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Authors: Mercy Brown

Stay Until We Break

Also by Mercy Brown

Loud Is How I Love You

Stay Until We Break

Mercy Brown


An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

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An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Mercy Brown.

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eBook ISBN: 9780698404311


InterMix eBook edition / June 2016

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


To Mike, the Dark Crane.

For the adventure!

Also—what the hell were we thinking that night in Montevallo?

Chapter One


Thursday, August 10, 1995

Nyabinghi Dance Hall, Morgantown, WV

With Attila Stigmata

Stars on the Floor Tour—Day 1

I don’t know if everyone has that special someone they masturbate to, but I do and it’s Cole McCormack, the bass player for my best friend’s band, Stars on the Floor. The only problem with having Cole McCormack as your chronic masturbation fantasy is that he’s everybody’s chronic masturbation fantasy—and he knows it.

But how could he not? He’s a strapping, ruddy-skinned, dark-haired Irish boy from north Jersey with eyes that shimmer like Jameson over ice and nimble lips with a reputation all their own. So I can only conclude that the reason he’s kissing
right now is because we aren’t home in New Brunswick, where on any given night Cole has his pick of make-out partners. We’re in West Virginia, and Soft has just wrapped their first show of this tour.

It’s not you, it’s the road,
I keep telling myself as he has me up against the side of the van, his lips pressed to my own as his enormous, beautiful bass-playing hands hold me in place. Even as I’m kissing him back with all the sexual gusto I’ve got in me, I tell myself it doesn’t mean anything. Cole isn’t into me like this. If he was, he’s had every chance to show me before now and he never has. Not once in the three years that we’ve been friends. Not even at his birthday party last month when I got drunk, crawled into his lap, and flat out asked him to make out with me. If he were interested, that would have been a good time to let me know, right? But instead, he just pried me off of him, carried me to his room, and put me to bed. Alone. And the next day when I woke up in his bed, still alone and fully clothed with a raging hangover, he acted like it never even happened.

It must be something about the road.

I’m sure it’s a mistake to let him kiss me at all, but he caught me off guard, the way he reached for my arm and said, “Sonia, wait a second,” like he was going to ask me for change for a ten. But he didn’t ask me for change, oh no. He spun me around to face him, and when I was all confused and said, “Do you need change or something?” he laughed.

“No,” he said. “I just want to check something.”

“What?” I squinted at him, clueless, the light over the back door of the club casting a fuzzy halo around his head.

He bent down and brushed his lips against mine, so gently at first I wasn’t sure he meant to do it. But when I wrapped my arms around him and opened my mouth against his and he backed me up against the van, it was pretty clear then what was happening between us, even if I still can’t believe it. Now I feel like he’s going to break
with his tongue, or at least any semblance of modesty or resistance I might harbor against this demonic indie-rocker boy charm of his. His hand reaches into my hair, stroking just softly enough to render me useless. Then he pulls his face from mine and smiles.

“I’ve been wondering all day what flavor lip gloss you’ve got on.”

“Dr Pepper,” I say, before my brain starts to work again.

“Lip Smackers?” He laughs. “Really?”

“My mom always puts a ton of them in my stocking at Christmas,” I try to explain, but really, what’s the point now? He already knows my taste in cosmetics hasn’t changed since the seventh grade.

“I like it.”

“You do?”

“Well, let me double-check,” he says, and then he licks his bottom lip before he kisses me again. I feel the tip of his tongue soft against mine, taste the sweetness of his breath as he kisses me deeper. Then he moves his lips, all warm and soft, over to my ear and kisses me there until I can’t speak. “Hey, do you want to get in the van for a minute?” he asks.

I can’t seem to form a coherent response so I nod, probably a little too enthusiastically by the way he laughs. His lips are full and red as they twist into a smile full of trouble. I want to grab him by that thick, dark hair of his and ride his adorable face like a rodeo star. Maybe we can have a hot, torrid tour fling. I think I might be willing to do that, even if it all ends when we get home with my heart in tattered shreds.

Cole takes my hand and leads me around to the side door and pops it open. We’re about to climb in when I hear Emmylou calling, “Sunny, are you back here?”

