This is the second scene from the first chapter; the first scene is here. Andrew, believe it or not, is going to be the hero of book #2.
O’Connor woke up and couldn’t remember where he was.
Every hotel room was a minor variation on a theme: bed, television, bathroom. They all blurred together after a while. He opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. White. Stucco. Not informative.
Los Angeles. That was where they were.
Because Kerrigan had quit. Because fucking Andrew couldn’t rein it in.
He rubbed his hands over his face. His fingers smelled like perfume.
Right. There had been that girl. Sweet, eager. He hadn’t fucked her, he was pretty sure. No. They had made out in the alley for a while, and then she had told him she needed to go home.
Good. He wasn’t a one-night-stand sort of guy.
Also, having sex with groupies was a universally terrible idea.
Unfair. She hadn’t been a groupie. He didn’t think she had recognized him, which honestly wasn’t too surprising. The kind of girl who went to indie shows at dive bars probably didn’t spend too much time listening to the top 40.
His head ached. Not badly. He hadn’t drunk all that much beer. He needed a hot shower, a few glasses of water, and some coffee. And then more coffee. Maybe something stronger. Shit, they were holding auditions that afternoon. Definitely something stronger.
He rolled out of bed and headed for the shower.
Fifteen minutes later, he was on his way downstairs to the lobby. Rushani had told them they had a band meeting at 10:00, and the last thing he wanted to do was piss her off. She was a ball-buster under the best of circumstances, and with everything that was going on with Andrew, she had become a coiled knot of tension, ready to lash out at anyone who broke the rules. O’Connor didn’t think she had been sleeping very much.
The hotel’s restaurant was mostly empty. People had checked out already, or gone off for their day of sightseeing. An elderly couple sat near the door, reading the newspaper over their empty breakfast dishes. A woman in a suit ate an omelet in quick, neat bites. O’Connor moved toward the table in the back corner where Rushani was sitting with James and, surprisingly, Andrew. She must have dragged him out of bed. He looked at least halfway sober.
O’Connor sat down and tossed his sunglasses on the table. “I’m not late, am I?”
“No,” Rushani said, giving him a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Right on time. I ordered coffee for you.”
“Bless your heart,” O’Connor said.
“This is a goddamn farce,” Andrew said, bitter, his voice raw and ragged. He smoked too much. He didn’t care about anything except getting wasted and having sex with women he picked up at shows. He didn’t even seem to care about the band anymore. Or even about the music. His hair was greasy and falling into his face in lank strings. The circles beneath his eyes had progressed from blue to a dark purple, like a two-day-old bruise. He looked like shit. He was wearing the same T-shirt he’d had on for the past three days. O’Connor was glad he was sitting on the other side of the table. Andrew probably smelled about as good as he looked.
“It’s not a farce,” Rushani said, with an edge to her voice that had grown all too familiar lately. She was clean, dressed, and perfectly made up, but her eyes were bloodshot from exhaustion. “We have two days to find another bassist. You’re playing in San Francisco on Monday night. Jeff can fill in if we’re desperate, but you know he doesn’t want to be on stage. You should be thanking your lucky stars that Kerrigan is a good person and waited to leave until we had a few days off.”
“Kerrigan’s a fucking traitor,” Andrew rasped. “Fuck him. We’re better off without him.”
Rushani’s mouth thinned into a grim line, and she looked away.
“Just shut up, Andrew,” James said, sounding tired. O’Connor knew the feeling. “Kerrigan left because you’re an insufferable piece of shit. Keep your mouth shut and don’t make it any worse than it already is.”
Andrew scowled. “Who died and made you the king of the universe?”
O’Connor took a long sip of coffee. This was an old argument, worn thin in its predictability. The specifics changed, but the underlying truth held steady: Andrew was self-destructing, and he was hell-bent on taking all the rest of them with him. The band wouldn’t survive. Andrew didn’t care. O’Connor had only recently realized how bad things had gotten, but he was beginning to think that Andrew didn’t care if he lived or died.
