For my first Fiction Friday, I bring you a piece that originally opened up Kiss The Flame.
Yellow-white light streamed in through a kink in the window-blind, catching in murky air. The stale stench of beer mingled with the urine-like scent of equally stale cigarette smoke, a miasma that permeated every surface.
A long ago burnt down cigarette still lay loosely between the fingers of the snoring figure of Jon, slumped over the melamine table. Red-blond hair fell in waves over his face, obscuring his features from the burgeoning daylight. Chris, his dark hair bobbing in time with the bumps and cracks in the road as the bus rumbled along, was slumped across from him. Two more figures reclined further up – Ryan and Mike. Save for the occasional burping, snoring and farting of it’s occupants, the bus was silent – each man lost in his own world of smoke and mirrors.
The hypnotic hum of the road gave way to the crunch of gravel, the rumbling of the bus changing timbre as it slowed and came to a stop. The door squeaked open and a measure of the funk was sucked out, replaced by a gust of sharp, cold air. Along with the cold air came the thumping of footsteps and the thud of the door closing.
“C’mon you lazy bastards! We’re here! Get your asses up!”
Groans rose in unison as three of the four men complied in various degrees. Only Jon, remained still, slumped over the table.
“Jonathan, if you didn’t hear me, I said it’s time to get your ass out of this reeking hell hole.”
“I heard you plenty well clear Dan,” a growl issued from under the curtain of hair.
“Being an asshole for the hell of it then?”
“No,” his hand pulled back his hair and he slowly lifted his head off the table, meeting Dan’s glare with his own of steel-blue. “I can’t feel my bloody legs. When I can bloody feel my fecking legs, then I’ll move.”
Rolling his eyes, Dan sighed, thumping back down the length of the bus shouting orders to wear a coat before disappearing back into the daylight.
Everyone stumbled out on their own timetable into the crisp air. The last two off the bus were Ryan and Jon, who lit a cigarette on his way down the steps.
“Ah we’re fuckin’ here boys! The middle of bloody nowhere to play a concert for some bloomin’ hicks.”
He draped one arm over Ryan’s shoulders, cigarette dangling from his fingers, dipping dangerously close to Ryan’s jacket as they walked.
“Jesus. Damn it!” he suddenly cursed, crunching through dry snow back to the bus.
“C’mon Jon, it’s like a hundred feet to the hotel, can’t you hang on that long?”
“Not without piss comin’ out my ears Ry,” he muttered through lips clenched around the cigarette, tossing his duffel at the younger man before turning away.
A sigh of relief, followed by the muted sounds of a zip being redone, the crunch of snow underfoot. He returned to Ryan, took the duffel from the younger man and slung it over his shoulder.
“C’mon shithead. Let’s go in,” he tossed the butt on the ground, grinding it out beneath his heel before grabbing the younger man in a headlock as they walked into the hotel.
The hotel smelt like all hotels did – a cocktail of heavy duty cleansers, dust, smoke and people. Not truly dirty, but never really clean either. The carpeting in the reception area muted the footsteps of people coming and going. It was early enough in the morning that most people were still in their beds, unaware of what was going on. Only the true early risers and those who has to catch flights to someplace more interesting than where they were showed any signs of life.
The boys leaned against the wall, dozing quietly as Dan talked with the staff at the front desk, making sure the arrangements had been done properly – after the last time they’d ended up with Chris and Ryan together, he made sure to check on everything himself.
Jon chuckled quietly. “Yep, famous enough to need an entire wing to ourselves, but not enough to get our own rooms.”
Mike grinned. “I wholeheartedly look forward to the day I stop rooming with him,” he crooked a thumb at Chris, who frowned. “Not that you’re a bad roomie bud, but you snore loud enough to wake the dead. A man needs his beauty rest.”
“It’s official Chris – no one wants you,” they all laughed, just a bit too loud.
“The only one who doesn’t need beauty rest here is the kid. Doesn’t even look old enough to shave,” Chris retorted, stung by the comment.
Dan interrupted, handing out keys. Ryan looked away, eyes glistening. Chris never spared a moment when it came to pointing out what was wrong with Ryan. He was too tall, too skinny, too young, too inexperienced. He didn’t need to add “too sensitive” to that list.
Before he could say anything in his own defense, Jon spoke up. “Chris, I still don’t look like I need to shave, and you’re the only one who doesn’t need beauty rest – you keep everyone else awake.”
The group laughed, taking to the stairs. Ryan looked back at Jon and gave a small smile as they thundered up to the next floor. Jon shrugged in return, matching the smile.
