Mid-June, the sun was in fine form high in the sky as it baked the earth. In other words, it was hot. Not too hot, but hot enough that Chord wished he could sit in the air-conditioned bus with his guitar instead of loading gear while sweat rolled down his spine. That’s what the roadies were for. It was literally their job.
“A little hard work never killed anyone,” his father had said when Chord voiced his opinion. But that was a lie. How many miners died ever year? Fishermen? Loggers?
Chord grunted as helped heft a bass cab, whose owner was unsurprisingly missing, into the tour bus’ lower storage. A single drop of sweat trickled crookedly down his brow and into his eye. The salt stung.
In two hours, the band would depart for Victoria, the first stop on the preliminary leg of their tour. Finals were finished, and for those of them that were actually graduating, they were missing the ceremony. No real loss. Who wanted to sit for hours in a stuffy auditorium, listen to boring-ass speeches about all the possibilities the future held, and walk across a stage to collect a piece of paper that wasn’t even your diploma. They mailed that out a few weeks later.
The roadies scurried about, loading gear into the two buses, one for designated for the crew, the other for the band. Their stage production had grown over the year. Still no pyrotechnics much to Kian disappointment. That was probably for the best.
Chord didn’t know their new road crew yet. As far as he could tell, they were a small group of straight dudes. Something their manager had no doubt ensured. No merch girl either. It was probably a good thing his dad didn’t know Kian and Tan were currently in a mutually beneficial relationship of screwing each other whenever the mood struck them.
The purr of an engine could be heard long before Shauna’s cherry Corvette pulled into the parking lot of Static Shadow’s rehearsal space. When the former merch girl climbed out of the car, Chord swallowed and took a step back. The side of the tour bus scorched his skin as he collided with the hot metal, but he didn’t pull away.
As Shauna picked her way through the equipment scattered over the pavement, Chord made himself busy by attempting to load his keyboard by himself. The hard protective case made it twice as heavy, and he already struggled to lift the keyboard onto its stand on the best of days.
Chord nearly dropped his end of the keyboard case when Shauna picked up the other and helped him tuck it safely into the storage compartment.
“Hey,” Shauna said. She combed her fingers through the coarse curls of her ginger hair, sweeping it back, and slipped her hands into the pockets of her cut-off shorts; if they could be called that. They barely covered her butt. “Got time for me.”
Chord glanced around at the frenzy of activity around him. Kian had appeared. He slouched over to them. Tan had volunteered to unpack their meagre kitchen supplies and arrange their bunks, which probably meant he was napping in the back room of the bus.
Kian vaulted over one of Chord’s Marshall amps and greeted Shauna with a not so secret handshake of a simple slap of hands and a fist bump. “Sup. How’s it hangin’?”
“Not bad,” Shauna replied. She casually punched Kian on the shoulder. “Heard they’re still adding dates for your tour. Gonna be on the road for a while?”
Chord’s father watched them from across the parking lot, and Chord shifted from one foot to the other and studiously avoided eye contact. “It’s not definite,” he mumbled, then quickly glanced at Kian.
“Fuck off,” Kian exploded. Several curious eyes watched them behind the cover of their tasks. “Not all of us are jizz junkies lookin’ to root for an easy A.”
Chord’s chest seized. He glanced at his father, who had turned away and tapped at his phone. Chord gaped at Kian before his panic turned to Shauna. Usually, he’d mock his drummer for the Aussie slang, but his girlfriend’s eyes were dangerously narrowed, and her hands were balled into tight, trembling fists.
“Say that a little louder. Don’t think my dad heard,” Chord grunted low with another surreptitious glimpse of his father out of the corner of his eye.
“Shit! I’m sorry, mate,” Kian said, flapping his hands in defence as if unintentionally outing his best friend’s calculated indiscretion could be waived off. He didn’t always think before opening his mouth, and at that moment, Chord hated him for it. “Didn’t mean to crack the shits.”
“Woulda come out eventually,” Chord muttered. He bowed his head and stared down at his scuffed sneakers.
