Because we all make mistakes.
I felt like I was floating.
My blanket-covered body lay on a soft mattress, my eyes still closed and my limbs paralyzed by fatigue. Quiet voices warped by a haze of sleep that hung over me conferred nearby, slipping in and out of my mind and barely registering.
“…bruises, Spence. On her wrists. Giant ones that were yellow and purple. There’s something she’s not telling us.”
“I know, Ryan, I saw them too. But we can’t force her to tell us anything she doesn’t want to; she’ll tell us if she wants to let us know.”
“Don’t tell me that seeing her like that isn't tearing you up inside. I know you, Spencer Smith.” I barely took notice of the silence that was induced by a slight pause. I could feel myself falling back into sleep as a voice whispered, “Why… why do people bother becoming a parent and having a child if they’re not even gonna look after them properly?” The question hung in the air.
“I don’t know, Ryan. I don’t know.”
And then I was floating again, lost in the void of sleep.
When I next woke up, I had a slight anxiety attack, forgetting where I was. My senses were overwhelmed with new sounds and smells that were completely foreign. I calmed down once I remembered what had happened. I listened, but I didn’t hear voices like I had heard before; I didn’t know whether they’d actually spoken or were something of my imagination.
Feeling around cautiously, I made a vague mental map about where I was. I must have been in a bunk – the ceiling was extremely low and it was the same sort of mattress that I’d encountered when I’d changed clothes. My fingers brushed against material that swayed slightly. A curtain, perhaps?
It was obvious that the owner of the bunk was male for two reasons. 1, males have a considerably different odour from females, and 2, I was pretty sure I was the only female on the bus. I didn’t worry too much about who it belonged to; I was still half-asleep to care or bother.
My suspicions about a curtain were confirmed when I was able to slide it back, shuffling myself sideways to roll cautiously out of the bunk, dangling my feet over the edge until they came into contact with the floor. I stood, swinging my head from side to side to try and pick up sounds that would help me get an idea of what the fuck I was supposed to do next. I paused with my head looking to the right. A faint murmur was coming from that way, so I decided to check it out. Using the wooden frame of the bunks as my guide, I slowly moved in that direction, flinching and drawing back in surprise when my exploring fingers touched bare skin. I froze before relaxing and gently touching it again, feeling someone’s arm hanging out over the edge of the bunk. A soft sighing sound came from behind the curtains, telling me that the person was asleep. I kept on going past the arm, stopping when I got to the end of the frame. The murmuring had grown louder with each step, but now I didn’t know what to do. Reaching out carefully with my left hand, I felt the smooth surface of wood under the tips of my fingers. I knocked lightly with the knuckle of my index finger so I wouldn’t wake the person (or people) that were sleeping. My knock was replied with a quiet tread of feet and the gentle sound of the door being opened before Brendon greeted me with a whisper, taking my arm and directing me to a padded sofa where Spencer was also seated. Brendon sat to the right of me after he closed the door, leaving me with a band member either side.
“What time is it?” I asked. My watch had been removed sometime ago, because I could no longer feel it on my wrist.
“About 3 in the morning,” Brendon said. I nodded briefly. I hadn’t though it was that late.
“How are you feeling?” Spencer asked quietly.
I twitched my lips, giving a quick smile. “Better,” I said. “How did I end up…?”
“After you finished crying, you fell asleep,” Brendon told me. “Spencer carried you to the bunks, where we put you in the closest one. It just so happened to be mine,” he added, though I don’t know what he hoped to gain from that comment.
“You didn’t have to give up your bunk for me,” I said. “Really, you could have just left me on the sofa or something.”
“No way in hell were we gonna do that,” Spencer said firmly. “And we don’t mind, honestly. Each one of us were willing to give up our bunk for you.”
