Tomorrow

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Do I

Jackson

I should have woken up excited and full of life today, I should have pulled open those shimmery golden drapes in the family room to let the sun shine in, I should have raced out to get the paper, just to see what they wrote about me, but I didn’t, I just stayed in bed, the covers pulled up to my ear. I knew I was twenty minutes late to the press conference, but I didn’t care. What started out as an idyllic, unimaginable dream was now on the very verge of bursting.

The ringing of the doorbell played incessantly throughout the house; making me regret that three thousand dollar wiring job that was put in a few years ago.

I ignored the sound, burrowing my head deeper into my pillow; I already knew it would be Cheryl. Cheryl was the only one who could get past the gate, besides, I didn’t need to open the door, she had a key.

Cheryl was my personal assistant, promoter, and one of my best friends. Along with Rick Clemson, she single handedly turned my image around from an out in the sticks country boy, to one of the most sought after guitar slingers in the country.

It didn’t happen right away, in fact, it took about five years after Dustin, Brett, and I won that talent show.

It was Rick Clemson who discovered us that night. He didn’t approach me then, but he told me that he was sitting in the back listening to all the acts, and ours stood out to him.

He worked for Arista Nashville, and he called my parent’s house the very next day while I was at school. He talked to both my parents before he even talked to me, and he was sitting in my living room when I walked in the door that afternoon.

"Jackson, a Mr. Clemson is here to meet you.” My mom met me at the door. Her eyes were so bright as she spoke to me, for a second I thought we had won the lottery or something.

Mr. Clemson was a very tall man. He sat very straight on one of my mom’s favorite overstuffed chairs in the formal living room. He looked like a businessman in this jet black suit and tie, but I noticed placed right by his side was a shiny black western hat. It intrigued me.

“Hello Mr. Clemson.” I held out my hand to him politely, still unsure about what this was all about. I noticed my dad sitting opposite of him on our sofa. My dad’s eyes held excitement in them, but they weren’t as bright as my mom’s.

“Jackson. Jackson Stone, it’s a grand pleasure to meet ya. How are you son?” He reached out and grabbed my hand in this super tight grip.

I blinked stupidly at him at first, his voice was so deep, and it most certainly didn’t match his appearance.

“Uh…fine thank you…”

“I’ve been talking to your fine parents here for a while now, we’ve been waiting for you. There’s something I’d like to ask you son. Something I hope you’ll be mighty excited to hear.”

My parents left it entirely up to me…I was seventeen at the time, almost eighteen, they listened with proud smiles as Mr. Clemson filled me in on all the details. He wanted me to go visit their studio, to cut a song for them, a demo, and hopefully if they liked it, an album might be next.

A little bubble of excitement grew in the pit of my stomach, and as I kept listening, I kept getting more and more excited, gripping the arms of my chair tightly. When he asked me if I was interested in making music with him, I didn’t really have to give it much thought. I only made one condition, that Dustin and Brett be included. Mr. Clemson readily agreed, so exactly five days later, my parents, Dustin, and Brett, and I were flying into Nashville.

The first song, the demo, it was just some song that Rick picked out from this large stack of music he carried around in this huge binder.

I didn’t care for that song much, and neither did the guys, but we played it anyways, as best we could. It sounded like some old vintage country love song, full of ma'am, sirs, and whatnot. Rick loved it, he loved everything about it, the bass, the vocals, the twang, he wanted us to record it, for reals. I hesitated at that one; Dustin was getting ready to complain up a storm. It was Brett who soothed things over.

“Mr. Clemson, while this song is very rich and deep in its country roots, my friends and I have written a few songs that perhaps will appeal to a younger crowd, still country, just a little more hip.”

Dustin and I just stared at Brett in disbelief, I don’t think I’d ever heard him talk so grown up, or that he was even capable of it.

But Rick took to him like a bee to honey, and when Brett showed him my old leather book with all our songs in it, Rick let out this deep gasp, as if he just discovered gold.

And in a way he did, because quite a few of those songs went on to gold, even platinum.

It didn’t take long, to make an album. Two songs off our first released album made the top forty country charts, but it was our second album that got us noticed. And we lucked out when Rascal Flatts asked us to go on tour with them. We spent the next few years touring, moving from one spot of the country to the next, those were really fast times, lots of venues, money, and parties. It was easy to make mistakes, and it was where I made my first one…


Ara

“How did your day go babe?” Clint was home early, I hadn’t even started dinner yet. His words startled me, making me spin away from the counter where I was standing.

