly. “Come on, man. Brent is in the karaoke room busting everyone’s eardrums to shreds. Bro. You got to help him out.”

Chella and Evan both laughed at the same time. “Why?” Evan asked. “What’s he singing?”

Before Evan knew it, Greg and Chella were basically dragging him, guitar in tow, past the group of Dana’s singers and dancers and then down a hallway on the left side of this main room. Same sort of dark colored decoration and dim lighting in the hallway. At the end of the relatively short hallway, also on the left, was the entrance to the karaoke room.

Across from the entrance was a triangular-shaped stage floor. Brent was just stepping down, a few people clapping for him at small tables or randomly placed love seats or sofa chairs spread out across the room. On the far wall, visible from the stage was a large monitor with YouTube displayed. Oh yeah. Evan understood quickly. Dana’s team must have set up YouTube karaoke and covers, something he, Freddy, Oz, and Randal were plenty familiar with.

“Dude,” Greg said, bringing Evan to the stage. “Make us proud, bro. You can do this.”

Evan glanced over the stage. Well, this stage came equipped. Guitar amps. A few standing mics. Some speakers. A tablet obviously connected to the YouTube screen. Even an electric guitar ready to go. Awesome. And he already had a song planned. He looked at Greg. “You sure? Are you really sure you want me getting up on this stage?”

“What do you mean?”

“Yeah,” Chella said, “what’s wrong?”

“Because I play rock. And metal. And I play loud and I play hard.”

“Yo, man, do it!” Greg said. “Make us proud!”

“Yeah, Evan,” Chella said. “Plenty of musicians here who would love to hear you!”

“All right. You two go take a seat. I got it from here.”

With them leaving, walking over to the nearest table, Evan stepped up on the stage. He didn’t want this taking long. He leaned the Taylor against the wall bordering the stage. He quickly analyzed the equipment. Nice. A Fender Mustang GT200. He promptly though carefully connected the electric guitar to the Fender and then set the preset to metal and adjusted a few other dials. Should be good enough. He adjusted the mic to be near his voice. He adjusted the volume for the speakers. He took the tablet off a nearby metal stand and did a search on YouTube for Black by Sevendust. He found a simple lyrics version. Good enough. Lastly, he placed the guitar’s strap over his shoulder and strummed it lightly, to hear the sound quality and volume. Good. Just right.

“Yo, dude,” Greg called out. “That ain’t sounding hard at all.”

Evan smirked at him. He had no idea. “Wait,” he spoke to Greg, away from the mic, yet then placed himself before the mic again. “Hey, everyone.” He looked out across the room. “This is a song me and a few guys from my hometown cover now and then. Black by Sevendust.” He reached for the tablet and pressed the start arrow on the video, finding the video louder than he wanted so he quickly lowered the volume some. They needed to hear him and his guitar.

He readied the guitar and as soon as he could, he took over.

He had played the main guitar background to this plenty of times. He knew the words by heart although seeing them on screen helped.

He let it rip. His voice and guitar cover filled the small room beyond what it should. This was his world now. This was his stand, his stage. And they were damn well going to hear what he had inside him.

With his playing continuing he made sure to watch Greg and Chella’s reactions. Their jaws dropped. Their eyes widened. Ha, as expected. And as he had seen many times before when he and the guys played at their own venues was more and more people entering the room, filling the seats, coming up near the stage, getting into the song’s thunder and rips. And many of them too had surprised eyes, shocked expressions. Before long Greg and Chella had to get up from their seats and step closer to the stage so they could see and join in.

He kept scanning over the audience, whenever he could, especially focusing near the entrance.

Dana. Was she here? Carter had come in. And Hal. And some of the other security guys. Brent was still here.

But, no. He couldn’t see Dana anywhere.

When the massive thundering event finally ended, the entire room roared with clapping, cheers, hollers, and praise.

After the roaring noise from the crowd diminished somewhat Greg stepped up on the stage. “Bro! That was excellent!” He lifted his palm up and Evan slapped him a high-five.

“Encore!” Chella yelled, clapping and smiling. She stepped up on the stage too. “Encore! Play us another one, Evan!”

Many in the room called out similar words.

