“Holy shit,” I muttered as our SUV from the airport pulled up outside the arena in Cincinnati.
“This is insane,” my brother Bonham, who also happened to be our drummer, added. His dark hair was a mess and if my parents hadn’t insisted we were related, I wouldn’t have believed we were. It was that way with all of my brothers.
“Right?” I smiled his way.
Logically we’d all known joining Courting Chaos on tour would mean playing arenas like this. Seeing it firsthand was something else altogether.
“Listen,” Mack, oldest brother to all of us and our manager, said before clearing his throat.
His movements were so similar to Bonham. As was his voice and coloring. Same dark hair. Same dark eyes. If I thought about it too long, it seemed even stranger that the four of them had come out looking like they were family yet there I was almost their opposite. They were tall while I wasn’t. They all had the dark hair and eyes while I had red hair and hazel eyes. It was weird.
“I know this is big,” Mack finally said. “Let’s not fuck it up.” Sage advice from a wise man. A thought that made me snicker. “We should get our things settled on the bus. I had the bags you packed before and our equipment brought here already, so we’re set there. Then we’ll have to meet the guys and do soundcheck.”
I let a small noise, something that sounded like and eep, escape from my mouth. I’d loved Courting Chaos’ music long before they’d hit it big and opened for Kissing Cinder. I’d gone to see them on that tour, too. More than that, they were who we wanted to be one day. Success wise.
My brothers had messed around with their instruments for years before I’d become part of Pushing Daisies. Actually, that wasn’t even their name back then. It had been something stupid like Dude Bros or another name that was equally ridiculous. It wasn’t until my brother Van Zant heard me singing one day that they’d lured me in. I never sang in front of anyone before that. Not even for fun. It wasn’t my thing. I would’ve been content to play my violin alone in a room forever, but once they’d made me part of their little group, I was all in.
“None of that, Daisy,” Mack cautioned. “Let’s at least try to pretend to be professional.”
“Yeah, Daisy,” Van Zant, twin to Bonham as well as being our bass player, said like we were in middle school. My brothers were ridiculous.
I grunted. “I’m nothing if not professional, but in private, I am absolutely allowed to vocalize my excitement. You should’ve gone to the concert with me. Courting Chaos fucking rocked plus I got to see Kissing Cinder.”
Daltrey, guitar player and second oldest brother and the only one my mom said held any resemblance to me, patted me on the shoulder. Apparently, we had the same smile otherwise, he was made from the same mold that produce the others. “She’ll be good.”
The scowl I gave him after that comment wasn’t going to do much to deter any further teasing from my brothers. I knew it. They knew it. It was how we worked.
“I’m just glad you know what you’re doing,” Daltrey continued but that was meant for our brother Mack, not for me.
“Was anyone else surprised as hell to find out that Mack does in fact know… well, anything?” Bonham continued.
Mack didn’t respond other than to raise his middle finger at our brothers. This was our normal. The guys gave each other shit and gave me shit. There was always shit going around.
“I just can’t believe our luck.” I shook my head. “Not that it’s a good kind of luck that the Hurricane’s drummer and lead singer were badly injured in a car accident, of course.”
“Of course,” Mack said, but the slight tilt of his lips meant that he really wanted to fuck with me. He wouldn’t because we’d arrived. But he wanted to.
The cheers from the crowd filled my ears as we got out of the SUV that had been sent for us. Each of us carried a single bag of personal items since Mack had shipped the majority of our things. There was no way to tell if those cheers were for us or because these Courting Chaos fans thought one of the guys from that band was inside the car. Probably more the latter than the former, but when we’d joined the tour last week, we did bring a small but energetic fanbase with us.
This tour would likely change all that. The crowd remained chattery as we passed by but the big excitement died down.
We walked toward a woman who didn’t look much older than me with dark hair pulled up into a very neat bun. But she was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. It was clear to me that she was headed straight for us.
“Hi, everybody. I’m Barrett Powell. Lawson’s personal assistant and all-around media wrangler. He’s in with the guys and wants me to get you all settled in.”
“We appreciate it,” Mack told her before introducing each of us.
