Through All the Dust
Chapter Sixty-Seven: Are We, We Are
Lauren’s arrival was a fucking godsend. When she stepped out from the cab, the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. She had a pair of Jimmy’s sunglasses sat atop her arched nose and was looking positively perfect. I rushed her, stealing her up into my arms with a contest from her party. She squeezed my ribs, giggling with excitement to be reunited.
“Fuck, I’ve missed you,” I beamed, pulling away to get a look at her.
I’m not sure why, but I’d expected her to look different after six weeks apart. She still had the same level of blonde pulled through her hair, the same wrinkles carved into her forehead when she laughed…She was exactly as I’d left her. It was a bittersweet surprise.
“I’ve missed you too,” she smiled back. “It’s been too long.”
“Agreed,” I grinned, relishing in the moment.
Things hadn’t gotten much better since my revelation that I was still leaning toward suicidal tendencies. Brian had upped his call volume substantially, to the point where it had almost become a burden to answer. I understood his head space, but I was afraid of him trying to understand mine. I didn’t really want him to understand me…not in that way.
But I knew that with Lauren’s arrival, Brian could rest easier. Lauren could take it for the next week until I was reunited with my husband, and Brian could focus on his own life for a few days. Though, the stress of Avenged’s impending show was starting to take its toll on me, as well. The show, I knew, would be the final straw in making it real. Once Avenged carried on, there was no questioning whether or not the Rev was really gone.
Not that we could really question it as it was…
I put it out of my mind for the time being, happy just to enjoy Lauren’s company for a while. She’d been able to pull me out of my funk in the past, and I had a bit of blind hope that she’d be able to repeat her magic.
We grabbed her bags and we rounded the entry to the venue grounds, where we’d be stationed for the next thirty-six hours. She waved at the stragglers as we passed them on our way to the bus.
Climbing aboard, Mona was there waiting. She happily stole Lauren’s attention, giddy with enthusiasm to see her friend, too.
“Reunited and it feels so good,” I sang playfully from the doorway.
Mona and Lauren laughed, “Stop that.”
I frowned dramatically at them, stepping around them and plopping onto the couch. Soon enough, the others were seated with me, catching up on the little blurbs of life that we’d been missing out on.
“Owen’s been making the sweetest little sounds,” Lauren gushed motherly. “He’s so cute, I can’t handle it.”
“He’s the world’s most perfect baby,” I nodded. “It’s true.”
Lauren smiled fondly, her face washing over with longing for only a second. And then she was back.
“Anyway,” she giggled. “enough about Owen. What’s the plan here? What’s on the docket for tonight?”
I sighed, “We have a stupid show.”
“Oh!” Lauren clapped her hands excitedly. “I get to see one of your concerts!”
I was glad at least one of us was pleased. All I wanted to do was hang out with my best friend and get back into the groove of normalcy. Instead, it was business as usual. What was this, a tour or some shit?
“Backstage,” I grinned, wiggling my brows at her.
“If you put me in the crowd, I’d actually slap you,” she told me seriously.
Mona laughed loudly, “I’d pay good money to see that.”
“Lo, I love you,” I mused. “but we all know I’d kick your ass.”
Lauren smiled warmly, “I’d happily let you. I just want one, good slap in. Just one.”
“Guess I’ll have to put you in the audience then,” I shrugged teasingly.
She wasn’t having any of that. I loved how much she enjoyed my music, how supportive she was of my career choices. It only made sense that she’d actually want to see one of my live shows…It instilled a newfound excitement from within my tired soul. For the first time in a while, I wanted to play.
Five minutes together and she was already warming me up to live again.
“So you guys are flying out next week together?” Mona asked curiously.
“Hopefully it’s an afternoon flight,” Mona smirked.
Lauren looked at her curiously, I just rolled my eyes.
“This thing’s been puking nonstop,” Mona told our friend. “The closer we get to Brian’s show, the sicker she’s become.”
Lauren frowned sympathetically at me, the heartbreak springing up within her light eyes.
“It’s stressful,” Lauren sighed, giving me a knowing look. “It’s sad.”
My stomach began to toss with nerves.
“We can’t talk about it,” I stressed aloud. “Seriously, my shitty guts can’t take it.”
“Okay,” Lauren dismissed quickly. “Then let’s talk about something else. Tell me about the tour. Where have you been? What have you seen? Fill me in!”
Her positivity was infectious. As each second flew by, I was feeling more and more like myself. Not the broody, self-indignant person I’d become, either. As Lauren laughed, my spirits lifted and the normal amounts of apathy returned. A little piece of home was all I needed.
