Through All the Dust
Chapter Forty-Nine: Through the Eye of the Needle
“Blair Peterson,” he grinned. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Why aren’t you at home?” I asked him pointedly. “You’re supposed to be at home.”
“Because I’m at Lauren’s home,” he told me starkly.
I rolled my eyes at him. Lauren was out of town for the week attending a cousin’s wedding, which I’d assumed meant that Jimmy would be in his own house. I’d assumed wrong.
“I needed your speakers,” I told him with a groan.
He opened the door wider, “Lauren has speakers.”
“Not your quality speakers, though,” I noted, reluctantly stepping into my friend’s home. “I need your opinion.”
He smirked, “Is that wise?”
“Absolutely not,” I laughed, handing him a disc case quite forcefully. “But I need your honesty. It’s the last song of the album and…I’m…nervous about it.”
Jimmy snatched it from my hands greedily, hastily plopping it into the stereo and hitting play. I paced around as she casually listened. I’d never gotten used to hearing my own voice, especially during ballads where I was forced to use raw power—I hated the sound of my own tone.
I watched as Jimmy’s eyebrows rose and fell with each run and each note. I’d been getting better at reading his reactions, but it still wasn’t always clear just what he was thinking. He was, however, bobbing his head along to Justin’s drum beat, which I always took to be a positive. As the chorus rang, he smiled up at me with excitement.
“Blair, the car’s outside!” Brian called to me as he breezed past the bedroom door.
I attached the clasp of my favorite necklace, noting consciously just how jittery my nervous hands had become. Gabriel had insisted that my ‘glam team’ come over and doll me up. I’m sure you know how that conversation went down; nevertheless, I’d lost that battle. They’d finished their work a few minutes prior before disappearing back into the crevice they crawled out of.
I’d always hoped that there would be one in the mix that I might decide I liked. Kind of like when I picked Mona out of the road crew. I knew just from laying eyes on her that I would like her.
But…No one in my glam squad, like come on Gabriel—Jesus fuck, was even remotely tolerable. They were all fake and loud and giggly. I didn’t do giggly.
They’d curled my hair in deep waves and then pinned in half back. Classic with the eyeliner, winged to perfection and smoky eyeshadow, per my request. They did good work, I’d give them that. I was so used to my black hair straightened flat that I couldn’t stop running my fingers over the curls.
Wardrobe had tried to force some borrowed diamonds around my neck but I wasn’t having it. They stayed in the blue box they’d arrived in. The only jewelry I would be adorning was my emerald ring and my TB/JS charmed chain. They were the only two pieces that meant anything—aside from Jimmy’s cross but even I knew that it would be wildly inappropriate to sport that on a night like this.
“Jesus,” Brian gasped, leaned up against the doorframe.
I stood for total effect, even adding in a little spin. They’d dressed me in a strapless, floor-length black and white gown, with just the right amount of damask thrown in, bedazzled in all the right places and it fit like a dream.
“You’re stunning,” Brian grinned from ear to ear, checking me out with bright eyes.
I felt myself blushing, which was stupid. I know.
He stepped into my personal space, taking my hands into his and examining me up close. He approved.
“I don’t want to go,” I told him nervously, biting at my lip like it didn’t have deep red lipstick permanently painted all over it. “I’m afraid.”
He squeezed my hands, “I’m with you.”
I tried to smile, despite the queasiness, “I know.”
With one last final look, we headed downstairs to the limo, hand in hand.
“Another one about Tyler, hm?” Jimmy asked knowingly, getting up to fuck with the stereo.
I just nodded.
“I don’t even know why you run this shit by me,” he snickered. “You don’t need my opinion.”
“Yes, I do,” I maintained. “Brian will never tell me if it’s awful. You’re the only one I can trust to tell me the truth.”
He grinned at me over his shoulder, “I think someone just wants to get close to me. If you want my attention, Blair, you just have to ask.”
