Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not
I can’t remember ever wanting to step out onto that stage so badly. My fingers flexed and stretched in anticipation of running out under the bright lights. I stood backstage, almost in the dark, trying to peek over the shoulders of the various crew workers who you could see were getting annoyed with me, they kept trying to step around me as they fiddled with the cameras, and sound wires, and all the other stuff that was crammed backstage. They didn’t say anything to me, but kept starring at me with questioning eyes and confusion. I had never...ever...stood backstage before a concert...ever. I usually hung out in the lounge, fine tuning my guitar, or playing some mindless game on my cell phone.
I couldn’t help it, I wanted to see her, see where she was at. See her face, see the excitement in hers eyes, and maybe the anticipation. I bet she was all lit up like a million twinkling stars. The urge overpowered any self control I possessed, I didn’t even try to fight it.
So I kept hovering over the crew, trying to sidestep them politely, but not really. I think a few finally complained to Cheryl, because before I knew it, she was at my side, trying to coax me back to the lounge.
“Jackson, what are you doing here? Come on, let’s go back with Dusty and Brett, they are practicing a few scales in the lounge.” She looped her arm through mine, trying to pull me with her.
My body refused to budge from its spot, so Cheryl tugged harder.
I didn’t want to leave, but in the back of my mind I knew I should get out of the way, the integrity of the show depended on this crew, they needed the space to work, I was compromising that.
So I let Cheryl lead me back, but not before turning my head around and looking behind me one last time, my eyes scanning the crowd, trying to focus on the blur of waving arms and masses of bodies that looked so far away. I knew the second row shouldn’t be hard to find, but I guess I never really looked very hard at the crowds that came to watch me perform before, because everyone blended in together so easily, it was almost impossible to separate the sea of faces.
“It’s okay Jackson,” Cheryl’s voice broke through my thoughts as we walked back down the darkened hall to the lounge, “She’s out there, I saw her, second row, front and center, when you walk out, you won’t be able to miss her.” her voice got quiet as we took a few more steps.
My mind started racing, I’m not sure from excitement or from getting caught, either way, I couldn’t form a thought in reply, but Cheryl didn’t seem to mind my silence. Right before we opened the lounge door though, she turned to me,
“Just don’t get all caught up in her and screw up the show.” her voice held a slight teasing warning, “You’re going to see her backstage afterwards, right?”
I let out a small chuckle, nodding my head, and pulling the door open, I didn’t tell her what I was thinking, planning, but really, I had no idea how I was not going to be able to get all caught up in her, hell, I think I already was.
The thumping of the music from the opening act around me seemed to match my heartbeat. Everyone was on their feet, clapping and swaying to the music, me included. The atmosphere was completely contagious, and it felt so surreal, like an out of body experience.
I was just so anxious...to see him.
Clint stood next to me, his hands in the air, clapping to the music. He was so excited when I showed him the backstage passes, he couldn’t believe that Jackson Stone was out mingling in the crowd, although he did say a few fans tweeted that they swore they had seen him walking the grounds, but the radio always claimed that to be a rumor.
It didn’t seem to faze Clint that Jackson had come up to me, he simply thought I was in the right place at the right time.
The roar of the crowd jerked me back to attention. The opening act was waving goodbye to us, and I knew it would be only minutes now before Jackson would step out onto that stage.
I watched with childlike fascination as the workers quickly set up band equipment around the stage. There was even a rolling rack brought out to the far right of the stage that held at least seven or eight gleaming guitars. I briefly wondered if Jackson was going to play every single one of those?
“Brace yourself.” Clint shouted over the noise, “Everyone is going to go crazy.”
We could almost feel the surge of the crowd behind us, just this electrical current running through all the people.
I nodded at him, feeling my body stiffen with anticipation, the hairs on the back of my neck tingling. I couldn’t blame the crowd for going crazy, I felt like being a little crazy myself.
Everything went pitch black in the next second, you couldn’t see anything, not even your hand in front of your face, the entire venue went dark. It made the crowd quiet down for a moment, but that’s how long it lasted, a moment, because within seconds, a grey smokey mist began to swirl around our heads, and then a sudden bright, sharp light blinded us all at the same time, along with this thunderous booming sound. By the time our eyes could focus again, you could already hear the beginning’s of Jackson's music, the white lights shining directly on his bright green guitar, his long slim fingers, those tight jeans, immediately capturing everyone’s attention.
At first all we could really see was his dark grey signature cowboy hat, it covered his face, since he was looking down at his hands. His button down plaid shirt had some sort of sequins or something on it, because whenever he turned his body to the side, you could literally see him shine.
