Put it in Red:
by Nicola C. Matthews
© 2014 by Nicola C. Matthews
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
X-Isle United Press
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or to any other written publication is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover art by Bloody Feather Graphix Team
The sound check had gone off without a hitch. Everyone had retreated to their hotel rooms to get ready for the show. Jax was dreading it. They were back in their home state, just a few hundred miles away from where they all grew up, and it was way too close for comfort as far as he was concerned.
Being this close to home dredged up so many old memories, memories he preferred to keep in the past where they belonged. But they wouldn’t stay buried no matter how much he wanted them to. He could feel them surfacing, see the faces of his classmates, his tormentors, and his friends, even though he tried so hard to shove them from his mind.
Eva. He could still hear the sound of her laugh as it drifted to him during those long ago pep rallies, could still smell the scent of her skin and perfume as their bodies pressed tightly against each other in the back of his old truck. They had managed to keep their affair a secret for most of high-school. She was the head cheerleader after all, and he was just the long-haired, eyeliner-wearing guy with the Marilyn Manson tee-shirts and playing his guitar way too loud on the weekends.
All that had changed at the beginning of their senior year. One of the football players had caught them screwing in the back of the locker room after one of the games, and by Monday morning everyone in the entire school knew about their secret affair. Jax had been relieved at first, finally able to talk about the woman he loved more than life itself.
The first few months had been heaven for him. They had been openly affectionate around each other, Eva no longer sneaking notes to him through his friends or them meeting late at night in the park for a quick fuck. She was more than willing to hold his hand in school, hang out with him around town. But as the pressure mounted during their senior year to start making career choices, the obvious differences that had drawn them so close together for the past three years was quickly driving a wedge between them.
Jax’s lack of aspiration and interest in college had caused Eva’s passion for him to quickly cool the last few months they were together. Her eyes soon turned towards his best friend at the time, Jason Scott, who had been accepted into a very prestigious medical program.
Jason was one of those guys who had high aspirations and zero interest in high school. He stayed out of trouble, made pretty decent grades, and had spent the last two years of high school networking and volunteering with all the right groups. The connections he had made paid off in the end as he headed out to Harvard Med with a full scholarship.
Eva had broken up with him over spring break, telling him she couldn’t be with someone whose only dream was to tour with Marilyn Manson. She had managed to get accepted into a small college near Harvard and had made the decision to accept Jason’s marriage proposal.
Jaxon had been crushed. He spent the entire two weeks of spring break roaming around town. He didn’t sleep, he didn’t eat, he just walked, thinking about everything Eva had said and what he had planned for his life after high school.
In truth, he hated high school. He was the weird Goth kid who secretly wore eyeliner and tight leather pants to Emo nightclubs but was forced to keep his long, dark brown hair pulled back in a pony-tail when he was at school. He had gotten his ass kicked more times than he could count, his classmates calling him a fag, asking him when he was going to kill his family. The entire high school experience disgusted him.
By the time spring break ended and everyone was gearing up for prom and the last few months before graduation, Jax was pawning off everything he had of value. He traded his ten-year-old truck for a fifteen-year-old delivery van, packed up what little bit of his possessions he still had, and left Florida, driving all the way across the country until he finally hit Los Angeles.
He had been just three months shy of his eighteenth birthday. He had spent the next two years of his life living out of his van most of the time, doing anything and everything that would make him a few bucks. He joined more than a half-dozen bands over those years, but none of them had the sound or the look that spoke to him.
He had stumbled upon Sphinx and Rave by accident while at a club, witnessing the argument that resulted in the two of them leaving the band they had been playing in for the past year. The three of them had spent the rest of the night talking about their musical influences, and after a few jam sessions, Profane Remains had one guitarist and a bass player along with a front man whose deep voice and staggering good looks had him swimming in groupies.
The twins, Treble and Tribal, had come into the picture soon after, and the five-man band began playing every club and venue that would let them through the doors. For two years they just knew they were on the fast track to becoming famous, but no matter how many shows they played, no matter how many singles they sent out to producers and radio stations, they just couldn’t get a break. The producers kept telling them no one was interested in metal bands any more.
“Glam metal has been dead for decades now, boys. Cut your hair, cover up those tattoos, and stop wearing eyeliner. When you start looking like the newest version of BTR, come back and we’ll talk,” producers and agents told them.
Jax’s answer to them was always, “Fuck that shit and fuck you too.”
That had been more than a decade ago. They had finally gotten their big break, but it was Jax who would ultimately pay the price.
Now he discovered himself on stage in one of the state’s largest venues, feeling the energy of the crowd and the hard chords of the music melting away the gut-wrenching fear that had slowly been creeping into his heart over the past year.
The lights went down, the music started up, and soon he was carried away on a sea of screaming fans all singing along to the lyrics he had helped write, each and every one of them smiling up at him, each willing to sell their own souls for just a few brief moments in his presence. This is what he had always wanted, had always dreamed about. There was no other feeling like it in the world, and he wished with every fiber in his being this wild ride would last forever.
