Igniting Blaze

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Chapter 23

She did the only thing she could do, she forced herself to ignore it. It was moving day. She had too much to do, to feel this way. Falling apart was a luxury she couldn’t afford. Instead, she threw herself into work. Physical labour was just what she needed. Strenuous effort spread the hurt out and forced her to concentration on something other than her shredded heart.

She often helped the Roadies load the vehicles. It wasn’t her job, but she couldn’t stand there watching them work. As a result, they weren’t surprised when she started lugging the equipment into the vehicles, and they also appreciated her enough not to question why water was leaking from her eyes. She didn’t want to talk to anyone. She didn’t want any interaction that would distract her from pretending everything was fine.

The last truck was leaving on schedule when she pulled herself into her vehicle and started the engine. She had a service truck that was a mobile repair unit. It was necessary to have all the equipment and parts available to her in order to fix any of her vehicles irrespective of where they were. She’d become good at fixing things on the side of the Interstate.

She forced herself not to look back as she drove out of the gates and onto the road. She was always the last to leave and acted as tail-end-charlie, ensuring that no vehicle was left behind. With the whole tour group on the road ahead of her, all she had to do now was drive. If only it were that simple.

It was once she was on the interstate, that she felt her body start shaking. She couldn’t drive like this. The vehicle was barely stopped when she started sobbing. Leaning over the steering wheel in the breakdown lane of the dual lane highway, with cars flashing by her, she cried uncontrollably. Alone, she allowed herself the luxury of screaming out her misery, swearing a stream of words that she never used, and beating her fists against the steering wheel as her heart and body felt like it was being torn, ripped, strangled and bashed all at the same time.

She didn’t know how long she’d sat there, but eventually, the numbness found her. From experience, she knew she had about two hours of cold detachment before the edges of the world would become sharp again and she would remember what was wrong. Then she’d have to pull over and sob again. She had about seven hours of drive time, not including stops, to get from Miami to Tallahassee where their next concert date was waiting for them. She wiped her eyes and put her indicator on. This was going to be a long trip.

She’d been on the road for seven hours, and still had about three hours of travel time until she caught up with the rest of the tour. She knew that the trucks had arrived at their destination safe and sound. Now she just had to get herself there. She’d wasted three hours with her crying already.

She was exhausted. She’d slept yesterday, before going to the beach with Chad, in preparation for this trip. But lack of sleep wasn’t the cause of this fatigue. Her body felt pummelled. She felt like she’d been toe-to-toe with an MMA cage fighter.

Her phone rang. She glanced at it, it only rang for emergencies. What was Reed doing calling her? She put the earpiece in, as she accepted the call.

“Jen,” he sounded flustered, “Where are you?”

“Sorry Reed,” she glanced at the phone. He must know that she was running late, “I had to make some stops. I’m still on the I-75 heading north. I’m about three hours behind.”

“Can you turn around?” he asked.

“What? Why?”

“There’s a problem in Miami,” he growled his frustration, “They’ve a truck that’s broken down, and I need you to help Max.”

“But Reed,” she realised what he was asking her to do.

“I know I’m asking a lot,” he sounded tired, “You’re what, four hours away?”

“Yeah,” she looked for an off-ramp, “But Reed.”

“It’s just after 10am, do you think you can make it back there by 2pm?”

“Reed,” she heard the panic in her own voice, “It’s the Four Horseman’s tour?”

“Yes,” he paused, and she could hear him grimace, “I know Jen. And I wouldn’t be asking this if it wasn’t an emergency. Their main truck is dead, and Max can’t fix it on his own. I’ve tried to get someone local, but I’m stuck.”

She took the exit lane heading for the offramp.

“I’m sorry Jen,” he pleaded, “I’ll owe you big time.”

“Remember that at bonus time,” she growled at him, “I’m on the way back, but you’d better ask Max to run interference, because it’s not going to end well if he sees me. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yeah,” Reed sighed, “I’m sorry Jen. You know I’d never put you in this position, if I had any choice in the matter.”

“I know,” she ground her teeth, “But your timing sucks. I’ll be there before 2pm, if I can.”