“Stop it,” Rushani said. The words were flat and expressionless. She was worn out. They all were. She leaned to one side and took a folder from her bag on the floor. “I called some people. Word should get around. We’re holding auditions today at 3:00. I want all of you there and sober. This isn’t a game. If you don’t have a bassist, you don’t have a tour, and nobody gets paid.”
Andrew still cared about money, because that was the only way he could afford the booze and drugs he mainlined like there was no tomorrow. “I don’t see why Jeff can’t do it,” he said.
“Jeff has no stage presence,” James said. He unzipped his hoodie and then zipped it up again. It was a nervous habit that got worse when he was stressed.
“He doesn’t like the spotlight,” Rushani said, diplomatic, smoothing things over. O’Connor wasn’t sure what would have happened to them in the past six months without her. Utter destruction. The apocalypse. “He’s a great tech. He’s happier backstage.”
“I don’t want some stranger coming in and fucking everything up,” Andrew said. He finally noticed the cup of coffee on the table in front of him, and began scooping sugar into it, one heaping spoonful at a time. O’Connor watched in mute horror. It would be completely undrinkable. A diabetic sludge. What a waste of good coffee. “We don’t need a bassist. O’Connor can just loop some shit in the studio and we’ll play it—”
“No,” O’Connor said.
“What do you mean, no?” Andrew asked. “You don’t call the shots here, asshole. If I say that you’re going to do it—”
“You don’t call the shots, either,” Rushani said, calm, very quiet, implacable. “This isn’t your decision, Andrew. You hired me to make these decisions. I’ve decided. We’re holding auditions.”
Andrew sneered at her. “Yeah, I hired you, and I can fire you again.”
“You absolutely can’t,” James said. The past six months had changed him. As Andrew deteriorated, James had stepped up and become the band’s de facto leader. O’Connor was happy to cede that responsibility. “You’re outnumbered. O’Connor and I both want her here.” He shot a quick glance in O’Connor’s direction, checking for agreement, and O’Connor nodded slightly. He was Team Rushani all the way. “This isn’t your band. We walk away, and you’ve got nothing.”
“I’m everything,” Andrew said. “You’re nothing without me. I write all of the lyrics. I sing all of the songs that keep teenage girls up at night, staring at my face plastered on their wall, and probably crying because they won’t ever have me.”
“I write all of the fucking music,” O’Connor snapped, goaded into arguing with Andrew, which everyone knew was a fool’s game. He inhaled deeply and took another sip of coffee. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what Andrew said or did. The only thing that mattered was the band. He was going to keep the band together or die trying.
Andrew didn’t miss a beat. “Songwriters are a dime a dozen. Let’s hold an audition for a new songwriter while we’re at it. Then O’Connor can go back to Middle America in a self-righteous huff.”
“Shut up, Andrew,” James said, and turned to Rushani, eyebrows drawn together. “Why is he even here? Can we ban him from band meetings?”
“You fucking wish,” Andrew said. “You need me. You can’t do this without me.”
Rushani lay one hand flat on the table, her shoulders pulled up toward her ears, ready—O’Connor hoped—to flay Andrew to the bone with the sharp edge of her tongue. But their waitress approached, notebook in hand, to take their orders, and Andrew immediately turned on the charm, smiling brightly and telling her how pretty her earrings were, and could she tell him where she got them, because his sister’s birthday was soon and she would really love a pair of her own.
James gave O’Connor a meaningful look, mouth twisted to one side. O’Connor shrugged and drank his coffee. There was nothing he could do, and nothing he wanted to. Andrew’s good looks and charisma were a large part of the reason they had sold almost two million albums in the last fifteen months. Andrew hadn’t lost that, at least. He still knew how to turn it on for the fans.
But the funny, easy-going boy O’Connor had grown up with was gone. Possibly for good. All that remained of him was this cynical, ruthless husk, a sad simulacrum that looked like Andrew and sounded like Andrew but wasn’t really him at all.
They might have been doomed.
“Here’s to us,” O’Connor said, raising his coffee mug. “The Saving Graces.”
They all looked at him. Nobody else raised their mug.