She was wing side for the show, cheering louder than the entire auditorium. It brought a totally different level of energy to my bones that I’d been missing all that time. I’d forgotten what it was to have people on the sidelines, rooting for you and cheering you on.
The last person I’d had in the wings at a concert was Jimmy. He was less vocal of his enthusiasm, but he was there every night. Unfailingly.
And now I had his wife, for all intents and purposes.
As the show rolled to a close, and I downed a liter of water in one gulp, I draped an arm across Lauren’s shoulders. She gushed about the show and about my voice and about the “seriously cool” job I had.
“Teaching is boring,” she laughed. “If my students were loud like your fans, I’d be in deep trouble.”
“No shit,” I snickered, pushing open the door to the outside world.
I released Lauren in favor of a cigarette, relishing in its sweet relief as the nicotine flushed through my system. We walked side by side back to the buses, where Justin had already set up a variety of lawn chairs we’d picked up in differing cities along the way.
“It’s nice outside,” Lauren smiled. “Let’s hang out here for a while.”
“Jay,” I called to him, “we’re stealing three chairs.”
“What?” he called back, pulling another two from the back of the bus. “Why?”
“I need two now,” I smirked. “And one for your wife when she’s done working…and we don’t want to hang out with you sick fucks. We’ll be over there!”
Lauren struggled with the chairs as I dashed onto the bus and gathered as many drinks as I could carry. We waded out into the parking lot, far enough away from the bus that we were sure we wouldn’t be disturbed. And then we set up camp.
I cracked two beers, one for Lauren and one for me. With a satisfied sigh, I wiped the liquid from my lip.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” I told her affectionately.
She smiled at me, “Me too. Brian mentioned you were having a hard time…”
“Oh, did he?” I asked flatly, annoyed with Brian’s openness.
“Don’t be mad,” she smirked. “It’s me. He wasn’t gossiping all over town…He’s just worried about you, B.”
I groaned, “I know.”
“So what’s going on?” she asked me.
“I really don’t know,” I replied honestly. “I’ve just been…confused…lately.”
She urged me to continue. I tried my best to explain what I’d been feeling, but I was so afraid of touching on a Jimmy nerve that it made it difficult to open up completely. I didn’t want to drag Lo down with me; there was no use gashing open that old wound.
We talked all night—mostly I talked all night. We waited for Mona but she never showed. I assumed she’d retired to bed, and when she texted me to apologize for “being so lame”, I was certain. I didn’t mind; it meant I had Lauren to myself.
I smoked and we drank and I confessed my deep, dark secrets. She moved past the concern stage quickly and opted, simply, to listen. I hadn’t realized how much I’d needed her until she was back by my side, lending a shoulder.
For the millionth time in my life, I thanked Jimmy for blessing me with this angel of a human.
When we finally called it a night, Lauren fell asleep on our couch almost immediately after sitting down. It was hilarious, but I was sure to tuck her in…after I took a couple of pictures.
I climbed into my bunk and for the first time since we’d left California, I slept through the night.
I awoke in the morning to the fresh scent of coffee brewing. The java filled the entire bus, luring a few of us out of our bunks and into life. I, on the other hand, was immediately nauseated. I pushed myself from my bunk and high-tailed it for the bathroom.
When I tried the door, Justin’s voice croaked, “Occupado!”
Panicking, I tore through the bus and leapt outside without my shoes. I’d just made it to the pavement as my body expelled all of its nutrients. My chest heaved as last night’s good time tore through my system and exploded beneath me. It was not a pretty sight.
When I was sure my body was just about done, I let my mind start working out how to clean this mess up. Water was a good start—both for me and for the concrete.
I turned to find Lauren concernedly staring me down. She extended a tissue and a bottle of water to me hesitantly, not wanting to get too close.
“I don’t want to get sick,” she smiled.
I took her offerings and flushed my acidic system. I wiped my mouth with the tissue and stuffed it into the pocket of my little shorts. They were both comfortable and had pockets—you know, for all of the items you needed while you were sleeping.
“Lo,” I grumbled tiredly, “can you grab my smokes? They’re on the counter.”
“Sure,” she shrugged, disappearing inside momentarily and emerging once more with my cigarettes.
I lit one immediately and felt my stomach begin its daily dance. I didn’t care. I was powering through for the love of nicotine.
Lauren eyes traced my bare legs. I eyed her oddly as she surveyed my skin.
“Does it still hurt?” she asked me curiously.
I glanced down to follow her trail, landing on the scars from where the bone had come through—and the scars from where the doctors had gone in. I ran my fingers atop the discoloration and sighed.