All too soon, their two hours on stage were over, and the band that was Profane Remains was once again backstage, shedding their stage personas and slipping back into their everyday lives.
A light knock came at their door as their agent, David Peking, walked into the room. “Guys, that show was brill!” he said, congratulating them on another sold-out performance.
“I think half the audience is lined up out there to meet you guys,” he said with a wink. “Do you need a few more minutes or are you ready to party?”
“Hell yes!” Treb and Tribe hollered in unison, causing the other three members of the band to look at them. It was scary how in-tune they were with each other at times. Their appetite for women and booze was staggering, but they hadn’t exactly become rock stars to not at least enjoy the perks from time to time.
David looked at Jax who nodded, and he ushered the five of them out the door and down the hall where the meet and greet was taking place.
Jax settled back into one of the folding chairs as the crowd lined up to meet them began screaming as soon as they entered the room. A huge chunk of them were holding up signs, everything from explicit explanations of what the women wanted to do to them to marriage proposals. He had more than his fair share of admirers, but since his band mates were younger than him, and their fans generally ranged in age from fifteen to fifty, the vast majority of the girls they met were under the age of twenty-one.
He had enjoyed a few flings over the years, but he had a hard time really connecting with any of them. He supposed that is what had drawn him to Eva all those years ago. She was his age, but her soul was so much older. She wasn’t like all the other silly high school girls once he got to know her. She was creative and smart, she could express her ideas and opinions better than most adults twice her age. She may have acted like an air-headed blonde around her friends, but around him, she was so much more.
Jax stifled a yawn. It was already after eleven in the evening, and while he was used to going on just a few hours of sleep, the past several weeks were really taking a toll on him. He would have liked to have went back to the hotel and slept until they got ready to leave the next morning, but he wasn’t about to disappoint his fans, so he settled down with his marker, a stack of photos and flyers, and prepared himself for the next few hours.
With them, it didn’t matter if it took all night to meet everyone and sign autographs and take photos. They weren’t the type of band to perform and then leave. Doing that had a tendency to piss off a lot of fans, and in this business, if your fans weren’t behind you, then you were done.
For the next four hours Jax posed for pictures, signed his name until his hand cramped and his signature was so sloppy he could have written down any name and no one would have known the difference. He chatted with fans about music, cover art, his influences growing up, and everything else anyone asked him about. Thankfully, the crowd had thinned out considerably, and there were just a few fans left and then he could finally collapse into bed.
Jax did not look up as a small, white hand placed an old photograph in front of him. It wasn’t until he pulled the photo closer he realized just how old it was. He stared at it for a moment, his brain taking a few seconds to comprehend the photo was one of him, taken when he was barely sixteen years old, his long hair blowing wild and free in the wind as he stared back at the camera with a happy, carefree smile, the old playground from his hometown local park barely visible in the background.
Stunned, Jax looked up at the person who had handed him the photo.
Time stopped as Jax’s heart leapt into his throat. For a split second he found himself transported back to high school, felt that odd little zing of electricity dance along his spine like it always did when she was near.
Jax could feel his eyes growing wide and his jaw drop slightly. She hadn’t changed a bit. Her hair was still the same shade of shiny dark blonde, full and thick but shorter than he remembered. Her eyes were still the same shade of aquamarine, her lips still full as she gave him that cute half-smile, her head tilted to the side just the tiniest bit.
Her faded jeans hugged her curvy hips and the Profane Remains shirt she was wearing fit snugly around breasts that looked as if they had grown at least a cup size since high school. He wasn’t sure how it was even possible, but she had grown even more beautiful over the last fourteen years.
“Hey, Jaxon,” she said quietly, her voice soft and musical as ever.
Jax let the photo fall from his hand as he sat back in his chair, so dumbstruck it took him a few seconds to recover.
“Holy hell, Eva,” he whispered, nearly choking on the name he had not uttered aloud in more than a decade.
She jerked at the sound of her name on his lips, just the slightest movement, and something flickered in those beautiful eyes. Her smile broadened slightly, but it was still uncertain, almost sad as she asked, “How have you been?”
Jax could almost feel his soul being torn in two. The emotions raged inside of him as he stared at her. His mind struggled to come to grips with the situation, with her, with the fact she was actually standing there in front of him. But the reality of her being there in the flesh was far more bitter-sweet than he ever could have imagined. He wanted to choke her and kiss her and scream at her and laugh and cry all at the same time.
But he couldn’t do any of those things. Not now, not like this.
“I’ve been good, Eva, really good.”
He sat up in his chair. “Damn, Eva, it’s been years. How have you been?”
Eva’s smile broadened, reminding him of how she used to smile at him whenever she saw him dashing across the old park late at night. He wanted to ask her to sit down, almost did, but he knew this couldn’t happen, shouldn’t happen, wouldn’t happen.
They had several more shows to do, and then they were scheduled to leave the country at the end of the week to finish up the last leg of their tour in Europe. Spending more than just a few seconds with her was out of the question. This, her¸ was the last thing he needed in his life right now, or ever, as far as that went.