“Clint! Hi honey. What are you doing home? I wasn’t expecting you until five.”

“Uncle Garth let us out early, there wasn’t much work to begin with this morning, we were done by noon, but he let us stay until three.” I could see the worry etched in the lines around Clint’s eyes. As each week passed, the work at Uncle Garth’s place got slower and slower, and even though neither of us talked about it, I knew it was silently weighing us both down.

“Well I talked to my boss this morning; she said it would be alright if I put in a few extra hours a week at the preschool.” I tried to ease his worry a little bit, trying to choose my words carefully, but the concern I saw flash across his face made me realize I hadn’t chosen my words carefully enough.

“I don’t want you to work more hours babe, you’re already working full time, going to school part time, that’s more than enough on your plate.” Clint placed his lunch pail down on the counter next to me, giving out this small sigh that made my heart ache.

“It’s just a few more, just enough to get us through this rough patch, once Uncle Garth’s factory picks up again I’ll cut back on my working hours.” I tried to divert his attention by grabbing a few pots and placing them on the stove, “Does spaghetti sound okay for dinner?”

“That’s fine, about dinner, but not about working more hours, and honestly Arabella; I don’t think the factory will be picking up any time soon, if anything, it’s going to slow down more. Maybe I should start looking around for another job.” The worry didn’t leave his eyes.

I didn’t want to keep having this conversation with him anymore, we’d been having the same one for weeks now. It always left me feeling helpless, defeated, and somewhere deep down in my heart, afraid, I was afraid that Clint might be thinking, if only he hadn’t married me, had gone to college instead, that he wouldn’t be in this position. He never ever told me that, but still it lingered in the back of my mind.

Clint headed out to our bedroom to change out of his work clothes while I finished up dinner. Our conversation rolled over and over in my mind, I finally had to tell myself to stop thinking about it and when we sat down to eat I engaged Clint in meaningless, fluffy, conversation, telling him stories about all the preschool kids I taught.

“So everyone clapped and cheered when Joshua went pee in the potty.” I smiled and then giggled when I saw Clint’s small grin, I always loved his smile, I hadn’t seen much of it lately.

“How old is Joshua?” He asked before grabbing another roll from the bread basket.

“He just turned three a few weeks ago, so he’s right on time for potty training, age wise.” I took a sip from my glass of iced tea, offering Clint a refill from the large pitcher in front of us; he declined with a small wave.

“Good for him. I hope he keeps up the good work.”

“He’s really cute, his mom always dresses him up in these baby boy jeans and cowboy boots.”

“Ah, cowboys, maybe it’s a new trend, Uncle Garth has been playing this country station on the radio every day at work, it’s starting to grow on me.”

“The music?” I tilted my head to the side in question, “Is it any good?”

“You’d be surprised, there are some really good singers, and some really great guitar players, some guys like Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Jackson Stone, they’re all there on the top of the charts, doing concerts and stuff, the radio keeps playing their music over and over again.”

“Hmm, I should listen to it sometime.” I placed my chin in hand listening to Clint talk; he seemed genuinely interested in this topic so I humored him, asking him questions, taking his mind off his work troubles, getting him to tell me about some of the singers and their songs.

“I never realized that most country songs are sort of like a story, they tell you a story, about different things, life, love, loss. It’s really different from rap or pop music. This stuff makes you feel something, sometimes you can’t even tell that it’s supposed to be country.”

The more Clint talked, the more I became intrigued with the topic, “Do you have a favorite? I could put some songs in our ITunes library, that way I can listen to it on my way to work.”

“Almost all of them are good. Look up some groups like Sugarland or the Zac Brown Band. Try Brad Paisley, and anything by Jackson Stone, he just won some award, CMA singer of the year or something, I bet you’ll like him a lot.”


Jackson

Cheryl was Dustin’s wife. We met her years and years ago, when we went on our very first tour with Rascal Flatts, Cheryl was a friend of theirs, we met her backstage. She was sweet and bubbly, and just so full of life that Dustin was instantly smitten with her, even though she was a far cry from the tall blondes he was so frequently seen with. As far as looks go, Cheryl was the complete opposite of a tall Southern blonde; she had this short, jet black, spiky hair, large round mysterious eyes, and a sweet angelic smile.

I liked her immediately, especially when she put Dustin in his place right from the start. Dustin was forever in all the magazines with a pretty girl by his side at all times. That cocky smile and grin had a mob of girls screaming for him wherever we went. He loved it, the women, the fame, the media, he was smooth, chatting up the journalists and newscasters alike. He would flirt with any female regardless of their looks, he enjoyed toying with them, making them a flustered, stuttering mess.

