Treat me, p.24
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       Treat Me, p.24

         Part #8 of One Night with Sole Regret series by Olivia Cunning
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  Chapter Eighteen

  “Where’s Adam?” Shade asked the other two guitarists.

  Owen shrugged. “No idea.”

  Shade’s gaze fell on a familiar guitar sitting on its stand next to the stage. “He left his guitar.”

  “Maybe he had to go to the bathroom,” Kellen suggested. “Ever try to take a piss with a guitar strapped on?”

  “Can’t say that I have,” Shade said, watching the wide double doors behind the stage for Adam’s reappearance.

  Several minutes ticked by with no sign of the lead guitarist. Shade grabbed the arm of a nearby roadie who was standing there with his arms crossed waiting for the performance to begin. “Will you run to the dressing room and tell Adam we’re waiting for him? He’s probably in the bathroom.” He sent a second roadie to the bus, just in case he’d gone there instead.

  A few minutes later, Gabe came down from the stage with drumsticks in hand. “What’s the hold up?”

  “Adam’s missing,” Shade said.

  “Missing?”

  “Yeah, he was just here.” Shade turned to see if the incredible vanishing guitarist had returned in the few seconds he’d been distracted. Still no sign of him.

  Shade didn’t truly begin to worry until the two roadies returned without Adam in tow.

  “He wasn’t in the bathroom or the dressing room.”

  “Not on the bus either,” the other roadie reported. “I found his earpiece on the ground behind the bus. At least I think it’s his.”

  The guy dropped the earpiece into Shade’s palm. It was probably Adam’s, but he couldn’t be sure. “Was his motorcycle still there?”

  “I didn’t see one.”

  “Fuck!” Shade yelled. “Did he say anything to any of you?” As Shade’s glare landed on the members of his band, each shook his head in turn. “Fuck! What in the hell is he thinking?” The problem was Adam never thought things through. He was impulsive. Reactionary. An inconsiderate, self-absorbed jackass. Why had Shade let himself hope that Adam had changed?

  “Maybe there’s an emergency,” Owen said.

  “Even if there is, he could have taken a few seconds to tell someone. Fuck! I’m going after him.”

  “Do you know where he went?” Gabe asked.

  Shade pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and pressed the icon for Adam’s tracking app. He was already miles away heading west, but within seconds he moved out of range and the little orange dot that indicated his position blipped out of existence.

  “Fuck!” Shade said again. “He’s headed west.”

  “What’s west?” Kellen asked.

  “Texas. Madison. His fucking heroin dealer. How the hell should I know?”

  “Calm down,” Owen advised. “We’ll figure something out.”

  Shade wasn’t going to calm down. How could Adam leave just minutes before they were set to perform? What could possibly be that important? Nothing, as far as Shade was concerned. Granted, if something happened to Julie—God forbid—and he had to rush to her side, he would have walked out on a show, but he would have fucking told someone first.

  “I’ll try calling him,” Kellen said rationally. “Maybe he’ll answer.”

  While Kellen attempted to get Adam on the phone, Sally rushed toward Shade, almost colliding with him as her high heels skidded on the slippery concrete. She grabbed his arms to steady herself before looking up at him with wide eyes. “What’s going on?” she demanded. “Why aren’t you on stage?”

  “Adam isn’t here. We can’t perform without our lead guitarist, can we?”

  “I’m worried,” Owen said, his eyes on Kellen as he shook his head to let them know Adam wasn’t answering his phone. “He wouldn’t just run off like that unless it was a life or death situation.”

  “Yes, he would,” Shade said. “I was the one who dealt with him when he was at his worst. You all pretended everything was just fine while I was forced to get him lucid enough to perform. It was only a year ago. Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten.”

  “He’s changed, Jacob,” Gabe said, clutching the back of his neck with one hand as he stared at the floor.

  “He has?” Shade shook his head in disagreement. “Sorry, but I don’t see it.”

  Still beyond pissed, Shade stomped up the side steps and crossed the stage. The waiting crowd cheered when they recognized him. He took the mic out its stand and approached the audience, taking a moment to bask in the knowledge that they loved him almost as much as he needed them.

  “Good evening, New Orleans. You look ready to rock!” When the fans cheered, his heart thudded with regret. He wouldn’t get the chance to perform for this amazing crowd. He’d been so looking forward to it. “Unfortunately, our performance is not going to happen tonight,” he said, his thoughts not matching his words. Fucking Adam let us all down again. A roar of disapproval circulated through the arena. “Our lead guitarist, Adam Taylor, was called away on an emergency.” And didn’t bother to tell anyone. I will never forgive the asshole for forcing me to disappoint all these fans. But as front man, he was expected to be the one who delivered such news, and he didn’t shirk his responsibilities no matter how distasteful. Fucking Adam. “So we have to cancel the show.”

  A groan of disappointment reverberated through the stadium.

  “I’m not sure if they’ll issue refunds or reschedule the performance, but we’ll square you away. I promise.”

