The Sequels to Syrrah's Game SGSequels

chapter 38

Friday, September 22nd, 9:17 PM

Minneapolis, MN

 

Make sure to keep observing Dana’s behavior, Evan reminded himself. It is all about comparison.

But then again, he had pretty much summarized her behavior already, especially since this was the second time he worked the meet and greets. Sitting at the small table placed before her, Dana would first speak with the fan or group of fans, after some of the fans needed to gain their composure from crying, squealing, or being in some sort of disbelief, and then she would ask their names or listen to their complements of her performance. She would next accept items to autograph, like the tour’s own merchandise, or a fan’s book, clothing, or whatever. Last of all, she would stand up and step around the table to take selfies.

Evan scanned around the U.S. Bank Stadium convention room, reiterating his grasp of the surroundings once more. He made sure to avoid direct eye contact with any of Dana’s fans, at least for the moment. This room was large, square-shaped, with an entrance to his left, where Carter and Enzo flanked the doorway, and an exit to his right, where two venue security guys watched for things. Recalling his earlier investigative meandering of the stadium, along with Greg, the exit doorway gave entrance to a lengthy hallway that eventually led to the outside parking lot, with doors, other smaller hallways, and bathrooms jutting off from it along the way.

A mild hum of conversation sounds and people moving, stepping, or holding papers or books filled the room. And of course, like always, the scents of over-applied perfumes and colognes, venue snack foods, and lingering cigarette smoke on a fan’s clothing made their presence known too.

Overall, this convention room was sharp, yet on the smaller size compared to the usual venue convention rooms on Dana’s tour. Dim lighting from round, sporadically placed orange-glowing lights gave a nice touch. Tan walls. Brown-violet patterned carpeted floor. Very clean and modern. For a split-second, if felt like being back in the underground base.

No. Not another one of these moments. Need to concentrate and avoid seeming approachable.

Definitely. Didn’t need another group of his own fangirls or fanboys barging up to him, like minutes earlier, and possibly blowing this whole thing.

It was bad enough Lloyd had warned him if he mingles too close with Dana again, he could get fired. It also didn’t help that Carter had said Lloyd didn’t even want Evan at the meet and greet; it was only because Vic and Jackson both took sick days for some reason that he ended up here. But, of course, Carter had to place him closest to the exit door, so he only had a side view of Dana.

He carefully eyed the line of people snaking into the room. Darn. Not one of them was Neraeh. At least not yet. The rest of this same line, a long queue of people, remained out in the hallway connected to the main stadium. So hope could be just around the corner. Literally. Lol.

Like he would usually do, he studied the fans. Some were dressed in goth-like outfits. Some of the girls, young teens, were dressed very skimpily, although those dressed more modestly were usually with parents. Some were guys, some were young women, but in general it seemed to be more women. And none of them appeared threatening at the moment.

Greg elbowed Evan’s left side. “Bruh. Looks like Chella is coming over here.”

Evan looked. Chella was just passing by the venue security guys flanked at the room’s exit and yup, she was making a beeline right to him and Greg. She had obviously changed her clothes. She was wearing only black jogging pants and a grey hoodie. But didn’t matter. She always looked pretty no matter what she wore.

She quietly walked up to Evan, a beaming smile on her face. “I heard you got bombarded by a bunch of fans, lucky you.” Fortunately, she spoke softly.

“Yeah. Lucky me.”

She gently poked him in the stomach. “Yes! You should be! You were amazing Monday night.”

“Hey.” Greg glanced at her, but then directed his attention back on Dana’s fans. “What about me?” He spoke quietly too. “I thought I did an awesome good job securing the joint.” 

Chella laughed, a bit loudly, but then covered her mouth a moment. “Yes,” she said, once gaining her composure. “You did a great job too.” She glanced over at the line of fans. “So, guys, how have they been?”

“Okay,” Evan answered. “Nothing rowdy or destructive. Yet, anyway. Why do you ask?”

“I know why,” Greg said.

Evan looked at him. “Oh yeah, why?”

“While you were dealing with your female admirers, I heard it on my earpiece.”

“And you didn’t tell me yet?”

“Bruh. Sorry. Only speculation at this point, that’s why. Might be some gang members outside, waiting in line. And they were getting a tad rowdy. That’s all.”