The screaming was loud, so loud that it took me a few seconds to realize that I was screaming right along with everyone else, I couldn’t help it, the minute the lights shone on Jackson, I lost it. He just looked so amazing, so electric, his hands flew over the guitar in blazing speed, his head tilted just slightly down.
My hands rose in the air all on their own, I was already swaying to the familiar rhythms and beats, my face must have held the biggest smile. I was already thinking that this night couldn’t get better, that I couldn’t feel any happier than I was right now, but I thought too soon, because he suddenly lifted his head, his cowboy hat tilting upwards, he took a step forward getting close to the microphone, his mouth opening to greet us.
But then, without even searching, as if he already knew where I was, he looked straight at me, or at least that’s what it felt like, it sent a shuddering white hot flame through my body, and then he grinned at me, this real broad, boy-like, grin and he yelled out...
“Are ya all ready to have a good time tonight?” I let my accent really show in my voice as I shouted out to the crowd. I found her, she was where Cheryl said she would be, front and center, and I knew the minute I stepped out onto the stage that this was going to be one of the best concerts I would ever give, because tonight I was aiming to impress her, to thrill her, to get her so excited, that she wouldn’t want to leave.
The crowd roared back at me in response. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, I was on a high. I didn’t take my eyes off of her. She was smiling back at me, her hands in the air. Her smile was so contagious, so sincere, that I practically struggled with myself at these newfound feelings. Just seeing her made me want to play harder, sing better, smile bigger, fuck, it was just so overwhelming.
“Thanks for coming on out and hanging with us tonight, Terra!” I raised my guitar in the air with one hand making the crowd go crazy again.
But I couldn’t keep fighting with myself any longer because Brett was already banging his sticks together, shouting out, “One two three!”
Both Dustin and I flew into routine, moving all around the stage, motivating the crowd to stay on their feet. Switching sides so that everyone would have a chance to see us.
Dustin loved to tease the crowd, sometimes running back and forth with his hand stretched out, letting a few lucky fans touch him. Something he knew I would never do. And it just fueled the fire, kept the crowd on their toes.
We finished the set back to back, right in the center of the stage, and as the final notes of that first song fell over the audience, I looked at her again, she was still smiling at me, her eyes all bright, her hair tumbling around her shoulders.
There was something in the way she was looking at me, it made me catch my breath, that look. I hadn’t seen someone look at me like that in so long. Her eyes were just so large, so beautiful, and so full of pride.
It really sent me into a whirlwind. I don’t think I felt a step I took in the entire night. Every strum of my guitar was for her, every word of my songs was for her, every beat of my heart, was hers.
He commanded the stage and audience in a way I had never seen anyone do before. We were all hypnotized under his spell. I watched with awe as he and his bandmate moved all around the stage, they were totally rocking the house down. Even the male fans were yelling and cheering.
Every step he took, every word out of his mouth, captivated me. It felt like a trance, some crazy fantasy dream, I couldn’t shake it.
And what was even worse is that it felt like he was doing it all for me, his eyes, they always seemed to be catching mine, his body somehow always tilted in my direction, even when he was across the stage, and his lyrics, those were the hardest, because everything he said went directly to my heart.
I couldn’t help it, or even try to stop it. I just kept right on watching him, right on admiring him, his talents, his beauty.
And he sang, song after song, with that deep amazing voice, as the minutes ticked by I found myself singing right along with him, feeling connected to him somehow, letting myself get lost in the music, in the sound of his voice, in his eyes.
His talents were beyond incredible. He played every single one of those guitars on the rack, often throwing his guitar picks out into the audience at random. I kept hoping he would throw one my way, but he never did. It didn’t bother me though, I was completely content to stand there, to sing out-loud, never taking my eyes off of him.
I tried to memorize him as he ran back and forth along the stage, studying everything that I could see, even the smallest things. His whiskered jeans fit him like a glove in all the right places, making him look incredible. He wore a tan leather belt with this silver buckle that wasn’t too flashy, in fact, he seemed so down to earth, as if he were just a regular guy.
My eyes would focus on his fingers, they were long and tan as they flew over his guitars. My gaze didn’t miss the gold band on his left hand, it looked beautiful and was probably oh so expensive. It wasn’t the only jewelry he wore. On his neck hung a simple chain with a silver type of dog tag style pendant. It didn’t catch the light very well so I couldn’t get a good look at it.
His shirt was button down, it was mostly grey but had these flecks of green running through it. His top three buttons were undone but you could only see his collarbone, nothing else, yet it still looked amazing on him, and absolutely perfect.
