The day I graduated high school was the day I was paroled. After an eighteen year sentence, the “princess prison” I was born into could no longer hold me. As the only daughter born after three sons, mom dressed me in pink from birth and enrolled me in ballet lessons as soon as I turned three. Lucky for me, my father drew the line when mom started talking about beauty pageants.
In high school, I was on the school’s dance team. Okay, so we were cheerleaders who learned dance routines during the winter season but confessing to the lowest point in my adolescent existence makes me want to vomit in my mouth just a bit. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea but mom thought it would keep me out of trouble. She doesn’t need to know how flawed that plan had been. Let’s just say encouraging your daughter to jump around in a skirt that barely covers her nether regions is never a good idea.
Madeline Grace Neumann died graduation night when I climbed into my 1977 Chevy Malibu determined to live my own life on my own terms. I’m not looking forward to resurrecting her as we drive down the Interstate. By the time we pull off at Lexington, Rain Maxwell will be shoved in a box and the pretty, polished Maddie Neumann will walk off the bus I’ve called home for the past five months.
“Come on, Rain,” Colton urged, “We all know you’re one of the toughest bitches out here; but we want to be there for you.”
I’d been having this fight with all of my bandmates since I got the phone call. Mom’s cancer had been worse than they thought. It turned out that three to six months was an optimistic estimate of how long she had. Within a month, she was gone. She was gone and I wasn’t there for her.
“Absolutely not,” I snapped narrowing my eyes, “Trust me when I say it’s the last place you guys want to be. Think I’m kidding? Take a good look at me when I walk off this bus.”
Colton’s thick arm wrapped around me drawing me closer to him. “You shouldn’t have to do this alone. You don’t have to do this alone,” he whispered. “When was the last time you went home?”
It killed me to think about the last time I’d seen my mother alive. I had been home once, about a year after graduation. I hadn’t hooked up with the band yet but I had already transformed myself into Rain Maxwell. When I walked in the front door of my parents’ golf course community home, she cried. She actually cried when she looked at me. And they weren’t tears of joy.
My naturally sandy blond hair had been dyed deep red, styled with blunt bangs and big curls to the middle of my back. My brown eyes were a brilliant emerald thanks to the engineers who created colored contacts. While she didn’t understand those changes, I think it was the lip ring, my first three tats and the patent leather knee-high combat boots that caused her breakdown.
I’ve spent the past five years avoiding home, unwilling to hide who I was and unprepared for a hysterical encore from my mom. Sure, there were times I missed my family but they didn’t understand me any more than I understood them. The guys in the band have been my family since shortly after that trip and that’s good enough.
“I haven’t been home since before Trav asked me to join you guys,” I answered. Having said it out loud, I curled my knees to my chest and began to sob. “She…the last time…my family didn’t approve of my life after I left home. Please, Colton,” I begged, “It’s not that I don’t want you guys there. You just can’t be there.”
The gentle sway of the bus cruising down the highway lulled me to sleep in the kitchen area of our home away from home. Colton never left my side. He pulled my head to his shoulder gently rubbing my arm as I slept. It was the first time I had let my guard down since my oldest brother, Matt called me with the news.
“Hey, man,” Travis whispered. I felt him bump into the table as he slid onto the bench across from us. I could hear everything going on around me; but exhaustion forbade me from opening my eyes. “Make any progress tonight?”
Colton shook his head, “No, she’s still being stubborn.”
I heard the crack of a beer can being opened and I felt condensation dripping on my head as Colton took a drink. “I think we just have to let her do it her way. She doesn’t need us telling her what’s best for her, I have a feeling she’ll be getting plenty of that from her family. Maybe we just need to drop it.”
“I don’t know man,” Travis sneered, “You didn’t hear the call from her brother. She was pretty upset when she hung up.”
My head bobbled against Colton’s chest as he laughed, “No shit, man; she just found out her mom died. I’d be more concerned if she wasn’t upset.”
“Not like that.” Travis drew a deep breath, “Let’s just say it might be good we’re not going. He was cocking off to her about not being there. Told her she was a selfish bitch for wanting to finish out the tour. If he’s as charming as he sounded, I’m not sure we’d all make it out of there without someone going to jail.”
