Picture a hotel suite, with real potted palms in the corners, and champagne on ice, crowded with people in various forms of finery–you know, some dressed up, some dressed down, because it’s all about establishing cred. It looks like a hundred other music biz after parties, and when Sarah stumbles into me as if she’s drunk–but isn’t–and hooks Ziggy with the other arm to say into both our ears “Run interference for me, will you? The tall one with the chain.”–it isn’t even the first time we’ve done this for her.
Just the first time tonight. Ziggy pulls her against the wall between us and pretends to give her a hickey–her laugh is high and piercing, because Ziggy’s pretend-hickeys tickle like a motherfucker. My hand is on her stomach, then her hip–trying to look possessive–but all I can think is how rough the rhinestones embedded in her clothes feel under my palm.
“Let’s get her out of here,” I say into his ear.
“Good idea,” he agrees, and we start to maneuver her deeper into the room. Yes, deeper in, because we know we can go through the connecting room, around the corner, and out into the hallway without having to pass Mr. Tall and Chain. Because we’ve been here before.
Ziggy, as usual, is the one who’ll actually say the things that I’m only thinking. After we’ve tiptoed through one of the bedrooms (where the bed was in vigorous use–no, I didn’t see who) and out another doorway: “This isn’t the first time we’ve snuck out the side door to that suite.” He sails down the deserted stretch of hallway and pushes the elevator button.
“It isn’t?” Sarah asks. She ducks behind the two of us so people spilling out in the hall from the party can’t see her. “Shit, every other elevator alcove has, like, a giant urn to hide behind or something, but not this one.”
Ziggy laughs suddenly. “That might be my fault.”
“How is that your fault?”
“Once upon a time, a long long time ago, the band stayed here.”
“Our very first trip to LA, actually,” I feel compelled to add.
“And I,” Ziggy says, with a gesture toward the blank section of wall as if its a newly finished masterpiece. Come to think of it, the wallpaper doesn’t align properly there. “I had a fucking rock star tantrum, and Daron here had to…” He changes what he was going to say. Talk me down, probably. We don’t invoke suicide lightly, even now. “Daron was there when I needed him.”
I’ve never heard him describe that night like that before. The elevator comes and Sarah darts in, the two of us hurrying after her. Ziggy pushes the button for the mezzanine but doesn’t explain that he’s got grander ideas than just sneaking her back to our room to watch cable and eat room service–because Ziggy’s always got grander ideas. He’s busy explaining something else. “And I fell in love with him.”
“No shit,” Sarah says. “I thought you said it was love at first sight, though?”
“If you only fall in love with a person once, it’s not going to last,” Ziggy says sagely. “The big, long-term, forever-and-ever ones, you fall for them over and over.”
“Mm-hm.” She leans against the wall of the elevator, and despite the fact most of what she’s wearing is made of suede and has fringe and even those rhinestones I mentioned, she looks much more like she just walked off a fashion runway in Milan than off a cowgirl ranch. She’s flush with success–a show at the Hollywood Bowl, I think? Somewhere big. (We didn’t actually go to the show, just swooped into town for other business. Sarah’s party is a bonus.)
Ziggy sends a quick page as the elevator descends, and then we get out onto a quiet floor of meeting rooms. Sarah finally asks, “Where are you taking me?”
“On the anti-paparazzi route,” is all he says, ducking into a huge and empty ballroom, bare tables stacked in one corner. We skirt around the half-assembled dance floor and through the back door into the service hallway. Ziggy leads us through the maze and finally out through the deserted catering kitchen’s loading dock, where Tony has a limo waiting.
We pile in. “Almost caught me by surprise,” Tony says, but doesn’t say more about it. “You want me to just drive? Or should I head for the pie shop in Laurel Canyon?”
“They’re closed by now,” I tell him. “What about the taco stand in Silver Lake. You know the one I mean?”
“I think it’s in Los Feliz, actually, but yeah, I got you. Tongue coming up.” He gives me an ironic wink as he raises the smoked glass divider between him and us. Ironic because that could be such an innuendo, except he knows perfectly well that me, Ziggy, and Sarah are not about to have a threesome.
“You’re taking me to get tongue tacos? I thought you were kidding about those.” Sarah leans back against the seat and kicks off her rhinestone studded boots. “I would’ve changed clothes. These are itchy as hell.”
I lean against her. “I’ve got a change of clothes in the trunk.”
Ziggy lies across the seat opposite us. He’s wearing exactly one rhinestone, like a beauty mark beside one eye, and otherwise is only shining at 50% capacity, which is normal for him when being seen in public but not performing. Hair and eyes done but no lipstick, wearing plain jeans under his colorful, oversize shirt.
I like him with no lipstick because then he tastes like himself. He’s grinning. “That’s also the hotel suite where Lacey Montaigne OD’d, isn’t it?”
Lacey. Wow. We haven’t talked about her in a long time. “I’m sure she’s not the only one,” I add. That’s one of the go-to hotels for the rich and famous to fuck themselves up in, has been for decades, and that’s just how it is.
