The guys are in the room now and are starting to take their seats. My jaw drops as I see the last person at the table. The new guitarist.
“Frank, come on,” Ray’s voice is calling. “We’re on stage in five.”
I walk down the hallway toward his voice and turn a corner. I frown. He’s not there, just more hallway.
“Frank let’s go!” It’s Gerard, but his voice is coming from behind me.
I turn around and walk back the way I came, picking up a slow jog. The hallway seems to stretch, the end never getting closer. I finally reach the end and turn a corner, then another. I stop when I reach a wall, hallways leading both to the left and right. Which way was his voice coming from? It’s silent now.
“Gerard?” I yell. “Where are you? Ray? Mikey??”
No response. I listen hard but there’s nothing. Wait, there. There’s something but it’s quiet. It sounds like breathing, sobbing. Crying. A child crying. “Daddy?” I hear. My blood turns to ice.
Then a crash and a scream. It sounds like it’s coming from all sides. Without thinking I pick a direction and run as fast as I can. “Lily! Cherry!”
The hallway opens into a street and the scene is laid out before me. Our broken SUV, the glass everywhere, the screaming and, oh God, the blood. Cherry and Lily are in there somewhere.
I want to run to them, sweep them up and take them far, far away from here but I can’t. It’s like watching the whole thing from behind glass. I can’t get to them. I feel a hand on my shoulder and spin around. Jamia is standing in the hallway behind me.
“You killed them, Frankie.”
I wake up screaming.
Six days. It’s been six days. The time stretches and shrinks, sometimes seeming like an eternity, and others like a blink. Only six short days and I need the band like I need air. Six long miserable days I’ve been shut in this crappy motel room without sleep, my dreams always twisted by regret and anxiety and general sick-to –my-stomach guilt.
I could go home, but until I know what she wants from me it doesn’t really matter where I am. At least here there are no memories staring me down everywhere I look.
I’m so wrecked from the dream and the lack of sleep and the dangers of navigating the ruins of my life that it takes a full three rings before I register that the noise invading my ears is my phone. For a tiny moment a flash of hope blooms in my chest. Could it be the guys? Could they take me back?
But it’s not. Of course it’s not. It’s her.
“What?” I mumble.
“Turn on MTV,” her voice insists before the line goes dead. Groggily I sit up, trying to focus. I glance over at the clock to find that it’s two in the afternoon. I’ve been so out of it these past two days. I don’t really want to watch whatever it is she wants me to see, but I’m not sure what game she’s playing now. I thought I had it figured out before, but she keeps changing the rules. This might be important.
I grab the remote and turn the TV on before randomly flipping through the channels until I find MTV. It’s showing a typical press release setup. A long table sits at the front of the room. At the moment it is empty, but there are five chairs in a row. A female reporter is in front of the table, reporting on the event.
“World renowned rock band My Chemical Romance is set to announce the identity of their new guitarist here in a few moments. Former guitarist Frank Iero reportedly left the band last week due to a falling out among the band members. Iero has been struggling with alcohol addition since the death of his two daughters almost two years ago and the according to the band’s website he’s taking some time off to focus on himself…” she rambles on.
I sigh and hold my head in my hands. They’ve replaced me. And she’s making sure I see it. I just woke up. It’s too early in the morning for this shit. Taking some time off to focus on himself. The reporters voice was clear and emotionless when she said it but all I heard was Gerard’s sarcastic drawl. Well we’d hate for the great Frank Iero to feel like he’s stuck with us.
God, so this was how they were spinning it? A falling out among the band members. I snort. How about a psycho bitch ex who’s threatening to kill all your friends unless you let her ruin your life? If only they knew…
Wearily I look back up at the screen. The reporter is gone and the camera has zoomed in on the table. The guys are in the room now and are starting to take their seats. Our manager Brian is first, followed by Gerard, then Mikey and Ray. My jaw drops as I see the last person at the table. The new guitarist.
Brian speaks into the microphone. He introduces Jamia and says something about how she's known the band for ages and she used to tour with them and how she’ll fit right in on tour. He’s talking for a while about guitar experience and whatever else. I hear my name a few times, but I hardly hear him. I’m too busy watching her. She seems almost sweet, if you don’t know her. But I do. God, and she’s sitting there. In MY place. With MY band.
Brian has opened the floor to questions. A reporter asks something, I don’t quite hear what, and Gerard replies.
“We’re really excited about this tour. Jamia is a great friend of ours and an incredibly talented guitarist. We couldn’t have asked for a better addition to this band.”
I think I’m going to be sick.
He continues, “I want to assure the fans that nothing’s going change just because Frank is gone. The shows are still going to be as good as always and we’re not going to slow down our touring. We’re still going to be around for a long time.”
Other reporters shout out questions and various band members answer them. Finally a question is directed at Jamia.
“How are you feeling about joining this band?” someone calls out.
She smiles sweetly. “I won’t lie, I’m a bit nervous. But I’m also really excited. This band is amazing and they deserve and expect a lot out of their guitarist. I’m going to do my best to be that.”
Gerard smiles and adds jokingly, “We’re pretty sure she’ll do OK.”
Brian stands and tells the reporters that the press release is over. The band slowly gets up also and starts to file out. Ray puts his hands on Jamia’s shoulders, the way he used to do to me. No doubt, I'm definitely going to be sick.
I feel awful. If you had asked me this morning I would have told you I couldn’t possibly feel any worse than I did then. I would have been wrong. I sit there, dazed for about an hour. I can’t move, but I don’t even want to.
My phone ringing brings me back to reality, but I ignore it. A minute later it buzzes, telling me I have a new text. Slowly I grab the phone and read the message from Jamia.
Stop fucking around, Frankie. Someone might get hurt.