I couldn’t stop grinning over the fact that there was another woman on the tour. That was never a given and mostly rare if you didn’t count the randoms that hung around or the occasional wife or girlfriend. At least in my experience. I desperately wanted us to get along because she could be my safe haven in the middle of the testosterone storm that came with living on a bus with four guys.
Barrett waved us to follow as she began to walk away. The sound of the crowd had started to interfere with us talking.
“Hey, guys,” I said to my brothers as we headed for the door. “Did you notice the dude in front? With the super blond hair? I swear I saw him in Chicago last weekend at our show.”
“Oh yeah,” Daltrey agreed. “I thought he looked familiar.”
“If he came all this way, maybe we should meet him. Like, can we do that?”
Barrett snorted. “Listen, you can pretty much do what you want. If you want that guy backstage, I’ll make it happen.”
“You’re like the all-powerful Oz,” I told her, keeping my eyes wide as if amazed. That got a loud laugh out of her. “I think we should,” I added.
“Oh. I’m going to like you,” she said, falling in step closer to me. “I’ll take care of it.”
Again, we didn’t have a fanbase the size of Courting Chaos’, given how big they’d become since touring with Kissing Cinder last year, but we’d had songs that were considered hits. We had albums out and had amassed a loyal fanbase. But if that guy had come to Cincinnati from Chicago, or wherever he was from, the least we could do was give him a good experience.
“So your instruments joined us yesterday,” Barrett told the five of us as we walked between buses. “They’re inside ready to set up for soundcheck. The guys are doing theirs now.” Then she stopped next to one of the buses. They all looked the same to me, but we’d soon be able to tell them apart. Or I hoped we would. “This is yours.” She pulled the door open then climbed the stairs. I followed closely behind.
“Honey, I’m home,” I called out only as loud as appropriate. But Barrett giggled.
“I like that,” she told me.
“We’re not even inside yet, Daisy,” Van told me.
“It’s a habit that I don’t intend to lose,” I said back. Then to Barrett, I explained, “I call that out every time I get on the bus because I want my brothers to know I’m here. So I don’t get scarred for life from seeing something I shouldn’t be seeing.”
Barrett laughed loudly, the sound bouncing around the bus. “That’s a great idea. I’m going to have to steal it.” When I glanced over at her, she added, “I also bus with a few guys.”
“Oh sure. Feel free.”
“OK.” She clapped her hands together, as if she wanted to make sure we were all paying attention. “How about we go meet the guys? You can leave your bags here if you want to.”
My heart galloped like a racehorse. We’d met other bands over the last three years, but I’d also loved Courting Chaos basically since they’d hit the airwaves.
As we passed the crowd again on the way toward the venue, Barrett fell in step beside me.
“No argument over who gets the big bed in the back of the bus?” she asked me. My brothers weren’t paying us any attention.
“No,” I told her. “I’m the youngest, the baby, and the only girl. They always give it to me.”
Her eyebrows rose in surprise. “That’s about the opposite of how I was thinking it’d go.” She stopped to pull open the venue door for me to step through then slid in behind me. The sound of drums took my excitement to the next level.
I snorted. “Yeah, me too. But I really think they don’t want me to know what they’re doing when I’m in bed. Best way to do that is to keep me separate. So they give me an actual room I’ll want to stay in.” I glanced over at her and lowered my voice. “I still always know.”
Barrett giggled as she entered the dark area that I knew led to the stage, the floor marked with glow tape so no one would miss a step and fall. The music grew louder and now added to it were voices bickering back and forth. I knew that sound well, too.
“Or you could sing the fucking lines,” one of the distinctly male voices said.
Someone chuckled into the microphone and replied, “I like mine better.”
Finally, we stepped on stage, which meant I’d know who was saying what. But this was the huge stage we’d be performing on that very night. My heart rate ticked up and my chest swelled. This was our break.
“Why do we have to do this so often?” Cross asked as he sat behind his drum kit.
He looked the same as when I’d seen them last year. Muscular, tall but we couldn’t see it because he was sitting. His hair was kept short and neat and his tattoos roped down one arm. The way he held his drumsticks, I knew they were an extension of his hands. It was like that with my violin.
Hot. Of course. They were all hot.
Ransom laughed. “Because you guys like to give me shit. If one of you would rather sing, have at it.”
