Three entries? Are you freaking kidding me? GDI, LJ, you are REAAAALLY pushing me this morning.
Kala was pretty much a morning person, but Sebast’s enthusiasm that day was just getting to be too much. He was up early, and decided that the only thing they could possibly do was go to the airport and watch the planes landing and taking off. Before she was even dressed, he was pouncing on her like a deranged squirrel. “C’mon, mamita, it always cheers you up, and I know you’ve been dragging a little lately. It’ll be fun. I’ll even buy you that pumpkin caramel frappuchino thing you like from the coffee shop.”
She couldn’t tell him why she’d always loved the airport: flight was the superpower she’d always wanted most. Now that she had it, planes weren’t the thrill they once were, not when she could fly faster and higher and make sharper turns. Also, passenger jet pilots frowned on doing barrel rolls midflight, while Kala could do as many rolls, swoops, and dives as she had time for.
Still, she had to admit that taking a break helped. They sat in rocking chairs conveniently placed by the concourse’s windows, sipped coffee, and watched people as much as they watched planes. “Oh my. I love her hair,” Kala said, nodding at a young woman with bright burgundy locks.
“Mm-hmm. It’d look good in your streaks,” Sebast remarked, scanning the concourse. “Now me, I like … holy shit, what’s this cowboy doing in San Francisco? Looking for the rest of the Village People?”
Kala turned to look in the same direction, and her jaw dropped. Walking up the concourse with a backpack over one shoulder—and a cowboy hat on his head—was a very familiar figure. He was completely out of place in this context, as strange as seeing a whitetail buck walking across a shopping center parking lot. “Holy … Dustin? Dustin’s here?”
For a moment she couldn’t breathe. Dustin saw her and grinned, and Kala’s heart clenched in her chest like a fist. No one had touched her heart quite like Dustin. Not Nick, not Alan, not any high-school crush. He got her in ways that only Sebast did, and while their tastes in music and other things were vastly different, it had never come between them.
She just blinked, staring, and he tilted his head to the side and raised his eyebrows, the grin becoming uncertain. That look had always melted her heart, and this time it broke her shocked paralysis.
Getting to her feet, Kala smiled broadly and held her arms out. Dustin stopped where he was and did the same. And then, laughing, they ran at each other, Dustin dropping the bag and sweeping Kala into his arms, swinging her around. “Well, hello, beautiful! Fancy seeing you here.”
“Oh my God, Dustin!” she laughed, and gave him a smooch when he set her down. “But what are you doing here? Don’t you have to work?”
Dustin hugged her tight and kissed her cheek. “Nah. Dad and Wade can run the shop. Thing is, I realized something. Lots of people wait ‘til they retire to go see the world, and by then they’re too old to really enjoy it. I figure I’ll get my sightseeing done early. That is, if you’ll let me fall in with your band.”
That was when it clicked for Kala. She turned around slowly and stared at Sebast, who had ambled up to them carrying both their drinks. “Hey, Dustin, good to see you.” He held out a fist, which Dustin dutifully bumped.
“Good to see you too, Sebast,” he replied.
“Sebast called you,” Kala said flatly.
Dustin jostled her, his arm still around her shoulders. “Hey now. Yeah, he called me. But he just wanted me to call you up. Coming out here to see you was my idea. I haven’t bought my return tickets yet, so if you’re too busy I’ll just….”
Kala didn’t let him finish the sentence, kissing him on the lips this time. “You are more than welcome to hang around with us for as long as you want, Dustin. Honestly, I probably need you in my life right now more than ever. This tour is insane, and you—you’re the best cure for that kind of madness I know of.”
“So you’re telling me I’m the sanest guy you know?” he asked, with an amused chuckle. Dustin looked directly at Sebast then, and added very seriously, “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.”
“We’re all mad here, my friend,” Sebast told him, and they all laughed.
“C’mon, let’s get your luggage and bring you back to meet the band,” Kala said, linking one arm through each boy’s elbow and tugging them down the concourse. “But Dustin, that hat … what’s with the hat, anyway?”
“I figured I was coming out west, why not dress the part?” Dustin sounded perfectly sincere, but the gleam in his eyes told her volumes.
“You are not playing ignorant yokel for the band,” she declared, and then her phone and Sebast’s chirped simultaneously.
Sebast, who had a hand free, checked his first. “It’s Morgan. He found us a bassist, says he’s good, but he wants us to meet him. Hey, know what? We should introduce Dustin as our manager, see what this Robb guy does. Dustin, you can play ignorant yokel all you want, it’s just entertaining to watch some of these bitches act like they’re so high and mighty.”
“If Kala doesn’t want me to, I won’t. But the hat stays. I kinda like it. Besides, I can ride a horse, shoot, and repair fence. I might as well be a cowboy.”
