“Bro,” I called out to Shannon, who was chatting with his drumtech Evan. He averted his eyes to see who had been calling and then quickly excused himself before making his way towards where I was standing. He was wearing his usual black hoodie combined with parachute pants, which held the unique ability to make his upper body appear twice its length and reduce his legs to knees and shins. I had borrowed them so often that Shannon, faced with less than one pair of pants at a time, had coerced me into buying my own. Arriving in front of me, my brother looked down at what I was wearing, raising an eyebrow.
“I can already see it: the day we’ll have to cut you out of all these layers,” he remarked.
“Until that day I’ll happily stay wrapped up and warm. Think there’s anyone still waiting out there in the dark?” I cast a thoughtful glance at the fence surrounding the parking lot from where we were crowding around the back exit. I watched Emma, who was furiously telephoning with some unfortunate soul, scaring away the crew members standing near her.
“Dunno, could be. There’s always at least one,” Shannon said, lifting a corner of his mouth. An icy breeze swept past us, making him shiver with cold. He pulled the dark hood tighter around his face.
I grumbled something unintelligible, tapping my foot on the ground. I would leave the remaining fans to my brother tonight, in case there were any. The only thought prominent on my mind was that less from a mile from here there was a soft hotel bed waiting for me to make love to it. Mind you, by that I actually mean sleeping. An odd tingling in the back of my neck made me look away from my assistant. Briefly, I locked eyes with Vicki, who was standing by Tomo’s side, holding hands with her husband. I blinked, made sure my expression was blank and turned away as if to give my undivided attention to my older brother.
“Tell me, what’s going on with you today?” Shannon grumbled lowly.
Widening my eyes, I buried my hands in my pockets. “I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”
He huffed, tilting his head a little and gave me a look that was clearly saying ‘you can’t fool me, brother dearest’. I remained stone-faced, not a crack in the surface. If I wanted to talk, I would talk. There was no need to pester me about it if I didn’t, I was able to deal with things on my own quite nicely, thank you very much. Shannon knew that and he wouldn’t ask more than once. I had to give him credit for that.
Instead he said, “Em is taking pretty long.”
I made a noise of agreement, turning back to spot her heading towards us through the crowd of people. She was still holding her iPhone in her hand and the expression that decorated her face didn’t exactly ooze triumph.
“Jared,” said Emma, having reached us. She ran a hand over her face before continuing. “We have a problem. I’ve sorted this out for today but –”
“What is it?” I pressed her on.
“One of our drivers wants to go home. Case of illness in the family. We can’t get a fill-in driver until Tuesday evening, when we should’ve already been on the road for ten hours.”
Shannon next to me cursed loudly.
“Get Tomo,” I muttered to him, staring unseeingly at Emma.
“Jay it’s better if we sort this out in the hotel,” she said softly, well aware of the raging turmoil that was going on behind the surface. “I’ve talked him into staying until everyone’s at the hotel, in case you should want to talk to him yourself. What we should do now is get everyone to retrieve their most important baggage – the cars to take us to the hotel should arrive any second now. Gonna be a real Mars street parade.”
Gritting my teeth, I breathed in and out through my nose. My inner voice was yelling profanities at the top of its lungs while I struggled to keep my composure. The most important thing was to stay calm, stay reasonable because without a clear mind I would never be able to solve anything. And that was what I needed to do now: damage limitation.
“Alright Emma, Shannon – and where the fuck is our tour manager? – we’ll meet in my room as soon as possible.”
They agreed and headed for the band bus, telling others along the way to follow suit and grab their baggage. In the distance I could hear the sound of tires crunching gravel, announcing the arrival of the cars to get us away from here. In the tumult I spotted Tomo, still clutching Vicki’s hand. ‘Professional, remember, Jared?’
“Hey mate,” I said, giving the guitarist a pat on the shoulder. He smirked at me through the curtain of tangled black hair that surrounded and partially covered his face.
“Jared. Emma just ordered us to get our things, mind telling me what’s going on? I have a feeling things aren’t going as planned,” he declared, wiggling his eyebrows. I didn’t even acknowledge the petite woman by his side.
“That’s because they aren’t. I’ll explain things later – in my room. Now, quick, the earlier we get there the better,” I rushed and hurried away to where I saw my brother waiting, standing by the opened slide door of our tour bus. He already had a little bag swung over his shoulder, filled with clothes and the like, I presumed. I climbed up the steps leading into the bus, remembering to duck my head at that one tricky passage, and went on until I was standing in front of my bunk. ‘Oh Lord,’ I thought, grimacing at the mess covering the mattress. Little post-it notes, sheets of paper, guitar picks and a book. I made short work of them, throwing everything into a plastic bag I found lying on the floor. I then pulled out the smallest of my suitcases from under the bunk, dusted it off and went back outside, grabbed Shannon and strode through the opened gates of the parking lot to hop into a black car next to which Emma was standing. She got in right after Shannon, signaling the driver to start the engine.
I had a feeling this was going to be a very long night.
