This was my first story
Joe managed to shake his head, he looked at his hands and realized that his wedding band and eye ring were gone, his hand reached for the necklace where his father's ring always hung-it was gone as well. "What happened? Did I get mugged?"
"You tell me," a man's voice seemed to boom through Joe's skull. "Can you tell me your name?"
"Says here," the police officer looked at his hand, "Anthony Perry."
"Yeah, that's my given name," Joe answered as he looked around. Nothing seemed familiar. The city looked like New York, but some buildings reminded him of Boston.
"Are you sure you're alright? We can take you to the hospital," the officer said as he handed Joe back his wallet.
"Thanks, I'm fine," Joe managed a smile, although his head was throbbing.
"Take care, Father Perry."
'Father?' Joe thought, 'What the hell?' Then he caught a reflection of himself in the diner window. He had short, very short hair, it hadn't been that short since he was in the fourth grade. 'People thought it was short before...' he thought to himself. Black suit, white collar. Well, he was dressed as a priest.
He quickly opened his wallet, he had a five and two ones, identification card-no drivers license-it read: Father Anthony J. Perry 3090 Hall Street New York City, New York. If he were a priest, where was Billie, where were his boys? His thought was interrupted.
"Is there something wrong?" the girl was still there.
"No," he said unconvincingly, "I don't really know."
"Do you want something to eat? Some coffee?"
"Yeah, coffee's good."
They entered the diner, it reminded him of the Anchorage at Sunapee Harbor. An elderly couple sat in the back, a teen-age boy walked quickly to the door. He caught Joe's eye...he was wearing a Brad Whitford shirt. Anyway, it looked like Brad.
"Who's that on your shirt?" Joe grabbed at his arm.
"Brad Whitford, number 26, NASCAR. He's my favorite racer-just won in Atlanta."
Joe and the girl sat at the counter, Joe was trying to comprehend everything going on around him as a man hurried along the counter.
"Father Perry!" he exclaimed, "I saw what happened!" he was about fifty; dark hair, turning white, dark circles under his eyes, this man knew hardship. He put his had on Joe's shoulder, "Is there anything you need, Anthony?"
"How about some coffee?" the woman said in a gentle tone.
"Sure," he poured two cups, "I told Cooper that I saw that cab hit you, he just drove off. I got a description and number, they'll get him."
Joe sat staring at his cup, "What's your name?"
"Emily," her tone was one of slight shock. "Do you remember me?"
"No," he tried to drink some of the coffee, he turned his attention to the TV, the evening news was getting over.
"I went to your church for a while, I got married..." her voice trailed off.
"Married, huh?" Joe didn't take his eyes off the set.
"I married, moved, that's why I stopped going to your church. I really liked your sermons. Your sermons are so powerful, so inspired. You always knew the right thing to say."
"Emily's a nice name," he broke the silence, "Sorry, I just can't place you."
"You got quite a bump, maybe you should go-"
He suddenly stood up, his eyes fixed on the TV, Entertainment Tonight, Mary Hart had just announced that Thomas Hamilton was going to host the Tony Awards.
"What is it?" the man asked.
"Do you know him?" Joe managed to say.
The man looked at the screen, "Yeah, Thomas Hamilton, he's in movies, Broadway, he's an actor."
"Tom Hambonlian," Joe muttered to himself. Joe sat down, all he knew was he had to find out the truth. He looked at Emily. "I'm gonna ask you something," he cleared his throat. "Do you know either of these names: Joey Kramer, or Steven Tyler?"
Emily raised her eyebrows, "No, how about you, Charlie?"
"Steven Tyler, no. Kramer, I've seen that name," he began to go through the paper. "I just read something about a Kramer going to be at a college. Here it is."
He handed the paper to Joe. It read:
'Doctor Joseph Kramer to give a lecture on his substantial findings on the Mayan culture; Dr. Kramer has just returned from teaching at Mexico City-'
Joe didn't read anymore, he looked at the accompanying photo. It was Joey. "What the hell?" Joe murmured...then he remembered that everyone was calling him 'Father Perry'.
"Thanks for the coffee," he began to pull out his wallet, "How much?"
Charlie stared at him, "Anthony, you've eaten here at least once a day for thirty years. You know that your money's no good here. You've been my priest for twenty years, and my friend even longer." Charlie looked at Emily, "We were in high school together."