“Thanks, Jen,” he breathed, “You’ll have your pick of tours, next time.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jen shook her head, “And you’ve forgotten the bonus already?”

“And a hefty bonus,” he chuckled, “You’ve just earnt yourself Employee of the Month.”

“That doesn’t make it worth it,” she growled, but he’d already hung up the phone.

She drove, ignoring her aches and pains. She knew her guys would be alright without her, that wasn’t a concern. She’d text Chad and let him know that she’d been detained and wouldn’t be there until tomorrow. Chad wasn’t the jealous, clingy type, and theirs wasn’t the traditional relationship. They’d started it knowing it would only last for this one tour. They had Tallahassee, Mobile and New Orleans left. After those concert dates, they’d say their goodbyes and part ways. It was the limits that they’d both agreed to.

She used the rest of the drive time to concentrate and mentally prepare for what she needed to do to fix the truck. The deadlines were tight, and if they were going to unload the truck and be ready for the show, they didn’t have much time to fix it. Whether it was this distraction or her exhaustion, she arrived back into Miami without having to stop to cry. It was as if her misery knew the direction she was driving in and who lay at the end of her journey.

She felt herself scrunch down in the seat as she drove through the same gates she’d fled from. She’d been in the truck for eleven hours and now had four hours to get this truck moved in time for the concert. She focused on the deadline as she forced herself not to search for that familiar figure.

It wasn’t hard to find the truck. Max had his truck parked up screening off one side and waved her to park on the other flank. She jumped out while pulling her overalls on and pulling a cap over her hair. Max had already started. He gave her a quick summary while she looked over the engine. Then they both started to pull the engine apart. She’d never meet Max before, but she knew that if Reed had hired him, he must know his stuff. It wasn’t long before they were working together seamlessly. They had replaced the defective part and were rebuilding it faster than she’d estimated.

She was underneath the vehicle checking the lubricants when some guy strolled over talking loudly on his phone. He must have not realised that they were there or didn’t care if he was overheard, either way, she could hear him clearly from her position as she tightened the filthy hoses.

“Yeah, I’m in Miami, I flew in this morning,” the guy was saying, “They’re dancing here tonight.”

She couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation as the guy leaned his shoulder against the truck she was fixing and put his foot on the tyre. His shoe was close enough to her face that she could see the stitching.

“I’ll have a look tonight,” he growled, “But I think you’re overreacting.”

He said ‘ah-ha’ a couple of times as he kicked the tyre with his patent leather sole.

“He’s been with the group since the start,” the guy huffed, “They are the four horsemen, if you force one to quit, the name’s not going to work.”

She stopped what she was doing and looked at the shoe. She shouldn’t be listening to this.

“I know his performances over the last six months have been lacklustre,” the voice sighed, “But that doesn’t make ‘cutting-him’ right.”

Six months? Lacklustre? Cutting-him? Was he talking about Drew?

“Yes, I’ve seen the reviews and the audience feedback,” he said with an annoyed growl, “And I know he’s in a slump, but this is Blaze we’re talking about. He’ll come right.”

Blaze was Drew’s stage name. Jen closed her eyes.

“I’ll give you an evaluation tomorrow,” the guy kicked the tyre with the tip of his shoe, “And yes it will be an honest appraisal. But if you make this decision, I want you to tell the group. They aren’t going to take it well.”

His career was going to be decided on, tonight? After what happened last night?

“I know that contractually you have every right to do this,” the guy snarled, “But that doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t mean that the group will let you do this, without a fight. And don’t start threatening legal action, again. I know that they can’t cancel.”

Jen gasped. If this guy, whoever he was, fired Drew then the guys would have to continue without him or be sued for breach of contract? That was awful. She knew what that would do to them. And Belinda was pregnant. They could lose everything.

“Yeah, yeah,” the guy mumbled as he hung up the phone and then grumbled some obscenities at the device before he pushed off the side of the truck and walked away.

It was eavesdropping. She could have this all wrong and out-of-context. It was possible that she had misheard it completely. But what if it wasn’t? What if it was true?