Life on the bus wasn’t that different from life growing up in one way: I still had three older brothers. I had no doubt in my mind that Travis was telling the truth. Colton, Trav and Jon didn’t put up with anyone giving me shit. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that one of my band brothers would clobber the hell out of one of my blood brothers if this trip went the way I’m certain it would.
Matt was furious when I told him it would be two days before I could get home. Selfish bitch, I believe, was what he called me. More than once. When he told me I would have made it a priority to come home to see Mom if she meant anything to me, I might have snapped on him.
“Screw you, Matt,” I screamed, “When Dad emailed me, he told me she had more time. You have no clue what my life is like out here.” I wished I had waited to call him back until I was inside the bus. There, I could have locked myself in the back bedroom and had a little bit of privacy. Instead, was crouched behind the bus where all of the roadies and local help could hear every word.
“I told him I’d be home as soon as we wrap the tour. He said that would be fine,” I continued, “Do you really think I wouldn’t have jumped on a plane if I knew how close it was?”
“Honestly, I don’t know Madeline,” he spat placing emphasis on my given name. I hate that name. “You’re a selfish bitch, so no, I’m not sure you would have come home. You’re so worried about your precious fans and your image. You forgot all of us when you left.”
“You have no fucking clue what motivates me or where my priorities lie. I was going to be home the day after the tour was done,” I sobbed, “Why didn’t you call me when you knew it was time? If you’d called, I would have been on a plane as soon as I could get to an airport. Now I’m the one who didn’t get to say goodbye.” The kohl eyeliner and mascara combined with tears to form black streams down my face. From what Matt told me, they sat there and watched mom slipping away from them for days. Realizing they had robbed me of my goodbye, I was pissed.
“I have to go. The sooner we get this bus moving, the sooner I’ll be there,” I managed to say through ragged breaths. “Keep me posted.”
Last night’s show was hard to get through; I’m not going to lie. The guys told me to go home, that they could rearrange the set. I didn’t really see the point. Flying home wasn’t going to bring my mom back. There wasn’t anything to do except sit around the house with Matt and Mike scowling at me, making comments under their breath while Mark tried to get everyone to calm down. This way, I could keep my mind busy for one more night, hopefully missing out on the decision making that I wouldn’t be allowed to have a say in anyway, and then get home to say goodbye to my mom.
I managed to keep it together through most of our set. Normally, there’s a rise and fall to the set list to keep the energy level going. Knowing I was teetering on the edge of falling apart, Jon reworked the list with Trav so we started high and just kept getting higher. When I almost lost it during If You Only Knew, Colton was by my side. He’s been my rock for the past thirty-six hours.
After listening to the guys picking apart our entire show while they thought I was sleeping, I opened my eyes. “Hey,” I said softly. When I started rubbing my eyes, the guys all started laughing at me. “What?” I snapped.
Colton kissed my forehead as he slid from the bench. “You might want to go take care of your face,” he chuckled. “You didn’t take off your makeup when you got on the bus. You kinda look like a murderous clown right now.”
Maybe it should have upset me that I looked like a two-bit whore the morning after a busy night; but I couldn’t manage to get worked up over it. They’d seen me looking worse. I pulled myself up from the bench saying goodnight before turning toward the back of the bus. Part of me wanted to stay in my makeup just to hold onto Rain for a few more minutes. Less than eight hours from now, I would say goodbye to myself for a while.
“Hey, Rain?” Colton called after me.
Instead of hollering back and forth through the bus, Colton followed me. “Trav and I talked about it. We don’t like it, but we’re going to respect you not wanting us there.” His voice was sincere but his face showed how upset he was to be telling me this. Did they really think I didn’t want them there?
Grabbing his shoulder, I turned Colton back to where Trav and Jon were starting to work on lyrics for the next album and pushed him down the aisle. I needed to clear the air. Realizing he’d hit a nerve, Colton didn’t resist. He actually sat as soon as we reached the benches, leaving me towering over the three people on the face of the planet who loved me unconditionally.
When they started snickering again, I glared at them. They shut up. “Colton said something and I don’t want you guys giving me a line of shit about it,” I said in the most authoritative voice I could muster. “Do you guys think I don’t want you at my mom’s funeral?”