Of course his face was every girl’s fantasy. Beautiful mesmerizing green eyes, perfect light tan skin, a jawline that my fingers itched to trace. He sported just a little bit of stubble on his chin, it made him look all man, rugged, exactly the way you would picture a tough country boy, but whenever he smiled, you could see it, the little boy in him, the twinkle in his eyes, the hint of mischievous in him.
It was his smile, that’s was made him the complete package, and I’d be lying if I said that package wasn’t gorgeous.
Time was going by too fast for me. Even though I knew I would see him backstage, I didn’t want him to stop singing. I’d probably never get to see him sing live again, I just wanted him to keep going, keep being that wonderful person I saw on stage, I didn’t want this night to end.
But eventually it had to, after two hours of amazing music, the audience could tell, and so could I, that our night was coming to an end by the first slow notes of Jackson’s number one love ballad.
He stood in the circle of a spotlight, all by himself, in the center of the stage. Just him and his guitar. Everything else was dark around him, dark around us, making him look like the only one in the world. He sang about love, a perfect girl, confessing his feelings for her, giving everything he had to her.
I could only just stand there, one hand placed over my heart as he sang, the emotion in his beautiful voice just swirling all around me. The ache in his words as he sang about losing her, I could feel my heart actually hurting, it was just all so much, so much feeling.
When he finally finished, he stood there quietly for a moment, looking down at the floor, in the circle of that spotlight, he seemed to be thinking, or maybe just catching his breath, I’m not sure, then he grabbed his microphone stand and placed it to one side, raising one hand in the air as if to say goodbye to us.
We were all cheering and clapping for him, me included. I wish he knew how proud I was, what I was feeling.
I didn’t have much time to make sense of anything that happened next, it was almost as if I was watching it play out in slow motion, as a bystander, so unreal...
Jackson walked right up to the edge of the stage and knelt down on one knee.
His actions set off complete chaos in the audience, it seemed as if all the fans scrambled in excitement, surging forward to get closer to the stage, to get to Jackson.
The movement pushed me forward, literally. I could feel my arms spray out for balance, my body moving erratically as I got swept along with the crowd. Once I found my footing again, I looked up.
I must have looked a bit of a mess, my breathing heavy, I could feel wisps of my hair draping my forehead and cheeks, and I’m sure the look on my face was one of a woman completely dazed and even frightened, but I looked up.
Right into the eyes of the man kneeling before me.
He was looking right at me, a mixture of emotions seemed to flash across his face, and with all the screaming around me, the girls all flinging their arms out to him, I wondered it I was the only one who could see it there, see it in his eyes, it looked like worry, concern, even anguish.
But when our eyes locked, and I was still standing, surrounded by strangers.
There was that little boy again, he smiled, right at me, and stretched out his hand, in my direction.
The girls all around me tried to grab at him, at his hand, but he kept moving it out of their grasp, still reaching for me.
I’m sure I was shaking, and it felt like hours, but it must’ve been only seconds, I was finally stretching my arm out to him, reaching for him too.
His grip was firm, tight even, I didn’t know what he was going to do. An insane thought flashed through my mind that he was literally going to pull me up on stage with him. But he didn’t, he just held on tight until the people around us realized he had picked me, their arms finally falling away, they too were waiting to see what he was going to do.
I just kept my eyes on that smile, trying to keep my heart rate in check.
He didn’t say anything to me, to the audience, all he did was reach up with his free hand and grab that beautiful grey hat off his head.
I could hear the cheering all around me, but I couldn’t focus on it.
It was warm, as it encircled my head. It was warm from him wearing it all night as he sang, only now, it was on my head, on me.
He placed it gently on my head, giving my hand a squeeze as he did it.
My free hand automatically went straight up, reaching for the top of my head, protecting my new prized possession. No one tried to take it from me, but my instincts were to guard this gift with my life.
When he finally let go of my hand I was at loss for words, all I could do was mouth thank you, thank you, over and over again. My actions just made him smile bigger, and then with great flourish, he stood up, backed up a few steps over the middle of the stage again, and then, with a broad wave and bow, he said goodbye, and walked off the stage.
I thought I was going to be anxious to get the singing over with, to get the concert over with, but I wasn’t.
With every song I sang, I could see her, singing right along with me, and fuck if that didn’t tear me up inside. She knew every word, every word, and the way she was moving to the music, I could tell she was feeling it.
I kept singing, kept moving around, kept catching her eye. I already knew what I was going to do by the time we reached our last three songs. The idea popped into my head as I was throwing out guitar picks to the crowd.