“Can you not?” I half-laughed, shaking my head at him as I sank into Lauren’s couch.
He walked over to me and put himself into my lap, curled up like an overstretched baby. He leaned his head on my shoulder, and I let him.
“You’re heavy,” I told him.
He nodded but didn’t move.
“K, seriously,” I laughed. “You’re heavy as fuck and you’re going to break my leg into pieces.”
“Oh god,” he groaned, moving just to the right of me. “If you whine this much about a hundred pounds just imagine how much you’d whine if you actually broke your fucking leg? We’d never hear the end of it!”
“A hundred pounds?” I repeated flatly. “Give me a break.”
He threw his head back with a laugh, “Of course that’s all you picked out of that.”
I leaned over and planted a sweet kiss on his cheek, watching as his blue eyes found me in their radar, “Quit fucking around. Tell me what you think.”
“Ready?” Brian asked with an eyebrow wiggle.
“Not at all,” I heaved, trying not to vomit.
But it didn’t matter. The car door swung open and cameras flashed everywhere. I climbed out of the car and patiently waited for Brian to join me. I was kicking myself for not coordinating with Justin more adequately, as it would have been easier to ride out the red carpet with him. Despite this, Brian was a more than suitable replacement.
We stepped out, arm in arm, and headed for each point. Brian was gracious enough to step back for a few solo pictures, which we both knew the fashion magazines would want. Not that Brian didn’t look dapper as fuck in his suit. I’d marry that guy.
Reporters were shouting questions at me but through the nerves, I couldn’t make out what anyone was saying. I had a bit of a reputation for snubbing reporters at awards’ shows, which I’d taken to a talk show to clear up. It wasn’t snubbing if you had no idea what they were asking you. I acknowledged them all with smiles and waves to try and avoid being labelled a total bitch.
A young boy was leaned over the rope and I had to do a triple take when I spotted him. I’d sworn it was Tyler in the crowd, recorder in hand. They could have been twins; the resemblance was uncanny.
“Blair Peterson!” he shouted at me.
I tugged at Brian to let him know that we’d be approaching this kid. He seemed confused but he followed along anyway.
“Blair, you look lovely tonight!” the kid told me loudly, competing with everyone else in the crowd.
“Thank you,” I smiled, trying not to pay much attention to the camera placed on his coworker’s shoulder to his left.
“Are you feeling good about your nominations?” he asked excitedly.
I shrugged a little, which I’ll admit isn’t classy, “I’m nervous. I’m…excited. That’s about all I’m feeling at the moment.”
“Fair enough, fair enough,” he laughed. “I see you’ve brought Synyster Gates with you tonight. Are we expecting any other guests?”
“Justin DeBore should be around here somewhere,” I replied oddly, glancing around the carpet for his familiar face. “Other than that, it’s just us two.”
“Are you disappointed not to share this night with your friend?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant but Brian was already tugging at my arm to move on.
“What friend?” I asked, trying to maintain a straight friend.
“Whichever. The one that committed suicide or the one that drugged himself to death, your choice.”
The kid looked at me expectantly, like I was supposed to be saying something.
When I didn’t, he looked confused, “Didn’t you say she was escorting you?”
“What?” I managed through my haze.
He smiled at me oddly, “Lauren Cooper.”
I looked at Brian who was looking back at me like nothing had happened.
“Oh, um…She, uh…She couldn’t make it,” I smiled. “I should get inside. Thank you.”
“Have a good night, Blair!” he called to my back as Brian led me away.
Did I down a bunch of uppers before the show and forget about it?
“Here,” Jimmy said, pausing the disc. “The piano is weak.”
“Weak?” I quizzed suspiciously.
He nodded, “You’re right. You need my speakers.”
“I fucking told you,” I snickered.
“Get your keys, let’s go,” he instructed me, already heading for the door.
I held my arms out in confusion. Jimmy just laughed.