Ransom had dark hair but it was a little floppy now compared to when I saw them in concert. And he was taller than he’d looked on stage. Of course, I didn’t have very good seats for that show.
The other three guys groaned, but I couldn’t help my smile. They sounded exactly like my brothers and me, though none of them gave me shit about singing. It was the bickering back and forth that felt familiar.
Booker, their bass player was maybe the tallest of them all. With long, lean muscles, dark brown hair and an armful of tattoos, I’d read he was also the quietest of the group. Suppose I’d find out on the tour.
Then there was Dixon. Looking at him caused this nervous tickle low in my belly. Not because I wanted him. No. He had a girlfriend anyway but he was the hottest of them all as far as I was concerned and I may have had a crush on him at one point. He had the darkest hair of the four guys and the kindest brown eyes. Again, all of this was opinion.
“Do any of you realize you have an audience?” a fifth man, not part of the band, asked as he strode out of the darkness in a white dress shirt and dress pants, sleeves rolled up like he was really getting to work at something.
My dad did that sometimes when he’d been at his practice too long or had a lot of patients left to see. Dad was an internist and he never left the office until the job was done. This man’s dark hair was short on the sides and the back but longer and wispy on top. The beard brushing his jaw looked more like he just hadn’t shaved in a couple of days than that of a person seriously growing a beard.
I didn’t know who this guy was, but stupid hot came to mind.
The four members of Courting Chaos all turned to us at the same time.
“Come on,” Barrett said quietly as she strode out onto the stage.
We did as she’d instructed, but after the third step, the bottom of my shoe caught and I stumbled and like the complete dork that I am, I tripped over my own feet. The only positive to this was that I didn’t fall flat on my face.
That was when I got my first proper glimpse at the size of the arena, it wasn’t only my stride that faltered. My breath caught in my throat and as much as I may have tried to hide it, this… this was a like a dream come true and the excitement of it all gave me an extra energy that I had nothing to do with.
“Hey, guys,” Barrett called all of their attention to her. “If you can refrain from bickering like a bunch of little girls for five seconds, you could meet your new opening act. Pushing Daisies.”
Cross came out from behind his kit while the other guys made their way toward us. At the same time, we moved farther out onto the stage that was about to become like a second home to us.
Barrett quickly went through Courting Chaos’ roster, as if we didn’t already know.
Mack took over for us. “I’m Mack, their manager. These are my brothers, Daltrey, guitar; Van Zant, bass; Bonham, drums; and our little sister Daisy, lead singer.”
I rolled my eyes so hard, it almost hurt. “You know,” I began, “‘sister’ works fine all on its own.”
Mack scrunched his eyebrows down like we hadn’t had this conversation a million times in my lifetime. “But you’re our little sister.”
“And you are pretty little,” Dixon agreed.
I just shook my head at the lot of them. I was twenty-one. Of age, as they say. Would I ever not be their little sister? My brothers chuckled around me which probably meant I never would be. I went through high school as Bonham and Van Thompson’s little sister. As if I didn’t have my own name.
“You know,” Van said, cutting in, “she still has a poster of Dixon on her bedroom wall at home.” The guys of Courting Chaos snickered, but the sound made it clear that they were trying not to.
My eyes widened as I turned to him. “What. In. The. Hell?” My teeth clenched so hard, my jaw ached. “Why would you tell him that?”
Van shrugged with a shit-eating grin on his stupid face. “Because you do.”
“It’s still on the wall because I moved out. Mom didn’t take it down.”
“You moved rooms,” he countered. “You didn’t leave the house.”
“I moved to the side house. It’s a completely different space.” I sighed. This wasn’t going to work. “You’re all dead to me.”
“See, Barrett?” Dixon said as he pulled her over to him and my heart dropped. I’d read Dixon had a girlfriend, they all did, but didn’t pay much attention to the name. It was a little crush. Totally normal. Now depending on how Barrett reacted, I might’ve lost my opportunity for female companionship on this tour. “Maybe you should put a poster of me on your wall.”
“Never,” she said immediately. “Your ego is big enough as it is.”
He kissed the tip of her nose in such a sweet move that I knew immediately that I wanted what they had some day. Relief also washed over me. It sure didn’t seem like Barrett cared even a little about this new information.
