Ziggy Ferias, the love of my life, the man I couldn’t live without, fidgeted for a moment with the laces of his high tops and then he let me have it. The truth. “You know I’m terrible at being direct sometimes. Sometimes it’s because feeling my way through things that could have multiple directions is the only way I can figure things out. Sometimes it’s because I feel like if I ask too directly I’ll jinx it.”
I swallowed. “Yeah, I understand that.”
“So it’s my fault if you thought in any way at all that I hadn’t been wishing and hoping and dreaming about something like this,” he held up his left hand, his ring finger angled prominently. “You do remember that Linn called ‘Candlelight’ the ‘cake-topper’ moment of the show, don’t you?”
“I don’t remember much of what Linn said other than I was ruining the show and your life.”
“No no, earlier. Back when we were first designing the show, and in those early rehearsals. I didn’t think my subconscious was being at all subtle, dear one.”
My brain squirmed inside my skull. “I do remember thinking it felt like you were… taking my name, being billed as Ziggy Moondog in South America. And I don’t mean taking as in stealing, I mean… you know what I mean.”
“And you knew what I meant.”
He nodded. “You made me the happiest man on Earth when you proposed in front of that jewelry shop. Don’t ever think otherwise. Please.” The way he said please had real weight behind it, like if I thought otherwise I was going to really hurt him.
I was really hurting him. “You’re saying… I… read your hints correctly. Even if I didn’t really realize it at the time.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. You had it all figured out, you just didn’t realize it. And I know right now you think you’ve got it all figured out, but you don’t.”
“What you’re saying makes sense… but I can’t just… forget everything.” I pressed my fist against my forehead. My ideas still had a grip on my mind. I had evidence, didn’t I, that Carynne and Barrett were in on it, too?
He was focused on the proposal itself. “You forget that your proposal gave me every possible out. Including that you even proposed only you getting a ring.”
I had forgotten about that. I had completely blocked it out of my mind. But now that Ziggy mentioned it, I remembered big time. “Oh. Yeah.” Reality was shifting uncomfortably under me, but if it was closer to a true reality and not my flimsy house of cards, that was probably a good thing.
Still uncomfortable, though. My brain didn’t want to let go of the idea that it was all a conspiracy.
“Daron, when you trust yourself, you get it right. When you trust yourself, and you trust me, you get us right. But when you’re fucked up with substances, you can’t trust yourself. You can’t even trust yourself to get the facts right.”
That sounded like a sensible thing. But the fact was part of me was thinking that Ziggy was always good at making things sound sensible if they were good for him, even if they were bad for everyone else. But I wanted to believe that wasn’t what was going on here.
I tried arguing one more time for my interpretation. “Did Barrett tell you the tour dates for Japan?”
Ziggy looked at me curiously. “Did he tell you?”
“Um, not exactly. I just…feel really trapped by how fast things are moving with you when I…” Don’t want to do this anymore… “…need time to heal.”
“I know you do, dear one.” He kissed my fingers. “Those dates are for next year.”
Next year. He was right. I hadn’t heard any actual dates, just the cities. The ground under my delusions continued to crumble away.
But I still hadn’t told him the other thing I’d realized. I swallowed. “There’s one more thing.”
“You can tell me,” he said earnestly, if automatically.
I paused. “This might hurt to hear.”
“That’s okay, dear one. All the more reason for you to say it.”
Okay. I took one more deep breath before launching into, “I hate this record. I hate these songs.”
His expression didn’t change the slightest bit, which was how I knew he was trying very hard not to show me what he was feeling.
“I’ve tried really hard to like them. And they’re not bad! I’m not saying that. They’re very good at being what they are.”
He let a tiny smirk show at that.
“I just hate playing them.” My voice started to shake. “Getting on the stage feels like pulling teeth. I resent that immensely. I hate doing this. And I hate every moment of hating it, if that makes sense.”
“That makes sense, dear one.” My fingers were still in his. “But I want you to consider that maybe now isn’t the best moment to make any decisions about that.”
“This isn’t a… decision. It’s how I feel.”
“I know. But maybe a large part of feeling like getting on stage is as bad as dental work has to do with the fact that physically you’re struggling.”
“And maybe it’s to do with the fact that this really isn’t what I want.” A bubble of hysterical crying tried to come up and burst and I clamped it down by gritting my teeth and shutting my eyes. “I know you think I’m a lunatic right now but this isn’t about that. This is something I’ve been too distracted by all the injuries and illnesses to realize, or I would’ve realized it sooner.”
