A/N: Look out, Joanna. Those Thrash boys are kind of a different breed.

Chapter 30 – Running with the New Pack

Joanna was in hell. God, it sucked so bad being stuck at home alone while Blackie was playing that private party – the one that slut arranged for him – in Roanoke. Not that she had to be stuck home alone. Her parents had invited her to come with them to a nine o'clock movie at the Roanoke Mall, but couldn't stand the thought of being in the same town as Blackie and yet not being able to go to the show.

And of course she was sitting in her room alone listening to W.A.S.P. just to torture herself even more. Joanna decided that a discreet raid on her dad's liquor cabinet was just what she needed to enhance her angsty mood. What the hell, she thought to herself as she went downstairs to the sideboard in the dining room. If this isn't the perfect night to drink alone, I don't know what is. God, I hope Blackie doesn't sleep with that bitch!

As she unlocked the door, the phone rang, causing her to jump guiltily and drop the key. She answered in a tentative voice, sure it was her mom checking up on her. To her surprise, it was Lisa.

"Hey, I know it's short notice, but I just found out that there's a really good band called Dire Wolf playing tonight at K.J.s. We should go. I don't think they start playing until nine or so."

"Oh man, I don't know," Joanna replied hesitantly. The last thing I want is to get hit on by a bunch of hicks.

"Well, what else do you have to do? Sit around your room and mope 'cause Blackie's not around? Screw that. Put on a little makeup and poof up your hair. I'll be there in about twenty minutes, OK?"

Lisa broke the connection with no further ado. Joanna signed resignedly as she replaced the receiver, then went back to the sideboard to replace the key. Oh, the hell with it. She swiftly unlocked the cabinet, poured a shot of whiskey and forced herself to down it in one grimacing gulp before carefully replacing the bottle and locking it up again. Then she trotted back upstairs to do what Lisa said.

Just under half an hour later, Joanna, now decked out in her second-best club outfit and glowing slightly from a second shot of whiskey, climbed into Lisa's Mustang as it idled at the curb in front of her house.

"Dang, were you already made up when I called, or did you do all that after we hung up?" her older friend asked laconically as the put the car into drive.

Joanna grinned with pride. "I'm getting a lot faster at getting ready."

"Well, aren't you special," Lisa drawled in her quasi-sarcastic way, which Joanna knew better than to take offense to by now. "But you won't be a real pro until you can do it all in a public bathroom. Not just change your clothes like the first time we went to K.J.s."

Oh yeah. That was the night I met Blackie. Damn, it feels like that all happened a year ago. OK, stop thinking about him! He probably isn't thinking about you right now, she chastised herself. "So what's the deal with this band tonight?"

"One of my friends, Jamie – she graduated a year ago, you don't know her – works at the club serving drinks and just doing general stuff. She called me a while ago saying that the band that's booked to play tonight got to the club and gave her a demo to listen to while they set up, and it's really kick ass. She says that they sound tight as hell and a lot like Motley Crue, but heavier, so I figured that you'd be into them."

Joanna nodded. "I'll give them a try, what the hell. As long as I'm home by curfew. Did Jamie say where they were from?"

"Uhh, somewhere way down south like Georgia or Alabama…Georgia, I think. Atlanta. Yeah. Anyway, fresh blood, right?"

"I guess," Joanna said in distant tones with a shrug. "But if they suck, can we leave after the first set?"

Lisa shot her a sharp, sidewise look. "If you want, I guess. But look, you got no say about whatever's going on with Blackie tonight, so all you can do is get out of the house and not give a fuck about anything."

"I know, I'm being stupid."

"No, you were being stupid. Now you're doing the right thing. By the way, is that Jack Daniels I'm smellin' or is that just extra Aquanet?"

When they pulled into the club's parking lot a short time later, Lisa whistled under her breath when she saw how full it was. "Damn, guess word got out about these guys."

"Yeah, or maybe nothing else is going on tonight," Joanna replied cynically as she grabbed her purse and made a few last-second touchups to her lipstick.

