She heard Bridget’s feet drag slowly on the carpet, and Lita knew there would be questions about Griffin at some point. Just hopefully not before she had some answers.
“Okay,” Dave said as he stepped into Lita’s dressing room. “Ten minutes until all the meet and greet stuff.”
Lita slumped, her body feeling shaky like after a show and she hadn’t even started yet.
“You’ll survive it,” Dave said as her makeup artist stepped back and gave her one last look-over.
Lita plastered on a grin. “I always do.”
She stood and had to tug up her leather pants. How were they loose?
Bridget’s arm went around her friend. “Showtime.”
Lita squared her shoulders, ignored her weak legs, and stepped into the hallway backstage.
She wobbled as they rounded the corner and Griffin stopped, a guitar case in each hand. “You okay?”
Lita paused, even though she didn’t have time. “Shaky today.”
What? Why had she said that?
. It had something to do with the honest concern in his eyes, and not the bored-worried look that Bridget had mastered.
He pulled out two bananas tucked under his arm. “Bananas are great energy food. I bet you could down this thing in less than a minute.”
Lita stared at the piece of fruit. Maybe just a bite or two…
“She can’t eat that,” Bridget gave her a tug. “It would stick to her vocal chords like crazy.”
Griffin tucked the bananas under his arm. “Beats passing out onstage. It happens, you know.”
“Maybe just a bite,” Lita started, but Bridget was already hauling her up the hallway.
“Don’t stress,” Bridget said as she gave her friend a squeeze. “I’ll run across the street and get you another coffee to keep you on your feet. I’ll take out the cream so your voice is still okay.”
Lita just nodded because a full meal before a show was not a good idea. Maybe the banana
stick to her throat. Coffee would be enough.
Too wide smiles on a group with cell phones at the ready signaled that she’d found the backstage pass purchasers. Lita planted on her best rocker-girl face, whatever that was, and pushed forward. It was a routine she could do.
Griffin watched Lita and Bridget move around the corner.
Something was definitely up. Not just with Lita either, but with Bridget. Yeah, bananas weren’t the best thing to eat before a show, but a few bites? That shouldn’t be any big deal and it would keep her feet under her.
But then, taking care of Lita wasn’t his job. She seemed to go almost everywhere with Bridget, Apelu and Dave. He wasn’t even her friend, much less someone who should be as worried about her as he was. It’s just that from the first time he met her, he could tell she was hiding things. Putting on a face to cover what she felt. And this was the exact kind of thing Ryker gave him hell over.
Griffin went through the usual routine of checking cords and slowly tuning guitars and making sure Lita James’ stuff wasn’t mixed up with the local band who’d gone on first.
Every time his hands ran over his jeans or he kneeled down, he remembered the soft, stretchy jeans that Lita had bought for him. Was she annoyed that he hadn’t had black jeans until then? Or was she being nice? Or was it something else? Maybe he was so low on the totem pole, it was a pity thing. He didn’t know, and it shouldn’t matter, but he’d probably frame them on his wall after the tour was over.
Pants from Lita James.
He laughed at how they’d look next to the guitars he’d built.
“S’up?” Ryker asked as he kneeled next to Griffin.
“Does Lita look skinny to you? It’s like she’s ready to just fall over.”
Ryker shook his head. “Trying to find someone else to mother?”
“Shut up, asshole.” He shouldn’t have brought it up. He knew better. His phone beeped. Two missed calls from Stacy. Hell. And he’d been the one trying to reach her just the day before.
“I’m gonna take care of these.” He flashed his phone to his brother. “You know, before the show.”
Ryker shrugged as Griffin walked off stage.
“I aced my dye test!” Stacy shrieked when he answered.
Griffin laughed as he pulled the phone from his ear. “Super proud of you. That’s awesome, Stace.”
“I’m so close to being upgraded from shampoo girl!” She laughed.
For the first time since he’d left, he said, “Wish I was there to share that with you.”
Stacy snorted. “This is a
go out thing, Griff.” And then laughed. “I’m so happy.”
“I feel…” She paused for a moment. “I feel different, Griff. Like I’m more powerful than I thought I was, you know? I’m like, surprising myself.”
He leaned against the outside wall and smiled. “Happy for you.” It was maybe the first time he’d actually missed her since leaving. The distance was a good thing. When he got home his life would all fall into place the way it needed to so he could keep everyone happy.
“Me, too.” She sighed. “I’m glad you’re doing this thing, though. And I miss you like crazy. Sleeping alone sucks. Call me tonight?”
“You’ll be asleep,” he warned.
“I’m so used to it now, I just crash again.
?” she begged.
The weight of his responsibility toward her hit him again. “Yeah, Stace. Of course I’ll call.”
As Griffin watched Lita perform from backstage, her movements were smaller, less energetic. Her voice not as strong.
Her hips swung to the right and her feet slipped.
Griffin’s heart dropped and he leapt forward, but stopped just shy of the open stage as she stood again and continued with the song. Something was definitely off. He scanned his side of the stage for Bridget, but she rarely stayed for the whole show.
He moved back to where he’d been watching and Lita paused at the end of the song. “You guys are awesome!”
The crowd cheered.
“I need a quickie break. Gimme two!”
And she dropped the mic stumbling backstage.
Griffin ran to the edge of the black curtain, his heart hammering, the band staring with wide eyes until the drummer slapped his sticks together and they started jamming without her.