“Except for the cow part,” Kala said, pouting. Sebast might think it was funny to watch other people look down their noses at Dustin and his country accent, but it made her blood boil just as wrathfully as when people in Smallville looked askance at Sebast’s eyeliner.
“Yeah, well, I might have some trouble with the cow part of things,” Dustin admitted, and then grinned. “I do like the hat, though.”
Kala rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. “Boys! Why do I even bother? Fine, wear the cowboy hat. Just get used to the fact that we play Goth rock on the tour bus, not country.”
Dustin managed to slide his arm out from hers just to put it around her shoulder and tug her into a sideways walking hug. “Y’know, I find I like a little Goth rock in my life. It grows on you.” Kala smiled up at him, and that was when he added with a very serious tone, “Kind of like a fungus.”
Kala punched him lightly in the side. “Jerk.”
“Missed you too, Kala.”
On the way to the meeting, Perry glanced at Lois’ planner and snorted. “Good grief, Lane, how the hell do expect to run this paper if you don’t know how to spell the ‘board’ in ‘board meeting’?”
She cut him a ruthless smile. “I have no intention of running this paper. I’ll just figure out a way to keep you alive forever—even if it’s just your head in a cryo-tank or something—so I never have to become full management.”
“Still doesn’t explain why a Pulitzer Prize winner thinks that ‘board’ has an ‘e’ in it,” Perry grumbled.
“That’s not a misspelling, old man. It’s an accurate description, from where I sit.” With that she stepped past him as he held the door, the plainly marking ‘bored meeting’ on her planner making her opinion of these administrative duties clear.
“Get used to it, Lane,” Perry barked, smiling beneath the bluster. “Everyone knows you’re a curse on aircraft, so you won’t be able to get any more front-page blockbusters by falling out of helicopters and planes and God only knows what else. Might as well learn management.”
“Can it, White. I manage my department, and that’s all I want,” she shot back. “You can’t take the City out of the girl, so don’t try taking the girl out of City.”
The rest of the department heads were arriving, including her own husband, and most of them looked amused or exasperated. The ongoing quarrel between the Chief and his heir apparent was no longer news, but it was reliable entertainment.
To most of them, anyway. “Yeah, you manage it with a whip and a chair,” someone muttered, and Perry saw Lois’ head snap around to fix the offender with the patented Lane Death Glare.
“What was that about Lane and a whip? Whoever said that, keep your daydreams to yourselves. We’ve got a business to run here. And we own this paper, so we might as well make sure we can pay our own damn salaries.”
With that, he sat down and nodded to Keith from Accounting, who always had a dozen graphs and charts and things on hand. After him came Circulation and then Advertising. By the time someone suggested a different scented insert for each holiday, Lois was eyeing her husband across the table with a rubber band in her hand and a devilish gleam in her eye. Bored Lane women made their own fun, but it wasn’t always fun for everyone else.
Perry got up, accidentally kicking her chair while she was lining up the shot, and the rubber band snapped back on her own wrist. As she cursed under her breath, he took charge of the meeting, haranguing those who’d slacked off and even giving a little praise to those who’d done well. The way he figured it, they had about another hour of progress reports and general news to wade through before they could all get back to work, and with a little luck Lane might not shoot someone’s eye out with a rubber band before they did. He really hoped she hadn’t seen that TV show where the two guys proved it was possible to build a crossbow out of paper, a pencil, and some string. And if she had, he hoped she didn’t have any string.
Lois merely scowled at him as the head of Features talked about changes she wanted to make, but then Lois’ phone chirped. She quickly took it out, several people staring at her, and then her face lit up with a huge smile. “Excuse me. Sorry, Chief, I’ve got to go. Gotta pick my kid up from school.”
“I thought your kids were in college,” one of the guys from Accounting said tersely.
“The older two are, the youngest is eleven,” Lois said with a sweet smile that promised revenge.
Accounting wasn’t as familiar with Lois as other departments, and he didn’t take the warning. “Wait, you and Kent had another kid?”
“She’s talking about my grand-niece,” Perry said gruffly. “My nephew Richard’s daughter.”
“Yeah, my youngest,” Lois said blithely, ignoring the startled way the accountant looked at Clark. Clark just gave a tiny smile and shook his head at the smirk she cast at him.
Perry just sighed and waved her out. Lane-Kent and White family dynamics weren’t exactly common knowledge outside of City and International, and knowing Lois, she was enjoying causing a stir as much as she enjoyed escaping the meeting. To get things back on track, Perry snapped out, “Well? It’s not like Lane doesn’t have someone to take notes for her. You were saying, Kelly?”
When Sebast pictured a California bassist, he tended to think surfer boy. Golden tan, longish blonde hair, dreamy eyes. And maybe, if San Francisco lived up to its reputation, at least bi. The extra ‘b’ in Robb, that seemed to hint at an artistic, iconoclastic personality. A guy could dream, right?