“Oh, okay. It’s all right. Damn. Wonderful.”

“Yeah, bro. Really. That’s all we don’t need.”

Evan abruptly caught glimpse of Dana looking over at him, and then at Chella, the burn of jealousy in Dana’s eyes.

Chella obviously saw too. She stepped back away from Evan until leaning against the wall behind them.

He eyed Dana again but now could only see her profile. She was talking to a fan. Syrrah, my dear Syrrah, if you truly are her, Chella could never take me away from you.

“But don’t worry about your fans surrounding you again,” Greg said. “I’ll make sure they don’t do that.”

Evan looked at him and smiled. “Oh. I see. So that’s how it is.”

“No, seriously, bruh. I should have had your back. I thought they were just coming over to ask where the bathroom was.”

“I know, right?” Evan laughed quietly. “But it’s cool. No problem. I’ll make sure to keep them at bay. I should have known better myself.”

Greg laughed too. “We can work on it together.”

More of Dana’s fans were entering the room, the line moving, and fans done with Dana’s meet and greet were heading out the exit door.

Evan concentrated on those already in the room. And then he saw her, probably having only just entered recently. Neraeh was here! He counted heads, the best he could from his view angle. About twelve to fifteen fans stood ahead of her.

Great. Here it comes. That nervous knot hitting his stomach.

He recalled Chella’s Dana reaction and turned back to see her. “Are you okay?”   

“Yeah. Just keeping out of the way for you guys. You think it’s all right if I stay here?”

“Of course. Should be fine. But don’t get too close, in case I have to bolt at someone.”

She smiled at him. “I know. I won’t.”

He gave her a smile too. He faced forward and targeted his eyes on Dana.

The distance between Dana and him and Greg was only about five yards, thankfully.

Watching a few more interactions, another behavior popped up worth noting. Once a fan or group of fans had left, and Dana was looking at her phone or going over a card or picture a fan had given her, she liked to act startled when approached by the next fans. She would often kid with them, saying how they scared her, and then laugh, and her fans would laugh too. It was a nice icebreaker to get things off on a lighter tone right away.

Person by person, the amount of people between Dana and Neraeh was decreasing.

“I hear the line is long,” Chella said, having stepped a little closer to Evan’s right side now, though not too close. “It’s definitely trailing outside to the parking lot. And Greg is right. They think some gang members are in line.”

Evan kept his eyes on Dana. “Which gangs?”

Chella giggled softly. “I don’t know. Not an expert on that.”

“Yeah, that’s okay. Hopefully nothing goes down.”

Chella stayed in her new closer position, but Evan continued to hold his gaze on Dana.

Fan by fan, Dana was getting it done. 

The knot in his stomach intensified. Neraeh was now only the fourth person away from the front of the line by Dana.

And worse, the three people before Neraeh were a group – a guy and two teenage girls. One of the girls, with a very thin body, was speaking to Dana now.

Evan drew in a deep breath. Wasn’t working. He abruptly felt his pulse elevate, his breathing ramp up. Had to hide this, absolutely.

He focused on Neraeh. She was dressed in a white T-shirt and light-blue jeans. She was holding a small flowered-covered book, like a romance novel, in one hand and her phone in the other hand. She would not look at Evan, at all. She gazed toward the floor or at the back of the three people in front of her, who were still blocking her and Dana’s view of each other. 

Dana allowed the thin girl a selfie and then she hugged her. The thin girl had some tears on her face, though she smiled. But she didn’t walk away. She stayed near her two friends.

The one guy and the other girl approached. Dana was staring at her phone. But then she looked up, behaving startled again. They smiled and laughed, and Dana did too. And next she did the usual, of speaking, autographing and finally doing a few selfies with both of them. And before he knew it, they were done. But Dana hadn’t seen Neraeh behind them yet, since the activity they all just did blocked Dana’s view of Neraeh.

The guy and two girls walked to Evan’s right and headed out the exit doorway, like all the other fans had done.

He felt his heart jump up his throat a bit, but he made sure to hide it. 

Dana was sitting, staring down at her phone upon the table, when Neraeh walked up and stood before her.

From his peripheral, he could see that Chella had her eyes directed on Dana now too.