She fell against him, her hands clawing into his shoulders. “I feel like hell.”
He stepped backwards, grasping her by the waist to help her stand, and they were surrounded in seconds.
“No!” Dave threw out his hands. “Back up!”
“I gotta get back out there,” she mumbled. Only Lita clutched Griffin more tightly.
“Let’s sit for a sec.” He sat on a wooden box and she fell onto his lap.
He tightened his arm securely around her waist, just to make sure she didn’t slip to the floor.
“Bananas.” He pointed to his pack and Dave snapped at someone else in black who ran toward his small pile of stuff.
“Have you eaten?” he asked only half aware of the small group of Lita caretakers who had gathered.
“Yeah, I had a…. “ Lita shook her head and her small body relaxed against him. “I know I had a croissant earlier, but that can’t be all, I…”
Every nerve of his was on edge as she relaxed further—almost like dead weight in his arms.
He ripped open the end of the banana and pulled off a small bite like he would for a child. “Here. Just a bite or two, okay?”
Lita took the banana and placed it in her mouth.
“Water?” Griffin asked.
Lita sat up after a moment and blinked a few times. “I don’t want to pass out.”
Griffin held up the banana, his heart finally beginning to slow. “Then keep eating.”
She nodded and took another tiny bite, and then a swallow of water.
Her eyes closed as she continued chewing. Her hand pressed against her chest rubbing up and down slightly. “Can you imagine what they’re going to say about me tomorrow?”
The worried side of him tightened his arm around her.
“Then get back out there.” Dave held out a hand.
Griffin wanted to clutch her to him and make her rest and eat, but it wasn’t his job, and he also knew this was a flaw of his—to protect, to take care of, to probably smother.
He held the banana in front of her and she pulled the rest out of the peel with a wicked smile. “I just got an idea.”
She walked back onstage with her banana and the crowd erupted.
“I was so busy meeting so many of you awesome people, I forgot dinner.” She laughed into the mic, and if Griffin hadn’t known her, he never would have guessed she’d been close to passing out only minutes before. Pure determination and willpower kept her up there, and he wondered what else those traits would hide.
There was nothing to do but make fun of herself, so Lita slid her tongue up the side of the banana and waggled her brows. The male half of the audience shouted and then she chomped the large piece in half, dropping the other part down to the stage, earning a chorus of groans and laughter.
She turned to the band. “
She knew the banana would play into that song well, and maybe the crowd would think it was all part of the show. She hoped, anyway.
They were off the playlist, but she wasn’t going to make it through the rest of the set anyway. Her drummer counted it off, and she ignored the banana like lead in her stomach and the slime on her throat because she had to get this done, and she hoped her few bites would be enough to get her through a few more songs.
She belted out the last note, and knew she only had one more song in her. A few bites of banana were not going to save the show.
The crowd screamed as she walked off stage and Griffin’s face contorted in worry. She faintly registered Dave but the blackness of the stage swirled with the sounds and stage lights and she found herself once again, almost toppling over. Dave’s arms came around her for a moment while she got her feet underneath herself again.
“You okay?” Griffin asked, stepping next to her. The smell of him… She had to figure out what it was and coat her pillows with it.
“If you don’t do an encore, they’ll know something’s up.” Dave’s voice echoed in her ears.
She knew it. She had to find the strength to get out again.
She stared at Griffin as she stepped backwards, trying to decipher anything of what she was feeling. Mostly confusion.
Lita threw her hands in the air as she stepped back onto the stage and the crowd’s energy lightened her shoulders, strengthened her legs. No one could understand how this many people could infuse your body with enough energy to get through almost anything.
She slammed her hand down the front of the guitar signaling the first wailing chord of the song.
Damn everybody. She could do one more song. Then she’d collapse.
“Stop fussing,” Lita snapped at Bridget. “Seriously. I just need sleep.”
Bridget threw her hands in the air after trying to practically carry Lita to her room. Surely Bridget knew how it would look if she were being half carried up the hotel hallway.
They moved through the suite, Lita leaning against her friend more fully.
“I’m fine,” Lita insisted. “Just tired.”
Bridget kneeled in front of where Lita sat on the bed, resting a hand on each knee. “You have way too much caffeine in your system to be tired.”
“Fine.” Lita waved her hands. “I’m done. I’ll shower. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She just wanted quiet.
And then Bridget was gone, leaving Lita blissfully alone.
Lita slowly stood and moved into the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror. She looked like hell. Eye makeup running, pale. Normally she’d take a hot shower and climb into bed, but her shaking knees weren’t going to allow that.
She slid out of her clothes, leaving her outfit in a pile on the floor and grasped the wall as she moved for her bed. Goose bumps covered her body, and she started to rub her hands over her arms, but her limbs shook harder and she slid under the covers.
Tomorrow. She’d feel better tomorrow.
Lita sat curled up in the warmest arms she’d ever felt. A soft hum filled the room in a melody she knew well. He always knew what she needed. Always. Only she had no idea who it was or where they were—inconsequential in the land of dreams.
The porch swing moved underneath them, and the fact that her dad had sold this house years ago didn’t matter. The fact that the warm sun felt perfect on her skin was a sign that it was a dream, but she wanted it.
The humming stopped and she tightened her arms around muscled sides. “Another one.”
Lips touched her forehead. “I want payment first.”
She ducked her head laughing. “Nope.”
He shifted underneath her. “I think so…” he trailed off teasing.