Emmylou Kelley is my best friend and the front girl for Stars on the Floor, the band otherwise known as Soft. (Yes, it should technically be “S.o.t.F.” but when you try to say “Sotf” it sounds weird, and since Soft are loud as hell, it’s nice and ironic.) Emmy is the one who recruited me as tour manager for this road circus, but here it is, our first night out and she’s already cock blocking me. I let out a frustrated sigh as Cole lets go of my hand and glares in the general direction of the club.

“The boss lady calls,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. “Back to work.”

Then you know what he does? He fixes my hair, tucks a few loose strands behind my ear and smiles, and it sounds small but is somehow the sweetest thing any boy has ever done to me. Even sweeter than those Tic Tac kisses of his. I’m here thinking,
Sure, I’ll get pregnant for you. How many babies do you want? You’re Irish Catholic, so probably like twelve, right? No problem.

“Other than loading out, my work is done for the night,” he says, then hops into his seat, always shotgun in the van. I pull some fives and ones off a roll of bills and then hand him the rest of the cash. He drops it into the band lockbox, hidden beneath the center console of Steady Beth (which most rational humans would simply call “the van,” but not Soft—they’re superstitious and their van has a name, an identity).

“Cole, how much did you have to drink?” I ask him.

“Nothing. Why?”

“Because you kissed me,” I say. “You’ve never kissed me before.”

“Why? Are
drunk?” he asks.

“Me? No, of course not. I’m the tour manager—I have to stay sober.”

“Yeah, well last time you tried to kiss me you were so drunk you couldn’t walk,” he says. “Remember?”

I try not to scowl at the reminder of that night and how dumb I still feel about it.

“Yeah, but you kissed
this time.”

“And you definitely kissed me back.”

“Well,” I say. “I’m not drunk.”

“Neither am I.”

“Sonia!” Emmy calls again, and now she’s walking across the parking lot. Damn it. “Where are you?”

“Coming!” I call back. Cole smiles at me and I still wonder if he’s drunk. Or if I am. Because I’m in such disbelief that this is happening.

“Don’t go anywhere,” I tell him.

“I’ll be right here,” he says.

Reluctantly, I leave him there, my head fuzzy and warm and buzzing as I cross the parking lot to the club’s back door. There, under a full August moon, my bossy best friend is waiting, literally tapping her foot.

“Where’s Cole?” she asks. “Have you seen him?”

“He’s in the van,” I say.

“You really shouldn’t wander around outside of clubs like this without one of us.”

“Like you are, right now?” I point out.

“I’m serious,” she says. “You’re fierce but you’re tiny and these places are full of creeps.”

“I’ve hung out in clubs before, thanks.”

“You’ve hung out in clubs at home, where everybody knows you and looks out for you, and this is not the same thing. Trust me. This is the road.”

“Listen to you, ‘the road.’ Sheesh, Emmy. This is your first night of your first tour!”

“We’ve played lots of out-of-town shows,” she says. “What were you doing out here with Cole anyway?”

One thing’s for certain—I’m not about to tell her I was just making out with him. “Here’s the change for the merchandise table,” I say, digging the wad of bills out of my dress pocket. Emmy eyes me and lowers her voice.

“You’re keeping two hundred bucks in singles and fives in your dress?”

“No,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I put the bulk of it in the lockbox.”

“Oh okay,” she says. “Good.”

“You’re really pissing me off, you know that?” I say.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m just nervous. First night out and all.”

I’m very familiar with Emmy’s mouth when she’s nervous. It’s like she’s shotgunned four espressos. I’m just not used to being the object of her neurotic doubt. I control the urge to tell her to take the roll of bills and choke on it.

“You know I love you, right?” she says, at just the right moment.

“Please don’t make me suffocate you in your sleep on our first night,” I say. “We’ve got twenty shows left to do.”

She wraps her arm around my shoulders and we walk back into the club. I feel less like murdering her now. A little. But I’m still so frustrated that I’m not in the back of Steady Beth with Cole’s hands up my dress that I can’t safely say I don’t want to murder someone. And it’s just our first night!


The Nyabinghi Dance Hall in Morgantown is only a six-hour drive from our home in New Brunswick, New Jersey, aka Hub City to the locals, if not necessarily to the infestation of Rutgers students who migrate in and out every school year. But right now home feels like a lifetime away. Sure, the Nyabinghi looks similar to the Melody, the Budapest, the Court Tavern. But when I look around and see no one I know outside of Emmylou, her boyfriend/guitarist/Steady Beth’s designated driver, Travis Blackwell, and their cannoli of a drummer, Joey Santi, I know this isn’t Hub City. The patrons don’t look all that different in their flannel and combat boots and leather in August. Maybe more beards. I’m from Jersey so their sneers don’t throw me. But this isn’t Jersey and I don’t know what’s behind that attitude. I bristle as I field stares from guys I don’t know. It’s probably because I’m the only one here in a dress and some ink.