Of course, they were talking about someone who was interested in signing up with a Goth band. California Goths were a little different, a little breezier and less angsty than their East Coast counterparts, more stylish in some ways. Maybe this Robb was someone tall and graceful and just a little otherworldly, one of those fey boys who looked like they’d just stepped out of a Goth remake of Lord of the Rings.
But when they got back to the hotel, the guy standing with Morgan was none of those. Sebast had been expecting the typical California body-obsession to give their new bassist the kind of body you could only get from hours at the gym, but this guy was a little on the husky side instead. He looked more like emo than Goth, too, with the chunk of his dark hair that fell over his eyes dyed bright green. Then again, his clothes had enough leather, buckles, and chains to fit in with any of the above, though the frayed jeans and motorcycle boots made Sebast think punk. He also had a safety pin through his right ear lobe, which added to the punk impression.
To Sebast, it all sort of said ‘wannabe’, like the guy didn’t have his own sense of style and just borrowed from the crowd he happened to be running with. And this tour had bands from several genres in the alt spectrum. Sebast wasn’t sure what to make of him; adding new people to a band was like some weird kind of marriage. It didn’t matter how talented they were if you couldn’t stand living in a tour bus with them for half the year.
Kala, of course, stepped forward and held out her hand, smiling that winning smile of hers. “Hi, I’m Kala,” she said.
“Hi,” Robb said, and there was a hint of shyness in his pleased smile. He took her hand and shook it, and Sebast had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. He’d seen that look on many guys’ faces when Kala turned her full-charisma-wattage grin on them. Another one who fell in love at first sight.
Kala saw it too, because she decided to shut it down right away. Directing him to each of the boys accompanying her, she said, “This is Sebast, my co-singer and my best friend. And this is Dustin, my boyfriend.”
To his credit, Dustin didn’t bat an eyelash. Sebast hadn’t intended to summon him for a rebound hookup; first and foremost, he was a good friend, and Kala needed as many of those as she could get right now. But then, Sebast figured Dustin wouldn’t mind getting promoted to boyfriend within an hour of landing in California. He and Kala had never really fallen out of love, anyway, and if she had to have a boyfriend, at least Sebast approved of Dustin.
Dustin just shook Robb’s hand with a friendly smile and a polite, “Nice to meet you.” The bassist smiled back, and Sebast had him pegged. Lonely, talented, shy, this Robb wanted very badly to part of a crowd, any crowd, cooler than he was. Luckily nobody in the band was a status-seeking snob, so as long as he could play the bass as well as Morgan said he could, he’d fit right in with no trouble.
By the time they got the instruments set up for a jam session, Dustin was talking with Robb and Morgan and Ned like he’d known them for years. “I met Kala when she was six,” he was telling Robb. “First time I saw her, she was running from her brother—he’s my best friend, now—who was chasing her around with a giant bullfrog he’d found somewhere. Muddy ankles and bossy attitude, that’s what I remember.”
Kala was scandalized. “Dustin! Don’t go telling little-kid stories to my band! That’s what I have Mom for.”
“Nah, Mom’s for bringing out the baby pictures,” Dustin teased, and Kala glared at him.
“Okay, children, let’s make some music,” Sebast said. “Robb, got a favorite song we all know?”
The new guy thought for a minute, and then said, “How ‘bout Strange Love?”
“Classic. I like it,” Kala said with a smile, and Morgan strummed a quick scale on his guitar.
An hour later, they’d playing through Strange Love twice, a couple others by Depeche Mode, Beautiful by Joydrop, Head Like a Hole by Nine Inch Nails, and Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division. Sebast nodded to Kala, excited but cautious. So far it was very promising, but now it was time for the acid test. “All right, how about one of ours?” he said. “Morgan, give him the bass line for Like Her.”
Sebast and Kala both held their breath. Robb wouldn’t have had a chance to practice unless he was really zealous about being prepared, and even then he couldn’t have known which song they might pick. He fumbled a bit, but caught onto it quickly, and he sounded damn good with Morgan’s guitar and Ned’s drums.
Kala looked at him and smiled. This spare and haunting song was one of the first they’d written, and she couldn’t help singing the first lines softly. Sebast took his cue, letting his voice rise to wrap around hers. The refrain relied on split-second timing, and in the final verse they sang counterpoint to each other, which was always a challenge. Their voices wove in and out of the instrumental accompaniment, and when the song ended Robb added a couple of grace notes that faded away softly.
Absolute silence, and all of them knew Robb was hired. He was good, really seriously good. And then Dustin said quietly, “Damn, I’ve got goosebumps now.”
They’d almost forgotten him, wrapped up in the music, and Kala laughed and hugged him. Sebast offered Robb his hand again. “You’re hired, mijo. Welcome to the band.”
* * *