Colton raised an eyebrow to the other two. Travis started to say something and then stopped himself. Jon pulled the long, black curls away from his face like he was going to pull the tresses into a ponytail. It was something he did when he was deep in thought.
“Rain, we don’t know what the deal is. We want to be there for you but you’ve made it clear that isn’t what you want.” Jon reached for my hand, “It’s okay, really.”
I took a few breaths to collect my own thoughts and then slid back onto the bench next to Colton. It was time to tell them about my life before the band.
I thought Travis was going to have to see a doctor to have his jaw set back in place when I revealed that I’d been the co-captain of the cheerleading squad. It was only partly because of the shock on his face. The rest was because I may have clocked him a little harder than I meant to when he begged me to bring my cheer uniform back with me.
I broke down bawling as I told them how disappointed my mom was the last time I saw her. Once the initial shock over my appearance wore off, she begged me to enroll in college.
“You have so much potential,” she told me time and again, “It’s a shame to see you wasting your life when you could be taking steps to the future you deserve.”
Apparently being happy didn’t figure into my mother’s idea of what my future should hold. To her, it was all about getting a “sensible degree” and finding a Ken to live happily ever after with.
To say my family isn’t accepting of those who live outside their limited view of what’s normal and right is an understatement. If I walked in with my three best friends, Mom would roll over in her grave.
Travis might be passable in their eyes since he can pull off clean-cut with the help of a long sleeved shirt and some hair gel. Jon would turn their stomachs with his hair and abundance of tattoos. Colton would be the one to induce postmortem gymnastics. His dark blond hair flows nearly to his waist and always has a bit of a greasy look. I’m not saying that in a bad way. It suits him and I can assure you it doesn’t feel the way it looks. He has a tattoo sleeve on his right arm and six individual tats on his left, in addition to his brother’s name tattooed across his fingers. Add a lip ring and a double pierced eyebrow and you have every parent’s worst nightmare.
“Damn, sweetie,” Colton sighed when I was done giving them the laundry list of reasons it would be more stressful to have them there than to deal without their support.
“Guess we know why you don’t talk about them much. Now, if you want to continue this conversation, can you please go wash your damned face? It’s seriously hard to keep a straight face when you look like that.” Jon and Travis started howling at Colton’s blunt statement. I shot them a dirty look before turning on my heels towards the bedroom.
One look in the mirror explained why Colton said it was hard to look at me without laughing. I was surprised they held it together as long as they did. My eyes were red and puffy from crying. My makeup was not only running down my cheeks, it was down the side of my neck from when I was cuddled up to Colton. Add slightly smeared Russian Red lipstick and I was a steaming hot mess.
While I was in there, I changed out of my black leather pants and tank top in favor of fleece lounge pants and an old t-shirt. I needed to get to bed but I wanted to finish talking to the guys first. Trav was just sitting down when I started down the aisle of the bus. By the time I reached the table, there were four open cans of beer.
Jon picked up a can and the rest of us followed suit. “A toast,” he said holding his can in the air, “to Rain’s mom. We all owe her a debt of thanks for making our girl the driven, bad ass bitch she is today. May she rest in peace and finally be able to see what an amazing daughter she raised.”
Colton and Trav raised their cans to meet Jon’s. I slumped into Colton’s side as I lifted my beer an inch off the table. I was too exhausted for anything more than a token toast.
The alarm on my phone started screeching earlier than should be legal. Five months on the road had gotten me into the habit of going to bed around six in the morning, not waking up at that hour. The last thing I wanted to do was pull myself from under Colton’s warm embrace but it had to be done.
The first few times I woke like this, I freaked out. Getting involved in a relationship with a bandmate is like getting involved with the roommate you also work with. It’s great in theory because you always see each other; but it’s almost certain to fail because you always see one another.
Colton quickly proved to be a complete gentleman, something he swore me to never tell another soul, and we’ve shared the only real bed on the bus ever since. Not once has he tried anything, even when I know damned well that he’s drunk and horny.
After two rounds with the snooze button, I gently kissed his forehead and snuck out of the bedroom. “Morning, Sean,” I called to the driver on duty.