Dustin expected Cheryl to fall at his feet the minute he shook her hand, just like all the other woman did, but Cheryl cut him short mid chat, and smiled briefly at him before turning away.

He complained nonstop about her back on our tour bus, and in the dressing room, and backstage.

“Who does she think she is, all Ms. Uppity, just because she’s friends with Gary, Jay, and Joe, she thinks she’s better than us.” he grumbled. Brett just snorted at him, rolling his eyes, and I ignored him, knowing that anything I said to him would be useless.

But even as Dustin would go on and on about Cheryl’s self-centeredness, I could see it in his eyes, some kind of bright wild look, completely new, completely out of control.

Cheryl turned Dustin down three times while we were on tour, leaving him dazed, bewildered, and more madly in love than he ever had been.

Something clicked between them right around our seventh show. Dustin wasn’t feeling well that week, he had the flu; we were all worried that we might have to cancel as the opening act. It was Cheryl who took care of him, reluctantly at first, but it surprised us all that she was soon hovering over him protectively, showing up at our bus at all hours, bringing him soup and pain meds, nursing him back to health. Dustin forgot that he only dated Southern blondes, and spent the rest of the tour hanging out with her, within six months they were married.

Cheryl not only fell into the role of being a music entertainer’s wife comfortably, her quick wit, an eye for flair, easy personality, and not to mention she was smart as a whip, made all three of us realize that she was actually the missing piece to our little group. Once Cheryl came into the picture, her and Rick put their heads together and started using their skills to help promote us, Arista Nashville immediately offered her a contract, so along with Rick, she was brought onboard and toured exclusively with us, helping promote and keep our name in the spotlight.

While I liked Cheryl immensely, I never doubted that she was the one for Dustin, the minute I saw how he reacted around her, looking at her as if she were the only woman in the room, both Brett and I were in awe and maybe even a little jealous, that Dustin had somehow managed to find the perfect woman for him, that he made it look so easy.

There were always plenty of available girls around, girls who were willing to do anything for us, just based on our names alone, but neither of us wanted that, we wanted someone real, someone who was meant for us, someone like what Dustin had.

Brett was little more reserved, only talking to the media when he really had to, but his muscular built, tight jeans, and twinkling eyes kept the ladies swooning. He could date whomever he wanted but he liked staying out of the limelight. He did have one uncontrollable habit, he loved fast cars, the faster they went, the better. At every stop along our tour he would seek out the fastest car he could rent and go riding all over the city.

While I was brilliant player, and successful songwriter, my dating life sucked, and so did my nonexistent image.

I was going through a bit of a media mess at the time. There were still a few things I was struggling with, a few things I still didn’t have the hang of, one was how to handle the media, the other was the fans.

I had a really hard time in the beginning, I wasn’t used to all these women throwing themselves at me, I turned them all down; none of them caught my interest. A few even scared me.

I dated maybe twice back in high school, but it was more of a group thing, going to the movies together and stuff. I had been a gawky, awkward teenager with a guitar who turned into a gawky, awkward young adult, with a guitar.

I completely wasn’t ready for the dating part that went along with success, or all those easy women.

I attempted to go out on one date while on tour, just one, and it turned into a complete media disaster, it made me miserable for weeks and the butt of Dustin’s jokes for months thereafter.

“Have you read this Jackson?” Dustin could barely talk through his fits of laughter. He flung the tabloid magazine he was holding at me, tears of mirth flooding his eyes.

I already knew what that damn magazine said, so I didn’t even bother catching it. Brett was curious though, and he made a grab for it. His eyes scanned the cover quickly and once he read the headline he let out this choked laugh and hurriedly fumbled with the pages trying to find the article.

“Its garbage Dustin, nobody believes that stuff, it’s all trash.” I tried to shrug but I was still stinging from being the laughing joke of the media these days.

“Aspiring actress, Caroline Cort, admits that she dated Jackson Stone after she met him at his concert in Houston, Texas. Cort claims she and Stone went on several romantic, intimate dates before she revealed to him that she was a lesbian…” Brett couldn’t read anymore through the guffaws.

“It’s garbage…” I huffed, leaving them to their laughter.

I holed up in my bedroom for a while, trying to figure out why the dating part was so difficult for me. It sure didn’t look like any of the other male country singers were having this problem.