“I’ve been … good,” she said, her voice faltering a bit as she hesitated. Her smile wavered slightly, and he felt his heart lurch. He wasn’t sure which would have been worse, her gushing about how wonderful her life was since she left him, or her bawling her eyes out about how horrible her life had gone since they broke up.
“How’s Jason?” he asked, more out of courtesy than anything. He honestly didn’t give a flying fuck if the man was doing great or if he had slit his wrists in the bathtub after being sued for malpractice.
“He’s fine, last I heard,” she said, her usual sunny self losing some of its cheerfulness.
Jax raised an eyebrow, something he had been in the habit of doing since he was a kid. Eva’s body jerked again slightly, barely noticeable as her own heart fluttered desperately inside of her chest. How was it possible he could still do this to her after so many years? He was so calm, so collected, and yet she felt like she was going to jump clean out of her skin with him so close.
Jax opened his mouth and then shut it tight. He didn’t want to know, didn’t need to know, and he wasn’t about to ask the question that had haunted him for more than half a decade now.
“So, did you want me to autograph this for you, or…..,” his voice trailed off as he gestured towards the small stack of remaining photos still sitting beside him on the table.
Eva laughed, the light, airy laugh that had always made his heart beat just a little faster whenever he heard it.
“Well, yeah, I would like for you to autograph it if you don’t mind.” She smiled at him again, her head tilted to the side, the lop-sided grin that always melted his heart and made him feel better no matter how bad things had gotten. “And I wouldn’t mind an autograph on one of the newer ones either, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Jax grinned back at her, feeling a bit more relaxed as he picked up his marker and one of the photographs and scrawled his name across the bottom.
He used to fantasize about this moment when he had first moved out to LA, imagined how sweet it would be to be a world-renowned rock star and stumble across Eva. In those first few years his drive was fueled by revenge, wanting to rub her beautiful, angelic face in the fact she passed up the opportunity to enjoy this ride with him in exchange for the life of a suburban housewife going to hospital charity auctions. As the years passed, however, that fanciful daydream had slowly faded, and as the reality of his fame settled in, he found himself no longer bitter about the past, hoping only that she had made the right choices for her life and was happy wherever she was.
Seeing her standing in front of him, her smile holding the slightest hint of sadness, his own decisions he had been fully prepared to take the responsibility for wavered for the first time since he had signed his contract.
Jax slowly slid the photos back across the table, not wanting to meet her eyes. He had so many questions, but his clock was ticking. He was better off not knowing.
“Jax, man, it’s already past four in the morning,” Sphinx said quietly beside him, the young man looking like he could fall asleep on his feet. “We’ve got to get on the road.”
His gaze moved to Eva and then back to Jax, a sly little smile curling up his full lips as he said, “Looks like that hotel room was totally useless this time.”
Jax felt his jaw tighten as he ground his teeth together. Under normal circumstances he would have laughed, loving the joke and the look on the faces of any females standing within earshot of the comment. He had actually heard some of them groan out loud while others made various suggestions about possible quick uses of the room. The boys loved teasing him about it, and he loved the attention it garnered him from the female fans.
But not tonight, not with it being Eva standing there to hear the comment.
Jax swallowed down the bile that unexpectedly rose up inside his throat. A one night stand with her was the last thing he wanted right now. It didn’t matter how attracted he was to her, didn’t matter the last fourteen years seemed to have melted away as if they had never been apart. He had changed; everything had changed.
Jax got up from his chair, the sound of the legs scraping across the tiled floor unnaturally loud in the near deserted room.
“Eva,” he said, his dark eyes meeting hers, feeling is heart leap into his throat again as he saw the slightest flicker of hope behind those captivating eyes.
She smiled at him expectantly.
God, he was so torn, felt like such a jackass, even though he knew this was the best decision for both of them.
“Eva, we’ve got to get back on the road. We’ve got a twelve-hour drive ahead of us and a show at eight. I’m sorry, I wish there was more time.”
He smiled at her, this time the smile showing the sadness echoed inside his heart. “It was really great seeing you again,” he said softly.
Eva’s smile had faded just the slightest bit. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was holding you guys up from a show!”
She held out her hand, and Jax took it without even thinking. “It was great seeing you again too, Jax. Take care of yourself, okay?”
Jax brushed his lips across the back of her hand, her skin soft and warm. Eva shuddered slightly, the movement going unnoticed by the man whose touch sent a jolt of electricity zinging down her spine.
“You, too, Eva,” Jax whispered as he let go of her hand, turning to slowly walk across the room.
He paused at the door, turning his head slightly to glance back towards the table. But she was already gone, the room now completely empty. Were it not for her lingering scent, she might have been ghost, a whisper of years long past, a vision of his own creation conjured to torture his already condemned soul.
Jax turned slowly away from the door, feeling as if his heart were breaking all over again, the shattered remains scattering like glass.