A few weeks passed, Lein was a constant member of the audience at The Rose Bush. Each time Wild Innocence finished her act, he would try his best to get backstage to meet her. He never got the opportunity. She would magically disappear from the club before he made it to the dressing room. He began to wonder if she had even received the roses, or had gotten his message. If she had, she was avoiding him. It should have made him give up, but he couldn’t. He would never rest until he met her.
On one particular occasion, Lein ventured backstage, and as expected, found the girl already gone. He was about to leave when one of the Lefties approached him. He hoped she wouldn’t hit on him like Athena Passion had. He recognized her as Daisie Buzzsaw.
“I’ve heard you’ve been down here every night looking for Wild Innocence,” she said.
He nodded like one of those cheesy dog ornaments found in the back of some old cars. “You’ve heard correctly.” “Her real name is Perion Thorn. She also works at a club called Tranquility Lane. It’s not a strip club. She’s got a band, and they play there all the time. I’ve caught the act a few times myself. They’re really good. You’ll probably have more luck if you go down there. I can say this. She’s a real big fan of yours. Good luck.”
Lein had a smile from ear to ear. “Thanks.”
He found the club at the end of the strip several minutes later. The big marquee had a few names on it. One was Bitter Wynter, the name of the band Daisie had said Perion fronted. Lein walked into the club and was recognized at once. He signed a few autographs, even though he had another mission in mind. As luck would have it, the band was already performing on stage. Perion Thorn was the singer, as he’d heard, and a singer was she! Her voice was high-pitched, almost comparable to an opera singer. The voice fit the music in an odd match made in hell. It worked, God only knew how, but it did. The sound was amazing, different from any he had ever heard.
Suddenly, Lein gained a new understanding into the life of the girl whom he’d seen strip before his eyes. She was a singer in a band, trying to make it in L.A. doing the only thing she really loved. When there was something one really loved to do, it always came with a price. Her price was paid stripping for money to make ends meet. He felt such a rush of emotion for a girl he did not know, he would offer any help he could.
Lein was still on cloud nine when he heard a voice behind him ask, “Hey pal, are you twenty-one?”
He turned around and noticed the bouncer for the first time that night. “Sure I’m twenty-one, asshole. Why the hell else would I be standing in here?”
Lein’s bravado didn’t convince the guy at all. “If you’re twenty-one, you look awfully babyfied to be that age. Can I see some identification?”
Lein’s heart beat hard. He had left his driver’s license at home. He’d be thrown out in a heartbeat without it. It reminded him of the old days, not quite five years in the past. “You’re damned straight I can.” He began to dig for his I.D., knowing he didn’t have it, but not giving the guy the satisfaction of throwing him out, yet.
Somebody finally recognized him. “Hey, Brett, quit harassing him, he’s a star. Let him come in and have a beer if he wants it.”
It was one of the bartenders. Lein was so grateful, he silently vowed to put all the guy’s kids through college.
The bouncer gave Lein a dirty look and nodded. “I guess you got lucky. He says you’re a star, I don’t recognize you, but he does. Just get out of my face before I decide to kick you out anyway.”
While the exchange between Lein and the bouncer from hell occurred, Bitter Wynter had finished their set and had made their way backstage. Lein happily left the bouncer and walked toward the backstage area where he encountered yet another bouncer. That one didn’t give him any flack, he allowed Lein to pass and enter the corridor leading to the dressing room.
From the center of the corridor, he could hear good-natured feminine laughter and banter. He approached the closed door where he could hear the calls and foul language the clearest. Lein felt like a five-year-old asking for a quarter to buy ice cream as he tentatively knocked on the door.
A soft voice sang out, “‘Somebody’s knocking, should I let him in?’”
It was an old country song, and the title eluded him. Amused, he waited for someone to open the door.
After a few more seconds, another voice sang out, “‘Lord, it’s the Devil, would you look at Him?’”
“Damn it, why don’t you knock it off? It could be a record exec ready to offer us a deal. You guys probably just screwed it up. If you’re a record exec, please forgive these cretin women for the sins they’ve committed against God and man,” a third voice yelled out.
The door swung open and the swinger was the drummer. When she saw who it was, her mouth opened and released a little cry. “Oh my dear God,” she screamed.
“Randi, stop acting like an idiot. Who’s at the door? You’re acting like you’re having a heart attack,” a voice said. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my fucking God,” Randi cried again.
Lein stood and smiled patiently, waiting for her to let him inside. After a few seconds, he saw Perion approaching the door from the depths of the room.
“Randi, for Christ’s sake, get out of the way and let me see who’s at the damned door,” she said.
Perion moved Randi aside and opened the door wider. Perion looked up, her baby blues meeting his golden-brown hazels. Both felt an internal click neither could explain. The moment their eyes met, something happened, something meant to be. She wasn’t as star struck as her friend, but there was knowledge in her eyes of who he was. There was also the same brand of knowledge in his. Although this had been their second meeting [sort of], the slate seemed clean, and they had started from square one. The sensation was odd, and they both felt a little dizzy.