She lay there on her back, with the truck above her. She couldn’t let them do that to him. This was his career and his family. If they did what she’d overheard, he’d lose everything.

She had to do something, not out of guilt, but out of love. Even though she knew this was partly her fault, but that wasn’t why she was angry. She didn’t feel culpable or feel obliged to fix this. He was hurting because of his choices, not her leaving. This pain must be affecting his performances. He’d created this situation, and she’d didn’t owe him anything.

But that didn’t mean that she was not going to do anything. Just because it was his doing and his problem, she couldn’t ignore it when she had the means to fix it. All she could think about was Drew. He loved his dancing, and they guys were closer than brothers. If he lost them, he’d be a mess. They would be taking everything away from him. She couldn’t sit back and let them do that to him.

She climbed out and stood up as Max tightened the last nut and walked around to test out the engine. It roared to life. She wiped the grease and grime off her hands as she dropped the engine cover and started to put away the tools.

She worked on automatic pilot as her mind was occupied. She’d spent six months trying to deny this love, but now he was in danger she felt it swelling like a tidal wave. She couldn’t repress the feelings stirring in her. She wanted to protect him. She wanted to run to him and wrap herself around him to shelter him from this danger. She needed to save him, even if it broke her heart all over again. That would be a small sacrifice, if she could prevent this man from destroying Drew’s whole world.

She pulled her phone out as the job was finished, and the truck was driven off to be unloaded. Belinda had saved her number in the phone at the restaurant last night. She dialled it knowing that Belinda was the only hope she had.

“You’ve got a nerve calling me,” Belinda started the call.

Jen pulled the phone away from her ear as Belinda ranted down the line. She could still hear her with the phone away from her ear, but the voice was in stereo. Belinda’s words were echoed in the still air around Jen. The food truck was preparing the end of the day meal for the workers, she swung by and picked up as much food as she could carry.

With her pacifiers ready, it wasn’t hard to find Belinda. She just followed her loud voice. Her phone was still connected, and Bee was still ranting when Jen knocked on the trailer door.

“What are you doing here?” Belinda looked confused to be talking over the phone to the person she’d just opened the door too.

Jen didn’t answer, she just pushed her way inside and dropped the sacrificial food on the table.

“This doesn’t change anything,” Belinda said as she stuffed pizza into her mouth, “I’m still angry.”

“Where is he?” Jen asked.

“I don’t know,” Belinda looked at her like she’d already told her that, “The guys went to find him. They’ll probably go straight to the gig.”

“Is he in a bar?” she grimaced.

“No,” Belinda answered her like that was a stupid thing to suggest, “Sam’s put a tracker on his phone because he’s spent the last six months disappearing far too often.”

“One-night-stands? I thought he wasn’t dating,” she scoffed.

“He’s not sleeping around,” Belinda growled, “Didn’t you listen? He’s spent the last six months searching for you. He logged missing person reports, visited hospitals and morgues, and then when that didn’t produce any results he started going to where homeless people hung out. They guys have been worried about his safety just as much as his mental health. He hasn’t been acting like himself since you left.”

“Really?” she searched Belinda expression as she finished the last of the pizza.

“I’m furious at that MacArthur guy,” Belinda snarled her mouth still full, “If he’d told them that you were working there, when they asked, it would have changed everything.”

“Is he doing all that because he felt guilty?” she looked at her hands.

“If you believe that, you don’t know him at all,” Belinda picked up a piece of walnut tart, “He’s an absolute moron for cheating, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s head-over-heels in love with you.”

Jen sat there blinking back the tears. She’d not wanted to believe it last night, but that didn’t change the fact that it was true. He did love her. She seen it on his face, the moment he’d recognised her yesterday. There was no indecision there. He wasn’t confused anymore.

“I need to see him,” Jen looked at her watch, there wasn’t much time, “Can you eat and walk?”

“I can eat and do anything and everything,” Belinda confirmed before looking at her watch, “They should be back by now. They’re on stage soon.”