“So, fangirl,” Dixon said, but it took me a full ten seconds to realize he was talking to me. “You have excellent taste. You have a fantastic voice but do you also play any instruments?” Surprise ran through my body that he’d heard my voice. I’d assumed someone further up the chain made the decision to book us. To which he gave me a panty-dropping smile. “We listened to everything you have out when Lawson got you to replace Hurricane.”
“Thank you,” I told him.
“Which is awesome, by the way,” Booker told us. “That you were able to step in on short notice.”
“Yeah,” Ransom agreed. “We know you had to cancel some of your own shows.”
“Not a problem at all,” Mack replied.
Really, they were doing us a favor by bringing us on this tour. Canceling a few of our shows was an easy price to pay. We played regularly but this was the next level.
“Daisy plays everything,” Bonham told them, back to the original question.
Ransom cocked his head to the side. “Everything?”
I shook my head. It was as if suddenly my brothers’ only goal was to embarrass me. “I don’t play everything well. I dabble. I can play a little something on most instruments, but I only excel with my violin.”
“I can’t fucking wait to see that,” Cross told me. And just like that, we were all comfortable. As if we’d already known each other before stepping out onto this stage. “We all heard a violin on some of your tracks and were trying to figure it out until Barrett looked into it and said it was you.”
“It is. My violin teacher was pissed as hell that I joined these guys instead of applying to Julliard or any of the rest of the list of schools he saw in my future.”
Dixon took a step forward. “Let’s get back to this dabble in everything, fangirl.” He cocked his head to the side and looked me over as if I were an exhibit in a museum. I really didn’t like this nickname I’d gotten already. Sounded like nails on a chalkboard to me. “What does that mean exactly?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but Bonham spoke before I had the chance. “Literally. The girl can sit down to almost any instrument and play something by ear.” Then he shrugged. “Any standard instrument anyway. I don’t think we’ve tested with rare instrument.”
I groaned. “You make me sound like a side show freak,” I told him.
“I mean… ” Bonham let his voice trail off which earned him a light punch to his arm.
“Before this gets out of hand…” The stupid hot guy who had been on the other side of the stage but was now suddenly very close to us spoke up. “I’m Lawson. I attempt to wrangle these guys.” Barrett cleared her throat. “With Barrett’s help.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mack told him as they shook hands.
“OK, fangirl,” Dixon called out, but I held up a hand before he could go any further.
“Every time you call me ‘fangirl,’ I’m going to kick Van in the balls,” I told him. “We’re up to three right now.”
Dixon’s face blanched for the quickest second, then he shrugged. “They’re not my balls.”
Barrett smacked the back of his head. Dixon hadn’t even seen it coming but it made a nice whack sound that traveled through the empty arena. The place had great acoustics.
Van groaned. “That’s cold.” The rest of the guys laughed, though, so there was that at least.
“OK, Daisy,” Dixon said, though I had no illusion that this was the last I’d hear my new nickname. “Show us.”
“Show you what?” I asked.
“Hop on the drums. What can you play?”
Surprisingly, even as the lead singer of Pushing Daisies, I didn’t necessarily love the spotlight off stage. Though we were technically on stage. Still, I’d do this just to prove that I belonged.
“What do you want me to play?” I asked. “Something of yours?”
“You know our stuff?” Ransom asked.
I nodded. They didn’t get how this worked. Hell, I didn’t get how this worked and I lived it. “I’ve listened to it, so I can play it.”
“‘Ever After,’” Cross said before anyone else could make a suggestion. Of course he’d pick something off the newest album. That way I couldn’t have practiced for years.
“Am I playing alone?” I asked because that would’ve been weird.
“Nope,” Booker assured me. He stepped closer and swung his bass back around the front of him. Dixon did the same and Ransom grabbed a mic off one of the stands and turned. Cross just stood there with his arms over his chest.
But they were all looking at me.
I took a deep breath, letting my muscle memory or whatever the hell it was that allowed me to do this to kick in. Then I slid behind the drums and giggled. “Hang on,” I told them. “My feet don’t touch the floor. I can’t reach the foot pedal.”