Once they made it to their rooms Ryan turned to Jon. “Thanks – for back in the lobby.”
Jon waved it off as he stripped out of his clothes. “Ah it was nothin’ He’s been like that as long as I can remember.”
Standing naked, he crooked a finger to the bathroom. “Going to take a shower. Y’okay?”
Ryan nodded and Jon disappeared. Flopping down on the bed, Ryan watched the city through the window. Everything looked so small. He could hear the sounds of the city, mingled with the patter of water and Jon’s singing.
if Chris’s annoying habit was snoring, Jon’s was singing. It was rare that he went a day without doing it, usually subconsciously. Thankfully he was damned good at it or they’d not be in a band at all. There wasn’t much call for instrumental rock bands, and though they sang well as a band, none of them had the drive or personality to be the vocalist.
It wasn’t a secret that Ryan looked up to Jon, considered him a big brother of sorts. If there was one thing that Ryan didn’t want to have happen was to disappoint Jon.
The shower stopped, but the singing continued and shortly Jon re-emerged, towel around his waist, hair dripping. He stopped singing while digging through his duffel, pulling out clean clothes.
“Gonna go scout out something to eat, join me?” Ryan shook his head no, it wasn’t time for him to eat – doing so would through his insulin out of whack and cause more problems than it was worth.
“Well kiddo, I’ll see you later then.”
He finished dressing, threw on his jacket, and singing loudly about doing a dance, making love and getting down, slightly off key as he left the room.
Ryan smiled at the sound of the singing as it retreated into nothingness. Jon would be back around two in the morning, usually quite a bit liquored and sometimes slightly baked, but generally harmless. Ryan didn’t partake – not from a lack of availability or curiosity, but rather that someone had to maintain their faculties – and if it wasn’t Jon, it was going to be him.
Tearing himself away from the window, Ryan fumbled in his bag for his toiletries then headed to the shower himself.
A knock sounded at the door later that evening. Ryan looked up from his book, curious as to who it was. Dan had dropped off his evening meal for him an hour ago, and it definitely wasn’t time for Jon to be back. He checked his watch to make sure – no, not time. He called for the visitor to come in, as the door was unlocked. Mike shuffled into the room, looking still tired and worn.
“Care to have some company?” Mike offered, “Really wasn’t in the mood to join the two of them where-ever or what ever the hell they’re getting up to, and really don’t feel like being alone.”
Ryan shrugged a yes and Mike took up residence on Jon’s bed. “How come you’re not up checking out the local wildlife?”
“Just not feeling up to it I guess. I’ve got two courses left and I really want to get them over and done with so I can be done with this “high school” thing forever.”
Mike nodded. “I loved school. Loved learning,” Mike waxed nostalgic.
Ryan had been fifteen when Torrent had come calling. He knew they had wanted someone older, but he’d managed to impress them somehow. He’d never really been in an actual high school thanks to that, not that he’d really want to, he reasoned. He’d been picked on since day one for his hair and glasses and the thought of sitting in classes with jocks that wanted to beat the hell of of him for shits and giggles didn’t enthuse him. Looking at Mike it dawned on him that he was likely picked on too, being the shortest of the four of them.
“Didn’t you get picked on a lot?”
Mike smiled. “Oh yeah. My twin sister is taller than me. Until I clobbered one of the bullies that was making my life hell, everyone and their dog was shitting on me. Once I did that, it was ‘don’t fuck with the little guy’. Things got better after that.”
Ryan gave him a quizzical look, making Mike laugh. “I know, I know – you’re trying to figure out how that is even remotely possible. I’ll just say that it is and I’m not sure I could do it again, so I was very glad they never wanted a repeat performance.”
Before anything further could be said there was a loud banging on the door, hard enough to rattle off the little “emergency instruction” placard.
“Open the fucking door will you!”
Mike and Ryan both sat in shock on the beds. Ryan wasn’t one for confrontations and whatever was behind that door was definitely looking for one.
The door shuddered again under the assault.
Mike was the first to slip off the bed, Ryan still watching the door warily. Opening the door slowly, he found Chris and Jon, the former holding up the latter who seemed barely able to move under his own power, covered in his own vomit and had obviously made contact with the pavement more than once from the amount of blood that was on him.
“Holy sweet Jesus.” Mike swore, wrinkling his nose, waving his hand in front of his face. “What the hell happened here?”
Chris readjusted his hold as he steered him into the room. “Got loaded and into some really bad grass, then decided to have an argument with the pavement.”