She had to calm herself as Belinda waddled as fast as she was able, towards the backdoor of the stage area. Jen had go at Belinda's pace, she couldn’t run ahead because they wouldn’t let her through security. She didn’t have the right access pass to get backstage. However, once they were past the guard, Jen left Belinda as she sprinted through the corridors. She’d been backstage with Chad and knew the layout.

She pushed the door open on the dressing room without knocking. They danced naked, she didn’t think they’d mind having her catching them undressed. They were wearing their stage-outfits as they stood together in a group around Drew, who was sitting. All heads turned to her.

“Jen?” Sam’s faced creased, “You’re here? We thought you were in Tallahassee?”

“Where have you been?” she asked Drew ignoring the men surrounding him.

“Walking,” he answered.

“Get out,” she said to the men, “And Mark if you say anything, I’ll put this size4 steel cap boot up your ass, understand?”

“Loud and clear,” he’d been about to speak but now zipped his mouth as he moved towards the door.

“Jen?” Sam frowned, “We’re about to go on stage. Is now really the best time, for this?”

“Yes, it is,” she confirmed.

His eyes narrowed as he searched her expression. He must have seen her defiance or understood what she needed to do, because he nodded, and his face relaxed. Then he followed Mark and Jay through the door leaving Drew sitting in front of her, but not looking at her.

“Now tell me,” she insisted when they were alone, “Where did you go?”

“You want to know?” he shrugged, “Fine, I cried like a baby, and when I’d let out all the agony, relief, and anguish, then I walked in a random direction and ended up at a soup kitchen somewhere.”

“Relief?” she picked up that word, “You were relieved that I was gone?”

“I was relieved that you were alive,” he sniffed a laugh, “I was grateful to find you alive and so proud of you for what you’re done. You have it all sorted - a great job, a boyfriend, and you’re surrounded by people who care about you. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that, even though it causes me pain.”

“Pain? Are you jealous?” she asked.

“Envious of Chad, yes,” he laughed, “But jealousy is something I’m trying to avoid. I’m focusing on the positives instead.”

“And now?” she asked, “Are you going to Dance tonight?”

“Why are you here Jen?” he asked his face impassive as he didn’t answer her question, “You left.”

“I did,” she confirmed then she pulled at the arms of her overalls which were tied around her waist, “I came back to fix a truck.”

“Not for me, then?” he lifted his eyes to look at her.

“Before I answer that,” she frowned, “I want to make one thing crystal clear. I love my job. I won’t give it up.”

“I can see that,” He turned his body to her, “But why are you emphasising it?”

“Because it means a lot to me,” she nodded, “It’s important to me.”

“Alright,” he said the word with uncertainty.

“And I’m not going to forget easily,” she clenched her teeth then forced her jaw to relax, “I refuse to be in that situation again. I won’t make this easy for you. You’ll have to work harder, and I’ll expect more than is probably reasonable.”

“Jen?” he pushed himself out of the chair to stand in front of her, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“I can’t be hurt again, Drew,” she ignored his question, “But it occurred to me, that being in a relationship with no chance of pain isn’t what I need either. I know, too well, what being loved and loving someone feels like. What I’m doing now, isn’t making me happy. And I’ve decided that I want to be happy again.”

“You do?” he took a step closer.

“I also want you to find the happiness that you lost,” she glanced up at him, “And I’m willing to risk myself to have you find that. But, just because I’m saying this, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to be your doormat.”

He stood there looking at her without saying anything.

“And so, I’m going to selfishly ask for the gift I gave you six months ago back,” she flicked her eyes at him and away, “I don’t want you to have your freedom, if it means that we’re not together.”

“Say it,” he demanded, “I need you to say the words.”

“No,” she lifted her eyes to him, “I’m not ready to give you everything you want. I want you in my life. That’s as far as I’m prepared to go, right now.”

“I love you,” he took a step in close, “Do you accept that?”

“I’m amenable to being convinced of that,” she felt herself relax, “And yes, it does seem that way to me, at the moment.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” he whispered his face close to hers, “Does this mean I can chase you until you have no choice but to admit to me how much you love me?”

“If that’s what you want?” she grinned her relief.