Greg, smiling broadly, stepped closer. “Dude. You got to. You got to play another one.”

Evan scanned out a moment across the room. Yet he still didn’t see Dana. What the heck.

Then a brilliant, devious idea entered his mind.

He looked at Greg, and Chella. “All right. I’ll do another.”

Greg faced the audience and raised his fist. “Yo, everyone! He’s doing another!”

Many of the people hollered “All right!” or were calling out suggestions they wanted to hear.

But he already had a song chosen. As Greg and Chella stepped off the stage, he let the guitar hang on his shoulder and he picked up the tablet. He entered the song’s title and an audio version appeared in the search list. That was fine. He knew the words well to this song too.

He turned to the Fender again. This time he chose a rock preset. He adjusted the other dials for less bass and a better sound mix for the song. He approached the mic. “All right, everyone. This song is a little less traumatic. And a little older than Black. I Need To Know by the late, great Tom Petty, and The Heartbreakers.” He clicked on the video’s play arrow and the song began. He adjusted the volume like for Black so that it was only soft background music.

He knew this wasn’t going to be as impressive to everyone as Black had been, but he had to do this. He just had to try.

He made sure to belt it out like Tom Petty had done, with meaning, and with emphasis on needing to know. Because he had to know, soon.

His audience, Greg and Chella included, stepped closer to the stage, moved with the song’s rhythm, and even sang along with him. But his gaze mainly hovered at the room’s entrance.

After about midway through the song, a slim figure appeared in the doorway. He adjusted his eyes. At first the view was like a dream. Then he knew it was true. Dana had at last walked in.

She was still wearing that hot little outfit. She crossed her arms under her breasts and leaned back against the wall. She didn’t show much expression, at least from his farther observation point. People in the room pointed at Evan and called out to her about this, though he couldn’t hear their words. Yet she mostly ignored them and instead locked her eyes on him.

He made sure to let out a good howl, when that part in the song arrived, his stage presence fully uninhibited, like always. 

She slowly walked toward him, drawing closer to the stage. He could see her better now. Part of her expression showed surprise and approval, while another gave off anger, envy or even distrust, though he was not certain.

But didn’t matter. He was going to complete this song, no matter what. He was not a quitter.

Dana now stood near Greg and Chella. They spoke to her and she spoke back to them.

When he was finally drawing to the end of the song, he made sure the last guitar plays came off loud and with gusto.

Like before, the people in the room let out an uproar of clapping, cheers, and requests for more.

“Dude!” Greg yelled. “Crank out another one for us!”

“No. Wait,” Dana said to Greg. “I want to talk to him.”

Her conversation with Greg seemed to quiet the intensity in the room, prompting people to clear away from her presence. She stepped up on the stage. At the same time, Greg and Chella walked over to the table they sat at earlier.

She moved closer to him. “Wow. Evan.” She placed her hands on her hips and locked her eyes with his gaze. “I see you can play that thing. And Chella mentioned you are in a band?”

“Yes. I am. But I needed the extra money. The opportunity arose, so I decided to take it.”

Like when they first met, her eyes glanced around him, taking a trail from his head on down to his feet and back up again, into his gaze, suspicion in her expression. “We don’t need anyone. I have all the singers and band players I need.”

“Didn’t you just hear what I said? I need the money, and I’ve been hired in security, not the band.”

“Mmm hmm. What does your band think?”

“They’re still performing, though not as much. I’m not the only lead vocalist in our band.”

She tilted her head from side to side, ogling at him, but then looked directly into his eyes. “But we always could use more help. Do you usually just sing rock and metal?”

“Yeah, most of the time. And rap rock, rap metal, hip hop. I can honestly sing anything. And I can like any genre of music. Depends a lot on the song and the group.”

She looked out across the room.

Surprisingly, those jitters he had earlier, when she confronted him in the bus were not reoccurring. Something felt different. Well, of course he had just absolutely killed it, with his performance, but something else was going on, a strengthening or slow building of energy within his body he had never felt before. He ignored it for now. Just bask in this moment, goofball!

She directed her eyes back on him. “Yeah. Me too. I can like any genre of music.” She didn’t speak for a moment and only stared at him. “You know, you have quite the natural stage presence. But I sense you already know this.”