“So you were a regular enfant terrible,” she says, bringing the story back to Ziggy’s tantrum. “Trashing hotels at the first opportunity?”
“Not as such but…” He stretches like a cat, all elongating spine and limbs. “I was still figuring out my stage persona and where that persona ended and the day-to-day me began. Or, well, I hadn’t yet figured out that I needed to figure that out.”
“Did going to India help?” she wants to know. “Is that what they mean when they say people go to ‘find themselves’?”
“Um… yes and no,” Ziggy says, which is such a typical Ziggy thing to say that I snort. “I grew up eventually. It wasn’t just one thing that did it.”
“I wondered. Because you were pretty deep in the self-indulgent celebrity thing after you got back.” She pats me as if I need soothing, but I don’t, because I know how it turned out, of course. “I almost didn’t want to be friends with you. But when you weren’t surrounded by a sycophantic entourage, we’re so simpatico.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I got wrapped up in some pretty self-destructive shit. Daron coming back burst that bubble, though, thankfully.”
“He’s so grounding.” She settles against me. “Something about him is grounding, isn’t it?”
“Oh, definitely,” Ziggy agrees. “So who was the guy with the chain? Anyone important?”
“I hope not. I think he runs a club or something? Poor guy. He’s probably used to getting his way.” Her chuckle is musical. “And here I am being kidnapped by the two legendary masters of disappearance.”
That startles a laugh out of Ziggy. “So you’ve heard?”
“Barrett complains about you sometimes and he let it slip,” she says. Hopefully he didn’t tell her about that time in Barcelona, but whatever. I’m not going to bring it up. “Speaking of which–”
“I’m sure Tony’s already messaged Ahmad,” Sarah’s head of security, “or Barrett himself. I mean, yeah, we disappear sometimes, but we don’t like for people to worry. We always tell Tony where we’re going.”
“Almost always,” I say under my breath. Hey, we’re not perfect. But us running off on our own has become a regular thing. It’s all about picking when and where. Generally the main thing is to do it when we’re not in immediate danger of being stampeded by fans or stalked by the press. When the opportunity comes up, well, sometimes you just have to grab it. “It’s just as well we left before we ran into any of my other least favorite people.”
“Oh, didn’t you hear?” Sarah sits up suddenly, dislodging me. “Mills is ‘no longer with the company.'”
That shocks me right into sitting up, too. “Really?”
“Really. He’s supposedly going into artist management, but the scuttlebutt is that he was strongly encouraged to take early retirement.”
Ziggy does not sit up. He lies back and puts his boots up on the window. “Wonder what he did to deserve that. Or who he crossed.”
“Or if any of it had to do with all three of our favorite ex-managers, Digger, Digger, and Digger?” I ask. It’s been a while.
“Patty did sort of imply when she first took over A&R that Mills had been cooking the books beyond what was acceptable,” Ziggy says. Probably why she was so adamant the lawsuits had to be settled out of court. Too much of BNC’s dirty laundry would have come out. “There was always that question of the tour support money we supposedly never got, stuff like that.”
“Stuff Mills could get away with before a multinational bought them and did their due diligence, maybe?” Sarah hmmms. “There aren’t a lot of reasons they run you out of this town on a rail. I’d put money on a sex scandal of some kind.”
“Ew.” I mean, seriously, ick. “Let’s talk about someone else, please?”
“Oh God, did you see my mom tonight?” Sarah puts her hand on my knee. “If so, I’m so sorry. You know what she’s like.”
I chuckle. Sarah’s mom is a piece of work. “You know every single time I see her she says the same exact thing to me.”
“I know. I know. But at least she says it kind of like a joke now, right?”
“She does, but you can tell she’s still really steamed about it.” I couldn’t really fault her for that. By Mrs. Rogala’s reckoning, my father had stolen somewhere around $400,000 from her daughter. She had wanted her money back and for Digger to rot in jail, or at least one out of two. But the powers that be had encouraged her to take a settlement because you can’t get blood from a stone, and with his medical condition and a judge who was typically very lenient on white collar first offenders, Digger was unlikely to see jail time over it.
He’d paid her $40,000, issued a half-assed apology, and was barred from membership in the professional associations of artist management. I don’t know where he got the money from and I don’t want to know. We’ve had zero contact and it’s been blissful. Last we heard, he was living in a rundown place out near Palm Springs but that was a while back.
“So, what is it Mama Rogue always says to you?” Ziggy has either missed this or forgotten it.
Sarah and I simultaneously imitate her mom’s midwestern drawl, “Hey, where’s the forty grand?” Then we dissolve into laughter. In Sarah’s mother’s mind, if Digger could fork over $40,000, then I should be willing to do the same…? Just cuz?
“Oooh, oooh, you know what we should do?” she claps her hands together once with twisted glee. “You know what would shut her up forever because it would embarrass the hell out of her?”