The sound of male laugher surrounded me. Cross was over six feet tall and I was about five-foot-four. Big difference in stool height needed.
“Want some help?” Cross asked.
“I got it but you’ll have to fix it after.”
Once adjusted, I gave the guys a nod.
This particular song started abruptly. Everyone was playing all at the same time, so I counted it off and let the memory of the song control my hands. Ransom came in on the right beat and even to my own ear, it sounded almost the exact same as it had on the radio. As if Cross were behind the drums the entire time not me.
I could admit that once in a while it felt good to be out of my comfort zone. To play an instrument I didn’t know the way I did my violin. To walk in someone else’s shoes for a moment.
As the song came to an end, all four members of Courting Chaos were standing before me with their eyebrows raised and eyes wide, as if they couldn’t believe what they’d just witnessed. Yeah, yeah. I was impressive and all that. To me, it wasn’t that cool. It was just something I could always do.
“Holy shit,” Booker muttered.
“No kidding,” Dixon agreed. “If anything happens to Cross, we know who to go to.”
“Fuck off.” Cross gave him a shove.
“That was pretty badass,” Barrett told me. “I’d like to see you put these guys to shame on the other instruments, but they have some media to do.”
Thank you, I mouthed. She gave me a smile that said she understood. Out loud I said, “That’s totally cool. I mostly don’t like to play the bass anyway.”
“Oh, come on.” Booker threw his arms out in frustration.
“No, no, no,” I said quickly as I scooted out from behind the drums. “It’s not that I don’t like bass but look at it. It’s over half the size of me and it’s awkward as hell to hold.”
He looked from me to his bass then back. “You may have a point.”
“All right, guys,” Barrett called out like the gym teacher I’d had in middle school. “Let’s move. We have to get this done, let them do their soundcheck, then everybody needs to get ready for the show. We sold this show out the day after announcing that Pushing Daisies was taking Hurricane’s place.”
My heart did a cartwheel. Small but loyal fanbase for the win.
Soundcheck didn’t consist of much for us. The guys got everything adjusted the way they wanted. I tested the sound of my violin, though sadly, I was only using it for two of our songs this set. For our normal shows, we played much longer, but right now we were opening. Our setlist had been decided almost as soon as Mack told us about the offer.
Once we were done with that, the four of us, because who knew what Mack did while we played, quickly jogged out to the bus then came back to our dressing room. We should’ve remembered to bring our show bags in with us, but whatever.
The guys changed right there in the main room, much to my disgust. Though they were all careful not to bare anything I wouldn’t see in a bathing suit. That would’ve been one of the things to scar me for life. I changed in the shower area then did my makeup and hair.
I left my copper red hair down with loose curls that I shook out to look more wavy than anything else. Jeans, a black tank top with sequins for the lights to reflect off of, makeup done more heavily that I would’ve on any given normal day so that I didn’t wash out under the lights, and I was good to go.
Someone knocked on the door. “It’s go time.”
That was when a pack of wild antelope stampeded through my stomach. Usually, my nerves weren’t in full force before a show. But this was our first show with Courting Chaos. This was going to be a night to remember.
My brothers bounced on the balls of their feet. They did this every show. It was their way of amping up.
When the voice announced us, booming through the bass speakers like the voice of God, we all took a unified deep breath and jogged up the steps to the stage.
The roar of the crowd was deafening as I put my earpieces in.
Loved those things. They helped dampen the sound of the crowd while letting me hear myself, as well as the guys, so I knew when I needed to adjust.
This was the best thing about concerts. A percentage of the people in the audience had probably never heard of us before. If they had heard one of our songs, they likely didn’t know it was by us. By the end of the night, I’d have them eating out of our hands. Or that was the plan anyway.
Then we exploded.
Our first and last songs on the setlist were the ones with the most energy and were the biggest hits. With the exception of “Losing Myself in You,” which got a lot of radio play, but it was a ballad. We’d play that somewhere in the middle.
I moved across the stage like I owned it, singing the songs like they’d been written just for me, which they had been. My brothers were so focused on stage. Most of the time they didn’t notice the women upfront whisper-yelling into each other’s ears and giggling. At least not during the songs.
In between songs, I peppered in things about us, about joining the tour, about the next song coming up. Once in a while, one of my brothers would interject. Mostly Van. Then we slowed it down for a ballad.
