Tan’s mind was a chaotic cacophony of half-formed dilemmas, decisions, and destinations that demanded meditation but his mind could never pacify. Sharp sparks like electric shocks stimulated his every thought after chugging questionable amounts of energy drinks and coffee backstage before their show.
Curled into a tight ball on the beanbag chair, he had secluded himself in the stillness of the quiet room to mellow, but sleep never came easy, and it was already well after one in the morning – central time. They were in Saskatoon.
The quiet room was small. There was a daybed tucked to one side and a few cushioned seats behind him that were occupied by Chord’s open acoustic case. The guitar itself was missing. Under the large television mounted on the back wall of the bus was a mini-fridge fully stocked with the band’s favourite snacks and enough energy drinks to power a university campus during finals.
Books were scattered over every available surface. Some were Chord’s. Most belonged to Tan. The collection had only grown over the last several weeks. Every time they stopped in a new city, Tan spent time lounging in the chairs of the first local bookstore he could find. Life became much simpler if he could disappear into the pages of a fantasy world rather than face reality.
Static Shadow had finished their show an hour ago, and Tan was still fully clothed in the uncomfortable outfit Chord wrestled him into before soundcheck. Tan’s hair that had been stylishly teased and flash frozen with copious amounts of product was partially deflated, and his sweat-soaked graphic tee clung to him.
Stage lights scorch a stage like the sun-baked, cracked clay of a desert, and the heat is suffocating. Even though Tan never took more than a few steps from his mic, by the end of any show he looked like he had been sitting in a steam room for several hours. It was a complete mystery how Chord, who bounced around the stage entertaining the crowd, or Kian flailing behind the drumkit never suffered from heatstroke.
Tan groaned and drew his knees up to his chest. He tucked his arms under his head like a pillow and hid his face, scrunching his eyes shut. Beside him on the floor was a stack of his favourite manga series, Fullmetal Alchemist. He had wanted to reread the series before he introduced the band to the newest anime adaptation.
The original anime had veered off the manga plot, much to the disappointment and wrath of fans worldwide. The blogs raved about Brotherhood. He’d been so excited when Kian finally agreed to watch the series after he finished his summer courses. Only now, seven volumes into the series, Tan couldn’t muster the energy, or interest, to even crack open a book.
Through the barrier of two doors, Tan could hear Kian yelling to fans out a window as the bus engine rumbled to life beneath them. Two and a half weeks into their cross Canada tour and a comfortable pattern had evolved from what may appear to the casual observer as chaos.
First, their manager would snap at Kian’s abundance of energy and enthusiasm and then he would retire to bed for the evening once travel was underway. And then, Kian would fire up a game console and play for an hour before he finally hunkered down to study until he crashed around four in the morning.
“Kian! Enough of your inane whooping. Close the window.”
Tan snickered to himself, and several seconds later, the bunk door snapped closed as the bus shuddered, pulling away from the venue and the screaming fans. Tan didn’t need to see them in order to picture the hoard of teenage girls waving sparkly handmade posters professing their love in his mind. Every town was the same. The monotony and lack of mental stimulation were tiring.
The menu music from Ocarina of Time drifted through the bus, muffled by the distance, but the classic soundtrack was easily recognizable. A one-player game. Chord must have been otherwise engaged.
Chord was the wild card Tan had difficulty predicting. Occasionally, he joined Tan to read a book, scribble out new lyrics, edit a new track, kill time online, or simply plug himself into music to unwind after an energetic show. The steady pulse of the bass always escaped, never fully contained by the earbuds.
On increasingly rare nights, Chord followed his father’s example, and sometimes he joined Kian in conquering the latest game on one of the four consoles they carted along. Tan rarely played with them unless his gift for strategy and tactics was essential in defeating an opponent. Kian liked to call him Lelouch because he devised a plan for any possible outcome. Tan had made him watch that series too. But still, Chord remained an enigma that challenged Tan’s logic, and he loathed the helplessness of the unsolvable constant because he always had the answers.