Am I going to stand here all night, staring at her, or am I going to say something to her, he thought. He found he couldn’t speak, and instead, stood before her stupidly. Am I Mr. Cool or what, he thought vaguely. Finally, he managed a brief ‘hello.’
“Hi,” she said evenly, however, she was as flustered as he.
The other two members of the band approached the door to see who had caused such a stir. They were as surprised as the drummer to see Lein Blake standing before them. Their reactions were similar to Randi’s.
“Do you mind if I come in and talk to you for a few minutes,” he asked.
The girls thought he meant you as in all of you. If the truth were known, he’d meant you as in Perion only.
Perion shrugged and was about to reply, but the drummer cut in. “Sure, come on in.”
Lein entered the room and took a seat, customarily flipping the chair backward first. He’d look at Perion every now and then, but she wouldn’t look at him directly. He knew why. “What are all of your names?”
Again, the drummer took the initiative. “I’m Randi Parker, the drummer. The tall one with the brown hair is Debi Sigler; she plays bass. The not so tall one with the black hair is Syndi Dunn; she’s the lead guitarist. The one with the white hair is Perion Thorn; she’s our singer and second guitarist.”
Still, Lein kept his eyes on Perion. She refused to look at him even for a split second. She must really be embarrassed about what happened between us at the strip joint, he thought. He wondered if she knew he’d been down at the joint every night to see her. He didn’t think she did, and he had the greatest urge to tell her so. [But you don’t know how many boyfriends she’s got, Ronnie’s voice reminded him.]
He looked away from Perion for the slightest moment to take in the faces of the others. “I came here tonight for another purpose, but when I got here, I heard the best new band out there.” He knew he had gushed out every emotion inside him, but he couldn’t help it, it was how he felt.
The girls had shocked expressions on their faces. They couldn’t believe what their ears had heard. Lein Blake had told them they were good. Outside themselves, his comments meant more to them than any other critic. Suddenly, Perion felt her stripping in front of him was secondary. She was as happy as the others, but held onto the unrealistic hope that he didn’t recognize her.
“We got another set in thirty minutes. You can stick around, if you want,” Syndi told Lein.
As they left the small dressing room, Lein walked out behind the girls. Before Perion could get away, Lein gently grabbed her by the elbow and brought her back to face him.
She looked at him with questioning eyes. “Yeah?”
“I know who you are,” he told her. At that, her face turned a bright shade of red. Before she could say anything, he continued, “I’ve caught your act at The Rose Bush dozens of times. And I’m sure you remember that little back room incident between you and me. I’ve been trying to talk to you since the first night I saw you, but you were always gone before I could get to you. I wouldn’t have found you tonight if one of your dancer friends hadn’t told me where you were. You’re an excellent dancer, but an even better singer.”
Perion looked at him with huge, unbelieving eyes. He had gone to the club on several occasions to see her? But there were others with more to offer than her, much more. Why would he want to see her specifically?
“I’m really sorry I ran out on you that night, I’d never done that before.” She stopped speaking for a moment, realizing what he had actually said. “You’ve been there because of me,” she asked, and sounded as astonished as she felt, “why?” The words died in his throat. He couldn’t believe it. He’d picked up dozens of women. Why should he have such a hard time telling this girl what he felt? He couldn’t understand it at all. “I just saw you and had to talk to you...to see you up close again, but this time, not in the dark. You’re such an incredible singer, and you have an incredible band here. I’d like to help you out, and maybe we could-”
"Baby,” a voice screamed, cutting Lein off at the words ‘leave here together to talk or whatever.’
The ‘baby’ shouter was a tall lanky guy with very long hair. He wore a similar outfit to the bouncer named Brett. Lein thought he was about to get kicked out of the bar, although the guy looked too skinny to be much service as a bouncer.
“Hey dude, don’t sweat me, I’m okay,” Lein said.
Blaine recognized Lein Blake at once, feeling automatic jealousy and hatred. Perion really dug him, and it was obvious from the roses he dug her as well. He was hanging onto her and clearly radiated his attraction. “I’m not back here to sweat you. I’m back here to talk to my lady, who you’re kinda holding onto.”
Lein let go of her elbow at once. Perion was another guy’s lady. It fucking figures, he thought, how serious are you guys? Are you married, engaged, sleeping together? Is there some way I can break it up?
Perion turned to the lanky guy and smiled up at him. “I’ll talk to you in a minute, okay?” Then to Lein, “What were you about to ask me?”
Lein looked into her eyes. “Nothing,” he said in defeat, “I’ll talk to you after your last set.” He walked away from them and made his way out the door.
“I don’t like that guy,” Blaine said.
“You’re just jealous, you know I’m a big fan of his band.”
“I don’t care who he is, he’s a jerk. Brett told me he just used his celebrity to gain entrance to the bar.”
Perion laughed. “Oh yeah, like the ′Lane is sooooo exclusive! He doesn’t need to, really, he’s already old enough,” she told him.
“It’s not only that, I didn’t like the way he was looking at you just now. You might ought to stay away from him. He’s probably only trying to get into your panties or something.”
Perion smiled a little. “You’re jealous,” she sang like a child proclaiming ‘na na na.’
He slapped her ass playfully. “Go do your set,” he demanded in good nature