  Grumbling, the crowd started to disperse.

  “Hey! Hey, Shade!” The call came from some young guy among the group still hanging around the barrier fence directly in front of the stage. “I play lead guitar and know all your songs by heart. I could take Adam’s place tonight.”

  It was as if Shade’s guardian angel had fallen into the body of a skinny teenager in a black beanie hat.

  Shade crouched down on the stage in front of him and stared into the kid’s dark eyes. Long, jet-black bangs were smashed down to obscure those eyes, but the sincerity Shade read in his direct gaze gave him hope. “Are you sure?”

  The kid nodded, oozing the kind of self-confidence of someone who was telling the truth or was completely delusional. “I’ll prove it. Hand me a guitar.”

  “Wait!” Shade called to the retreating crowd. “We might have a solution. Can you give us a few minutes to see if the show can go on after all?”

  Innumerable fans were probably already too pissed off to return, but the majority of them stopped their retreat to see what was in store for them.

  Shade instructed security to let the young guitarist into the backstage area. His bandmates looked at him with narrowed eyes.

  “Did you get a hold of Adam?” Shade asked Kellen, giving his longtime frenemy one last chance to not disappoint him.

  Kellen frowned and shook his head.

  “Okay,” Shade said, nudging the kid forward. “This guy says he knows all our songs by heart and can take Adam’s place onstage tonight.”

  None of his bandmates looked convinced, but they did look intrigued by the possible solution to their shitty situation.

  “So I say we give him a chance to prove himself,” Shade said. “What’s your name?”

  “Wes.”

  “Give Adam’s guitar to Wes,” Shade said to Adam’s technician. “Let’s see what he’s got.”

  They put the kid through his paces. Riffs. Solos. Wes wasn’t as skilled as Adam—no one was as skilled as Adam—but the talented kid would do in a bind.

  “You don’t get stage fright, do you?” Shade asked.

  “I don’t think so,” Wes said uncertainly.

  Well, it wasn’t as if they had other options banging down their door.

  “Are we all onboard with this idea?” Shade asked everyone who’d congregated to watch the spectacle. Bandmates, crew, and manager all nodded their approval.

  “All right, kid, here’s your chance to be a rock star for a night,” Shade said. “Don’t blow it.”

  Wes beamed at him and shook the devi
l horns he’d formed on one hand.

  Shade returned to the stage and smiled down at the anxiously waiting and restless crowd.

  “Well, he’s no Adam Taylor, but he’s going to do his best to pretend. Tonight we have Wes on lead guitar.”

  Wes jogged across the stage to stand at Shade’s side and lifted both hands in the air triumphantly. Some of the audience members cheered, but most just stared up at them crossly.

  Shade knew how to work a crowd. Undaunted, he’d have them all excited about this idea in no time.

  “How many of you have dreamed of being a rock star?” he called to the crowd. “Where are my aspiring vocalists?” He scowled at the pitiful response he received. “For a bunch of future rock singers, you aren’t very loud,” he complained. That evoked the response he wanted from them. “Okay, where are my rock stars who like to bang?” He placed a hand on his forehead as if shading his eyes so he could see all the wannabe drummers in the crowd. The audience exploded with cheers, and he noticed that some of the fans who had left earlier were filtering back in through the exit doors. “Force, get out here. Seems over half the audience wants to be like you.”

  Gabe jogged across the stage, waving at the crowd as he found a microphone. “I think they misunderstood your question,” he said. “They don’t want to waste their time on drums. They just want to bang.”

  Whistles of appreciation, whoops of delight, and loud catcalls filled the stadium.

  “Anyone like to do it low and slow?” Shade asked. “Who out there always dreamed of being a famous bass player?”

  Even though lots of people cheered, Shade had to tease Owen. “Anyone? No one wants to be Tags when they grow up?”

  Owen entered the stage, which elicited more screams of excitement. He found a microphone. “Bassists never get any love.”

  “I love you, Tags!” several women yelled.

  “So I guess the rest of you play air guitar in your underwear and dream of soloing in the spotlight,” Shade said.

  At least half the audience began playing air guitar. A few moments later, Kellen entered the stage and accompanied them on his real guitar. After several measures, Wes found the courage to join in. The crowd loved it.

  “Now Wes here has the opportunity to do what most people only dream of doing—he gets to be a rock star for a night. So show him some love!” Shade shouted over the wailing guitars. Now that he had the crowd amped up and behind Wes, the kid had better not fuck this up.

  Shade wrapped an arm around Wes’s shoulders and showed him a paper taped to the floor. “This is the set list,” he told him. “If there are any songs on there you don’t know, just tell us; we’ll work around it.”

  Wes’s eyes scanned the list, and then he looked at Shade. “I know them all. Hey, is Adam okay?”

  Shade wasn’t sure why, but Wes’s concern for Adam sent a spike of rage through him. “I’m sure he’s fucking peachy,” he said before dropping his arm and addressing the crowd. “It’s time to get darker.”