Dana looked up. She jolted back a little, in her usual, startled manner. And then she smiled. All this so far was similar. But then Dana blinked a lot and her eyes widened, staring, taking it all in, more than usual, at least from the angle Evan could see. Yet then she smiled and began speaking to Neraeh like she would any other fan.

Evan’s heart sank. This really wasn’t that much different from anything she did with the other fans.

He concentrated very carefully, to hear better above the noise in the room.

Dana asked, “Where are you from?” Neraeh answered honestly. From Sauk City, Minnesota.

Squinting, adjusting his eyes, he did see something off; Dana’s mouth was quivering slightly.

Could this be a sign?

Gradually, it seemed, Dana began hurrying things along in her questions and speech with Neraeh. With all the previous fans she was usually pretty good about taking her time, giving each fan a good heap of interaction, provided it wasn’t getting close to ending the meet and greet. But it was still early now. “What do you want me to sign?” Dana asked curtly. Neraeh brought forth the book. Dana avoided Neraeh’s face, took a nearby pen, and signed within the beginning of the book. She handed it back and said, again rather curtly, “There you go.”

“Can I have a selfie, too?” Neraeh asked.

“Uh, no. Don’t really have time now.” Dana again spoke rough-like, even rude. She ignored Neraeh and looked behind her in line. “Well. Okay. Who’s next?”

Neraeh walked away toward the exit. She didn’t even glance at Evan.

“Ah, she must have some pain coming on. That’s not like her,” Chella said. “But I thought she took plenty of pain meds beforehand.”

Evan eyed Chella, giving him further opportunity to avoid eye contact with Neraeh as she passed by. “Yes. I saw what you mean. That was a bit off. Maybe she is in pain.”

“Or tired. It was an exhausting show.”

The next fans to approach were another guy and a teen girl. Dana talked to them, and she seemed more relaxed than with Neraeh. She signed a few photos they had, and when done, the guy asked if Dana could take selfies with them. But she abruptly held her clenched fist near her mouth and stared at the table, as in pain or deep thought. She looked up at the guy. “Uh, no. No more selfies today.”

“Really?” the guy asked. “But you gave all those other people selfies.” He spoke calmly, not with anger. “I saw you do it.”

Dana nodded quickly. “I know. I…I’m not feeling so well right now. I’m sorry.”

The guy and the teen girl walked away to the exit, speaking some upset, annoyed words as they passed by Evan.

Dana eyed the next people up, a mother and her two preteen daughters. She stared at them, and then swallowed noticeably. But once gaining her composure, she began talking to them. Yet she soon stopped talking, bowed her head down and pressed her hand onto her upper chest. She looked up at them. “Excuse me, but I need to leave for a moment. I’ll be back soon.” She stood up from the seat and headed for the exit.

“Now what is she doing?” Chella asked.

Evan watched her closely. “Yes. I’m wondering too.”

“Is something wrong with her?” Greg asked. “Does she have to use the bathroom?”

“No, I’ve never seen her do this before,” Chella said. “She always uses it first. She must be sick, or in pain or something.”

Worry and confusion swept through Evan. “I’m following her.”

“All right, go ahead,” Greg said. “I’ll stay here.”

Evan, with Chella following him, walked to the exit and passed by the two venue security guards and headed to the right, in the same direction Dana had gone.

“Chella!” It was Carter’s voice.

Evan stopped and turned back. Chella did the same.

“You stay here,” Carter called out to her. He was standing by the two venue security guards. “This is Evan’s job.”

“You sure? Oh, okay,” she spoke disappointingly.

“I’ll see what’s going on,” Evan told her. “Don’t worry.”

She gave a half smile and headed back towards Carter.

His eyes locked on Dana, Evan watched her walking, facing forward, no interest in seeing anything behind herself. She made a sharp turn to her left, down another hallway. When she did, he caught glimpse of her hand wrapped tightly over her mouth.

Was she really that sick? He picked up his pace.

No lingering fans were directly nearby. Nor did he see Neraeh yet strolling down the hallway; she must be outside by now.

He arrived by the same left-heading hallway and rushed in that direction. He looked up ahead. Dana was already turning to her right, down another hall or doorway.