He smiled at her and nodded. “Yes. So I’ve been told. All my band members have it too.”

“Probably rubbed off you onto them, I suspect.”

He laughed a little. “Yeah, maybe.”

Greg, Chella and some other people were again requesting that Evan keep playing, but once more Dana told them no, not now.

“I would like you to come spend some time with my dad and Carter,” she told Evan. 

This didn’t sound like such a good idea, but could he really refuse? “Well, sure. I can do that.”

“Come on, then.” She stepped off the stage.

He left the Taylor where it was and followed her. He could pick it up later.

Regret began roaring through his mind, walking next to her. Was it really such a fantastic idea to sing in front of everyone? This was only going to bring more attention to himself, especially with background questions. Geesh. MOTC. And any other connections. And he really didn’t want to lie.

But then again, it did bridge some sort of connection with Dana. He could only hope it was Syrrah’s love of Tom Petty.

She looked at him. “What is the name of your band?”

“Ten Dissent.”

“Ten dissent? What sort of name is that?”

“Ahh, it’s sort of a physics thing. One of our band members came up with the name and we all really liked it, and it just kind of stuck.”

“What does it mean?”

“You want the long version or the short version?”

“Short version. I don’t have time for some drawn out lecture.”

They were heading down that short hallway now. Her tone was harsh but didn’t matter. “Reality is not what it seems.”

“Interesting. And I guess it could be true.”

“Yes. I suppose so.”

“When did you start singing?”

“When I was twelve, when I started learning the guitar. But really didn’t start to take it seriously until we formed our band when I was fifteen.”

“Oh cool.”

They had come to the end of the hallway. She now headed them left, more in the direction of that EDM room but still within the great breadth and length of the main nightclub-appearing area.

He needed to ask. He looked into her eyes just as she turned to him. “When did you start performing, singing for an audience?” He made sure to speak loud enough as the EDM music, along with a new karaoke singer, someone who was not doing that great, both intruded their audible surroundings.

She stared ahead and shrugged a little. “Oh, I don’t know. All my life, I suppose. From as far back as I can recall. Singing and performing has always been a part of my life.”

“Any school performances?”

“Hey, if you don’t mind, I would rather not talk about it.”

“No, that’s fine. Not a problem at all.” Interesting, though, her reaction. His stomach was grumbling a bit. “So. What kind of food are we having? Been a while since I last ate.”

She smiled at him. “I bet. As big as you are. Must be all that weight-lifting you guys do with your workout. You run too?”

“Yeah. Whenever I can. But I mostly lift and do martial arts training. And yes, does work up the appetite.”

Dana paused in her steps. She was watching a line of people walk by through the room, heading toward the EDM entrance.

Evan fixed on them too. He didn’t recognize any of them. They were not part of the tour. They were tough-looking, mixed-race, and dressed in gangsta-style, mostly black or dark clothing. And then he knew. They had to be rappers. Actually he did recognize one as quite famous, though he couldn’t recall the name. “What’s going on? I thought this party was just for your tour people.”

“Oh it is. Sometimes, though, my dad, Lloyd, invites friends and clients to come. He’s a music producer and promoter, and not just for me.” 

“Right. I understand.”

She began moving again, heading toward the EDM room when she jerked back to a halt, and quit walking. She was blinking excessively until she only squinted or stared blankly. She bent over slightly and rubbed her arms up and down, pain showing on her face. Her stride took on a limp as she tried walking once more.

“Dana.” Without hesitating Evan positioned himself in front of her. He gently took hold of her shoulders and stopped her. “Are you all right? Can I help you?”

“I’m fine!” she yelled, thrusting her arms up and whipping his hands away. “I’m not a little girl!” Her whipping hit to his forearms actually hurt.

He could only stand there and lock his eyes on her, surprised at her reaction. 

She rolled her eyes and sighed, and then stared at him. “Look. I’m sorry.” She glanced over at the rappers and other tough guys hovering in the entrance to the EDM room. “I forgot that my dad wants me to meet with them.” She pointed across the room at several sofa seats near another hallway by the bar. “Go sit over there. I’ll be back soon.”