“Yes, that’s all I want,” he touched his nose down to hers.

“But don’t even think about kissing me,” she took a step away from him, “I’m still dating Chad, and I don’t cheat.”

“When is that going to change?” he pulled a face, “I am yours, Jen. I will wait for you, but don’t expect me to be patient about it. I’ve found you, and you’ve just given me the green light to pursue you. I’m not going to let you slip through my fingers again.”

“That might be true,” she smiled at his frustration, “But you have a show that’s about to start, and I have my own tour to get back to. This isn’t going to come together in a week. You’re going to have to learn some patience. But first, you need to get ready to dance.”

She turned and opened the door, the group standing outside listening at the door sprang up, looking guilty.

“I gather you heard all of that?” she laughed at them, “Get him ready. I’ll stay and watch, but then I’ll have to get back on the road.”

She left him with his friends, and she found a quiet spot in an unused dressing room. She closed her eyes. Not falling into his arms, admitting to him how she felt about him, and refraining from kissing him like there was no tomorrow, was more difficult than she anticipated. She loved him. But she had to re-join her tour not fall into bed with him and forget everything but the feel of his skin against hers.

If their love was true, it would wait for them. This wasn’t going to be a one-week-fling. He was going her man, and they were going to get it right this time. She wanted to draw it out and enjoy every moment as they rediscovered each other. She wanted the romance not just the sex, and the distance restrictions should guarantee that.

She made a phone call then covered her face. Of course, Chad was expecting this. He was happy for her. Drew was his idol, so losing her to him was almost an honour. He’d have a shot glass of whiskey for her when she re-joined the tour.

Once that was done, the reality of the situation hit her. He was hers again. The last six months of hurt had been erased, and she had the opportunity to take back everything she’d lost. All her grief and misery had been rewound and reset giving her access to the happiness that has been denied to her. She felt a weight lift from her.

Not embracing his love, was just prolonging the torment they’d both been enduring for the last six months. She could string this reconciliation out, but what did that really achieve? She didn’t want him to get the impression that she was delaying her forgiveness to punish him. That wasn’t her intention, but it felt like it was the result. Further suffering wasn’t her goal, but she felt like that was what she’d effectively done.

Would it make any difference to the outcome if she held herself back from confessing her true feelings? No, it wouldn’t. Drew loved her enough that, irrespective of how long it took her to admit the love she had for him, he would wait for her. The end result would be the same.

She suddenly felt like everything she’d been attempting to prove was pointless. If they loved each other, then delaying served no purpose. Denying that she loved him didn’t achieve anything. The only thing that she’d done was burden him with uncertainty. He’d been clear about his feeling for her, and she’d just avoided the topic completely. And that had been unfair and cruel.

The show was about to start. She went to find him again. She could hear the audience. The four men were grouped together in the small room directly offstage.

She stood watching them doing their pre-performance routine. She could see the stage manager giving them the hurry along, so she didn’t have much time. Once they’d finished stretching, fist pumping and jeering each other on, she edged up to Drew. She felt her nerves nipping at her.

“Jen?” he noticed her standing there, “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve changed my mind,” she spoke loudly enough to be heard over the background noise, but he still had to lean forward to hear her.

“About?” he looked fearful.

“This,” she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

His arms went around her as he lifted her off her feet, kissing her with desperate lips.

“I love you,” she whispered, “I can’t pretend that I don’t.”

“You’ve told Chad?” he relaxed as he saw her nod, “I'm sorry, I promise that I won't let you down again.”

“I'm going to hold you to that.”

His lips found hers again. He held her against him as she let her kiss tell him how happy she was to hear that.

“Hey, you two,” Sam growled, “What are you doing? We’re about to go on stage.”

“I’m igniting Blaze,” she laughed at Sam, then she kissed Drew once more as he lowered her to her feet, “Burn bright, Pretty Boy, and dance for me. I want to see the naked man, I know and love, on that stage.”

He laughed and reluctantly let her go, the music had started to play, the house lights had dimmed, and the spotlights were illuminating the stage.

She watched her man dance, and she laughed with joy, as he gave the performance of his life.

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