Rick was clearly worried about the article, not for my own personal sake, but for the sake of song sales.

“We need to fix up your image a little bit Jackson, make you a little bit more desirable.” So he talked to Cheryl, and together they fixed me up a bit. Cheryl made a few calls and had Stetson design a hat exclusively for me. They custom made me a deep charcoal grey felt hat with a black band around it. It was so unique and classy that it became my trademark, set me aside from everyone else out there.

Cheryl convinced Lucchese into a contract to supply all my concert boots. I had an unlimited supply of brown and black boots, each one cut and designed especially for me. I actually loved those boots, they were durable, comfy, and not over the top as so many others were.

The darn hat and boots made me feel like a million bucks and when I walked out onto the stage that night I felt like jamming the night away. I think it showed, because our next three concerts were sold out.

Only Cheryl wasn’t finished yet. My jeans got tighter, my belt buckle got bigger, and pretty soon I was using specially designed guitars that all carried my initials, JS, it became my trademark signature.

I withstood this makeover as well as a man could, at least until Rick began talking about women.

I balked when he started setting me up with women he thought would help me stand out in the limelight more, help me rebuild my image. Some of them were models, which I hated; some were friends of friends that he knew. I put up a fuss for about two weeks until Cheryl told me to stop acting like a baby and man up.

Every single woman Rick picked was a reflection of a perfect southern lady, even the models, but I quickly figured out, on the outside they were all perfect, but on the inside, well let’s just say, a few of them weren’t far from the nut tree.

The first three didn’t work out, one got embarrassingly drunk; one even threw up in front of a photographer, and one had a rated x wardrobe malfunction.

The others would smile and make small talk, but there was no chemistry between any of us and it clearly showed in all the magazines and websites that were showing my picture. I would pace back and forth, on our tiny tour bus, a raving lunatic, to the delight of Dustin and Brett. I must have provided them with hours of entertainment.

“Could you scowl any deeper Jackson,” Dustin heckled, “The frown lines around your eyes aren’t prominent enough.” Then he snorted, jabbing Brett in the ribs with laughter.

“Shut it Dustin. You can’t blame me for that one, would you look at that freaking girl Rick set me up with, I mean she was eating everything in sight, I think you can see crumbs around her lips in that picture!”

Dustin just laughed more, and even Brett gave out a chuckle or two.

I was without a doubt, unhappy. I dreaded reading any magazine article for months knowing that all that those editors wanted to do was gossip about my social life for laughs.

It was right around the time our first single off our second album was inching its way up to number one when Rick introduced me to Layla.

Layla Orr was an actress. She was a beautiful, successful young actress from New York who had captured the hearts of fans around the world with her family friendly movies.

On screen and around the press Layla was an absolute sweetheart, picture perfect and cordial to everyone she met.

Producers raved about her, directors wanted her in their movies, and her fans adored her. It was her good manners and sincerity that captured my interest as well. When Rick brought up her name, I didn’t cringe, in fact, I readily agreed to meet her.

Rick called her up and arranged a meeting. The first time we met, it was private; she was in the middle of filming a movie so when my band passed through while on tour, I took the time to go see her at her set.

She was charming, friendly, and just like all her pictures, beautiful. She talked to me like an old friend and seemed genuinely interested in me, my music, and my life.

She was fascinated when I told her about growing up in West Virginia, riding horses, and the countryside.

When she laughed at my jokes her eyes would crinkle up, and for some reason that made me feel all cocky and proud. Rick looked beyond pleased that we were getting along so well, and for the first time in a long time, the press was awfully quiet about me.

Layla accepted when I asked her out on a date. It was just a quick dinner at a local restaurant. It wasn’t flashy or fancy, and we had a very nice time. Layla graciously posed for a few pictures with some of the local folks who recognized her. No one made a fuss about me.

It didn’t bother me that Layla was more successful than me, made more money than me, and as we continued to date, whenever we went places, people would recognize her, not me. I think she liked it that way, and I was perfectly okay with it.

Cheryl didn’t like her from the start but she would never tell me why.

“Are you sure you want to keep dating her Jackson? You don’t have too, I can tell Rick to find someone else. Maybe we can find a girl who sings, that would be cute, you two could be the next Tim McGraw and Faith Hill!”

But I didn’t listen to Cheryl, I just kept thinking that Layla was almost a perfect match, I could talk to her easily, my success didn’t threaten her, and her success didn’t threaten me one iota. We seemed like such a good team.