“Next time you see her, actually hand over forty grand. ‘Oh, here you go, Mrs. R. Since you’ve been asking for it.’ She’ll absolutely die if you call her bluff.” Sarah grips her rhinestone-studded fringe and yanks it over her head, leaving her in a silky-looking tank top. “Would forty grand fit in one suitcase? God, let’s go to the bank and get the money out of my account right now.”
“I don’t think you can just get forty grand out of an ATM,” Ziggy points out.
“At midnight in LA? Sure you can. How else do all those cocaine deals go down?” Sarah laughs again, freely and easily. “Okay, fine, but next time. I’m serious.”
I pat her on the arm and she lies across my lap and lets me scritch her scalp with my right hand where the nails are grown out. “Moms are gonna mom. It’s okay. No need to go to extremes.”
“Think about it,” she says seriously. “You’d think she’d be over it by now.” Then she closes her eyes. “Oh my god, I love it when you do that.”
“I know. That’s why I do it.” I scritch her right into a power nap that lasts until we get to the taco stand. After the limo comes to a stop, Tony passes my overnight bag through the window and Sarah digs my denim jacket out. I’m in my leather one, and we all get tacos and probably don’t even get caught by long-lensed paparazzi, though if we do, that’ll be been fine, too. It’s funny. I’m not sure if it never occurred to the press that the truth might be that we’re all just friends, or if that’s just too boring to contemplate? When stories do appear, they usually assume “love triangle” or some John/Paul/Yoko situation, but none of the narratives fit particularly well? So mostly the tabloids have left us alone.
Mostly. I know better than to read them.
Once we’re back in the limo, Sarah asks, “Where to next?”
“How about the tattoo parlor?” I suggest. No way are we bringing her back to the hotel anytime soon. “I’ve been meaning to add to mine.”
“I wonder if we can find the same place,” Ziggy muses. He talks to Tony, they strategize for a few minutes, and then we’re off again. Tony’s on the car phone as we go.
We end up at a different shop from the place we went before, but it looks similar. This one offers a lot of piercing options, and Sarah talks seriously with the guy about the pros and cons of a belly button piercing–ultimately deciding against it.
Ziggy, meanwhile, wants a Moondog 3 rocket to match mine. “I bet we can talk Bart and Christian into getting them, too,” he says. “Someday.”
He gets his delicately framed by a crescent moon.
It’s well after two in the morning by the time it’s my turn under the needle. I also want the moon in the background, but I want the whole moon, the full moon. I’ve wanted it ever since that time in Tennessee, but it’s taken me a while to get around to it. Waiting for the right moment.
At three a.m., we leave lavish tips and promises of tickets to Sarah’s next show, and head back into the Hollywood night. In my mind we’re following the route we once did, he and I, on one of those nights when we fell in love with each other all over again, so long ago. We end up on a beach where the sand is cool in our toes among whispering pines, and then–because we’re hungry and morning is actually approaching–we’re the first people in the door at one of the Laurel Canyon places we like when it opens for breakfast. Tony does not argue when I tell him to come in with us: he knows better now.
And then, because no one wants to face morning rush hour traffic in LA after having been out all night, we head up the canyon to Remo’s place to crash. He and the family are out of town, but I let us in with my key. Sarah makes the obligatory joke about us “sleeping together.” Heh. It’s like a rule that one of us has to. Tony crashes on the couch while the three of us all climb into Remo’s rather gigantic bed together. I’m a little surprised to find myself in the center, but I’m certainly not complaining.
The last thing I hear before I drift to sleep is Sarah saying thank you for the kidnapping, and “Tongue tacos are the best.”
Yes, they are.
A NOTE FROM CTAN: Thank you for all the comments and well wishes about the end! Ten years is a long time, and it’s been really interesting to compare not just how Daron was doing at the start of the serial to where he ends up, but to realize how each of us has changed over those ten years in real time. I went from being a flat-broke self-publishing writer, deep in credit card debt and toiling in obscurity, to a “lifetime achievement” award-winning author in romance with a breakout mainstream hit (Slow Surrender) that wiped out my debt and put me on more comfortable financial footing.
In 2010, Adam Lambert was still in the celluloid closet, marriage equality was being fought hard around the country (and the world)–heck, even Johnny Weir was still in the closet when DGC began. Chaz Bono had yet to come out as trans. Sam Smith hadn’t begun their musical career yet. Frank Ocean hadn’t happened yet. Some folks have asked if I’ll keep commenting on issues around queerness in the public sphere now that DGC has wrapped? I’m sure that I will, and any future DGC stories, scenes, or books are undoubtedly going to carry those themes forward.
A couple of people have mentioned to me that they really miss hearing from Daron twice a week. I know. It’s hard when you get used to a presence–even when they’re only in the Internet, only a voice, only words–and then they’re not there anymore. I know a lot of folks are doing a re-read to ease the absence!
Daron’s still present for me, and I’m sorry I can’t share more of him right now. I’m just glad I was able to share him with you for so long. He’ll be back when he has more to tell. I’m not sure when or how exactly, but we haven’t heard the last from him, or the rest of his chosen family.
Thanks again, folks. You’ve given me the ride of a lifetime.