“Thanks,” I whispered. I didn’t know what to say to this show of kindness and generosity. “You guys are so nice…”
Spencer squeezed my hand while Brendon gave a low chuckle. “Nah, we’re just glad we could help out a friend.” I froze at the last word. I mouthed it to myself as Brendon nudged me gently. “Yes, Lou. Friend,” he said, putting stress on the word. I couldn’t stop a smile from inching its way onto my face and I could feel that my cheeks were warm in a show of pleasant embarrassment. Spencer still hadn’t let go of my hand but I found that I didn’t mind it. What I did mind, however was the way he loosened his fingers and trailed his hand lightly up my palm until he gently held my wrist. I stiffened and bit my lip, an act to stop a small cry of pain as Spencer’s grip tightened when I tried to pull away. He rubbed his thumb over the inside of my wrist, sending shivers up my spine and making me tremble.
“Spencer. Don’t – please. Let go.” I gave a dry sob. Feeling his hand reluctantly leaving, I pulled my arms close to hug my body, yanking the sleeves of the hoodie down so that they fell to the knuckles of my fingers.
“You can’t hide them, Lou,” he said softly. “I’m not the only one who noticed – Ryan saw them the moment you arrived, and Jon and Brendon know too.”
I pulled my socked feet up on the sofa, sinking back into the material and ducking my head, a defense mechanism that came into play when I wanted to avoid things. I rested my arms in the hollow created by my raised knees, refusing to speak or do anything. Brendon shifted uncomfortably next to me and I felt Spencer lean forwards. He sighed before speaking. “Lou… were your parents… were they abusive?”
My shoulders began to shake. Not from lack of tears; quite the opposite actually. I giggled quietly.
“It’s really not that funny,” Brendon said, sounding slightly angry. I sobered up instantly.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “it’s just…” I inhaled and exhaled softly. “I don’t know how many years ago – it must have been when I was about twelve or thirteen – I said something one day that made my mom cry. We’d had this big argument, and…” I swallowed hard. “I don’t know. But she – she started to cry, and Dad just got so angry, so he… he pushed me back into a wall. I hit my head pretty hard and bit my tongue, which made my mouth fill with blood.” My voice was growing softer as I spoke, but that still hadn’t alerted me to the patter of footsteps that had stopped outside the door to listen. I continued. “We were all a bit shocked at what he’d done, none more so than him. I guess that’s why he never touched me ever again. Not a hug or even just a pat on the back. Until, until a few days ago, when I ran off. He found me and dragged me back to the car and manhandled me inside the house.” I shook my head. “Six years of not being touched and you ask me if I was abused? I’m sorry, but you have to see the funny side, even if it is pretty dark humor.”
Brendon had shuffled closer to me and Spencer had found my hand again, pulling it out of my lap so that it rested between his own two palms. “You know,” I told him, “Ryan’s advice was pretty shit.”
I felt him stop and turn a fraction so that he could get a better look at my slumped figure. “What advice?” he asked.
I pulled a face before answering. I seemed to be doing a lot of talking recently. “You know, that day when you guys took Yankee and I to the park? And we were sitting under the trees while the others were off playing with Yankee and I asked him what ‘Nails for Breakfast, Tacks for Snacks’ meant? And he said that it-”
“Was something his dad used to tell him,” Spencer finished. He groaned softly and Brendon moved his arm, like he was rubbing his face.
“You thought that was advice?” the singer whispered. I frowned.
“Well, yeah, I-”
“Lou,” Spencer broke in, “I need you to understand something.” His voice was low and urgent. “That wasn’t advice. If Ryan wanted to give advice… just trust me when I say that if he knew you would take it as advice, he would have never have said it in the first place. Ryan would never, ever, ever say something like that to another person, okay?”
I closed my eyes, shutting them tight, feeling like my face was about to ignite any second. Fuck. I had never felt so stupid and pathetic in all my life. I just wanted to disappear. Taking my hands out of Spencer’s, I wrapped them around my knees, burying my face in the material of the track pants so the two boys wouldn’t see the lonely tear slide precariously down my face. I felt numb and worthless and stupid, so, so stupid. I sniffled quietly, letting Brendon put his arm around me in a show of comfort. I didn’t notice the small scuffle on the other side of the door, nor the way Spencer tensed and shifted his body in the direction of the bunks as if he was looking intently at the door.