"Have a breath mint," Lisa told her, pulling a packet of Certs out of the car's center console. "If Officer Jackson is working the door tonight, you'll need it."

"Do I really smell that bad of JD?"

"Not as bad as you did when you got in the car, but it never hurts to be careful. Shit, there's a long-ass line to get in, and I gotta piss like a racehorse. C'mon, let's hit the convenience store next door first." Without waiting for confirmation, Lisa strode across the parking lot toward the store, Joanna reluctantly following a few steps behind and trying not to twist an ankle in her high-heeled boots.

Inside the store, they were confronted by the sight of two unfamiliar guys with long, shaggy hair arguing with the male cashier, an unbagged six-pack of Coors on the counter between the two warring parties.

"I told you, we only accept Virginia IDs," the cashier barked. "I ain't got no way of knowing what's real and what's fake if it's from out of state."

"Don't go anywhere, I'll be right back," Lisa whispered to Joanna before making her way toward the bathrooms in the back of the store. Joanna nodded confirmation, riveted to the exchange taking place.

"Dude, come on! We're both nineteen, this is a genuine Georgia driver's license and all we want is a some beer," one of the guys shot back, the color high in his cheekbones, barely exposed beneath the thick dark hair that curled over them.

"You don't really expect us to get Virginia IDs when we're only in this damn state for one day, do ya?" the second guy snarled. Joanna noted that his dark red hair wasn't quite as long as the first guy's but it was layered perfectly, as though he had a personal stylist at his beck and call.

"First of all, we're a Commonwealth, and second, that ain't my problem," the cashier replied arrogantly, flipping the ID card back at the dark-haired guy, who barely managed to catch it.

"Well, fuck your Commonwealth, and fuck your stupid little rule, too. Let's bail, Dan," the dark-haired guy barked at the redhead, turning to go. They both checked their stride when they noticed Joanna hovering by the door, looking slightly abashed.

"I don't suppose you have a Virginia ID?" Dark Hair asked her, the angry look on his Italianate features starting to turn hopeful.

"I do, but I'm not old enough, sorry," Joanna told him apologetically, feeling utterly useless.

Dark Hair shrugged, muttering something about it being "worth a shot" before brushing past her toward the door. But the redhead lingered, giving Joanna a look that was just on the respectful side of interested.

"Guess you're going to the show at the club next door?" he asked her, smiling tentatively. Joanna dropped her gaze briefly to take in his Riot shirt and very tight black jeans, which were in turn tucked into white Reebok high tops. The shirt was slightly loose but she could tell that he was very slender, maybe even skinnier than Blackie was. She brought her eyes back up to his – they were light brown, which took her by surprise. I thought redheaded people usually had green eyes. Hmm.

"Yeah, we heard the band playing tonight is really good," she told him with an air of innocence even though she was fairly sure that he was in said band based on the argument that had just taken place.

The guy's smile turned genuine, spreading across his entire face. "That's us. How come everyone seems to know about us even though we've never played up here before?," he added, a puzzled look crossing his boyishly cute features.

"Hey, it's a small town and word travels fast," Joanna quipped just as Lisa joined them. "Hey, he's in Dire Wolf," Joanna told her.

"Oh! Cool. Heard you're really good. Hey, did you work things out with the beer?"

"Nah," the redhead replied, watching the cashier grudgingly replace the six-pack in the cooler. "But no big whoop; Joey was the one with his tongue out for some beer. I don't really like to drink until after the show."

"Well, I guess we're gonna go get in line," Lisa told him, motioning with her head for Joanna to follow her outside.

"It's cold as hell up here," the guy said, shivering a bit for emphasis. "If y'all really don't want to wait outside, I'll walk you in. We get two guests each and I don't know anyone in this state…Commonwealth…whatever, so…oh, my name's Dan, by the way. I'm one of the guitarists. And Mr. Happy who just stormed outta here is our drummer Joey."