The smell wafted to where Ryan was seated as Chris leaned Jon against the wall. “We’ve got to get him cleaned up or Dan’s gonna shit a bird.”
Ryan wrinkled his nose at the smell, but slipped off the bed and made his way over to Jon.
“Well, let’s get him stripped.”
Ryan became very matter of fact, taking charge. This wasn’t the first time that Jon had come back from a night out like this. There was usually one cause for him acting like this, and he speculated that if he checked the pockets of the ripped, stained and smelly jeans, there’d be a note handed over from the front desk that came from Jon’s wife Tricia.
The other two men stripped him down, Ryan grabbing a garbage can and collecting the discarded clothing, removing Jon’s things from the pockets before tossing them into the bag then sealing it tightly. Chris guided his inebriated cousin into the shower, holding him as he jerked back to life when the first blast of cold water hit.
Ryan left him with Mike and Chris to wash up. Searching through Jon’s duffel bag, he found some clean clothing that he laid aside. He wondered what had motivated Chris to get Jon back to the hotel rather than just letting him be for the night. Usually Jon would have sobered up on his own in a few hours and made his way back to the hotel before Dan woke them.
Picking up the clothes, he headed back to the bathroom, arriving in time to find Jon somewhat cleaned up, naked, with his head in the toilet, retching up whatever little was left in his stomach.
“I’ve got his clothes.”
Mike breathed a thank you as he took the shirt, Chris taking the pants. Jon had come around enough by this point that he was acting like a toddler, albeit a six foot four toddler with the strength of a full grown athletic man. Holding him still long enough for anyone to dress him was near on impossible, but the struggle gave Ryan a chance to assess the damage.
From the looks of things, his knees and jeans had taken the worst of the damage. He’d reopened the scrapes on his hands, and added a new scrape on his temple to the collection of bruises and scrapes from the last city, all of which were starting to bleed again from the attempts to get him dressed.
Mike threw down the shirt he had and his hands into the air. “Fuck him! He doesn’t want to get dressed, he’s not getting dressed!” as he stood he turned on Chris, anger blazing in his eyes.
“And you, you stupid twit! You’re supposed to keep both of you out of trouble, not let it happen,”
He made his way across the sodden floor, flinging towels out of his way. “Ryan’s seventeen, I’m barely twenty-one and neither of us has the strength to deal with this bullshit! If it happens with just one of us around we’re mightily fucked. We’d have to get Dan, and you know what’ll happen if it gets to that.”
No one wanted to think about what would happen if they had to get their tour manager involved in straightening out a situation. Especially one involving their lead singer, who was sitting up against the wall,eyes glassy with a dopey grin on his face. It would at minimum require curfews and restrictions and a likely end to the tour at the worst.
“I’m tempted to make you stay the night Chris, but you’re not in any condition to be looking after him either. I do not want to hear you say that you have a hangover in the morning or I’ll make sure I do a fucking solo on cymbals just for you.”
Chris started to protest, but their drummer’s look and body language ended it before it began. Jon, meanwhile, had gotten to his feet and was attempting to make his way across the room. Ryan rushed to his side, grabbing him by the arm and trying to steer him as he made his way across the room.
“Look, right now, I just want to get him to bed. You two can go have your fight somewhere else. He’s cleaned up, stopped puking for now, and if all this shit doesn’t stop, I’m going to… Damn it Jon, you’ll break something!”
Arguments were forgotten as they watched him teeter and sway across the room, he couldn’t hold Jon’s weight if he decided to put it all on him, but he could support a good portion of it. They made it to the bed, Jon crawling onto his, still naked and on top of the covers.
“Guys, I think I’m okay for now. Go, get some sleep.”
Mike looked at him incredulously. “You sure Ry? I don’t mind crashing here if you need a hand,”
Ryan shook his head. He knew the drill – it never varied. Get Jon to bed, garbage can at his head, make sure he didn’t choke if he was sick again, try to get some sleep.
“Go, I’ll manage.”
The two of them slipped out into the hallway, door closing with a muted clunk behind them.
Ryan looked down at Jon, who was now snoring quite happily away, with a shake of his head. “For a guy who is rather chatty when he’s awake, you’re at least one quiet fucked up drunk.”
He grabbed the extra blanket on his bed and covered Jon’s sleeping form. Turning all but the lights but the one at his bedside off,he stripped down to a shirt and his underwear and slipped into his own bed. Taking off his glasses, the world going fuzzy, he looked over one last time before turning out the lights.
“Ry?” a dry cracked voice asked from the other bed.
“Tell me tomorrow and I’ll believe it.”