Once near where she turned right, he could see she had entered a women’s bathroom. The large bathroom had a door-less open entrance. He walked inside. He didn’t detect any other women in there. But he could hear Dana, and as suspected, she was coughing, vomiting. He walked closer. There were three stalls, and she was in the larger, handicapped one. The stall door was closed, but it wasn’t locked. He heard her let out another vomit hurl. He pushed open the door slightly. She was holding on to the toilet sides and leaning into the bowl. “Dana. Are you all right?”

She didn’t answer and began throwing up again. She held on tighter to both sides of the toilet, the whites of her knuckles very visible. 

“Dana. I’m right here, okay?”

She still did not say anything.

Up to this point, he hadn’t taken much notice of Dana’s after-performance clothing. But he was doing so now and it broke his heart; she was wearing a body-hugging, sleeveless red, blue and black plaid dress, expensive-looking, slightly-below knee length, but it was getting tugged, knelt upon and crushed into the dirty, hard marble floor. Her flat-heeled black sandals weren’t faring much better.

He heard some chatter on his earpiece, but no one spoke to him directly, similar to how he hadn’t heard about the gang members when it came through loud and clear for Greg, obviously. Carter should have questioned him by now about Dana’s condition. Something was wrong.

He walked several feet closer to Dana. He leaned over, ripped off a long line of toilet paper and crumbled it into a soft ball. He knelt behind her. “I have paper here, if you need it.”

She removed a hand off the toilet’s side and thrust her fist back at him, nearly striking him, and doing so twice. She turned and looked back at him. “No! I’m all right! Leave me alone, for God’s sake!” She faced into the toilet again and coughed and spit into the bowl.

He slowly stood up. “Okay. I will be just outside the stall. But no. I am not leaving you.”

She turned back to him, and stared, her eyes seemingly startled at his words. She spoke something quietly under her breath that he couldn’t hear. Her face was pale, and she appeared weak. Pieces of vomit and spit were near her mouth and on her hair. She lurched back at the toilet, coughing and attempting to throw up again, yet unsuccessfully, this time mostly a dry heave.

Evan stepped back, until exiting the stall. But he leaned his left shoulder against the other stall and held her stall door open, just enough so he could see what she was doing.

She continued having dry heaves. This wasn’t good.  

“Evan!”

That was Chella’s voice. He looked at the bathroom’s entrance. “I’m in here. What is it?”

Chella rushed in and headed over until next to him, her eyes tense, alert. “Is Dana okay?”

“She has been throwing up, and has dry heaves now. I hope she’s okay.”

“Hey,” Dana called out, in a weak voice. “Hey, Chella, I’m…I’m okay.”

Chella slowly poked into the stall, her hands trembling as she held onto the metal door. “Okay, babe, glad you’re all right.” She looked up at Evan, her chin even quivering a bit. “Hey. I got to go backout there. Carter wanted me to come see you. A massive fight broke out.”

“Really. But, you okay, though? You seem pretty shook up.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll be okay. Just too much happening at once.”

“Well, all right.” He removed his earpiece and eyeballed it a moment. “I think I’m having trouble with the earphone. Again. No one contacted me, although I heard chatter.”

“I know. That’s what Carter said. He couldn’t get in touch with you. But Carter is busy now. And he wants you to keep Dana in her dressing room down that other hall across from here. And I think they’re calling the local cops.” 

“You stay here too, Chella. I can protect you both.”

“No. I have to go back. To see Carter. And help with the fans. And my stuff, my purse. No one is going to watch them.” 

“Don’t you have those in the dressing rooms?”

Chella headed out of the bathroom. “No, they’re not.” She ran ahead but then turned back. “I’ll try to come by soon. Just keep helping her out, okay?”

“Don’t worry. I am.”

With Chella’s running footsteps gradually decreasing in sound, Evan disconnected the non-working earpiece from its cable end by the mic and shoved the part into his pocket. He looked in the stall. Dana was slowly lifting herself up. He walked in and gently took hold of her shoulders. “Here. Let me help you.”

Sort of as expected, she flung her arms out, breaking his grip, though her thrust was weak. “Leave me alone.” She turned from him and headed out of the stall. She looked back, glaring into his eyes. “I’m not a baby.”