“We have work to do. This shit won’t get you nominated for a Grammy, B.”
I furrowed my brows, “Who said I wanted that?”
“No one,” he shrugged. “But you’re a pop star now. That’s the end goal for pop stars, isn’t it?”
“Money,” I corrected teasingly.
“No, that’s all of our end goals,” he smirked. “Let’s fucking go.”
I was sitting uncomfortably in my seat, running over and over what had just happened in my mind. I was sure he’d made a jab at me.
“Did that reporter ask me about Jim or Tyler?” I asked Brian in a whisper.
He shook his head, “No, why?”
“Nothing,” I waved. “No reason.”
“Losing it?” Brian smirked.
I nodded, “Must be.”
Guests began to pour in and fill the sea of chairs. Brian and I were still alone, waiting patiently for my band to arrive. Gabriel was the first to arrive, stealing the seat next to Brian. The seats next to me were reserved for Mona and Justin. He’d been such an integral part of getting to this night that there was no one, besides Brian, that I’d wanted to sit with more.
Maybe Jimmy…but you know…
“Hey, guys,” Gabriel smiled, leaning over to give my arm a squeeze. “B, you look fabulous.”
“Thanks,” I smiled. “I’m going to throw up all over this dress.”
He laughed, “No you aren’t. I’ll never forgive you.”
Brian stifled a laugh, shaking his head at me. Some things never changed.
In expert timing, Justin and Mona arrived. Justin looked particularly handsome, and Mona exquisite. He huffed as he sank into his seat, holding his hand out so that I could see the way it shook.
“It’s not even my name on the nomination and I’m fucking freaking out,” Justin laughed quietly, looking around to see if people had noticed his nerves. “How the fuck aren’t you throwing up yet?”
“Don’t encourage her,” Gabriel snapped at Jay quietly.
I chuckled, leaning against my friend’s shoulder for moral support. He was the only other one in our group at the moment that really knew how I was feeling. There was something truly calming about it.
“You’re going to win at least one,” Mona leaned over to whisper at me. “I’m sure of it.”
“Don’t,” I whined, stomping my feet like a toddler. “You’re making it so much worse.”
She laughed happily, “You’ll see!”
Brian kissed my cheek, whispering in my ear, “She’s right.”
“Blair,” Jimmy groaned, rubbing at his temples. “Are you tone deaf? You must be tone deaf.”
“Fuck you,” I laughed, pushing at his shoulder.
He smirked at me toothily, “I’ve heard better notes come out of a birthing cow.”
“When the fuck have you ever been around a birthing cow?”
“Mind your business, Blair,” he replied coyly.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked finally, annoyed by Jimmy’s vagueness.
“This,” he played a piece of my verse, “should be this,” he told me as he adjusted a few keys.
I was irritated to find that it sounded infinitely better than the way I’d originally crafted it. But, that was why I’d come to Jimmy in the first place. It was my favorite part of my process, coming to him with my nearly finished work and letting him go to town. He usually didn’t make too many changes but the end result was always better than I could have ever accomplished on my own.
I played it back to him and he nodded happily, sizing me up in a way I’d never seen before. That’s not true. In a way I hadn’t seen in many, many years.
“Don’t you look at me like that, Sullivan,” I warned him.
“Like you did that night Brian nearly murdered you,” I grinned.
He laughed, shaking his head, “I promised I’d never kiss you again, and I am a man of my word.”
“You better not,” I insisted. “We both have a lot to lose nowadays.”
“You’re dating my best friend,” Jimmy nodded.
I nodded back, “And you’re dating mine.”
“It’s a good thing I find you grotesque,” Jimmy teased. “Now get to work. It’s almost perfect …And I was just marveling at your talent, nothing more. Promise.”
The show had begun and I was sure I was going to faint at any moment. An usher had come to pull me and my live band out from our seats for our performance.