We dated for seven months, we probably would have dated longer but Rick began putting pressure on me. He wanted me to propose to her, to get married.

He knew if I married Layla it would put me in the spotlight with the press, it would probably help get our newly released single to number one, bring lots of publicity to the both of us.

That was Rick’s job, he wasn’t trying to hurt me in any way, and since I sort of saw him as a fatherly figure, I went along with it.

My personal life wasn’t the way I ever imagined it would be, and Layla was someone I’d never thought I’d end up with. But somehow it all worked out okay.

Our wedding was simple and I insisted the press be kept out of it. We released a few pictures after our wedding and then I went back on tour and Layla left back to New York where she was filming her first sitcom.

For about a year our lives weren’t so bad.

Four more of our songs hit the top ten during that year. Dustin, Brett and I were now headliners of our own concerts, many of them sold out months in advance. It seemed like overnight I was deemed a white hot guitar player by all the men, and incredibly sexy by all the women.

I had a house built for Layla and me in Nashville. It was the house of my dreams, something I always wanted, even when I was just a small town country boy.

My dream house had a gorgeous log cabin type design. Deep red bricks decorated the outside and the pathways. There were fireplaces in all the rooms, even the theater room. The sound system rocked, and if I wanted to, I could let everyone listen to anything I happened to be recording in my studio through that system.

Because we were both so busy, Layla and I only spent about three weeks out of the year in that house together, which was too bad, I really loved that house.

So the days passed, and then the months, and before I knew it, a year had gone by.

Little by little my name became more and more recognizable; Cheryl helped me set up a Twitter account that let me connect to all of my fans instantly. She said I needed to keep up with Blake Shelton, who always seemed one step behind me in number one singles.

Blake was a prankster, a real funny guy. He kept his fans laughing and completely loyal through his tweets.

So Cheryl spent days coaching me on appropriate things to tweet. She really was one of the few who got my warped sense of humor, and together we came up with ways to keep my “tweets” light and humorous, helping portray my image as Cheryl would say, “Not just cute, but funny too.”

Once during a very cold snap in Nashville, I jokenly tweeted, “Still haven’t found the manly way to walk across ice.” The fans loved it, and I think I received about a million tweets back in reply.

Every now and then something I would tweet would get splashed all around the news and web; like the time I joked, “If watching the big-screen TV in your pajamas and a bag of Doritos is wrong, then they shouldn’t have couches at this Best Buy.”

The press had a field day with that one, but most of my fans tweeted me back, laughing and joking along with me. Cheryl always got a kick out of this. When I voiced my worry that the press would claim that I wasn’t very bright, she just laughed,

“They only do that to the ones they like.” She insisted.

Right after our first wedding anniversary Layla got pregnant. We were both thrilled with the news and when my son, Colt, was born I was a very proud daddy. Things were going right in both of our careers, the sitcom Layla was in had some of the highest ratings for the network, and I was over the moon when I got inducted to the Grand Ole Opry.

I don’t know when things turned around, maybe life just got too fast for the both of us, or maybe we were just too young, or maybe Layla just wasn’t the person I thought she was.

By our fourth year of marriage I pretty much knew it was finished, Layla was living ten months out of twelve in her apartment in New York, working around the clock on her show, and when I wasn’t on the road I was back at our house in Nashville, I never liked spending long periods of time in the big cities, I was a true country boy at heart and the wide open plains and spaces would call to me whenever I had a break from touring.

Layla had Colt with her, so at least once a month I would fly down there and visit with him. Sometimes she would be there, and sometimes it would just be the nanny we hired.

Colt was always a happy little boy, whenever I saw him he had lots of hugs for me, and he would chatter nonstop about him and mommy so I knew Layla was doing a good job of raising him, I knew she loved him.

So it stayed that way for a while, and even though everyone in my circle pretty much knew the truth about my marriage, they all stayed very quiet about it.

Country artists are famous for their marriage and family beliefs, I knew Rick and even Cheryl would go great lengths to keep my image perfect, squeaky clean, and so far they were doing a good job.

I managed to handle my depressingly, empty marriage as well as one could, Layla was still gracious, at least in front of the camera she was, she would always come out to Nashville, Los Angeles, or Vegas when the CMA’s or ACM’s were being held, we would stand together on the red carpet and sit together during the show, but we never said more than three or four sentences to each other and she would fly out the next day, most of the time without saying goodbye.

It was almost as if we reached an unspoken arraignment, we presented ourselves as a united married couple out in the public regularly enough so that no one was the wiser, but in private we led very separate lives.

