Chapter Twelve

Vertice was two weeks gone by the time my date in court arrived. I stood before the judge, the bruises on my jaw and throat still livid against my white skin, and described aloud for the first time the abuse I had suffered at Damon's hand, both recently and years ago. A restraining order was issued immediately, and the kindly judge commended me for having the courage to press charges for assault and attempted rape.

When the gavel smacked wood, I took a deep breath and turned to leave. Jeff, Jack, Tim, Sammy, and Alexis were waiting for me outside the courtroom.

"How'd it go?" Jeff asked, the first to give me a hug.

"Fine," I said, nodding. "The judge said that with pictures of my bruises and eyewitness accounts, Damon could be facing some jail time."

"Thank God," Sammy breathed, embracing me tightly.

"That's such a relief," Alexis added, hugging me from the other side.

I smiled at them all. "Thanks, you guys, for supporting me." I saw Tim and Jack exchanged a glance. "What?"

Tim grinned. "Can I tell her? Can I?" he asked, jumping from foot to foot.

"Oh, why not!" Jack said.

Tim grabbed my hands and spun me around. "While you've been occupied by the loops and stoplights of legal system, we've been holding down the front, musically speaking."

"I'm getting dizzy, Tim," I laughed. "Tell me what you're talking about!"

He spun us to a halt. "Two words: Drop and Roll," he said, and frowned. "Though, technically, it might be considered three words."

"What?" I whispered, looking at Jeff and Jack, who were grinning.

"Drop and Roll Records," Jack nodded.

"We got a call a few days ago from someone who got our number from the club," Jeff said. "This is apparently a fairytale world, Ri. Oh, and we've been picked up for an upcoming tour with The Washdown. If all goes well, we've got ourselves exposure and a label."

"No shit?" I squeaked. "Drop and Roll Records wants us?"

Jeff nodded. "Looks that way."

I screamed and launched into Tim's arms, squeezing him so hard he wheezed for air. He carried me around the room, chanting, "We're going on toooour. We're going on toooour."

The four month whirlwind US tour was everything I had ever dreamed of, and more. It was that way for all of us. We slept dog-piled in dingy hotel rooms or sitting upright in a van with no shocks. When our van broke down outside Nowhere, USA, the cool cats of The Washdown welcomed us into their tour bus.

We laughed, cried, threw temper tantrums, and performed. Sometimes our set was amazing, and sometimes it was off. Such was life.

In the beginning, Vertice and I had talked by phone almost every day. Slowly, though, distance grew between us, literally and figuratively. I had no claim on him, I knew, and with fresh groupies in every city, he was likely glad.

I tried to hope that he was enjoying himself, but such thoughts were inevitably forced, and caused such misery that at one point I cried every night for a week. At the end of that mourning period, though, I threw myself into the arms of the music. About a month into the tour, the time finally came that I was so busy, there was hardly a moment to myself in which to think about missing him.

When we finally arrived home—which was, for Jeff and me, a storage unit filled with all our worldly belongings—we were exhausted and elated. News had come after our final show that Drop and Roll Records wanted us signed as soon as possible. We had a new manager—Jeff had gladly given up the role—a sweet punk chick named Alice Warner, whose gift of persuasion engineered a cushy contract.

Jeff and I moved temporarily into the spare bedrooms at Jack and Tim's while we went to work putting down songs in a local studio. Surprisingly enough, I still had a job at Alternative Review, though with a somewhat different task description.

At Mike C's bidding, I wrote about my experiences in a punk band on their first tour. The anecdotes were met with such enthusiasm by local kids that I was not only promoted to senior staff writer, but could dictate my own deadlines, and was currently submitting articles on the ins and outs of recording a record.

A little over a month after returning to the city, the boys and I were lounging in the cramped dressing room at Joe's Grocery, killing time before our homecoming show.

"It feels good to be back here," Jack said, articulating what was on all our minds.

"Yeah," Jeff said. "We've stacked up a lot of good memories in this place."

Tim chuckled, pointing in my direction. "Remember that time when she—"

"Yeah, yeah," I interjected.

"And that other time—" Tim continued.

"Yeah, we remember that too," Jeff said quickly, laughing.

"What about—"

"We were there, dumbass!" Jack exclaimed.

I laughed and stood as someone knocked on the door. "Coming!" I called, hopping over Jeff's sprawled legs.

I opened the door, smiling.

You know those moments we have, when everything seems to slow as cycles of life come full circle? Things click into place in your universe with an almost tangible sound, and in that isolated time, everything is perfect?

"Hey, Irish," Vertice said softly.

He was tan from California, where the last leg of No View's tour had taken place. His hair was longer, growing in dark brown beneath the blue-black. He was smiling, and warmth spilled outward from my heart as I jumped into his arms.

I hugged him tightly, and only when Jeff spoke behind me did I release him.

"Welcome home, man," Jeff said, slapping Vertice's shoulder.

"Thanks," he said, glancing at me.

"Er… are the guys outside?" Jack asked, walking toward the door. Vertice nodded. "Well, then, I guess the three of us will go say hello."

I glanced over my shoulder at Tim, who launched to his feet. "I get it!" he said, and followed the others into the hallway.

"Come on in," I said, shifting nervously as Vertice walked past me. I closed the door and stood against it. My hands searched for pockets on a skirt that had none, then found relative peace with each other, clasped before me. "So. How have you been?"

He sat in one of the rickety plastic chairs, smiling up at me. "Great, yourself?"

"Great," I said.

Tick. Tick. I glanced at the clock mounted on the wall, wishing I had laser capacity in my eyes to blast it into oblivion.

"It's good to see you," he said at length, the smile gone.

"You, too. How was the tour?" I asked.

"It was a trip. We partied a lot." I cringed inside, thinking about anonymous, beautiful women throwing themselves at him. "I heard you got signed to Drop and Roll. I'm really happy for you."

"Thanks," I said sincerely. "It still feels like I'm dreaming."

He stood up slowly, a small smile tugging at his mouth. "So, can I kiss you yet?"

I blinked, frozen.

Tick. Tick.

Suddenly and completely, God took mercy on me, pressing the PLAY button on my brain. Unfortunately, when it came to follow-through, it appeared that I was on my own. "Well, uh… yeah, I guess I think I'd like that. If you, you know, want to and all."

His smile widened as he walked toward me. He cupped my face in his hands, tilting it upward. His lips hovered over mine for a moment before gently bridging the gap between us. I sighed, opening my mouth as his tongue flicked across my lips.

Some time later, he drew back just enough to murmur, "I was a wreck the whole tour, cherie, alone and missing you."

I looked into his serious eyes. "God," I breathed. "Me, too. I couldn't stand to think about you because it drove me nuts."

He kissed me softly. "So, will you be my girlfriend?"

I threw my arms around his neck, knocking him off balance. He stumbled back a step, laughing. "Is that a yes?"

I angled my head back, still holding him tightly. "Yes," I said, and kissed him. And kissed him again, for luck. And again for the joy of it, and once more for the incredible gift that was my life with him in it.

Oh, just for the record: I kissed him the next day, too, and the next day, and the day after that… See the pattern emerging? Do the math, kids.

the end. now fuck off.