He stared right back at her. “No one said you were. I just want to help you now.” 

Slowly she turned from him and walked over to the sinks. He stayed directly behind her, though keeping some distance. She turned on the water in the sink closest to the paper towel dispenser.

While she did, a terrible thought jolted him. Neraeh! Was she okay? He wanted to grab his phone and text her. But Dana needed him now. This was complicated. This was not good.

But Freddy should be with her, somewhere nearby. Or was he?

Dana made sure to keep her face hidden from him. Yet he could see she was scooping water onto her face, her hair, washing her hands, using some nearby liquid soap. Could he sneak out his phone now? No. Wait.

She finished at the sink and walked over to the automatic paper towel dispenser. After receiving a few sheets, she wiped around her face and hair, yet keeping her face hidden from him, though he could partly see her in the mirror; her face was still quite pale.

“That toilet paper you had,” she said. “Give it to me now.”

Evan realized it was still in his hand, though crumpled. She didn’t face him but only put her hand back. He placed the soft wad in her grasp. “Here, hold on.” He entered the nearest stall, grabbed another large handful, and stepped out. “I’ve got some more now too.” 

But though he reached out to hand it to her, she didn’t take it, even as she faced him, since her eyes were closed. She was blotting her closed eyes, her nose, and around her mouth with the previous paper wad. She opened her eyes yet only looked at his hand. She grasped the new wad he held and gently wiped around her eyes again. Then she looked at him and in the better lighting near the sink, he could see she was, and probably had been crying.

Without a word, she turned and headed out of the women’s room. He promptly followed her.

When she was out in the small hallway, she began heading left, in the wrong direction. 

Evan immediately rushed ahead and blocked her path. “Don’t mean to be pushy, but Carter, and I’m sure your dad, want you in your dressing room.” He pointed to the left from where he stood, down another narrower hallway. “For your safety.”

She covered her mouth. She swallowed noticeably, and hard. She looked at him but then directed her gaze down the hall. “Okay.” Her voice was soft, weak. “I need something to drink anyway.”  

“Do you have to throw up again?”

She didn’t look at him and only flipped her hand downward several times. “No…no.” 

She continued walking. He followed her.

Arriving at the dressing room’s door, she searched in the two pockets of her dress, but wasn’t finding anything. Evan finally pulled out the keycard from his own pants pocket. She didn’t speak or complain and allowed him to swipe on the door reader, until she was able to turn the doorknob.                                                     

She walked inside.

He stepped in too and quickly closed the door behind him, making certain it was in lock mode.

She headed to the right, for a small bar and kitchenette.

Yet keeping some distance like earlier, he followed her. “Are you feeling any better, Dana?”

She looked at him, her expression holding irritation. “Yeah,” she snapped. “I’m fine.” She faced at the wine and liquor bottles. “I know you’re working. But, you want a drink too? I won’t tell anyone, you know, because of your age.”

“Ahhh, keyword there. Working. Just like you said. An absolute NO.”

“Okay. Suit yourself.”

He watched her closely. She was trembling as she handled the bottles and glasses, similar to what Chella had just exhibited.

But Neraeh! A bathroom, its door ajar, was near the bar and kitchenette. “Dana, do you mind if I use the restroom?”

She turned and glared at him. “Restroom?” She gave him a disgusted smirk. “You gay or something? Most men I know say ‘take a piss’ or ‘take a shit’.” She went back to preparing her drink.

“Is that a yes, or a no?”

She sighed loudly. “Yes, yes. Go ahead. Use your…your restroom.”

But this had to be done right. He quietly stepped over until behind her. She was unaware, pouring a small bottle of Korbel brandy into a glass cup. He leaned down near her ear. “Do not…leave.”

She jolted only slightly and looked up into his face. Due to her flat sandals she was not so tall now. “You’re awfully close, you know.”

He stared dead on into her pretty dark brown eyes. “Your dad will have a fit if you leave. Do you hear me?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Fine.” She went back to finishing the brandy pour.

He walked into the bathroom.

Once inside he immediately went on rush mode. He took out his phone and whipped up Neraeh’s text thread and speed-typed the message.

             Neraeh. Fight broke out. You ok?