When we played “Losing Myself in You,”the phone lights came out and so many people were singing along. The song was relatable about a woman (me) falling hard and fast and losing themselves in the guy. It could’ve applied in the reverse too. Everyone could sing this song.
Then it was back to high energy. Sweat trailed down my back and this workout was the reason I could eat almost whatever I wanted and hadn’t gained any weight in years. Being on stage burned about a billion calories every night.
Sadly, it came to an end with “Battleground” and our part of the night was over.
“Thank you all for making us feel so welcome,” I called out into the microphone in my hand. “We are Van, Bonham, Daltrey, and Daisy and we’re Pushing Daisies. You all are primed and ready. Courting Chaos is on their way to you. Have a great night!”
All four of my brothers surrounded me. We took a quick bow. Waved. Then scurried off stage.
“Jesus Christ, Daisy,” Van said as we moved quickly to the dressing room where I assumed Mack would either be or find us there. I’d encouraged a meet and greet tonight which meant we had to hurry. Mack had told me that we were fitting it in between our set and Courting Chaos’ because we had to get on the road as quickly as possible once the show was done. “You didn’t hold back tonight.”
“I never hold back,” I countered, almost offended at the idea that I would. Stage always got one hundred percent from me.
“True.” Daltrey flung his arm over my shoulder. The smell of sweat surrounded me and I had to shrug him off. It was just too hot for that. “But tonight felt like more.”
I didn’t have a reply, so off to the dressing room we went.
I downed an entire bottle of water as I toweled all the sweat off as Mack waited for us. He had been in the dressing room while we were on stage though I suspected he watched most of the show from the side. This was a big night for him, too.
There’d be no time for a shower before the meet and greet. It’d have to wait until after. Still, I did a quick swipe of deodorant under my arms while the guys changed shirts. Then we were following Mack out. He seemed to know where we were going.
“Oh thank god,” I muttered when we came through the door.
There were only maybe eight people in the room waiting to meet us and the air conditioner was sure working here. Though there were several extras including the stupid hot manager, Lawson. I had no idea why he was in there watching us, but I sure as hell didn’t mind looking at him. His gaze was like a warm hand skittering over my skin. There was comfort in knowing he was there.
First we met and took a picture with a couple of teenagers who gushed about how much they loved our music and how happy they were that we’d stepped in for Hurricane. It went like that through the people, who were then quickly ushered out the other side of the room, until we got to our superfan.
“I couldn’t believe it when that woman came out and said you’d requested to see me,” the guy told me. His blond hair was slightly matted from sweat. Though it was more how he said it that had me raising my eyebrow. Technically, he was correct. I had requested to meet him and he seemed all too excited about that fact.
“Well, I thought it only appropriate,” I explained. “Didn’t I see you at the Chicago show?”
“Yeah, absolutely.” His eyes never left me. “I’ve been to a ton of shows.”
“That’s awesome.” My gaze found Lawson across the room as he watched us with eyes narrowed and an intensity that I didn’t understand. “Uh, did you want to get a pic?”
My brothers had been listening the entire time and brought it in for the picture with Superfan on the end. Superfan took a big step down and pushed his way between Van and me. Van opened his mouth to object, but I pinched the side of his abs. No sense making a big deal right off the bat. Just take the picture and be done.
Superfan, whose name was lost to me, though I knew he’d said it, put his arm around me. Now, most fans slid their arm around my shoulder, which was convenient since I was usually a lot shorter than they were. Not Superfan. His hand first rested on my shoulder until he trailed it down my side to rest on my hip. Not technically my ass, but close enough on the side where he gripped me tightly.
The picture was taken. We were done. Until he asked, “Can I get one with just you, Daisy?”
Aw, shit. The no was on the tip of my tongue, but “Sure” came out instead.
Same process. The pic was taken and he was being ushered out. What bothered me the most was how familiar he acted with me. As if we’d known each other or known each other. But I wasn’t my brothers who, at various times, had fucked anything that moved. I hadn’t had so many partners that I wouldn’t remember this guy when face to face with him.
But it was done. Over. Time to move on.
“I need a shower,” I muttered as I too left the room.