As I waited in the wings for my name to be announced, I paced and paced and paced some more. I wasn’t ready and I wasn’t sure how to be ready. Justin was trying to keep me calm, but I knew until I hit the stage, I would just continue to panic. My hands found my necklace and clutched the letters tightly in my palm.
I missed my name being called. Justin was pushing me toward the stage, so I tried my best to pretend to be graceful as I stumbled into view. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the crowd, so I headed straight for the piano positioned in center stage. I waited for my guys to get settled, and then I began.
“Take me down, I'm feeling now.
And if I move on, I admit you're gone.
And I ain't ready. I'll hold steady. Yeah, I'll hold you in my arms.
“Your chorus needs to be heavier, Blair,” Jimmy told me, looping back for the millionth time. “Tell Justin to amp it up, he’s disappointing me.”
“I’m sure he’ll love that,” I laughed sarcastically.
Jimmy shrugged, “Just remind him that I’m the master.”
The lights were nearly blinding. It had been a while since I’d sung anything from my first album…It was difficult to keep everything shut away.
“You're locked inside my heart, your melody's an art.
I won't let the terror in, I'm stealing time through the eye of the needle.”
Jimmy was right, the chorus needed to be impactful. And because of him, it was. This song was one of my babies—and it wasn’t totally lost on me that working with Jimmy on it was probably what had made it so special to me.
It was a special day.
“Step and repeat, tears fall to the beat.
Smile through pain…Feel the acid rain.
I ain't ready, I'll hold steady…
I'll hold you in my arms…In my arms, in my arms.”
“It’s perfect,” Jimmy declared loudly, pushing himself in his wheely chair away from the desk. “Don’t fucking touch it or I swear to god.”
“I won’t,” I laughed, pulling the CD from the tray and plopping it back into the case. “I’ll give this to Justin to have a listen through and then I’ll turn it in for recording.”
“Good little munchkin,” he smiled at me.
“What were you doing at Lauren’s anyway?” I asked curiously, deciding that work was done so now we could be friends again.
He shrugged, “Snooping.”
“Her ring size,” he said so casually that I almost missed it.
“I’m sorry, what?”
He nodded happily, “It’s an idea I’ve been mulling around.”
“Jimmy!” I shrieked, leaping out of my chair and straight onto him.
I wrapped my arms around him and relaxed as I felt him wrap his arms around me back.
“That’s so exciting!”
I looked over to Justin as we headed into the bridge. This song was written specifically about life after Tyler, and just what it meant to me. I’d written many like it, but for whatever reason, this one had to be perfect.
It was also the one that had been nominated for Song of the Year.
“My bags heavy, been filled by me. They weigh me down; carry them round.
It's all mine, all mine.
I am blinded by the eye of the needle.
Yeah, you're locked inside my heart, your melody's an art.
I won't let the terror in, I'm stealing time through the eye of the needle…
The eye of the needle.”
I sang aimlessly as the last few chords of my piano rang out and the crowd began their polite applause. It was a far cry from the stadium and mosh pits that I had played for in my life.
We took our quick bow and exited stage left. At least the worst part was over—now just to wait.
“When are you going to do it?” I asked from his lap happily. “Soon?”
He shrugged, “After Christmas. Maybe New Years—oh, but that’s when—I don’t know when.”
“That’s when what?” I caught suspiciously.
“That’s when the year changes,” he said flatly. “Duh, Blair. You’re just a pretty face, huh?”
“Fuck you,” I laughed with a shake of my head.
He made a psht sound at me, pushing me out of his lap, “You had your chance, girlfriend.”
“You’re incredible,” I scoffed playfully.
“You were incredible,” Brian whispered happily to me. “You sounded bang fucking on.”
I smiled, “Thanks, Babe.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Gabriel instructed us both, waving down to the stage. “You’re coming up!”
The presenter was naming off nominees for Best Pop Vocal Album and everyone but me was on their toes. It had just occurred to me that if I’d won, I’d have to go down there and make a speech to all of these people. The ringing in my ears returned.