While waiting for her returning text he placed his iPhone on top of the toilet tank and unzipped his pants. Might as well, as Dana said, take a piss. He did. His phone buzzed quietly just seconds after he finished. He picked it up and swiped open to see the text.

            Yes. I’m fine. Got out before it happened. I’m with Freddy. We’re safe. Did Syrrah show through?

Phew. Good. He zippered up his pants. He washed his hands in the sink, making certain to dry them quickly, thoroughly. He listened for Dana, in the kitchenette and fortunately heard footsteps and clanging glass sounds. He texted back to Neraeh.

            Glad you okay. Can’t tell, for sure. Text you later.

He shoved his phone deep into his pants pocket and opened the bathroom door.

Relief flowed through him. His ears hadn’t failed him. Dana was still in the room.

But something was wrong. She was walking back and forth along the length of the room, with that brandy drink in her hand. The length of the large room went from the bar and kitchenette to the other end near a wide, cushiony sofa. The sofa was positioned against the hallway side of the room. Mirrors and dressers were against the wall opposite the sofa.

As she paced along, she was mumbling something to herself, and damn, she was crying too. She would periodically sip the drink and then wipe her nose and eyes with a tissue. Then she would mumble something again.

Evan walked to the middle of the room, staying about six feet away from her path. This was a woman drunk, high, and, or in a lot of distress.

After watching her repeat the back and forth length of the room three times, he had to say something. “Dana. What’s going on? You want to talk about this?”

“No, no,” she said quietly, fanning her hand by her face, like Syrrah did in that video. He stepped a little closer at one point in her none-ending trek and listened more intently to her mumbling words. “Why did I do it, why did I go there? Why did I do it, why did I go there? No, no, no. Why, why, why?” Her words were so quiet, barely audible, but he was quite certain that’s what he heard.

He waited, until she was nearer to him once more. “Dana. Please.” He gently touched her shoulder, though only a moment. “Please tell me what’s wrong.”

As he figured, she flung out her free arm, nearly hitting his hand. “Leave me alone.” She continued to pace and continued to say those words, varying them slightly. She took a sip now and then. She wiped her nose now and then. And then she repeated it all again.

He walked over to the end section of the sofa nearest to the kitchenette. At first, he was going to sit down but instead determined it would be best now to remain standing. He felt the mic switch to check if it was definitely in the off-speaker position, and it was. He folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t offer this often, given I’m such a cold-hearted guy, but here goes. I’m offering free hugs.”

She kept mumbling, as though not hearing his words, but then stopped in her steps and looked at him. “You…you wouldn’t know cold-hearted if it smacked you in the head.” She continued as before, pacing, mumbling, sipping, wiping her nose.

“Are you feeling better? Are you still nauseous?”

She stopped again. “Was. Until you, stupid, had to say something!”

He sighed. “I’m sorry.”

She went back to the same pacing, although mumbling “just shut up, just shut up” several times. She said the “why did I…” words a little louder. But she was basically keeping the same behavior, mumbling and pacing, sipping and wiping. Crying too, though she tried to hide it. She kept her head lowered so he couldn’t see her face noticeably.

“My offer still stands.” He relaxed his arms by his side. “Evan’s free hugs.”

She ignored his words and continued moving.

“They work wonders. Guaranteed to cure all your aches and pains.”

She reached the other end of the sofa and turned around to come back. 

“Whether emotional or physical, mental or otherworldly,” he said. “Guaranteed to fix them all.”

She stopped pacing several feet away from him. Slowly she lifted her head. She stared at him, her eyes blood-shot, tear-soaked. And anger roiled in those eyes too.

He felt it coming. Her drink was in her right hand, her empty left hand on his right. He covertly shifted his stance so his left leg was farther back. He braced his shoulder and his weight. As expected, she abruptly lunged her left palm into his right chest. But her impact only pivoted the upper right side of his body a slight amount.

She stepped back and looked at him. “You’re stupid, you know that?”

He opened his arms out to her. “Free hug?”

She stayed put looking at him though blinking her tears away. “How…how are you so freaking strong?”

He shrugged and smiled. “Tiger blood.” He swiped his hands up and back. “Can’t help it.”

But she didn’t smile at him. She shook her head and walked back to the far end of the sofa. And then she sat down, finally. She placed her drink on the carpeted floor. She leaned forward and caught her face into her hands. And she was crying, more than before.