It wasn’t until she got pregnant the second time when all hell broke loose.

This was my own personal hell, I didn’t tell anyone. Sure, they all might’ve been guessing the truth, but I was not ever going to say it out loud.

Finly was born right before I left to go out on tour again, right before the CMA’s.

I was completely miserable with my life at this point, willing to toss it all out and fade away into the background. Never mind that I was nominated for CMA Male Vocalist of the Year and had to be there at the show, I was ready to throw in the towel.

Which of course Cheryl noticed, and why she was hovering over me now.

“You’re still in bed?”

I pretended not to hear the sarcasm in her voice, and I knew she wouldn’t move from her spot. I could already imagine her standing at the foot of my bed, her hands on her hips, a frown on her face.

I turned my head just slightly, so that it was still buried in my pillow but able to take a quick peek out, without her noticing I was awake. I was right, she was standing exactly how I imagined it, except for the frown, her face held a more concerned look to it, instead of anger, and for some reason this made me feel worse.

“I’m just tired Cheryl, it was a long night.” I picked up one hand waving it at her, hoping she would get the hint and leave.

“Tired? You should be over the moon today Jackson…Dusty hardly slept a wink last night, Brett is probably still partying.” She took a few steps toward me, “Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine Cheryl, thanks.” I sighed internally and pushed myself up to a sitting position on my bed.

Cheryl wrinkled her nose at me, “You slept in your clothes! Do you know how much that sport coat cost!”

I just half shrugged at her, “What does it matter? I’m not going to wear it again right?” I didn’t care much about my clothing, both my closets were stuffed full with various leather jackets, sports coats, designer jeans, custom made belts and buckles, all that stuff came and went on a regular basis, sometimes I would wear something once, maybe twice before it got changed out. The only things I really did care about were my Stetsons and my boots, no one but me was allowed to touch those, not even Cheryl.

Cheryl threw up her hands at me, half annoyed, half concerned, “Maybe not, but Jackson really,that’s a three thousand dollar coat, you won CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year last night in that coat, and now you’re treating it like, like, pajamas!”

She spun around still lecturing me as she made her way out, “Where’s your phone? Have you tweeted your fans yet? This used to be so much easier two years ago.” her voice quickly faded as she realized her own words, she turned back around to face me, “I’m sorry Jackson, really, I’m just trying to help, that’s all.”

“Its fine Cheryl,” I quickly dismissed her words with a wave of my hand, I sure as hell didn’t want her to know how much her words stung, “I’m over that shit, really. And I appreciate everything you do for me, I mean it.”

She eyed me quietly for a few seconds, she didn’t believe me, hell, I didn’t even believe myself.

“My phone is in the living room by the sofa.” I knew she could hear the defeat in my words, but she didn’t call me on it, at least not this time, she just turned and walked out of my room quietly.

It was getting worse, as each day passed, I could feel it, this awful choking feeling, it was killing me slowly inside, and I honestly didn’t know what do about it anymore.

She somehow managed to get me all fancied up and presentable last night, arranged for it to get “leaked” out that Layla was still recovering from childbirth, and caring for our newborn which was why she wasn’t with me. I walked the red carpet with Dustin and Brett, who joked and chatted up the press enough so that no one bothered me. Once inside, I pretty much stayed quietly in my seat the whole time. We had to get up once to perform our new single, that was the highlight for me, the only highlight. When I was on that stage I could be a different man, a different person, it was just me and my guitar, but only on that stage.

I didn’t even want to win, I wanted Blake to win, I actually hated that I won. I had to go up there on stage and talk, thank everyone, thank my wife, I wanted to skip her name but Rick already drilled it into me that I had to mention her, she just had a baby, everyone was expecting me to be excited about that, so she had to be mentioned. I felt like throwing up, but I guess someone was watching over me because I made it through. I did leave immediately thereafter, not sticking around for any of the parties or press interviews, I let Dustin and Brett handle that.

“Okay, I tweeted the fans for you, its funny, you should read it. Your bus leaves tomorrow morning. Our first leg of this tour is out on the west coast, you’ll like that, and you’ll get to see the ocean.”

Cheryl chatted more but I already tuned her out. It was starting all over again tomorrow, the touring, the sleepless nights, the pretending.

I should be glad that Cheryl focused most of her energies on me, and honestly, right now, I was really glad for that because at this time in my life I wouldn’t have known up from down.

I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Any of it…

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