“Sometimes,” I replied. “Lately it’s been bad…But it isn’t always.”
“Do you think about the accident still?”
I shrugged, “Honestly? Not really.”
“Well, good,” she smiled, glancing up to meet my gaze.
My hand brushed against my churning guts, willing them to cool themselves down with a gentle touch. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus.
“That’s a lot of puke,” Lauren noted with a distinct grimace.
I laughed, “Don’t look at it. I’ll clean it up…In a bit.”
“How are you going to clean that up?” she giggled. “Are you going to go and buy a hose?”
My lips fell into a dramatic frown. She just laughed harder.
Mona’s voice sounded from the bus, a hint of repulsion laced with her otherwise cheery tone, “Morning Blair strikes again!”
“Fuck off, Mona!” I grumbled from behind my cigarette.
She cackled, “I’ll grab some buckets. We’ll splash it down, don’t you fret.”
I was willing to let her do whatever she wanted. If she wanted to deal with my bodily mess, she was welcome to it. Saved me the trouble.
“Morning Blair,” Lauren noted with her brows arched high. “How long’s this been going on?”
“What’s this?” I asked coyly.
“This,” she reiterated, gesturing to the explosion to our left.
I shrugged my tired shoulders, taking a long drag of my cigarette, “A week maybe. I’m stressed as fuck, Lo. I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t think I’m dying or shit like that.”
She glanced around nervously, “I don’t think you’re dying either, Blair…”
My face fell as I breathed the smoke through my nose, “What’s that face you’re making?”
She stepped closer to me, dropping her voice down low, “You’re not pregnant, are you?”
“What?” I scoffed. “No!”
The cigarette smoke rose between us as she stared me down expectantly. I thought about it for a half second before shutting it down.
“No,” I maintained.
She kept that steady gaze.
I ran through my mental calendar, searching for a big red circle to mark off my last period…When the fuck was it? I could not, for the life of me, remember.
There was no way I was pregnant. No way. I hadn’t even seen Brian in…
“Blair,” Lauren’s voice creaked.
“I…” my mouth opened and closed in an effort to speak.
My eyes fell to my cigarette, which I instinctively tossed away. Lauren covered her mouth with her hand, watching me with wide eyes.
“Just to be safe,” I said flatly. “You know…in case.”
Lauren tried to hide her enthusiasm—in case it was misplaced.
“We need to get to a store,” Lauren said quickly.
We didn’t tell anyone where we were going, we just kind of…vanished. I’d grabbed my shoes and my wallet without saying a word and we were on our way. We were downtown, so we figured it wouldn’t be hard to find a store. We were right. Just around the corner, we had our pick of the lot.
I followed Lauren inside and down a few aisles until we found all the boxes with the sticks I would meant to piss on. The whole thing grossed me out, but I guess you do what you have to do…I’d never taken a pregnancy test in my entire life. Lauren snatched two boxes straight away and carried them to the front. She hardly spoke to me at all, which I wasn’t sure how to take. I was like a zombie; so I followed her around quietly.
As I handed the cashier a couple of bills, Lauren piped up, “There’s a coffee shop. Let’s go across the street, I’ll buy a coffee and you’ll go pee.”
I didn’t want to pee on a stick in a public bathroom…
“Or would you prefer taking these onto the bus?” Lauren dared me knowingly.
With receipt in hand and a bag of tests, which seemed a bit like overkill, we crossed the street. Lauren basically shoved me into the bathroom, giving me absolutely no say in the matter.
I dug the instructions out of the box and gave them a quick scan—like I said, I’d never taken one before. I didn’t know the drill.
Once I was confident in what I was supposed to do, I peed on the stupid thing. It felt weird and I was wildly uncomfortable, but somehow I managed.
I set it onto the counter and finished my business, fighting the urge to glance over at the little white stick. While I washed my hands and fixed my newly woken face, the little test decided whether or not I was pregnant.
Did I want to be?
Sure, I wanted children someday…but someday meant an unknown point in my unpredictable future. Not now…Not a year after losing our best friend…Right after signing up for a long ass tour in Brian’s case. What would it mean for my tour? My career? What were the mechanics of that?
Would I have to give everything up? For how long? Forever? How could I travel the world, selling my soul, and raise a baby at the same time? Wouldn’t it have to be one or the other?
I started to panic.
It wouldn’t matter if the strip said negative…I decided not to worry about it until I had found the courage to read the test.
With shaking hands and blurry vision, I delicately picked up the fortune teller and willed myself to look at it.
Within a millisecond, a tiny little plus sign changed my life forever.
Oh, shit. (What's in the bucket).