"I wasn't very good in school," Joe thought out loud.
"Me neither. Hard telling what would have happened to us if Father Guiliano hadn't straightened us out. You really took to him, I think he's the one that got you where you are today."
Joe vaguely remembered that name. He was a younger priest that his mother made him talk to; to Joe he seemed ancient-he was about thirty. All he could tell him was to cut his hair and to buckle down. Music was no future. His message was simple: Start taking school, and life seriously. He didn't listen, or had he?
Joe looked at him, and then at the diner...this man needed every cent he could get his hands on. He threw down a dollar and left.
He started down the street, thinking about what had happened. Tom was an actor, Brad a racecar driver, Joey a doctor, and he was a priest. Where the fuck was Steven? He fingered his collar; it was unbearably hot. He rubbed his temples; maybe he should have gone to the hospital.
"Hey didn't you hear me?" Emily shouted at him.
"What do you want?"
"Charlie and I think that you should go to a doctor."
Joe noticed that they were standing in front of a music store. "Come on, I gotta find something out."
He started to go through the music, looking for Aerosmith. "It's gotta be here," he flipped through the CDs.
"What? What are you looking for?" Emily asked. "Maybe I can find it."
"Can I help you," a teenage boy came up. He was skinny, short hair, pierced eyebrow, "Father?" he added.
"Do you have anything by Aerosmith?" Joe said firmly.
"Aerosmith," he repeated. "A-R-R-O-W"
"No A-E-R-O-S-M-I-T-H" Joe corrected, "Rock band."
"Never heard of them."
"Joe Perry Project?"
Joe looked at Emily, she looked blankly at him; he did have to ask, she never heard of them either. He shook his head, then noticed the six-strings guitars hanging on the wall. "May I?"
"Sure, any particular one?"
"How about the '61 Strat." He had to know if he could still play, he had to see if he lost that, too.
The boy handed it to Joe, "Amps are over here," he led Joe to the corner.
Joe adjusted the knobs, "Let's see how this goes."
Joe blasted into Walk This Way he played the entire song, he was so wrapped in the song, that he didn't noticed the crowd that had gathered. When he finished his flawless performance, the crowd cheered and clapped. He handed the Strat back, "Ever hear that song?"
"No," the clerk replied in disbelief, "I'd become a priest, if I could play like you!"
Emily shook her head, "I've never heard anything like that before."
Joe gave a smile, "I love playing." He looked at the clerk, he was still holding the Strat, he figured he'd ask. "Do you know of Steven Tyler?"
The clerk shook his head once.
Suddenly, Joe remembered that he was known by his given name-maybe Steven was too. "How about Stephen Tallarico?"
The boy looked a bit shocked. "Everybody's heard of Stephen Tallarico."
Joe was elated. "Where is he? What does he do?"
The clerk just stood there, afraid to answer.
Emily did. "Stephen Tallarico was one of the astronauts killed last week-"
"Here," the clerk handed Emily a copy of Life magazine; Joe ripped it out of her hands.
On the cover was a black background, with an American flag. He opened it, thumbed through, and found the article. Steven was staring back at him, he sported a conservative hairstyle, blue business suit, no jewelry, but it was Steven. "Oh God Steven, no." Joe whispered.
He began to read it, but Emily filled him in. "Yeah, they were testing this new fuel, suppose to fly the shuttle faster, farther, cheaper. He was the commander, there were three others. The entire platform went up in flames." Emily looked at him. "If it makes you feel any better, they didn't know what hit them. He was killed instantly-"
"No it doesn't make me feel any better." Joe retorted. He read the entire article...how Steven had been on three missions, two he commanded. He wasn't married, no kids, he lived for his work. He was an American hero; somebody that you want your kids to look up to. He read it, silently, in shock.
"How do you know him Father Perry?" Emily asked.
Joe could feel the tears running down his face, "I gotta go," he pushed the magazine at Emily.
"Father Perry-" she called.
"Just leave me alone, I have to be alone."
Joe bolted out of the store, blindly walking down the street, he could feel people bumping into him, but he didn't care. He wanted his life back. He wanted Billie, his boys, his band.
He found himself in an alley, it was dark...he dropped to his knees, and started sobbing. He thought that someone else was there, but it didn't matter. Joe held his head in his hands; he couldn't stop crying. He couldn't breathe.
