A/N: This one starts off a little more YA-oriented than Million Miles Away, but it is going to get darker as time goes on, I promise. It takes place about 10 years before MMA. There is some strong language here and there (Just to let you know in case that turns you off). Please R&R, that always makes my day.
Only You Can Rock Me
As he bashed out the final chords of the third song in the set, Blackie wondered for at least the fiftieth time that day whether any of his old high school friends would be at the show tonight. He had made sure to leave their names on the guest list – Corey, Lloyd, Sean, Dave and Evan – deaf to the bitching from the rest of the band about taking up so many spots. When they started the set the 1200-seater club was about two-thirds full, but now it looked like it was completely packed. Guess the promoter wasn't bullshitting us about it being a sold out show, Blackie thought with a rising sense of triumph. Hopefully the first of many. Hell yeah!
With the song done, Jon, the frontman, went up to the mic to address the crowd for the first time since the show started. "All right, Richmond! How we doing so far?"
He sounds more and more comfortable with every show, Blackie mused. God, even six months ago I never would have thought he could be like this, given how bad he used to shit bricks at the mere thought of going on stage.
In the relative calm that had settled in while Jon was speaking, Blackie heard a very familiar male voice ring out from the audience: "Hey, play 'Tokyo Sinners'!"
"Play 'Demon In Me'!" another person yelled. Blackie's shoulders started to shake with barely-repressed laughter as he searched the faces that he could see out in the audience.
"Uhh, I think you might've come to see another band, mate," Jon quipped in bemusement. "Sorry, but those aren't Strange Angels songs. Anyway—" He broke off speaking as Blackie walked over and took the mic.
"Sounds like there's some people from my hometown here," Blackie said to the crowd, which responded with hoots and applause. He suddenly caught sight of the faces he'd been hoping to see as his friends aggressively pushed their way closer to the front of the stage. Yep, that's Corey's big ol' fluffy head for sure, and there's Dave, and how could you miss Mr. Almost An Albino Lloyd?
Then he caught sight of the girl that Lloyd was towing hand-in-hand behind him, and almost forgot to breathe as his heart turned straight to ice and plunged down to freeze his gut. Ho-ly shit…Joanna? I never thought I'd see her again. Damn, what am I gonna say to her? If she stays after the show, that is. God, I hope she doesn't…or do I?
Chapter 1 – I'm New Here, Be Gentle
Near Roanoke, VA
Joanna was unpacking the last of her things in her new room, barely illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun. She looked up from the stack of books she was placing in the built-in wall shelves and realized the daylight was almost gone. She went to the light switch beside the door and flipped it back and forth, but the overhead bulb stayed dark. Where was her little stained-glass bedside lamp? It must still be in a box that got left downstairs – she went out onto the landing and called for her mother, but got no reply.
Growing a tad exasperated, she went down the bare wood staircase and walked through the rooms in search of either of her parents. She found a lot of still-sealed boxes, rolled up carpets and the old familiar furniture scattered in new unfamiliar arrangements, but nobody else was in the house.
Upon entering the kitchen, she noticed the back door was open, letting in the last of the early September warmth. Voices floated in from the building gloom outside; her mother's and another woman's. She quietly padded to the door and peeked outside, not quite prepared to meet the new neighbors yet, but curious to see what they were like.
A low chain-link fence bordered the north side of their spacious new backyard, and it was there where her mom was talking to a jean-clad woman on the other side with white-streaked dark hair and an incongruously girlish figure. In the fading twilight, Joanna could not tell if the woman was in her teens or in her forties.
She heard her mother say, "Connie, it was very nice to meet you. I'd better get inside and see how my daughter is doing with her unpacking."
"Nice to meet you too, Susan. When you all get a little more settled, you'll have to come over for dinner. And if there's anything Tom and I - or Chris – can do to help you all in any way, just give us a shout. Chris is pretty handy, actually. Teenage boys can be quite useful if you know how to motivate them." The other woman finished with a little laugh.
Her mom chuckled too. "Teenage girls can be the same way. We might just take you up on that; might make Dan feel a little less outnumbered by women!"
The two women said their goodbyes and Joanna's mom headed back to the house. Joanna quickly dashed back upstairs; if her mom knew she'd been eavesdropping, she would have taken her to task for hiding out instead of dutifully introducing herself to her new neighbors. By the time Susan got up to her room, Joanna was shelving books again, her pulled-back light blonde hair barely glowing in what little light there was left.
"Honey, how can you see what you're doing? Where is your lamp?" Her mom also tried to turn on the overhead light with the same lack of success. "Hmm. Probably long burned out. We'll get your dad to put in a new one when he gets back with dinner."
"I can change it myself, Mom."
"Let's find your lamp first. We really need to have all the bedroom things up here so we can conquer the downstairs next. Well, starting tomorrow, anyway. I'm just about beat; aren't you?"
Joanna only nodded as she scrabbled in the bottom of the box for the last of the books. It had been one of the longest days ever in her relatively short life – a 6 a.m. departure from her old house in Nashville, then an 8-hour drive to the new house in a small Southwestern Virginia town that she'd never even heard of before her father was offered a job at the college there. Due to traffic they had arrived later than planned and Joanna had begun unpacking immediately as if quick establishment of her new surroundings would ease the ache of leaving the only home she had ever known in Tennessee. And throwing herself into the work had helped – a bit. But then she would unpack her photo albums, or her yearbooks, or her horse riding trophies and be reminded that her old life was at the other end of 450 miles of highway, and now there was no going back.