“Mornin’ sunshine,” he responded over his shoulder. Sean’s one of my favorite drivers, in spite of the fact that he’s chipper in the morning and I’m anything but.
I dug through the cabinets for something to eat while the coffee brewed. “How far to Lex?”
“Just over an hour,” he replied. Plenty of time to wake up and get ready to go. I took some time to enjoy the first cup of coffee, mentally preparing myself for everything to come. Part of me wanted to wake the guys and tell them I’d changed my mind, that I wanted them with me. But I didn’t.
I plugged in the curling iron at the kitchen table and shuffled my semi-private room. With any luck, I could get ready without waking anyone. I pulled three shopping bags out of the closet and started packing my suitcase setting aside a pink cowl neck sweater and skinny jeans for today. It was almost too warm for sweaters but I made sure everything I bought had long sleeves to cover the tattoos on my forearms.
Colton rolled over just as I was dragging my suitcase from the bed. “You taking off soon?” he asked rubbing his bleary eyes.
“Yeah, probably about forty minutes now,” I said. “Go back to sleep. You’ll be worthless tonight if you get up this early.” The guys were still awake when I went to bed; so I know he couldn’t have slept more than a few hours and Colton was the type of guy who needed his beauty sleep.
He swung his legs off the bed and stretched his arms giving me a peek at his tight abs. “I’ll come out with you. I can sleep the rest of the way to Denver.”
We walked silently past the bunks, not wanting to wake Jon and Travis. I grabbed the folding mirror from the bathroom and settled into the bench across from Colton. He shook his head as he watched the transformation from Rain to Maddie taking place before his eyes.
Had it been anything other than my mother’s funeral, I would agree with what he wasn’t saying. It wasn’t a secret that Colton was very much the ‘what you see is what you get’ type of guy. We had talked a little about my family. When my dad let me know mom’s cancer was back, Colton told me to be loud and proud, just like I am in the rest of my life. If mom had lived until the tour was done, I might have done just that. But now, I couldn’t.
“We’re going to see Tony as soon as we get home,” I sighed removing my lip ring. The ear holes would survive a few days without the small hoops that normally lined them but my lip ring would be closed by nightfall and I’d catch just as much crap for a retainer as the actual jewelry. Tony was the only person I trusted to put holes in my body.
Colton nodded, “We can jump on the bike as soon as the bus comes to a stop.” Someday, Colton was going to make some woman very happy. If circumstances were different, I’d give anything to be that woman; but I wasn’t going to jeopardize everything we’d worked for to take that chance.
Twisting the cap onto my sheer pink lip gloss, I looked in the mirror and brought my eyes to Colton’s. “How do I look?” He didn’t say anything for what felt like hours. I was starting to regret asking when a wide smile broke out on his face.
He blinked a few times before speaking. “Wow…I don’t think you have to worry about anyone recognizing you.” He leaned across the table to play with my high ponytail, “That’s really cute. I can imagine that bouncing around while you do your little cheerleader routine.”
“Shut it,” I snapped. He was having too much fun and I knew more jabs were soon to follow. “I swear, I’ll kneecap your ass if you say another word.”
I wasn’t kidding and he knew it. “Come here,” he said patting the seat next to him. I slid in next to Colton and rested my head on his shoulder.
“You’ll be fine,” he whispered kissing the top of my head. “If you need anything, call me. The only time I won’t have my phone right by me is when we’re on stage.”
“I know,” I sighed. The bus started to slow and I took one last look in the mirror. While not something I would normally wear, I had to admit the soft color palette the woman at the MAC counter selected for me looked good. I was Rock Star Barbie on her day off. It merely made me nauseous rather than causing bile to collect in my esophagus.
When the bus pulled into the truckstop parking lot, Colton followed me to the car my dad had dropped off for me last night. “I guess this is it,” I said sadly. I felt like an awful daughter because I was more upset about watching the guys pull away from me than I was about the next few days at home burying my mom.
Colton wrapped his arms around me holding me tight for a minute. “I mean it, Rain…call me.” He glanced over his shoulder blowing me a kiss as he boarded the bus and the door closed behind him.
I fought tears as I watched my life turning back onto the Interstate. Surrounded by the guys, I was able to hold everything together. Standing alone in the abandoned truckstop, I crumbled.