I hold the phone for a minute, then reluctantly call her. It barely even rings once before she answers.
“Why didn’t you answer?” she snarls.
“Relax, I was in the bathroom,” I lie.
“Did you enjoy the press release?”
“Immensely. I could hardly contain myself. You should have seen me, I was dancing around the room with joy.” She can take my life, but she can't keep me from being bitter about it.
“Don’t get smart with me.”
Something in me snaps. Who the hell is she to think she can run my life like this? No sir, I’m done.
“That’s it,” I hiss. “This is too far. You wanted to ruin my life, ok. Fine. Maybe I deserved that. But to steal my life? No. I’m not playing along anymore. You can send your fake files to whoever you want and maybe they’ll believe it and maybe I’ll go to jail but at the very least I’ll be able to say my piece. I'll be able to tell the guys the truth. I’m not living your lie.”
“Oh Frank, I think you ought to consider very carefully what you say next.”
“Or what?” I blurt. “You’ll do what, Jamia?”
“Don’t test me Frank.”
She doesn’t answer. I choke out a bitter laugh. “You’ll kill them, is that it? Don’t you think you’ve used that threat enough already?”
Her voice is dangerous. She even sounds insane. “You think I won’t?”
I don’t answer, instead I let my silence answer for me.
“Are you willing to risk that?” she asks. And truthfully, I’m not. These guys mean too much to me. They may hate me, but I still love them. I could never let anything happen to them because of me. That’s why I left in the first place. But I’m going to push this bluff as far as I can and hope she breaks first.
“Are you?” I counter. She may be able to control me through my love for the guys, but even she is not above the law and she knows it.
I’m surprised by her harsh laugh. “Oh, Frankie, I already have. Do you remember what happened to Gerard two months ago?”
I do. Some supports on the stage came loose and the whole front of it collapsed. Gerard had taken a nasty fall, but came out luckily relatively unharmed.
“Or Ray, back in June?”
Ray was checking that the equipment had arrived safely when some amps had fallen and nearly crushed him.
“Haven’t you thought it was strange on this tour how many accidents were so narrowly avoided?”
She was right. Recently there’d been an unusual amount of dangerously packed speakers, problems with the pyro equipment, faulty amps, bad stages. I’d chalked it up to bad luck and lazy set up but now…
“All those were you?”
Several instances had required hospital attention. None were life threatening, but they very well could have been.
“Those were just a warning. Next time they won’t need a hospital, they’ll need a morgue.”
I get it now. She’s inside, and she knows more about the ins and outs of touring than anyone. She could easily kill anyone on tour, and make it look like a tragic accident. And she would, to get to me.
“I’ll go to the police,” I try to sound threatening but I’m losing my edge and we both know it.
“And tell them what? That the new guitarist, the one they all love, is planning to kill them. This coming from the old guitarist, who had a major falling out with them and left on unpleasant terms. If they’re going to believe that anyone is trying to kill the band, Frankie, it’s going to be you. Especially after I give them some conclusive piece of damning evidence, that I’ll just happen to find. You won’t go to the police, Frankie.”
She’s got me trapped. I’ve got no choice but to do what she says.
“Alright, I get it,” I growl.
A heavy silence hangs between us, but only for a moment before she breaks it. “Are you still packed?”
I glance over at the two garbage bags sitting practically untouched in the corner. I’ve been moping around all day, I haven’t needed them.
I turn and pick up the only thing I have taken the time to pull out of those bags. An old picture of us during the ‘I’m Not Okay’ video shoot. We’re all standing around Brian, who is wearing the mascot costume, and holding the oversized head by his side. We’re all grinning our heads off and completely ignoring the camera. Gerard is scowling, as per usual while I try madly to tickle Mikey and Ray almost falls trying to get out of our way.
I realize she is still waiting for me to answer. “Yes.”
“Good, I’ll pick you up tomorrow at three, we leave at five and we would hate to be late for our first day, now wouldn’t we?” Her voice is coated in fake sweetness and it makes me think of cheerleaders.
“Late for our first day of what?” I ask, playing along like I know she wants me to.
“Late for our first day of tour, silly! I explained to them how I’ve been working with Jason Demarko a lot and that I was really hoping he could come on tour with me as my guitar tech. They agreed, of course. They're agreeing to everything I ask for. They're so cute!”
I freeze. “Who’s Jason Demarko?” I ask even though I’m pretty sure I know the answer. But, no, even Jamia wouldn’t go that low.
“Why?” I breathe, barely even loud enough to be called a whisper. “You already took everything I love, why are you making me do this?”
“Because when they died and you left, none of you were really gone. I still had to live in that house, in that town, with those people always pitying me and asking questions I couldn’t answer. I didn’t get to start over with a clean slate and neither do you. You lost everything you loved, but that was only the beginning. Now you’ll have to face them. Everyday, knowing they’re not really there with you anymore.”
She paused, my heavy breathing the only noise on the wire. “What’s wrong, Frankie?” she asks, a smirk in her voice. “No jumping for joy? No dancing?”
“They’re not dumb. They’ll recognize me.”
“Well for their sakes you’d better make sure they don’t. I’ve got some things I’ll come around to give you later on. Some make up, contacts that will make you eyes look blue, and blond hair dye. I suggest you cut your hair. I also have huge glasses and different clothes. As long as you try to talk and act different and keep to yourself, they probably won’t recognize you.”
“You know how the guys are, they treat everyone on tour like family. Keeping to myself is going to be tough.”
“You’ll figure it out, Frankie. I’ll drop the stuff off later and pick you up at three tomorrow.” Her voice slips back into fake cheerleader mode. “Oh! I’m so excited about our first day! It’s going to be a blast, don’t you think?”