Actually, he didn't care, maybe his whole life as 'Joe Perry, guitarist' was a lie. Maybe he'd always been a priest; Billie had just been a beautiful, forbidden dream. He was dying; he knew it.
"Joe, it's not your time."
He looked up and saw his father, standing over him. "Dad?" he whispered.
"It'll be okay."
A wave of sorrow overcame him. "I'm sorry, Dad." he sobbed. He just couldn't stop crying. "I'm so sorry about everything!"
"I don't understand, Joe."
"I should have been there for you. I was just so fucked up; I thought we'd have more time. I know you were in pain, and you didn't need my shit. I'm just so sorry I didn't tell you that I loved you once last time."
"I know. I am sorry for what I said too. I love you Joe. Just relax, son. Just breathe."
Joe's head went back down. He tried, but he couldn't.
"Joe, breathe, c'mon, Joe," he heard another voice; it had a familiar ring to it. "Goddamn it Joe! Breathe!" It was Steven's voice.
Joe suddenly gasped, let out a cough, then an entire coughing fit. He could tell he was lying down, he opened his eyes, he focused on a long thin ring-encrusted hand holding his.
"Steven," he managed between coughs.
"I'm here, Joe. Just breathe, don't talk." Steven ordered. "Tom's getting Billie."
Joe looked around; he was in an ambulance. He knew one medic.
"Emily?" he asked.
"Actually, it's Angela. Joe, you has a reaction to some medication we gave you, but you're gonna be alright." She held his other hand...he thumbed both hands; he had his rings on.
"I know I am," he murmured. He breathed deeply into the mask, he pulled it off, "What happened?"
Angela put it back on. "You have a high fever, have you been ill?"
"Flu for a week, coughing," A wave of nausea hit him, "Never had anything like this."
"Have you been vomiting?"
"Yeah, this morning, I got sick."
"I think that you're dehydrated, we'll see what the doctor says."
"Oh, Christ, Joe! Why didn't you say something?" Steven said in dismay. "Do you remember the photo shoot?"
"Sorta," it was beginning to filter back in. He didn't want to go, he just wanted to stay in bed, but he didn't want to let the guys down, either. Billie had even tried to get him to stay home. He protested; he told her, "These things are such a bitch to reschedule, I'll take it easy when I get back home." He didn't dare tell her that he'd thrown up what breakfast he'd eaten. He didn't really remember how he'd gotten to the shoot, but he remembered the make-up girl had a hell of a time; he kept on sweating through his powder. The lights were so hot...
Steven continued, "We were at the shoot, you said that you were tired, you wanted to take a break. We did, you just got done telling me that you were hot, and you fell over like a ton of shit."
"Billie! Where's Billie?" He had to see her, to make sure she was real.
"Tom's gone to get her, he's driving her to the hospital."
"Where's Joey? Brad?"
Joe went in and out, he remembered the ceiling of the emergency room. Someone ordering IVs, tests, he heard Billie, but he didn't have the energy to open his eyes. He knew that everything was gonna be all right.
He woke up in a room; Billie was sitting next to him, holding his hand. He could feel tubes in his nose. He looked around; everybody was there. Tom, Brad, Joey, Steven, his kids.
He clutched her hand. "Hi," he managed.
Billie looked at him; her eyes were red. She smiled, and cried. Tony and Roman stood beside her; he could see relief on their faces. They were the most beautiful things he'd ever seen.
"Hey, how you feel?" Brad asked.
"Pretty damn lucky."
"You are lucky, your veins were beginning to collapse," Billie said.
"How long have I been out?" Joe wiped the sleep out of his eyes.
"About three hours."
"You should have woke me up."
"The doctor said that you need rest, and that you're staying here until you're over this flu, he figured a couple of days."
"Actually, I feel pretty good," Joe sat himself up.
"Well, you're staying!" Steven angrily snapped at him.
Billie looked at Steven strangely, "I think we'll go get something to eat. We'll be back." she kissed Joe, the boys each hugged their father and left.
Steven watched them leave, "Sorry, Joe, it's been a long day." Steven's head hung down, just looking into space, his makeup was off, and his hair was combed out. He had dark circles appearing under his eyes; knowing him, he probably hadn't eaten.