  Usually Owen entered the stage first, extending the opening bass line of “Darker” by several measures to build up the song and the crowd’s anticipation, but as the show was already off to an unusual start, the entire band started the song on Jacob’s signal. Wes watched his fingers, working so hard at getting the notes right that he didn’t seem to notice the crowd cheering him on. Kellen and Owen tried to coax him into enjoying himself, but their antics made him stumble over a riff, so they left him alone and worked extra hard to engage the crowd themselves.

  When the song ended with one final reverberating wail of the lead guitar, Wes lifted his head and looked at Shade for approval.

  “Not bad, Wes. Not bad at all. With a little more practice you could fill Adam Taylor’s shoes.” And Shade wasn’t just saying that. He was more than ready to find someone to take the undependable lead guitarist’s spot. And the longer he watched Wes—sounding almost like Adam in his first attempt—the more he thought a new guitarist would be the best solution for the band. Unfortunately, if they replaced Adam, they’d lose his songwriting skills. But if the only way he could compose was when his life was falling apart and he was dragging the rest of them down with him, Sole Regret was better off relying on those who wrote songs for a living. They could easily pay professionals to write their songs. So why not?

  They played through their entire set list, and Shade could feel the uneasiness from the rest of the band—especially Owen. The guy was loyal to a fault. He probably felt guilty for sharing the stage with Wes instead of Adam. But Shade was experiencing something else entirely. Instead of trying to fix Adam—and what a monumental task that was—they could find someone who wasn’t broken to replace him. Shade just had to get the other guys to see things his way. He refused to put up with Adam’s bullshit any longer. He’d crossed the line one too many times.

  When the concert was over, Shade took a sweat-drenched Wes aside and thanked him for his assistance. He made sure Sally took down his contact information. They could probably do better than a kid long on talent but short on experience, but they could definitely do a lot worse. Shade definitely wanted Wes to have a shot at being their new guitarist, but he also wanted to keep his options open, so he didn’t reveal his thoughts to Wes. It was time to explain his plan to the band, however. They were rational men; they’d see it his way. He was sure of it.

  He waited until all the guys were on the bus and they were headed east to their next destination before he broached the subject.

  “Anyone hear from Adam yet?” he asked, checking his own phone to see if Adam had contacted him.

  They all shook their heads, looking glum. He couldn’t be the only one who saw Adam as more of a liability than an asset.

  “I’ve had it with his bullshit,” Shade said, his heart thundering with apprehension. “Adam’s out of the band.”

  Gabe’s eyes widened. Kellen’s jaw dropped.

  Owen blinked hard and sputtered, “What?”

  “He’s toxic,” Shade said. “We need to get rid of him. Replace him with someone who takes our success seriously.”

  “Adam writes all of our music,” Kellen said. “We can’t just kick him out.”

  “We’ll write the music ourselves and if necessary, hire songwriters,” Shade said with a shrug.

  “This is bullshit,” Kellen said, crossing his arms over his bare chest. “Adam is one of us. He’s always been one of us. We can’t do this to him.”

  “We don’t even know why he took off,” Owen said. “I’m sure he had a good reason.”

  “More than two hours later and he still hasn’t checked in to let us know what the fuck is going on!” Shade yelled. “He obviously doesn’t give a shit about any of us or the fans or the music. All he cares about is himself. It’s time to cut him loose. If he wants to destroy himself, fine, but I’m not letting him take the rest of us down with him.”

  “I want to hear what he has to say before I weigh in,” Gabe said. “For all we know, he’s dead in a ditch somewhere.”

  The blood drained from Owen’s face. “Don’t even say that.”

  “It would save me the trouble of telling him to fuck off,” Shade growled.

  “You’re such an asshole,” Owen said.

  Shade stepped forward until his nose was an inch from Owen’s. “I’d rather be an asshole than a spineless wuss.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” Owen shoved him, and Shade was glad to see the guy actually had a little fight in him.

  “You’re a pushover, Owen. You always have been.”

  “Don’t take your frustration with Adam out on Owen,” Kellen said. “You’re the one who never bends. You’re the mighty oak, standing tall and rigid against any force that threatens your position.” He slammed a fist against his chest.

  “Someone has to be strong.”

  “Listen to what Kellen is trying to warn you about,” Gabe said. “If you never bend, you will break, Jacob. Don’t you see that?”

  He d
idn’t see it at all. Everyone just needed to fall in line with his plans and it would all work out for the best. Didn’t they see that?

  “We’ll figure out what to do after we talk to Adam,” Gabe said.

  “Kellen could play lead,” Shade said. Maybe they’d feel better about a change if they were replacing their rhythm guitarist instead of lead.

  Owen scrunched his brow. “And Adam play rhythm? He’d never agree to that.”

  What part of kick Adam the fuck out of the band didn’t these guys understand? “No. We’d get a new rhythm guitarist.”

  “I prefer rhythm guitar,” Kellen said.

  “Then we get a new lead guitarist,” Shade said, exasperated. “I
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