Fourteen hours later, Tan had not moved. He couldn’t be bothered.
At some point, he had drifted off to the sway of the bus as it barreled down the dark highway to their next destination. Someone had found him. Logic dictated Chord because when he woke up just after ten in the morning, a thin fleece blanket had been tucked snugly around him. Kian would have simply carried him to his bunk as he had in the past.
Knees hugged to his chest, Tan stared at the closed door of the quiet room. The bus was still and his manga was scattered on the floor.
The bunk door snapped closed, and a sharp rap on the door followed heavy shuffling footsteps from the owner dragging their heels. Kian didn’t tie the laces of his skate shoes, instead, he just slid into them. The backs would slide down the back of his heels as he walked.
Tan’s deduction was proved correct when the door opened and Kian peeked his head in. Tan didn’t move.
“You missed breakfast… and lunch,” Kian said. “Hungry?”
Tan tugged the blanket up over his chin and settled back into the bean bag chair. Kian’s concern was ironic considering that he had in all likelihood not eaten either meal himself unless Chord had cooked.
“Not particularly,” Tan murmured. He didn’t have much of an appetite these days.
Kian stepped into the room and firmly closed the door behind him. “You okay?”
The unexpected snap of the lock jerked Tan back to the present, and he sat up more out of shock than anything. Most people left him alone when he withdrew. The blanket slid down to pool around his waist as he stared up at Kian’s towering body.
The drummer was shirtless. Tan bit his lower lip as sweat glistened and rolled down the exposed tan skin and shockingly defined muscle. Kian’s hair was damp and tousled, and he wore red board shorts with black canvas slip-on shoes.
Swallowing, Tan directed his gaze to the safety of the floor at Kian’s feet but peeked through the fringe of his bangs. “Not in the mood.”
“Huh?” Kian glanced down at his lack of attire, and Tan almost smiled as the genuine confusion shifted to stark understanding. “The fuck, Tee!” Kian said. He took a step back, arms held up in defence. “I was playin’ ball with the guys.”
One of the roadies had tacked a hoop onto the side of the crew’s bus, and more often than not, a fair number of the crew could be found starting a pick-up game during the day. As the jock of their rather small social group, Kian joined in when he had the time, and Chord tended to have more of an interest in the players than the game. Tan had never been one for anything that called for excessive exertion of energy. Instead, his pastimes called for laying in the shade of a leafy tree in the park and watching the clouds lazily drift by. Though not as of late. He never seemed to have the drive to leave the bus, or occasionally, his bunk.
The shrill ring of Tan’s phone brought Kian’s sputtering defence to an abrupt halt. The phone vibrated against the floor where it had fallen sometime during the night, and the screen glowed.
Tan made no move to answer the call. Instead, he watched it dance against the carpet with an apathetic glare until it fell silent. Answering the call would be a form of self-flagellation.
The screen flashed. 7 missed calls
Kian cleared his throat, breaking the uneasy silence that hung over them. He scuffed his sneakers against the floor and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his shorts. “You sure you’re okay?” he asked.
To reassure his friend – if that truly was the category Kian could be slotted under, but that was another conundrum to meditate over at a later time – Tan tilted his head back and smiled.
Some days, Tan cursed Kian’s ability to read his every emotion through the cracks in the mask he wore. The corners of Kian’s mouth turned down, and Tan suddenly found himself lifted into the air and plunked down into Kian’s lap. Somehow the drummer had maneuvered him to replace him on the beanbag chair.
Thick arms wound around Tan’s middle and squeezed. Kian always made Tan feel small. A fragile doll cradled delicately in the arms of an overgrown child. He wasn’t even that small. Kian was just a giant. Tan’s hands trembled as he pried at Kian’s vice grip anchoring him, but rough chapped lips against the curve of his throat sent a shiver down his spine, and he fell limp.
“Tee…” Kian’s voice was low and breathy. “Are you okay?”
Tan swallowed hard. He couldn’t answer. He couldn’t answer because he didn’t know. He always knew. But he didn’t have the answer, and that terrified him.