One of my favorite things to do was throw out guitar picks. It was almost comical, the reaction it would bring out in the folks. Several of them would all huddle together, trying their damnedest to be the one to catch it, often toppling over one another.
I really wanted to throw one to her, really, but I didn’t, I couldn’t, because I wouldn’t be able to just stand there and watch those fans swarm all over her in their haste to catch the pick. I didn’t want to ruin her evening in any way, so I somehow found the restraint to keep from throwing in her direction.
Still, it bugged me, so in the midst of singing, in the middle of the chorus, the idea came to me. I don’t know how many country stars do this, I know several of them do, give away things at concerts.
I followed the steps of my good pal Brad Paisley, he always gives away the hat he wears during his concerts to one of the fans, usually a child or young teen that might be lucky enough to be in the front. Brad is smarter than me obviously, he plans this out real well, had Stetson design a cheaper version of his trademark white cowboy hat. Those are the hats he wears during concerts, his original designed hat is reserved for awards shows, or other non concert events.
But since my plan was coming off the top of my head, literally, Cheryl was just going to have to suck it up that I was going to hand over a two thousand dollar hat in a blink of an eye.
It wasn’t easy, I tell you. It actually took me a few seconds to get my act together, work up the courage.
Like I said before, I always kept my distance between me and the fans. This was going to be different. I was going to put myself out there, and I hesitated.
But the pull to her was to great, and it overshadowed anything else I was feeling at the moment. So as I stood there in that small circle of light, right after my last song finished, I just kept taking these deep breaths, trying to prepare myself for the chaos that I knew was about to happen.
I pulled on my guitar strap, sliding the guitar so that it moved behind me, resting on my backside. I gripped the microphone stand probably harder than I should have and got it out of the way. The crowd was still clapping, they knew that was the last song. The sound felt wonderful in my ears, and that’s what gave me the last push I needed. I raised my hand in the air as if to say thank you and goodbye.
And then I stepped forward, all the way to end of the stage, and knelt on one knee. The spotlight followed me, and since I was at the edge, the light shone on the audience’s faces that were closest to me.
She was already looking up at me, all breathless and wide eyed. The crowd had swept her up in their excitement, took her by surprise, I could tell. It almost made me flinch, just the thought that she might have gotten hurt, but I shook that off as well as I could and reached for her, stretching my arm out into the fans, taking that risk.
The women were like vultures, all screaming and trying to grab at my arm and hand. I kept moving it out of their reach, still reaching for her, trying to tell her with my eyes that it was okay for her reach back, that this was for her.
It wasn’t until I smiled at her that she understood. Her face suddenly brightened and she stretched her arm back at me, her beautiful soft fingers extending in my direction.
I held onto her tightly, squeezing her hand to let her know she needed to be ready, and the way she was clinging to my palm gave me the impression she knew something crazy was about to happen.
So without anymore hesitation I pulled my hat off my head and gently placed down over hers. We only had the spotlight shining down on us, but her smile could have lit up the entire venue. She raised her free hand and covered the hat on her head protectively. She looked just beautiful, completely amazing, her eyes all excited, she was mouthing thank you thank you standing there with my hat on her head, it made my heart leap just looking at her.
I didn’t want any more attention drawn to her, didn’t want her to get hurt. So I sprung back up on my feet, letting her go, and ran over to the center of the stage again, the spotlight following my every move, leaving her back in the darkness.
So that the crowd would take their eyes off of her, I raised my hand in the air again, capturing their attention, waving goodbye, giving them a bow of thanks, and walked off the stage, the cheering and clapping echoing behind me, reminding me that this was most definitely one of the greatest concerts I had ever given.
I handed the guitar I was wearing over to one of the crew, heading back towards the hallway.
“Wow...” That’s all the Cheryl could get out as I brushed right by her, her eyes were flashing with a million questions, her hands up near her face, I didn’t give her a chance to tell me anything else. I needed to get back to the lounge, needed to talk to Dustin and Brett before I saw her again.
“Hell of a night man.” Dustin looked really pleased, he was leaning against the far wall, a beer bottle in his hand.
“Yeah, it was cool,” I glanced around the room. “Where’s Brett? I need to talk to you guys.”
“What about?” Dustin took another swig from his drink, “Brett's coming. You wanna head back to the bus?”
I shook my head, “No, I’m gonna meet some fans, I need you guys to do me a favor. A big favor.”
Dustin raised his eyebrows at me in question, “You’re gonna meet some fans?” He said this in disbelief, shaking his head a little, “What do you want us to do? Hold 'em back?”