“All right, I will. And I’m sorry too, Dana.”

She nodded, a disgusted smirk on her face, and walked away, yet with a limp, though she was trying to hide it.

He kept her in his stare as she drew closer to the EDM entrance and those rappers.

Lord. Please. Forgive me of my sins, and please, please help Dana to be okay. Amen.

When he could barely see her anymore, mingling amongst those rappers in the EDM room, his eyes suddenly revealed many curious stares had been watching their entire little scene. Great. And it got even better. Hal was glaring hard at him from across the room and nodding ever so slightly, as if acknowledging all Evan had just experienced.

Idiot. What did he know about any of this? And Dana had asked him to walk over here. Was he supposed to have said no? No way would he have said no. So, deal with it, Hal.

Evan simply turned away and walked over to the sofas.

He sat down. No one was nearby, fortunately. All around though was the constant talking, movement of people, the EDM crap music, and some other attempts at karaoke. But it was so dimly lit right here it was in fact relaxing. And for some reason his urge to eat was dwindling.

Probably best not to eat right now anyway.

He tested himself again. Trembling, from Dana’s sudden crazy outburst? No. He wasn’t.

Instead, like earlier, he felt that strange strength or energy circulating within. Weird.

He looked at the time on his phone. 9:41 PM. Really? That late already?

“Hey, Evan! What’s up? Dana just dump you like a sack of potatoes?”

He looked up to see Greg standing near him, drink in hand, smiling. Chella was next to Greg holding the Taylor guitar.

Evan smiled at them, truly happy they were both here. “Hey, you two. And no, she didn’t dump me. She is talking to some people. She should be back soon.”

Greg laughed. “Well, I hope you’re right.”

Chella handed the Taylor to Evan. “Another song, Evan, please?”

“Sure. I guess.” He took the guitar.

Chella sat down to Evan’s left, though far enough away so the guitar neck didn’t press against her. Greg turned a nearby recliner seat around, so it faced Evan and Chella, and then sat down too.

“Not going to play too loud, though,” Evan said, positioning the Taylor comfortably. “And no singing this time.” He thought about what to play. “A recent song I composed, yet only the instrumental part.”

He played that one song, strumming it loud enough to be heard over all this mock nightclub’s background noise, yet not excessively loud to start some sort of competition with the karaoke room. Greg and Chella, leaning in closer to hear better, seemed to enjoy it. And then he played another song he composed.

But then Greg and Chella wanted to talk. A lot. And loudly, of course. The alcohol was deadening their proper social mingling skills.

Trying his best to keep the conversation off himself, he asked Greg about his girlfriend. Greg, speaking a tad too loud again, explained he met her in high school and was truly in love with her. And then it was Chella’s turn. Evan asked her about her life. Where did she grow up, how did she get involved in music? Yet it was hard to hear her answer, with the surrounding noise and her slurring speech. She also made sure to mention she didn’t have a boyfriend.

Standing up, her stance a bit unstable, Chella asked Evan if he wanted some water or soda to drink. He agreed to a root beer. She walked away to get it.

Evan didn’t hesitate. He asked Greg more questions about himself, like his past security positions, until Chella returned with the root beer, handing it to Evan.

Their conversations continued, with Evan’s main goal of keeping topics off himself. He plucked a few random tunes in between their words. He took a few chugs of the root beer now and then. All this talking was getting him thirsty. And then more conversations ensued. 

Evan paused on the guitar a moment and checked his phone. Unbelievable. It was now 10:12 PM. Where was Dana?

He was about to stand up, and go find her, when he noticed Dana walking toward them.

More like stumbling toward them. She was holding a drink and barely keeping the liquid in the glass.

She arrived near Evan. She gave him another eyeballing once over and then cracked a goofy smile. “Still playing that shit, huh?” She took a big swig of her drink and gulped it down. “Need a karaoke hit again, huh?”

Evan gave her a brief smile. “No. I was waiting here for you.”

“Well,” she said loudly, “I’m super drunk, just like I wanted.” She glanced around the room and used her free hand to fan her face a few times. “How the fuck will we survive?”

That video. With Syrrah. At the Mall of America. A shot of adrenaline surged within him.