“Do you remember when you asked me why we didn’t date?” Jimmy asked me curiously.
I smiled, “It wasn’t so much why we didn’t…as it was would we have if this and that didn’t exist.”
“Right, so why didn’t we date,” he said again. “Why’d you bring that up?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, feeling foolish again. “I guess I was just curious. Didn’t we already talk about this?”
“Yes, Blair,” Jimmy said and I knew a tangent was coming. “But sometimes things in life happen where you have to take a step back and truly ponder the meaning of life’s questions. So, for you to come at me, foaming at the mouth, talking about how desperately you wished that I had made you mine, even just once…well…a man has to wonder why.”
I blinked at him. He tried his best to keep a straight face but soon was cackling at his own ridiculousness. I couldn’t help but laugh, too.
“I hate you,” I cackled.
I dragged Justin down to the stage with me. No way in fuck was I doing that alone—no fucking thank you. Some people loved to be in the center of attention; but that just wasn’t me. I just liked to sing. I liked to write. I liked to hide under the guise of being someone else, even if it was just my own name.
Everyone was still clapping as they handed me my award. I took it with shaky hands and an uneven stomach.
“Wow,” I breathed into the microphone. “I’d be lying if I said this was expected.”
I turned to look at Justin who was grinning at me like an idiot. This was just as much his win as it was mine.
“Okay…” I laughed awkwardly, searching the crowd for Brian. “I’m going to keep this brief because I hate public speaking. I should thank my manager Gabriel for being the bomb. Thank you to my live band, Pete, Will, and Kyle, you guys are the best backing band a girl could hope for. To Lauren, Carolyn, and the Brody family…Thank you for always keeping me headed forward. To Justin, who not only drummed on this album but co-wrote many of the songs, I love you, dude. I couldn’t do this without you. And to my Brian…who has stood by my through everything life has thrown our way, and who I can always count on to lend me a chord or spare me an ear…I love you so much. Thank you for being you.”
I had to pause to compose myself quickly, internally timing myself as I ran through the list of people that I absolutely could not miss.
“Lastly, I want to take a second to thank two people who have helped form me into the artist I am today. They couldn’t be here tonight to share in this but…it’s their win, too. So thank you, Ty and Jim. I love you both.”
I waved once to the crowd, mostly to Brian, and then followed the presenters off stage. Justin assured me that I was eloquent enough that I didn’t sound like a total asshat. I wasn’t feeling eloquent. I was nauseous and panicked. Part of me sincerely hoped that I didn’t win a single other award that night.
Which wasn’t a big deal because when they announced the winner of Album of the Year, it was not Blair Peterson.
“Do you know what’s strange, Blair?” Jimmy asked me cryptically, spinning around in circles in his chair. “We’ll probably both be married in a few years…and not to each other.”
“Is that strange?” I laughed.
He shrugged, “Brian says that we’d have killed each other if we’d gotten together. I don’t know that it’s true. We get along, we work together well, I don’t think you’re totally repulsive.”
“What’re you getting at, Jimmy?” I asked with an unimpressed eyebrow lift.
“Missed opportunities,” he said casually.
“Oh, no no,” I warned with a finger wave. “You made me feel like a total idiot when I did this song and dance. No way are we going back down this road. Stay in your lane, man.”
He cackled, shaking his head, “I’m not professing some undying love to you, Blair. Have some decency. I’ve just been thinking about what you said and about where our lives are headed and it’s all very fucking weird. Maybe we should have ended up together. I could marry you if you want. Blair Sullivan?”
“Stop it,” I demanded playfully. “Stop it right now. I don’t want to be Blair Sullivan.”
“Blair Haner then?” he grinned.
“Are you doing that same thing you did years ago?” I accused suspiciously. “Where you feel me out by acting like an idiot?”