I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. It was three a.m., Monday morning, and I still hadn’t been allowed, or able, to shut an eye. We were sitting around a table in the living room of my hotel suite; Shannon, Tomo, Emma, Greg – our tour manager – and myself. At whichever time, at least one of us was angrily telephoning with someone of the carrying business our management was working with.
My talk with Mick Rodney, the man who had caused all the trouble by demanding to go home, hadn’t been very, say, results-producing. One of his children had been diagnosed with leukemia and he, understandably, was needed there rather than here. I was not in the position to keep him from his family, no matter how dire the consequences for the tour, for us and most importantly for our family of fans were. I had listened taciturnly before wishing him and his child well, and that had about been it. No fun. No solution.
“Everyone shut up now please,” I called, silencing the individual conversations that had developed over time. Greg quickly ended the phone conversation he had been having and resumed to stare at me irritably.
“So, in a nutshell: we have achieved nothing, we have a bus driver too little for a day and we still need to get to Chicago in time, which would be Wednesday.” Sitting up straight in my chair, I looked each of my companions in the eye. Shannon was barely still awake, Tomo appeared way too resigned for my taste and Emma had that kind of look on her face that told me she was going to try to convince me it was best to cancel the show: a sad curve to her lips, compassion in her eyes and her brow wrinkled.
“No rescheduling, no cancelling, just no. We already had to reschedule too many shows of this tour and I am not going to disappoint any more people. We are going to be there in time for the soundcheck, we are going to give a bunch of people the best night of their lives, they are going to jump so hard they can’t walk the next day. No, Emma. Not this time. This show will take place,” I told them in a slow, hard voice, apodictically. I simply couldn’t reconcile it with my conscience; I didn’t want to disappoint anyone anymore. I was always trying my hardest to make sure that everyone of them, everyone of these special people that were in this together with us, that believed in 30 Seconds To Mars like I could have never imagined anyone would, were happy and satisfied with what we were able to give them. There always were some black sheep, ungrateful ones that wanted more than we could give them, more, always more, were never happy with us – but they weren’t what counted, what counted were the believers. Disappointing the Echelon was the last thing I wanted to do.
“Man, I want to play the show as much as you do but just by saying ‘this show will take place’ we aren’t solving the problem,” Tomo chimed in.
He was right, of course he was, but what was I supposed to do? I wasn’t a magician; I couldn’t conjure up someone to sort this out for us.
“And there really isn’t any fucking person available that’s suitable for the job? If the company we’re working with doesn’t have enough drivers we are going to hire another one. Jesus Christ, we’re in the USA, there must be one of 311 million Americans capable of driving us from San Francisco to Chicago!”
“I’m sorry, but that’s not possible. We’re covenanted to this one specific company and it’s really not advisable for us to break the contract or otherwise we’ll have the same problem for every date of this never-ending tour,” Greg said.
There were ten seconds of silence in which I made my decision.
I leaned back, crossing my arms in front of my chest as I was silently elaborating a plan. I could see Emma anxiously wiggling about on her chair; she knew the expression on my face all too well and I could hear her quietly mumbling to Tomo: “This is either going to be outrageous, brilliant, or both.”
“If we can’t drive there,” I began calmly, “we are going to fly – everyone that is housed in the band bus. The buses and trucks endued with a driver are going to depart as planned, arriving at the venue at approximately five p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. As soon as there is a substitute driver available – Emma you said something about Tuesday evening? – he or she is going to follow suit and drive the empty band bus to the venue in Chicago. That way, when we are heading for the next city, everything will be going as planned. Assuming, of course, there won’t be anyone else dropping out on us.”
No one said anything while they were mulling this over in their heads and I noticed for the first time how obnoxiously loud the huge clock on the wall next to me was ticking. Tick tock, tick tock, as if to deliberately unnerve me. Well, good luck with that, clock, but I don’t roll that way.
“I’m with Jared.” Shannon’s deep rumbling voice broke through the silence and I felt the weight of his arm wrapping around my shoulders. I slightly turned my head to look at him thankfully but he was concentrating on the three people sitting with us that hadn’t yet said anything.
“Who is going to pay for the plane tickets?” Greg demanded to know, not looking convinced in the least.
“The same one who would have been paying for this driver, obviously,” I said.
“Sisyphus Touring is–”
“Me,” I told him gravely. “I am president of Sisyphus Touring. Around some corners and curves, the ones ending up paying for this are the label and me. And anyway, flying is less expensive than having to refund thousands of tickets sold for the show.”
“He’s right, you know,” Tomo said, looking pointedly at Greg, whose shoulders slumped in submission.
“I am going to arrange the plane tickets right away in the morning,” Emma yawned, looking at me through drooping eyelids. Despite the tiredness, her face was beaming. Shannon lifted his arm from my shoulders to pat my head gently, earning him a scowl. He winked at me and stretched himself luxuriously, appearing pleased with the eventual outcome.