“I feel so fucking moronic,” I choked out, “I’m such a brainless piece of-”
“You even finish that sentence and I swear you’ll be dumped on the side of the road before you can blink,” Spencer said firmly, his voice with a dangerous edge to it. “It is not your fucking fault, okay? You don’t have to blame yourself every time something bad happens. No matter what your parents said or did to you, you need to believe that you are worth something, and that you aren’t the pathetic cripple you think you are. You have so many good qualities and characteristics, Lou. You just need to see what I – I mean, others – do when they look at you.” I raised my tear stained face to look where his voice was coming from, my lower lip quivering. “Because they see a smart, funny, witty, intelligent, beautiful, strong and courageous young woman.” Spencer was quiet for a moment, his tone soft again. “I just wish you could see yourself the way we do,” he finished.
I pressed my lips together, feeling warm liquid spill gently from my eyelids as I was pulled into a hug by the boys, who comforted me while I began to search the cob-webbed corners of myself for the girl that Spencer had just described. The true Lou Jones.
My first day on the tour bus was an experience like no other. It was so cramped and small that I constantly crashed into things and I knew that the bruises on my wrists would not be the only bruises that decorated my body.
When I had wandered into the first area I’d been taken to yesterday, the front lounge of the bus, Ryan acted strangely distant and removed from me, hardly saying anything in my presence. Spencer took him to the back lounge for a talk of some sort. Jon found Ryan’s behaviour as mystifying as I did, but he reassured me that if anyone could sort him out, it would be Spencer, due to the fact that they had been best friends from the tender ages of five and six. True to Jon’s word, when they returned Ryan was less cold and more like he had been on the days I had hung out with them a few weeks ago. He offered no explanation for his behaviour and I didn’t ask.
Panic! At the Disco were playing a show that night, and the few hours before they arrived at the venue were spent relaxing in the back lounge, with Ryan reading and Brendon and Spencer playing a video game of some sort. Jon used the time to text his girlfriend, who he was meeting at the venue because she would be watching the show. “I can’t wait for you to meet Cassie,” he said to me, “I think you’ll like her; she’s really nice.” I smiled and agreed, while inside me nerves were starting to build up; I didn’t like meeting new people for the obvious reason that I could never predict how they would react when they found out I was blind.
The band was getting ready to disembark the bus when it stopped in a few minutes, while I sat on the sofa listening to Brendon’s iPod with one earpiece in and the other one out, so I could still hear and communicate with them. I would be getting off too, but I didn’t have anything to take with me because all my belongings were with my brother. I was excited because when we got to the venue I would get to see Yankee; I missed my boy immensely.
“Oh, shit,” Jon said in a tone that suggested something was clearly wrong.
“What?” I asked, not really interested. “Hey, Brendon, what’s this song called?”
“‘Round Here,’” he said, and I could sense him peering over my shoulder, “by a band called Counting Crows. We actually covered that song on our UK tour earlier in the year.” I nodded, humming along to the song.
“Shit,” Jon repeated. “Um, guys?”
“What?” Ryan asked before saying, “Oh, fuck.”
“What’s wrong?” I said, pausing the song and taking the earpiece out. “You guys sound…worried? Upset?”
“I’ll call Zack,” Brendon said. Zack had gone ahead of the band to make sure that there were no problems; apparently the last venue had stuffed a few things up.
“Lou? Do you promise not to freak on us?” Spencer asked.
“Guys, what’s going on?” I was starting to get suspicious.
“Well,” he started meekly, “you know the whole, ‘famous musician’ thing?”
“Yeah,” I drew out slowly.
“Well, you see, that’s bound to attract a crowd when we arrive at places, especially before shows. And, um, there’s a crowd of a couple hundred screaming fans waiting for us.”