Evan felt actual pain in his chest from watching her. He walked over and sat down, about a foot distance away from her side. “Dana. Please. Will you tell me what is wrong? I have never seen you like this before.” The chest pain ached even more. And for a split second, he actually viewed Syrrah before him, leaning over, suffering.

Little by little she sat upright and slowly sunk herself into the back cushions of the sofa, though she only stared straight ahead. She drew in a deep, shaky breath, and then another, still keeping her eyes staring across the room. “I’m not…I’m not doing so well.”

Evan leaned forward until lower than her yet able to view her face, trying to make himself a benign, non-threat, thankful he had removed his security jacket before standing in the meet and greet room. “Dana. Please. Let me hold you. I want to help you.” Yet though he could move easily in the required polo shirt, the radio transceiver and his other security tools, attached along his belt, would prove cumbersome and uncomfortable if she agreed to a hug. He quickly disconnected the mic cable and pulled it off. He snapped off the radio and other devices and placed all of them to his right, on the sofa. “See. I even made sure I can hug you comfortably now. No worries.”

But she didn’t even notice what he had just said or done. She held her hands out before her. Her hands were trembling. She grasped them together, gently rubbing her fingers, and then she held her clasped hands near her chin, her arms trembling as she did so. She lowered her hands to her lap. She looked at him. “Evan.”

He raised up a little closer and stared into her eyes. “Tell me, Dana. I’m here for you.” 

“I do…I do need a hug, so fucking bad.”

He moved upright and closer and gently wrapped his left arm around her shoulders. “Come here, Dana. It’s all right.”

She softly laid the side of her face against his chest. She glided one arm between his back and the sofa and the other arm around his right side, securing a gently grip around his body, until she had soon melded comfortably against him.

He had to let her be in charge of this. He couldn’t release the intense, dangerous fire burning within him. He was helping her. He was comforting her. She was yet trembling. See? She needed this. She definitely needed to be comforted. Feeling her hold on tighter to him, he only gently embraced her closer, not enough to break his will.

“I thought,” she spoke weakly, her voice still with a slight crying tone, “I thought Evan’s hugs worked wonders. I can…I can barely feel them.”

Why did she have to say that? Now he could hardly control himself anymore. “Oh, Dana baby, don’t tell me that. You really, really don’t want to unleash what I have inside.”

She surprisingly nuzzled closer, pressing, moving her head across his chest, sliding her palm softly over his right side. “Mmmm, yes, yes I do.”

His heart pounded harder and his breathing increased. His crotch was aching something fierce. No, not that now! Control yourself! Only hug, and nothing else. “All right, baby.” He began wrapping his arms around her, bringing her so close, so tight, though not enough to hurt her. This was heaven. He never, ever wanted to let her go. 

She moaned, and whimpered slightly, a whimper of pleasure. “Mmmm, oh Evan, you do hug really well. Dammn.” He could feel her breathing increasing and increasing. He gently smoothed his hands and arms around her, at the same time wrapping her even closer to his heart. “You’re so incredibly strong,” she whispered, “this feels soooo damn good.”

“It’s all right, baby,” he whispered to her. “Anything for you, baby.”

“Evan,” she spoke breathlessly. She was gently smoothing her hands over his side and back, and it felt way too amazing.

“Yeah, baby?”

“Why are you so nice to me?”

“Because…I see, a precious angel…who is hurting, and needs my help.”

“Angel. I’m really no angel. I…I used to be…but…”

He began sliding his hand down and along to her lower back, the fabric on her plaid dress so fine, so soft, like velvet, making this even easier, and then he brought his palm up along her side and closer to her breast, just slightly close, not really in a provocative manner, but teasing her, trying to encourage her to relax and answer. “But why, baby? Tell me.”

Her breathing was becoming more rapid. “I…well…something, something…happened to me.”

His own breathing wasn’t much better. But calm, stay calm! He leaned down and kissed on top of her head, at the same time wrapping his arms around her closer, tighter. “Tell me, baby, tell me what happened.”

“I…I want to, but…but…”

The lock on the door made a loud click. Someone was entering.

Evan immediately loosened his grip on her.