All right. Calm down, Evan. It could just be a coincidence again.

He placed the guitar by Chella, and he slowly stood up, no need to be alarming. “Are you okay, Dana?”

“Ahh, she’s probably fine,” Chella said, yet sitting. “Right babe? You do this often. He doesn’t know that yet.”

Dana let out a loud, drunken laugh. “Yeah. Right, babe.” She locked her glazed-over stare on Chella. But then she closed her eyes. She swallowed, hard, contorting her head and neck slightly at the same time. Her face took on a sickened expression. She leaned down and handed her drink to Chella. Chella promptly took it. Dana rose back up and looked at Evan. “Actually, Mr. Security, I do need some help.” She gulped, swallowed hard again, as though holding something down, and attempted standing up straight, but was struggling. “Evan. Can you help me to the little ladies’ room?” She held both her hands out to him.

“Of course.” He immediately grasped her hands. “Where is it?” 

Greg stood up. “I’ll show you. Follow me.” He headed in the direction of that nearby hallway by the bar.

Not caring about her insistence on being a big girl now, Evan wrapped his arm around her shoulder and grasped her right hand with his free hand. She wasn’t trying to struggle away from him this time. In fact, she nestled herself against him, though maybe it was only due to the alcohol. He continued walking her in Greg’s direction, easily supporting her light weight against his body at the same time.

Greg stopped walking. He pointed further down, on the left side of the hallway. “Women’s room is the door on the left.”

“Okay, thanks Greg,” Evan told him.

Evan looked ahead. Great. Hal was standing on the other side of the hallway across from the bathroom, only about fifteen feet away. And this was getting even better; Hal appeared quite trashed himself, while talking with some of those rapper guys who also behaved utterly wasted. What a damn wrecking ball this party was becoming. But he ignored them and continued guiding Dana along.

Dana abruptly stopped walking and slipped away from him. “Oh shit!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Not gonna make it.” She smacked her left hand over her mouth and knelt to the floor. And then it happened. Her hand not holding anything back whatsoever, a gush of vomit exploded between her fingers, out of her mouth and onto the floor. Some of it splattered on Evan’s shoes and legs.

“Aww, Dana,” Evan said, “are you okay?”

She vomited again, her stance now that of a bent knee pushup, both hands on the floor. A dark-colored rug covering the hallway floor was taking the brunt of it. But who cares? He didn’t. He knelt next to her. “It’s all right, Dana,” he spoke to her while gently rubbing her back. “It’s all right, it’s all right.”

He was about to lift his head to ask someone for assistance when a hand grabbed his hair. He looked up, eager to see who would dare do this, and found drunken Hal with a disturbing, insane expression warping his face. “Hey! Get your drunk ass off me!” He punched Hal’s arm, thrusting the hand grab away from his head.

Though it was brief, Evan again felt that surge of energy power his movement.

“Evan,” Chella said, approaching from behind him, “I’ll help her.” She carefully edged in between Evan and Dana, her hands gently holding on to Dana, and she spoke soothing words to her.

Evan was going to thank Chella when he felt a hand grab on his hair again, only this time with much pain, his hair strands feeling about to be plucked from his scalp. He was readying another punch when Hal thrust his face within only inches of Evan’s face. “You don’t get it, man.” Hal’s breath stunk of rotten bologna and expired beer. “She’s a drug addict and a doorknob, and everyone’s had a turn.”

The pain. That powering energy. And Hal’s cruel, nasty words. Chella had Dana, so this was it. With lightning-fast force Evan jabbed his fingers into Hal’s arms. Hal released his hair grip and grunted in pain. But Evan wasn’t done. All his inner emotional pain burst into every fiber of his muscles. He grabbed Hal by his shirt collar and rushed him across the hallway, slamming his body into the wall. He stared daggers into Hal’s grey eyes. “You… Treat her. With. Respect. You got that?”

Hal spit a big gob of his stinking saliva into Evan’s face. “She don’t deserve no respect. Nor do you, bitch.”

Some of those rapper guys were hovering closer, stating some dumb, drunken words, but Evan ignored them. He removed his right hand and clenched his fist, readying to punch Hal hard in the gut.