“And?” I asked. I didn’t see what that had to do with me. “Haven’t you guys done this before? I mean-” I stopped suddenly, realizing what he was getting at. “Oh, fuck. Shit.” I echoed Ryan and Jon’s earlier statements. “I have to walk out with you guys through that, don’t I?” The bus was starting to slow down enough that I could hear the noise of the screaming.
“Yeah,” Spencer said feebly.
“We’re really sorry, Lou,” Jon told me as Brendon finished up the call to their bodyguard.
“Right,” he said, “Zack’s gonna come out and meet us. He said that Lou,” he addressed me, “you should borrow sunglasses and pull your hood up. And just in case something happens, he wants you to walk with Jon and Spence either side of you.” I nodded, having stood up and slowly shuffled in a forwards direction. “Zack’s got other security guys there waiting as well,” Brendon was now talking to his band mates. He said a few more things, but I wasn’t listening. Fucking hell, that screaming was loud.
The bus stopped with a loud squawk of brakes. My mouth went dry as Jon lead me up the aisle of the tour bus. Someone pressed a pair of sunglasses into my hands and I slipped them on, pulling up the hood of Spencer’s hoodie. The door of the bus opened and my stomach churned as a loud roar went up from the crowd. I turned slightly as Spencer touched my shoulder. “I’m right behind you if you need anything,” he said, leaning down to talk in my ear. “You have Jon in front of you; we've got your back.” I nodded to show that I’d heard. Jon held my hand to help me down the stairs. I could barely hear Zack and the other security officers talking to Brendon and Ryan, who were in front of us.
I stumbled, letting Jon and Spencer steady me. The moment my feet touched solid ground my senses had come under attack. Waves of sound rolled in from every direction, instantly giving me a headache. My over-sensitive ears picked up screams and declarations of love for individual members of Panic!. It was all too much, and in a desperate effort to make it stop, I covered my ears with my hands. Jon gently took my elbow on his side and Spencer pulled my hands away, careful not to touch my bruised wrists. “Hey,” he murmured in my ear, “Jon and I are right here next to you; just listen to us.” Slowly but surely we made our way through the onslaught of voices, the gentle encouragement of Spencer and Jon in my ears.
I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden I was ripped away from the calming tones of the two boys. A strong hand yanked my upper arm, pulling me harshly and I screamed, terrified because I didn’t know what the fuck was happening or where I was going. There was a yell from someone and all of a sudden I felt an arm slip around my shoulders and long fingers lightly rubbed my hand soothingly.
“Lou, it’s okay,” Ryan said in a low voice, “I’ve got you; it’s okay.” At the sound of a familiar voice of someone I trusted, I relaxed, still shaking from what had happened seconds earlier. With Ryan to guide me, I soon reached the safety and shelter of the venue, and when we were all inside and the door to the outside had been closed, the noise of the crowd died down considerably.
“What the fuck happened out there?” Spencer demanded furiously, coming to stand next to Ryan, who still had a hold on my trembling body.
“That was crazy, man,” Brendon whistled. “Are you okay, Lou?” I took a breath as I felt my shoulder being squeezed.
“I… what…?” was all I was able to force out of my mouth.
“Some half-crazed girl jumped over the barrier and tried to get to me and Spence,” Jon said. “At least, I think that’s what happened. Suddenly we were just pulled away from you by a security guard and you were grabbed by another one. We heard you scream, and your face… the security guard didn’t know you were blind, I’m guessing, from the way he pulled you; he just thought you were having a freak out.” He paused, and he might have been shaking his head. “Thank God Ryan got to you.”
I pressed a hand to my mouth before saying tentatively, “That was bat-shit crazy. Are all your arrivals like this?”
Zack, who had been conferring with the other guards about what had happened, walked over to our group just in time to hear my comment. He laughed, clapping me on the shoulder. “Lou, my girl,” he chuckled, “welcome to life on tour with Panic! At the Disco.”
You know what to do! And I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm repeating myself too much with Lou's story about her family in the last few chapters. It needs to be done. Thanks guys!