“No!” Dana squeezed her arms around him so closely she nearly stopped his breathing. “Don’t let me go, ever.”

He looked toward the door. Carter was just walking in.

“Evan, please.” He could tell by her voice, the sudden increase in her trembling that she was crying again. “Please. Hold me. Don’t let me go.”

Screw them all. He wrapped his arms around her even tighter than her own embrace. “It’s all right, Dana, it’s all right. I’m still here.”

“Please don’t leave me.”

“I won’t, not ever.”

He could sense Carter was now standing over them. But it didn’t matter. He kept his head down, staying closer to her, holding her securely in his arms.

“Just what the hell is going on here?” Carter demanded.

Evan looked up at him. “She needed me.”

Lloyd entered the room and rushed over next to Carter. “I told you to keep your hands off her!” Pure rage was in those eyes.

Evan began loosening his embrace on Dana, but she only held on tighter. He stared into Lloyd’s rage-filled eyes. “She was shaking, still is, and…and throwing up repeatedly in the bathroom. When she came in here, she was pacing, mumbling, crying. She is not doing well. Probably from the fibromyalgia.”

Lloyd glanced on the floor by her feet. He stepped closer and kicked her drink across the room, smacking it into the nearby wall, the brandy splattering everywhere. “Yeah. I can see what was acting up. Alcohol.” He reached down and grasped hold of her left forearm, his nails at the same time swiping against Evan’s side. There was definite anger in that grasp, toward her. “Let’s go, Dana. Enough of this.” He tugged her arm up. 

She looked up at him. “NO!” She sealed her arm back down against Evan, fighting the grasp. “I don’t want to go! And why did you kick my drink, Dad?”

“See,” Evan said. “She doesn’t want to leave me.” He held on to her closer, but not too close. Stay, but only if you want to, my dear Dana.

Lloyd kept his grasp on her arm, paused his tugging, but stared Evan dead on. “Besides the glaring age difference between you two, ten years, and you, you loser, fresh out of high school, my grandfather, my father, my uncles, all of us, were and are in the music industry. Made it big. Dana has been hugely successful over twelve years now, worth a hundred thirty million.” He gave Evan a disgusted once over. “You. Have you done that? Has your family done that? She’s out of your league, douchebag. You hear me?”

Evan glared a disgusted look right back at him. “Loud and clear.”

Dana began releasing her embrace on Evan and he loosened his hold on her too, until she sat by herself some inches from his left side. Lloyd, in turn, let go of his own grasp on her. She crossed her arms and stared up at Lloyd. “Evan has got mountains of talent and you damn well know this.”

Leaning over, his hands on his bent knees, Lloyd stared directly into Dana’s eyes. “If you don’t get up on your feet right now, there…will be consequences. And I’m dead serious. You hear me?”

Second time now with that consequences threat. What exactly did he mean? Evan watched her reaction carefully. She stared into Lloyd’s face a moment and then her distressed, angry expression slowly drained away into blinking eyes, staring downward, and swallowing once.

She looked at Evan. Her eyes were again sad, tearful. Felt like a punch to his gut. She took hold of his left hand and smiled briefly at him. “Thank you, for helping me.” She faced at Lloyd and slowly struggled to stand up. 

Evan immediately rose with her, yet holding her hand, securely, helping her, and not wanting to let go.

She held her gaze on Evan, her eyes blinking away tears. She seemed in need to say more to him but was somehow trapped.

“Let’s go!” Lloyd yanked Dana’s arm away, roughly pulling her hand from Evan’s grip.

“Ow, Dad!” She wrapped her free hand near the spot Lloyd was grasping, trying to soothe the pain. 

Evan lunged at Lloyd. “Why did you do that to her?”

But Carter, making a cross block with his arms, instantly sandwiched himself between Evan and Lloyd. “Don’t even think about it, hero.”

Evan held his stance but locked his eyes on Dana. She was distraught, crushed, but even so allowed Lloyd to lead her away toward the dressing room’s door.

Ignoring Carter, Evan stepped around him to get to her. 

Carter didn’t miss a beat and blocked Evan again. “Turrone. Leave her be. She’s with her dad. She’s in good hands.”

Evan stared daggers into Carter’s eyes. “Is she? Is she really in good hands?”