“NO!” It was Greg. He seized hold of Evan’s fist, preventing the punch. “Bro! What are you doing?”

“All right, all right, break it up, break it up!” Sounded like Carter. He was running down the hallway.  “God damn it.” He was getting closer. “Break it up, break it up.”

Evan kept his stare on Hal and released him with emphasis. He stepped backwards. He wiped the nasty saliva off his face, yet keeping his eyes locked on the guy.

Rage was fuming from Hal, his breathing heavy. He wiped his hands on his shirt and glared, death in his eyes, back at Evan.

Carter stepped in between them. “The three of you.” He turned and pointed at Greg. “You too. You witnessed it. All three of you come with me now.” Carter thrust his hand in a direction past the bathrooms, down the hallway, at a room on the right.

The rapper guys began dispersing away from the scene.

Evan turned back to see Dana. Her dad, Lloyd, was helping her up, as was Chella. Chella was attempting to wipe Dana’s mouth and body with some towels.

“She’ll be fine,” Carter said, nudging Evan toward that room.

Evan followed Carter. Hal was ahead of Carter, though Greg walked near Evan’s side. Good ole Greg. Thank the Lord he came over when he did.

But Dana. He turned back. She was being guided by Lloyd and Chella, her gaze at the floor. He faced forward again, but then just had to turn back to see her once more. When he did this time, her head was raised, and she looked at him. No anger, no agitation, but a blank, or sad expression and of course very drunk. But they soon led her around the corner to the bathroom so he couldn’t see her anymore.

Though adrenaline yet pumped within him and he was disappointed with his overly aggressive reaction, elation was beginning to spread through his entire being.

Fanning her face. And those words. How will we survive?

Carter herded them into the room. Appeared to be a conference room, with a long table. “Take a seat, fools.” He sat at the end of the table nearest the door.

Evan sat on the right side of the table, from their approach, and Hal went for the left side. Greg sat next to Evan on his right.

“I know two of you are shit-faced drunk,” Carter said, resting his arms on the table, “but can someone please try to tell me why that happened?”

What to do? They would all be working security together tomorrow, like usual. Had to keep the peace. Evan didn’t say anything. Nor did Greg or Hal.

“All right. No takers, like I figured.” Carter focused on Greg. “You’re the witness. What did you see?”

Greg cleared his throat and stared down at the table. He looked at Evan. “Well, Evan, my man here, was helping Dana get to the bathroom, since she had too much to drink. They didn’t make it. Dana started throwing up on the floor. Evan was helping her when Hal got involved.”

“Got involved?” Carter asked.

“Well, he--”

“Look. I’m sorry, man.” Hal glanced at Evan but then back at Carter. “I shouldn’t have done that. Yeah, I’m obviously drunk. It’s just that…I see no benefit, in an eighteen-year-old kid, fresh off the street, getting involved with a twenty-eight-year-old woman, a very well-known, rich, and famous woman.” 

Carter laughed and knocked his fist on the table a few times. “Is that what this is all about?”

“No,” Evan said, “I was just trying to help Dana!” 

“Sure you were.” His laughter continued a short time longer until Carter got more of a stern expression on his face. “Oh, and for the record, I saw what was happening, but wanted to hear it from you perps. Was just turning the corner and I see you, Hal, grabbing Evan by his hair and eyeballing him in his face.” Carter looked at Evan. “But your reaction was way over the top.”

Evan frowned and eyed Hal. “I’m sorry too.”

Hal nodded slowly. “Noted.”

“Yeah. That’s why I hate these drunken get-togethers.” Carter sighed, shook his head and grasped his hands together on the table. “No good ever comes out of them. So, here’s the deal. Both you guys, Hal and Evan, are on Dana tour probation. Meaning, yours truly here is going to keep a close eye on both of you, until further notice, and there better be no slip-ups. You understand me?”

Evan nodded. “Yes, I do.”

Hal mumbled something similar.

Carter looked at Greg. “You. You’re not in trouble.” He then leaned on the table and eyed them all up real intense-like. “Oh, and another for the record? Dana is not interested in any of you losers. Now, get out of here, and keep out of trouble!”