Through All the Dust
Chapter Twenty-Five: Not That I Could, Not That I Would
“It’s good,” Justin said simply, switching off the demo CD I’d forced him to listen to. “It’s really good.”
I bit at my lip, “It isn’t too dark?”
He laughed, “Is anything?”
I leaned against the back of the chair and pulled my knees to my chest. He restarted the first of two tracks and held the forward button until he’d reached his desire point of interest.
“Here,” he told me, pointing to the stereo. “Needs more impact.”
“Whatever you think,” I replied lamely. “My world is your oyster.”
“That…” he shook his head. “You’re not making much sense these days.”
I shrugged again.
He switched off the stereo and turned his chair to face me. His lips were pursed and his brows were raised—a Justin speech was headed my way. I groaned in anticipation.
“What?” he laughed.
“You know what,” I whined.
“I was just going to ask how you were,” he smirked.
I nodded, “I know.”
“Don’t do that,” I half-smiled. “Don’t use my friend as a middle man to gage my state in life.”
He laughed again, “What else am I supposed to do? We’re all a little…worried.”
“I know,” I said quickly. “So, what kind of impact are we talking?”
Justin stared at me silently for a second. My eyes gave him the knowing glance that told him to drop it. So, he did.
“A killer drum beat,” he thought aloud, spinning back around to the stereo. “Maybe some orchestral shit…Maybe both.”
“I’m down for whatever,” I said seriously, dropping my feet back to the floor. “I trust your judgement.”
He grinned, “That’s risky.”
“It isn’t,” I smiled. “That said, I’m trusting you to continue your listening while I go out for a smoke.”
“Okay but if you’re not back in ten, I’m coming after you,” he warned me. “Don’t get distracted by my future wife; we’re supposed to be working.”
“Work, work, work,” I cackled as I headed out the door. “That’s all you ever do. Remember when you were fun? Remember?”
“No,” he said flatly as I pulled the door shut behind me.
I trotted up the stairs and out his back door and headed straight for the hammock hanging in the back of his gigantic yard. My cigarette was particularly succulent and the sun was soothing.
But still…despite the warm breeze playing with the black hairs hanging down past my shoulders, I felt nothing. Not content…No level of anything but nothing.
Things had been….better. I use that term real loosely, though. They’d been better in the sense that I hadn’t run away to plan my own demise. However, I was still broken and I was still actively numbing out my world.
I was still actively fantasizing a million ways that I could die.
Brian had been busy with their new album after they’d successfully recruited Mike Portnoy to fill in for Jimmy. The decision both pleased and destroyed me. I was thrilled that they’d elected a drummer and that it had been someone Jimmy had admired…but the actual fill in part threw me. I couldn’t come to peace with it….as much as I desperately wanted to.
Brian had assured me that it would make things easier to come in and meet Mike.
“You’re a big part of the Avenged family,” Brian had told me when I’d disagreed. “We need your support…I need your support.”
That was really all he’d ever have to say to me. I could never tell Brian no—even if it meant sacrificing myself.
So, I’d promised that when I’d wrapped up with Justin, I’d head over to the studio to meet Mike—and visit my favourite men.
I smoked three cigarettes in a row, just for the hell of it. As I smashed out my third, I was reluctant to get back to work. The song I’d brought Justin were remarkably personal—and I didn’t want to discuss their origin. I was sure he knew anyway.
He was busy behind his drum kit when I walked back into his home studio. I listened intently; in awe, as always. I hadn’t heard Justin thrash around on the drums in what felt like forever—I closed my eyes and forced myself to picture it was Jimmy.
But Justin stopped and soon he was beside me, and I was forced back into the real world.
“Listen,” he told me happily as he clicked a couple buttons and then hit play.
There was the impact he was talking about. It was almost beautiful enough to make me cry.
“Perfect,” he said with a smug nod. “This album is going to be incredible.”
I tried to smile.
“Everything you’ve played for me so far has been—” he pushed his fingers to his lips and released a handy kiss. “Perfecto.”
“I’m glad my anguish can entertain you,” I joked lightly.
He frowned, “You know that we can scrap them.”
I shook my head.
“Say the word,” he told me seriously. “And we’ll can them. Through them into the vault.”
“It’s fine,” I assured him weakly. “I wrote them for a reason—they’re too good to be kept a secret.”
“That’s true,” Justin laughed. “He would have really loved this shit, you know.”
I squinted, “Who?”
“Tyler,” he said like I should have known.
“Ah,” I nodded slowly.
Justin’s face turned cold, “You know…and Jimmy.”
“Right,” I smiled quickly. “I’m sure they would have.”
Justin examined me closely. His eyes searched mine but I wasn’t giving anything up.
“Are you okay?” he asked me abruptly. “You need to tell me the truth.”
I lied, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“I’d like to remind you that I’ve also lost a friend to suicide,” he said carefully. “So…If I can help not to repeat that…I’d like to.”
“Justin,” I cooed, reaching over to give his hand a squeeze. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Good,” he said firmly. “’Cause you’re my meal ticket and I’ll fucking starve without you.”
“Shut up and let’s get to work,” I laughed.
After we’d demoed out the two songs and began working on a new one, we’d decided to call it a day. I was reluctant to leave and specifically took my time driving to the studio where Avenged was recording.