I chuckled at him, heading for the small refrigerator and grabbing a water bottle, “No, there’s no holding anyone back, I need you to occupy one of 'em, show them around a little bit.”
Now Dustin frowned at me, “You want me to do what? Who’s this? Cheryl doesn’t want me hanging around with ladies after the shows, you know that.”
“It’s not a girl, isn’t it Jack?” Brett’s voice made it’s appearance before he entered the room. He stood by the doorway watching us both with knowing eyes.
I half nodded, trying to think of the quickest way to make this all sound legit. Brett didn’t wait for me, he just strolled right into the room, raising his hand with a dismissing wave, he turned to look at Dustin, “Jack needs us to show a fan around, I bet this guy would be interested in seeing our equipment, maybe tour the bus?”
It took Dustin a few seconds until the light went on in his eyes, he nearly choked on his beer when he got it, he turned to look at me with this great big assed grin, “Oh yeah Jack...no problem, I see, don’t worry, Brett and I got this.”
I just chuckled again, I wanted to tell them then, everything, but Cheryl chose that moment to walk in the room.
“Umm...what’s going on here?” She looked around at all of us in suspicion, before refocusing her gaze on me when none of us answered, “Well? Nevermind, we have to deal with our backstage visitors in a few minutes. Andy from ground crew says he has them. Do you want me to bring them here?” Cheryl went on still staring at us in question, at least until she finally couldn’t keep it to herself anymore.
“I can’t believe you gave her your hat, I mean really, wow, you’re lucky I always keep a backup in case we lose one or something, now I have to call in for another one, that’s going to take at least a week to get here, are you planning on doing this from now on? If that’s the case I need to get a contract redesigned.”
I picked up my hand trying to stop her before she got ahead of herself, “It’s okay, Cheryl, it’s okay, you don’t need to do that. I’m not planning to make this a habit, I just wanted to try it, you know, just once.”
“Just once huh?” Cheryl wasn’t buying it, her hands at her hips, “What are planning to tell the guy she came with?”
“I’m not planning to tell him anything.” I started, but Dustin cut in before I could finish.
“It’s okay babe,” he reassured Cheryl, walking over to her and grabbing her hand, “Brett and I can take care of this, why don’t you go over to our dressing room and relax, this shouldn’t take long.”
Cheryl just frowned at him, “I think I should be here.”
“No, you’re tired, you already worked too hard tonight. We’re just going to have our picture taken with a couple of fans, no big deal.” Dustin was already ushering her out of the lounge. She went reluctantly, but not before turning around to point at me.
“You’re not taking her to your dressing room, are you? You’re not planning to sl...”
“No Cheryl...” I cut her off, “I’m not going to do that.” And I wasn’t, but Cheryl’s words had already created a scenario in my head, and the image of Ara draped across the sofa in my dressing room moaning lightly underneath me flashed across my brain. I tried to shake it off which Cheryl took for more confirmation that I wasn’t going to sleep with her.
Dustin snorted, trying to hide his laugh, “Hell if that would ever happen.” He pulled Cheryl away down the hall.
I was more nervous now than I was before the concert, checking myself on the wall mirror for the umpteenth time, trying to smooth down some of my crazy hat hair. I could hear the sounds of the hustle and bustle around me as the crew broke down the set, boxing it up, getting it ready to load. Andy was going to bring Ara in any minute, Dustin and Brett were already out there with them, talking to them, and I hoped it would work.
So I waited a little longer, shoving my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t fiddle mindlessly.
Finally Andy appeared at the doorway. “Mr. Stone?”
I swung around to face him, he was alone.
“Yes?” I raised my eyebrows in question.
“Your guest, she’s waiting for you.” he nodded at me.
“Thanks Andy, and she’s, waiting, alone?” I cocked my head to the side.
“Yes of course,” Andy looked really uncomfortable, and awfully curious, “Mr. Wade and Mr. Richardson took the other guest out back.”
“Thank you Andy, that’s all I need to know.” I dismissed him before he could ask any questions.
I checked myself in the mirror one more time, taking in a deep breath. She was waiting for me in my dressing room, alone, just like I requested. And I needed her alone, if this was going to play out the way I hoped, she needed to be alone with me. Just me and her, so that I could talk to her, try to convince her.
And I didn’t know how much convincing I was going to have to do, but I knew I didn’t have a lot of time. Dustin and Brett could only keep him for so long,so without anymore hesitation I walked out of the lounged and headed to my dressing room whispering a little prayer that this was going to work, because if it didn’t, well, no, I wouldn’t let myself even consider that it wouldn’t work,it just had to...