He then walked over and sat in the chair, next to the bed. He looked like he was ready to collapse. "Next time you're this sick, let somebody know; I mean it! Shit can get worked out, shoots can be rescheduled, you're not letting the fucking world down!" He drew a deep breath, "Joe, when you went down, I was scared. I mean I've seen you pass out, and have seizures, but that was different. Then when you stopped breathing and they couldn't get you to start in again," Steven voice faded, and cleared his throat. "I have never felt so helpless in my life."
Joe was touched, "You're the one I heard, Steven, you're the one that I heard telling me to breathe."
Steven seemed startled, then quickly added, "Yeah, but Brad was the one that was smart enough to put chips of ice in your mouth. Joey propped you up, and Brad just kept trying to keep ice in you. That Angela said that it really helped you out."
"Yeah, where'd you learn that?" Tom asked Brad.
"Read it in a book," Brad shrugged, "You gotta get the fluid back in the system, ASAP."
Joe looked at all of them, he tried to find the words, he always had a hard time conveying his feelings. "Thanks guys; thanks for being here. I am so incredibly lucky to have you guys; you don't know how much this means to me. You don't know how much I missed you."
The door slowly opened, Angela looked in at them, and "Hey can I come in I was just getting off my shift, so I thought I'd see how everything's going."
"We sort of met," she said. Joe watched her closely as Steven introduced her to his brothers and each hugged her. He was still convinced that she was Emily; she looked like Emily, she sounded like Emily.
She saved Joe for the last. "How are you doing?" she grasped Joe's hand, "Oh, you're still a little dehydrated."
"I'm OK. I'm glad that I got to see you again. I don't even know how to thank you."
"You just did." She gave him a hug, "I always wanted to meet you guys, but never like this."
"Oh, you're a fan?" Steven seemed a bit shocked. "You acted like you didn't even know us when you came into the studio."
She pulled up her shirtsleeve to reveal a red Aerosmith wings tattoo, located on her bicep. "I've been a fan for a long time, it wouldn't be very professional to ask for autographs while you're on a call."
"Nice tat," Steven examined it, then he began to write a piece of paper.
"Thanks. Yeah, me and my brother skipped school to get inked. I thought that my mom was gonna kill us," she began to roll her sleeve back down, "My brother's walking around with a 'Twisted Sister' logo on his arm; I think I got the better deal. I saw you on your last tour, at the Garden, I had to pull a double shift to get the night off, but it was worth it."
Steven handed her the paper, "Baby, you just got front row seats for the rest of your life!?
"Oh, no I can't. I was just doing my job-"
"I mean it; this is how to get in touch with us. It's the least we can do."
Angela laughed, "Thanks, Steven," she turned back to Joe, "Can I ask you something?"
Joe gave a shrug. "I guess I was hallucinating. I had a very bad dream."
"What was it?" Tom asked.
Joe cleared his throat; he knew he'd hear about it for a long, long time, but he had to tell somebody. "I dreamt that I was a priest."
Steven laughed; he needed a good laugh. He shook his head, "Joe Perry, a priest! Oh, my God! A real priest? Not one of those new order religions where you can be a man of God and still fuck?"
"Yeah, I was a regular, ordinary, run of the mill priest. Nobody knew me; they all kept saying I was a priest. I really was beginning to believe it. Nobody knew anything about Aerosmith, it was terrible, very frightening. I even met my Dad, he told me everything was gonna be all right." He hoped that he really did make his peace with him; he wished he knew for certain. Joe blinked away a tear; he looked at Angela. "Emily was this girl that helped me; she was there when I needed her."
"No Aerosmith!" Joey exclaimed.
"Well, you guys were sorta there." Joe looked at each of them, "Tom was an actor on Broadway, Joey was an archaeologist, Brad was a race car driver, and you-" his eyes met Steven's; he stopped for a moment, he couldn't tell him what he was. He couldn't bring himself to utter the words: You were dead.
"Yeah?" Steven prodded.
"You were an astronaut, commanding the space shuttle."
Joey smiled, "So we did pretty good, well except for you."
"Well, I'm glad that you're doing better," Angela said, "I've gotta go."
Joe gave her a hug, and whispered in her ear, "Thanks for being there when I needed you: Thank you, Angela."
She smiled at him, and left as quietly as she had come.
Steven stood there and cocked his head at Joe, "A priest?"
Joe nodded again. "Yeah, man, a priest."