I untie my sweater from my waist and put it on, even though it’s a thousand degrees in here, and march over to the merchandise table to give Travis and Joey the money for the cashbox. There’s a line for the Soft seven-inch single, “Loud Is How I Love You” backed with “Steady Beth,” and I’m not surprised by the way the crowd crushed the stage during their set. Soft is the best thing going in New Brunswick right now, and if they weren’t in the ever-looming shadow of New York City, they’d probably already have a contract with a bigger indie label. That’s why we’re on the road for a few weeks—to see if we can outrun the shadow and get a little recognition.

Listen to me,
. But I can’t help but feel like I’m in the band now. I’ve been working their merchandise table for over two years, pretty much ever since they started playing out. I help load gear, hang flyers, hang out at rehearsals, and when they’re doing their Soft thing, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. That’s what happens when you’re music-obsessed and your best friend fronts the best band in town. Whenever they play, that’s where I want to be. Usually, standing right in front of Cole, staring at his hands as they stroke and thump that vintage P Bass like it’s a part of him.

Emmy drags me to the bathroom with her, and it’s skanky like every rock club bathroom I’ve ever been in (but nothing will freak me out the way the CBGB bathroom in New York City freaks me out, because that experience is more like immersive horror theater than anything else). She’s talking my ear off about how once we graduate in the spring, this is what we’ll be doing, probably for several years before we ever break.

“Get used to it, Sunny,” she says. “It’s not glamorous, but it beats being stuck in Highland Park.”

“Sure,” I say, but my aspirations are less the sleeping-on-other-people’s-couches variety and more the apartment-on-the-Lower-East-Side, working-for-David-Geffen variety. I don’t tell her that, because Emmy is insanely protective of her Soft family, and I don’t want to rock her boat on our first real tour. I mean, the band just survived a near-death experience this spring with Travis quitting, and that only lasted a few weeks. Now it seems like Emmy’s already got me managing her band for the rest of my career.

I look out the bathroom door and see Travis with his blond, swoopy hair, leaning against the wall of the club where a couple of girls have him cornered, and he’s smiling that killer Blackwell smile. Emmy sticks her head out and her grip on my arm tells me maybe she’d forgotten we weren’t at home, where everybody and their second cousins know Emmy and Travis are the hot ticket and no girl goes near Travis unless she truly wants to talk about guitar gear. Travis looks up, his eyes are immediately drawn to Emmy, and that smile turns to starlight the minute he sees her.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing for girls to think he’s single, right?” Emmy says, relaxing. “Does more for our image.”

“Are you high?” I say. “Didn’t you want to murder one of your best friends for trying to hook up with Trap before you two were even an official couple?”

“I think ‘murder’ is a tad strong,” she says. “Maim, maybe.”

This is the moment when Cole walks back inside the bar. He sees me standing there gabbing with Emmy and shoots me an annoyed look. What the hell?

Emmy goes to him, takes him by the arm, and nods in the direction of Travis. Without hesitating, Cole goes to relieve Travis of flirtation duty and says something adorable to one of them. I can’t hear it, but I know it’s adorable by the look on her face, and I know what a merciless flirt Cole can be—I just got McCormacked myself out behind the bar. The girl laughs, openmouthed, tossing her hair behind her, and Cole snakes his arm around her shoulders. He says something else in her ear that makes her bite her lip, and then he glances in my direction, catches me staring at him, and raises an eyebrow. Being the consummate dork I am around cute guys, I stare blankly back.

All of this innuendo is too much for me without a drink, so I walk off to the bar to wait for the club manager so we can get paid. I sit there, nursing the same lousy tap beer until way past last call, waiting as Soft load the gear into the back of Steady Beth just so I can avoid Cole, simply because I have no idea what to make of him. After everyone has cleared out of the club and I still haven’t seen the manager, Cole walks back in.

“Did you get paid?” he asks me. “We’re ready to go.”

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