He grinned slyly, “Nah.”
“I don’t believe you for one fucking second, James.”
He gasped, “James? Is that how far we’ve come? We’ve resorted to full names? I’ll remember that, Blair. I’ll remember that.”
We all waited with baited breath as they read the nominees for Song of the Year. While maybe I didn’t want to get back on that stage, part of me desperately wanted to win this one for Jimmy. He’d sat with me for hours, tweaking and playing with it. He’d even re-recorded a portion of the drums to ‘correct’ Justin with. I still had that demo somewhere, and made a mental note to look for it when I got home.
When I heard my name ring out once more, it was like a dream. This time, I forced Brian with me—he was the closest thing to Jimmy I had for the night. For my life.
“I need to go home,” I finally groaned, having had more than enough of Jimmy’s shit for one evening. “You’re exhausting.”
“I know,” he smiled cheekily. “How do you think Lo feels?”
“I feel terrible for her,” I smirked.
He followed me downstairs to the door and lingered, reaching out to grab my arm to keep me from leaving. I eyed him weirdly as he looked from the floor up to my gaze.
“I’m glad we’re friends,” he told me. “Best friends.”
“Me too,” I replied slowly, endlessly suspicious when Jimmy got serious.
“And I’m pumped you’ll marry my other best friend, it’ll be like we’re siblings.”
“That…That isn’t quite how that works,” I laughed softly. “But I guess you’re right.”
“Blair,” he said flatly, in a tone I didn’t recognize at all. “I need to do something. For research…or science…or whatever.”
I was shaking, thinking back to the night that Jimmy had ripped my song apart and then helped me reconstruct it. I’d have given anything to go back to that night, to warn him about the things to come. I would rather have my friend than a song that we’d worked out to perfection…I wished so badly that he was there to share in the moment with me.
“Okay,” I laughed into the microphone awkward.
He took a step toward me but I backed away, “What are you doing?”
“Stop it,” he grinned, reaching his long arms out and taking my face into his hands.
I was looking at him confusedly.
And then he pulled my face to his, and pushed his soft lips to mine. At first, I was going to fight him. I was going to hit him and call him all sorts of crude names. But I didn’t. I let him keep his lips pressed to mine, his hands cupping my cheeks. I knew enough to trust Jimmy—he wasn’t about to try and sleep with me. He was obviously going through something.
As he pulled away, he smirked at me, “I’m so going to tell Brian you let me kiss you.”
“Do it,” I laughed. “He either won’t care or he’ll murder you. I’ll be fine.”
“He wouldn’t care at all,” Jimmy cackled. “I just wanted to know what the fuss was all about.”
“Jimmy,” I sighed knowingly.
“Don’t read into it,” he told me seriously, his blue eyes searching my greens for understanding. “Soon we’ll be married to other people…and little things like this will be big deals. We didn’t get together, but I wanted to have one kiss with you that wasn’t shrouded in shame.”
I bit my lip a little, reaching out to brush my friend’s cheek with my thumb.
“I love you, Jim,” I told him gently, embarrassed by how moved I was feeling by his strange and unprompted desire to kiss me.
“I love you too,” he smiled at me. “But maybe we just keep this between us. Let’s not ruin a good thing.”
I nodded, pulling away and reaching for the doorknob, “I couldn’t agree more. Don’t you ever kiss me again.”
He cackled, promising up and down that he wouldn’t.
And he never did.
“This award is meaningful to me because one of my best friends helped me to write it…and to perfect it. His name was James, but we all knew him as Jimmy…and he was a musical genius. He was the best guy I knew and…without him, I wouldn’t be who I am and I never would have written this song. This one’s for The Rev.”
Long as fuck but I didn't want to split it into two. It would lose it's momentum that way.
Anyway, the song's Eye of the Needle by Sia and it's a heart-wrencher.
Appreciate the love as always. Keeps me focused. Thank you to those who regularly make their presence known.