If only I were two years older, she thought ruefully. Then Mom and Dad couldn't have made me go with them. Why didn't they wait until I was done with high school?
"Well, your dad should be back with the pizza any minute, so I'm going to go down and make a suitable space for us to eat in. You may as well come down too, since there's not much more you can do here until we find your lamp."
"Ok, I'll be down in a sec. I'm just going to wash up first."
Susan left and Joanna pushed the empty box aside and crossed over to her twin bed which she had placed by the window. Her room was at the front of the house on the same side as the neighbors her mom had been talking to at the backyard fence. The woman - I think Mom called her Connie? – had mentioned something about having a teenage son, but that wasn't necessarily good news. He might only be 13, and in that case he may as well be eight, Joanna mused.
At 16, she was emotionally light-years ahead of most boys her age. Still, she felt caught in some twilight area when it came to the opposite sex – too mature for spin the bottle-type stuff, yet not ready for a serious relationship where sex would be an expected thing.
At the age of ten she had entered that classic horse-obsessed phase but had yet to leave it like most girls did once they discovered that the opposite sex wasn't quite as icky as once believed. When she was 12, her parents had gone to great lengths to buy her a Tennessee Walker Plantation horse, a coal black three-year-old gelding named Sable Sunshine, and Joanna threw herself into the world of show horses with a burning enthusiasm. Together, she and Sunny (all show horses were referred to as a diminutive of their registered names) made a formidable team, she in elegant all-black riding livery right down to her cravat and flat-topped derby hat, charging into show after show and sweeping the competition with increasing frequency. They had entered competition at the Celebration in Shelbyville – the premiere event for showing Tennessee Walkers - three years in a row, and the last time they went, they came in third in the Amateur Youth riders category, no small achievement considering the other riders came from all over the country and took the event as seriously as she did.
But at the beginning of last summer, Sunny sustained a cracked cannon bone after getting kicked by another horse at the stables where he was boarded and although the condition wasn't fatal, Joanna's family couldn't afford the expensive surgery required to get him back into competition shape. They sold him – very much against Joanna's wishes – back to the family who owned the stables. As her father had explained, they simply could not afford to take the horse with them to Virginia, not with the higher mortgage payments, the need for a second car, and increased cost of living up there.
Within a couple of months, Joanna's life had been yanked out from under her like a throw rug, leaving her bereft of her favorite hobby, her friends, her childhood home, almost everything except for her books and music. She was trying to stay buoyant, but now that she was in this strange room in this strange house in this strange town, the fear of the unknown was invading her nerve by nerve like an inexorable black tide.
What if the kids here are really snotty? What if everyone at the new school are so tight that nobody wants to talk to me? I don't even know how to talk to them. Or if I'll fit in. I probably have all the wrong clothes and school starts in four days!
As these terrifying thoughts were sweeping through her head, she saw her parents' car pull up outside. She watched out the window as her dad got out with a big pizza box and suddenly realized she was quite hungry for a change. As her dad walked up to the house, another man walked over from the house next door; the one where the woman named Connie lived with her family. Joanna's window was open to let the room air out while she unpacked, so the men's voices carried up to her easily.
The neighbor, who was very tall and lanky with a neatly trimmed shock of thick dark hair, shook her father's hand. "Tom Blackwell. You Mr. Forsythe? Welcome to the neighborhood."
"Thank you. Please, call me Dan," Joanna's father replied in his gentle Nashville accent.
"And you can call me Tom. My wife Connie said she talked to your wife earlier. Sorry I wasn't here when you all arrived, just got back from Roanoke. I work with a healthcare company based there that's about to became affiliated with the Community hospital here."
"So you must be busy. Well, I'm starting as Dean of History at your college on Monday, and my wife Susan hopes to keep on with her drapery making business like she had before we came up here. We have a daughter who's 16 and she's starting at the high school here on Monday too. Gonna be a big week for us all, I guess."
"Well, if there's anything we can do for you, just give us a holler. We have an only son who'll be starting his senior year at the high school and I'm sure he'll be glad to introduce your girl around. He's a good kid; Connie and I tried to bring him up with a healthy respect for people; especially the female half of the population."
"That sounds wonderful. I'm sure Joanna will be glad to hear it. She's a good kid too, and we're hoping she gets along well here."
"I'm sure she'll be just fine," Tom spoke reassuringly, but Joanna's doubts were going to be dispelled that easily. Come Monday, I'll find out!
"Ok, I'll let you go so you can eat. That from Villa Roma on Main Street?"
"Yep, it looked like the real deal, so I thought we'd try it out."
"You made the right choice there, all right. People even come from Roanoke to eat there. Try the eggplant rolatini next time. Good stuff!"
Her dad laughed as he walked up the front porch steps. "Will do. Nice to meet you, Tom!"
Connie shouted up from downstairs: "Jo, your dad's back with dinner!"
"Ok, Mom, I'm coming!"