At the door, he whispered “I knew you’d take care of this” before nodding good night and leaving after the others to go to their own rooms, fall into their own beds. I closed the door feeling just a little victorious but more like I had just been run over by a truck.
The next morning, or rather noon wasn’t met with very much enthusiasm. Sitting up in bed, I stretched, attempting to rid myself of sleep’s remains. My back was aching, as it always was. Swinging my legs over the edge of the mattress, I snatched my Blackberry off the little nightstand. It was dark in the bedroom due to the closed curtains and the display flashed the time into my face. No interviews were scheduled for today so for a change there was no need to hurry, which I highly welcomed. Groggily I shuffled over to the bathroom and pulled the door shut behind me. The reflection in the mirror greeted me with a tired gaze and a messy brown nest on top of my head. As if on cue, I yawned at myself before I pulled the shirt I was wearing over my head and stripped out of the rest of my night clothes. The cold tiles underneath my bare soles chilled my skin and I stepped into the shower as fast as I could. As soon as warm water began pouring out of the shower head I pressed my eyes shut, willed my muscles to relax.
Half an hour later I had joined the gang at breakfast, which took place in Tomo’s and Vicki’s suite. They had ordered enough room service to feed an entire zoo which was why the whole crew was present, crowding in the living room. I was chewing on my fruit salad when someone touched my shoulder and I almost choked on it. Coughing, I turned around in my chair, coming face to face with a very determined-looking Vicki. I quickly wiped away the tears in my eyes and cleared my throat.
“What is it?” I asked her, poker-facedly.
“You, me, bedroom. Now,” she said, almost growling.
“Uh, I don’t think Tomo would agree with this, sorry,” I said.
“That’s not what I meant,” said Vicki irritably, “but we need to talk, right now. Come on.”
I stood up reluctantly and followed her through the bedroom door, which she closed behind us. The room was about as big as mine, the only difference being the double bed and light green hues the walls and furniture were kept in.
“Quick,” I said, regarding her with little interest. She patted the spot next to her on the mattress but I made no move to get away from where I was standing at the door. She sighed, closing her eyes for a second to gather all of her patience. Then she rose back to her feet.
“Jared,” she started off with my name, taking a couple of steps toward me. My gaze was still coolly resting on her. Why was she doing this, hadn’t I made it clear the day before that she shouldn’t apologize for thinking the things she did? It was a rather simple principle, actually.
“I really am sorry. And before you start telling me that I shouldn’t say that, let me tell you something: I don’t care. I am sorry and I hate the distance that’s between us right now.”
I didn’t move a muscle, watching her silently.
“I hadn’t been thinking at all when I said what I said, and I realize it was tactless to no end and I never meant to upset you. Please, forgive me? I don’t want to give up on our friendship…”
When Vicki didn’t continue, I looked down at my feet, collecting my thoughts. I remembered the moment of shock right after the words had slipped from her mouth, the startled ache in my muscles and joints, the bewilderment and the nauseating thoughts of betrayal. Was this what everyone was thinking about me, did they think I was desperate? There were countless numbers of people out there, spreading the worst kinds of things about me, and I didn’t even blink at them. I couldn't care less about what any of them were thinking, you couldn’t after all be loved by everyone, no matter who you were. Yet the opinions of those who I counted to my inner circle, that small amount of people that I knew I could trust, were important to me. They mattered.
“Do you think I’m desperate?” I asked her, eyes remaining firmly fixed on the ground.
“I, err, what? No,” she replied confusedly.
I looked up, eyebrows pulled together. “Really. Then why did you say that?”
“For God’s sake, Jared! I wasn’t thinking at all, and I don’t think you are desperate. I never thought you were, I promise.” Her fawn eyes softened and she took another step into my direction. “Listen – I know. I know you care more about what others think than you say. It’s okay. I’m your friend.”
“I don’t,” I muttered, shaking my head slightly. “I can’t. Caring about other people’s opinions would ruin me.”
“I know,” smirked Vicki. “Am I forgiven?”
I sucked in a few breaths of air before nodding. A smile, huge compared to her little face, lifted the corners of her mouth. The door behind me then flew open, almost sending me flying onto the floor on all fours. “What the fuck?” I shouted, regaining my balance and turning. Emma was standing in the doorway, her hands resting on her hips.
“What are you guys doing here? Jared, we still need to arrange some things. Why don’t you both join the breakfast table? Oh man you seriously look like I’ve just interrupted your make-out session,” she said, beginning in a serious tone and ending up laughing at me.
I huffed, raising a hand to fix my hair. “Did you purchase the plane tickets?”
“Join us to find out, big boss.”
“Aussie, stop calling me that, you –” I remarked but got interrupted.
Vicki, who was still smiling to herself but now with a considerably redder face, wriggled past me, her arm snaking upwards until it reached my head. Then, with a laugh, she ran her hand through my hair, leaving it an utter mess, before disappearing through the door at the speed of light.
“Don’t fucking touch my hair!” I called after the beast that was Tomo’s wife yet I really couldn’t decide if I was angry or just a little more relieved.