During the walk back to K.J.s, the girls introduced themselves in kind. While Joanna was a little thrown by the sudden change of events, she was also grateful to be spared a wait in near-freezing temperatures, especially since she had decided to wear a miniskirt over sheer pantyhose that night. Lisa the native might not care about the cold, but I'm still not really used to it myself, she thought as she watched Dan hug his thin, toned arms about him as they walked briskly toward the rear of the club.

The security guy minding the back door informed Dan that he could bring the girls in that way, but they would have to go straight up to the front to get hand stamps. Dan breezily agreed and led them through the club, pushing his way easily through the crowd. Their passage drew attention, partly because Dan was over six feet tall and hard to miss with his collarbone-length red mane. And was it her imagination, or was Joanna getting some hard looks from more than a few of the girls they passed? More fodder for the groupie rumors, she thought, but shrugged the feeling off. Screw what people think!

Not really knowing what to do next, the girls followed Dan to the band's makeshift merchandise table, which was set up along one wall within easy view of the stage. Dan introduced them to two more members of his band – Andy, the other guitarist and Shelton, the bassist. Like Dan and Joey, they were wearing standard Thrash guy outfits; the only thing that differed among them were their tee shirts (Metallica for Andy and Voivod for Shelton, who professed himself a "Metal nerd" within thirty seconds of his introduction).

"We already sold five shirts and six or seven demos, and we haven't even played a note yet," Shelton announced proudly.

"When do you guys go?" Lisa asked Dan, glancing at the neon-framed clock over the bar, which read 8:50.

"I guess in about ten minutes or whenever the owner tells us to get on stage. We're all set up and ready." Joanna noted that his deep South accent got stronger when he had to shout over the music playing through the house P.A.

"Aren't you gonna get changed first?" Joanna asked. Although her question was directed at Dan, Andy and Shelton exchanged amused glances.

"I might put on my bullet belt," the bassist quipped with a little laugh.

"Yeah, maybe I should tease my hair a bit," Andy rejoined in a mock-lisping voice, raking his fingers upward through his straight, dark blonde mane, which fell halfway down his back.

Dan's reaction was gentler. "We uh, don't really dress up for shows. I take it that most bands from around here do, huh?"

Joanna hunched her shoulders briefly. Oh, great. Now they probably think I'm just some bimbo who's here to pick up glam guys. "Yeah, most of them. But hey, who cares what you wear? It's all about the music, right?" she added, hoping to salvage her image a bit.

"Damn straight," Andy said distantly, his gaze fixed on the stage. "OK, let's find Joey and get this thing started."

Dan started to follow his bandmates, then suddenly turned back to the girls. "Hey, can I ask y'all a huge, huuuuge favor?" he asked, giving Joanna a pleading puppy-dog look. "Would you guys mind watching the merch while we play? You don't have to actually sell anything, but make sure that nobody helps themselves to anything, y'know? That's our gas and food money for the tour."

"Sure, we don't mind, right, Lisa?," Joanna glanced at Lisa, who nodded her consent.

Dan gave them another warm smile. "Really 'preciate it. I'll make sure you get free shirts and demo tapes in exchange, OK?" And then he took off, his hair glowing bright red as he pushed his way through the crowds under the dance floor lights.

Both girls burst out laughing at the same time. "That was sorta random," Lisa drawled. "All I wanted was to pee, and now we're merch girls."

"At least we didn't have to stand in line to get in and we're getting free stuff. And there's a pretty good view of the stage here," Joanna observed.

"Yeah, and nobody can grab our asses, either. Hmm, maybe we should volunteer to do this for every show." As usual, it was impossible to tell whether Lisa was joking, but Joanna had to privately agree that it was a pretty good setup.

Unless Blackie comes here after his show is over in Roanoke and sees me working for the band. She dismissed the thought as quickly as it came, fairly certain that her quasi-boyfriend was going to be in Roanoke all night. After all, why would he want to hang out here when there's real clubs over there?