I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear their songs without Jimmy. I wasn’t sure I could handle seeing them recording without Jimmy…I wasn’t sure how to be without Jimmy.
But, I told myself, if they could do it; I could do it. I had to be supportive. I had to be strong.
I took an abnormally deep breath as I stepped into the building and followed the sound of Matt’s vocals down the hall and through another door. The guys all snapped their necks to look at me—which made me laugh a little under my breath.
Brian bee-lined it to me, taking me under his arm and planting a firm kiss on the side of my head. A little piece of me melted; the other half was eager to run.
“Blair!” Matt shouted from inside the booth.
He quickly ripped his headphones off and high-tailed it in my direction. He nearly tackled me (and Brian) over as he took me into his muscled arms.
“I’m so happy you’re here,” he said into my hair.
I laughed awkwardly, giving Brian a what’s happening kind of look. He just shrugged.
Matt pulled away, holding my arms to look at me, “It’s nice to see you out and about.”
I’d been purposefully neglecting everyone for weeks. It didn’t matter who it was; if they weren’t Brian, I wasn’t interested.
“I missed you too, Matty,” I winked.
There was a foreigner tossing curious glances my way. I assumed that was Mike—and the realization was similar to taking a bullet to the chest. I swallowed it down.
“Ready?” Brian asked me lowly, pushing Matt away from me.
I shrugged lamely.
I’d never be ready.
Brian led me over to the stranger, I could feel his tension radiating through the small of my back.
“Mike, this is my fiancée, Blair,” Brian told him.
He smiled pleasantly at me, “You don’t need an introduction. I’m a big fan of your voice.”
“Thanks,” I tried to smile back.
“I’m sorry we’re meeting under such terrible circumstances,” he said to me.
His honesty caught me off guard.
“But it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
I nodded, trying to be pleasant, “You too. Jimmy was a big fan…”
“So I’ve heard,” he smirked. “Happy to help out.”
“Mike, can you lay this down?” Zacky asked from the control board.
Mike made a face at Brian and I, “’Scuse me.”
We waited until he was behind a kit—that wasn’t Jimmy’s and nearly made me want to vomit—before saying anything.
“He’s nice, huh?” Brian asked pleadingly.
I forced a smile, “Yeah.”
“I know he isn’t…” Brian stopped himself. “He’s been pretty great through all of this shit.”
“Good,” I replied, pawing at Brian’s cheek a little. “That’s what matters.”
“We kept Nightmare,” Matt told me, coming from the woodwork to impose himself on me once more. “We knew Jimmy would be bummed if we cut it.”
“He would have been,” I agreed with a laugh. “I’m glad you kept it.”
“Speaking of songs we’ve kept,” Zacky spoke up, spinning around in his chair to face us. “We were thinking—”
“No,” Brian said loudly and flatly.
Zacky’s eyebrows fell, “Brian, we all agreed—”
“No we didn’t,” Brian growled.
“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” Matt said weakly.
“Ask what?” I asked slowly.
Matt gestured to Brian, who’s fists were now clenched. He looked angry—I wasn’t sure why.
“Ask what?” I asked again.
Zacky was looking at Brian expectantly.
“Can we talk about this outside?” Brian snarled to his friends.
Zacky groaned but Matt agreed.
“You guys are freaking me out,” I said flatly. “Is it bad? What is it?”
Matt and Zacky exchanged glances. Johnny must have been in the know because he tucked his head into a set of headphones and tuned his attention solely in on Mike on the drums.
Brian was shaking his head, “I said no.”
“Holy shit,” I groaned. “Can someone please just tell me what’s going on?”
“We wanted to ask you if—”
“Fuck!” Brian growled. “I god damn said no.”
“Brian,” I shushed, rubbing at his arm.
It was safe to say that I was confused.
“Ask me what?” I asked again.
Brian was still shaking his head.
“Brian, I want to know,” I assured him. “If it’s coming from them, how bad could it be?”
He looked at me knowingly.
“Fiction,” Zacky blurt out.
Brian looked like he was about to have an aneurysm.
“Fiction?” I repeated, my chest having frozen solid. “What about it?”
“Well…” Matt started cautiously, staring Brian down. “We’d contemplated scrapping it…”
I nodded slowly, “Uh-huh…”
“But we’ve decided to keep it…You know…” Zacky added. “It would be wrong not to…”
Brian took off out the door. He slammed it dramatically behind him—we all flinched. I wasn’t sure what was coming but if Brian had departed, I assumed it was something he didn’t like.
“Here’s the thing,” Matt said finally. “None of us can bring ourselves to record it…Mike’s got the drums covered…So all that we need is piano.”
My heart stopped.
“Seeing as you’re a gifted pianist…and…”
Matt fell silent. He and Zacky were both staring at their feet.
“And what?” I asked through grit teeth.
Matt dared to look at me, “We think it would mean a lot if…uh…if you would record it…”
“You want me to record Fiction?” I managed weakly.
He shrugged, “You obviously don’t have to…But we just thought it would be a great tribute, you know? I finished the lyrics for Jim…but the piano just isn’t a good fit…”
“And Brian can’t,” Zacky added quickly. “He can’t get through it.”
I didn’t know what to say.
I didn’t know what to do.
So, naturally, I cried.