“Okay,” he said gently. He was clearly humoring me, but I decided being humored was all right. “Okay.”
Sitting on my butt on hard wooden planks all night was starting to take a toll. I was achy and exhausted and dehydrated, as well as out of my mind. And although I couldn’t face facing everyone, I was ready to get out of the water tower all of a sudden. “What now?”
“Now, we should get out of here, if you’re ready,” he said, as if it really was up to me.
“Any chance the two of us can sneak out of here and go somewhere nice and quiet on our own?”
He patted the pockets of the jacket. “Feels like you’ve got enough per diem cash in here to get us a hotel room down the street at least. The question is whether we can make it there without being seen.”
“You’d really do that? Run away with me? Even though I’m out of my mind?”
He leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. “If you can put up with my crazy, I can put up with your crazy. If this experience has taught me anything it’s that keeping my distance wasn’t good for either of our mental healths in the end.”
“If we get caught while sneaking out, that’s going to be terrible,” I said. Worse than just facing everyone.
“Our other option is climb back down into your room and tell everyone we’re not coming out for a couple of days?”
Reality rushed in, painfully sudden. “Oh, shit. Did I miss saying goodbye to the crew and band?”
“No. Everyone’s hanging tight. We’ve got our own plane, after all. It wasn’t like they were all jetting off in different directions. Not until we reach the States.”
I could be really blunt when I was out of my mind. “It’s just that the last time this happened–except when it was you–a lot of the guys were upset by it.”
“Were they?” He seemed surprised.
“Yeah. Next time I saw Louis I realized it. I… I should at least say thanks to everyone in the band.”
“Well, if you’re willing to get on the plane in the first place, you’ll have like eleven hours to do it.”
My cheeks felt hot just thinking about having to face everyone after I’d made them freak out all night while I was missing. Somehow the fact that Ziggy had been willing to sneak away with me made me feel slightly better, though.
He said one important thing before we climbed out of the tank, and even though I was out of my mind I didn’t forget it: “Our relationship is more important to me than my career.”
“But if your career tanks, you’ll be miserable, and our relationship will suffer,” I said.
“That’s probably true. But I was trying to say something reassuring and nice.” He frowned. “And the thing is… I’m not the only one like that. I think that’s what you’re trying to say.”
“I think you’re trying to speak for both of us again, but you’re probably right.”
He kissed me again, this time on the temple. “Let’s get you healthy. You have to do that before any career moves or relationship changes anyway.”
“Yeah. True.” That much made sense. “I have another confession to make. Part of the reason I’m hiding is I’m terrified of rehab. Ziggy, it’ll break me.”
He took my hand again and kissed my ring. “What do you think happens during rehab?”
“You told me you were imprisoned with a bunch of strangers and forced to talk about yourself every day in front of them.”
His lips quirked in a not-quite smile. “And you can’t imagine a worse torture.”
He squeezed my fingers gently. “There are other kinds of rehab. Remember Chris talked about the local program he’s involved with, where it’s one-on-one counseling and friends-and-family training?”
I had forgotten about that. I had completely blocked it out of my mind. But now that Ziggy mentioned it, I remembered. “Oh.” Another card in my flimsy, conspiracy-theory house of cards fell down. Maybe that was what gave me the will to really start doubting my theory. A plain fact I used to know had been forgotten. Or maybe it was that I was finally starting to have a small enough amount of valium and other things in my system that a small amount of sense could leak in.
“I’m sure Chris would be happy to start talking to you as soon as you’re ready,” Ziggy pointed out. “Maybe even as soon as we get downstairs.”
“Maybe after a nap?” I suggested.
“God, ye-e-e-s-s-s.” He drew the word out with a yawn. “Let’s get in bed. I’ll tell everyone you’re safe. That’s all they need to know. Then they can leave us alone for a couple of hours.”
“Sounds like a plan.” I crawled after him on the planks, onto the metal rungs that led to the doorway. My foot slipped and I had a moment of panic, but I didn’t fall into the water. Thank god. I feared that would have required a much more complicated rescue operation than my lover, my singer, my partner just talking me down off a ledge.
(Hey guys, I think that might’ve been the end of book 11. We’ll see how I feel next week. -ctan)