“We need to talk,” Shauna forced out through grit teeth. She gripped Chord by the bicep, her bright pink nails bit into his skin and dragged him around the front of the bus.
Chord’s back hit the side of the bus. It burned. No one was around, but the sound of the crew on the other side of the bus could be heard faintly over traffic on the overpass overhead. He tried to scramble away, fingers scratching at the scorching metal, but Shauna’s simmering anger pinned him in place.
“Start talking. Now!”
Stuttering and stumbling over his words, Chord managed to choke out that he’d been failing his elective class and to ensure a passing grade for graduation, he’d slept with his teacher. If he hadn’t, the tour would have been cancelled. Static Shadow wasn’t Static Shadow without their frontman.
Shauna grabbed Chord by the hair and slammed his head against the bus. “So what you’re saying is that you cheated, you asshole.”
Eyes squeezed shut, Chord whimpered. He went limp letting her lean on him. He fucked up. This was better than he deserved if she didn’t dump his ass right then. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. It won’t happen again.”
“Shut the fuck up.” Shauna pulled away, her slight weight disappearing.
It took a moment to muster the courage to open his eyes again, but the world swam back into focus in time for the back of Shauna’s hand to strike him across the side of the face. The blow was both wholly expected, and out of nowhere. He hit the pavement hard.
Gravel bit into the palms of his hands. He could barely hear Shauna curse at him and demand more money over the ringing in his ear. This time, the salty sting in his eyes was not from the sweat dripping down his brow.
Voices approached. Seconds later, two roadies in dusty, ripped work clothes rounded the front of the bus with a bag of tacos and beer.
“Hey, what happened?” one asked. His hair was pulled back into a man bun, and his sunglasses rested on the top of his head. “You okay, man?”
In seconds, Shauna was at Chord’s side, helping him to his feet in a manner that appeared gentle, but the hard yank nearly dislocated Chord’s shoulder. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even take a step. The grip on his arm that kept him glued to Shauna’s side was bruising.
Clearing his throat, Chord wiped his raw palms on his jeans. “Nothing. I fell.”
Shauna spent the rest of the afternoon supervising Chord as he stumbled around awkwardly, avoiding eye contact, speaking very little. Normally, he’d try to get to know the new crew a bit, but he didn’t dare push it with Shauna breathing down his neck. He was suddenly very glad she hadn’t been rehired as their merch girl for the tour, but guilt immediately gnawed at his gut. This was his girlfriend. He was supposed to want to spend time with her.
“Chord!” Tan stood in the open door of the bus. “Can you give me a hand?”
Most of the gear was loaded. Chord slowly wandered towards the bus, Shauna trailing behind him. She’d probably find a way to corner him on the bus where they could really have it out.
“I’m trying to figure out where to stow your acoustic since you insist that you have it in here with us,” Tan said and waved Chord onto the bus. The squeeze was tight because Tan didn’t move out of the doorway. “Sorry, S,” Tan said, and Chord froze halfway up the steps. “Crew only. He’ll be back in a minute for a sappy goodbye.”
Tension ratcheted in Chord’s shoulders loosened with an inaudible sigh, and he hurried into the depths of the bus, but once in the main area of the bus, his guitar was nowhere in sight. He turned around twice on the spot. Nothing.
“Thought you could use a sec away from the terrible two-oh,” Tan said as if answering Chord’s unasked question. “Kian said he majorly broke the bro code.”
Chord crumpled into the closest seat. His entire being was exhausted from his father’s eagle eyes staling his ever move, and Shauna dogging every step he took. “Dude, marry me.”
“Yeah, right,” Tan snorted as he made himself comfortable, sprawled over one of the large bench seats. “You’re too high maintenance.”
Chord tried to flash his infamous smug grin at Tan, but he was too relieved for the momentary breath that he only sank back further into the seat. It wasn’t as if Tan was wrong. He didn’t deserve a minute, but damned if he wasn’t going to take it.