The whole world's racing by
And no words can describe how this feels inside
You need to be here, you need to be here with me
They come and go so fast, these moments never last
So you need to be here, you need to be here with me
soundtrack: You Need to be Here ~ Hoobastank
Wildcat Stadium - Benefit for Performing Arts, 8:42PM
Pacing between the stacks of equipment, Cooper watched Storm Warning as they moved into the last set. If they hadn't booked the benefit concert months ago and featured Storm Warning as the opening act Cooper would have found another band. Tyler's performance was lackluster. Shaun avoided eye contact with Stevie. The energy in their music was gone; they were doing nothing more than phoning it in and even that sucked. "Everything all right Coop?" Slim had walked up quietly behind him.
He turned to Slim, shrugged, trying to mask the unease he felt and glanced back at the press door for the hundredth time. "Yeah...you haven't seen Beth, have you?"
"Not since you asked ten minutes ago."
Choosing to indulge Slim's sarcasm he muttered, "She's probably waiting until Storm Warning finishes." Cooper looked down at the stage once more his face drawn tightly as he stood with his arms folded.
"Probably...you still thinking about touring again?" Slim asked him, his tone casual but he watched him carefully. On edge, distracted, Cooper continued to impatiently stride around, all the while shooting glances back at the door.
"I've got some details I need to work out before that's going to happen but yes, I am."
They both watched as Stevie rose from behind her kit and waved to the crowd as she joined the other two for a bow before filing off the stage behind Shaun and toward the clubhouse doors. "Any chance Stevie would be one of those details?"
Tyler briefly, and without much interest, acknowledged the benefit performance crowd again and strode offstage in the other direction without a backwards glance. "Yes she is," Cooper agreed, thoughtfully watching Tyler.
"All right," Slim remarked, "then we need to address it soon. I'll get in front of it. If things go sideways with them, and I have no doubt they will, we need to be prepared." Briefly resting his hand on Coop's shoulder, Slim strode away and began barking orders at the crew.
Wanting to move away from the chaos, Cooper stepped out onto the balcony that led to the catwalk that would take them onstage. Absorbed in his thoughts, he jumped, startled, as someone lightly stroked his back. Beth pulled back, startled herself and apologized, "Sorry! I thought you were expecting me."
He drew a long breath of relief, slid his arm around her waist and smiled down into her eyes. She didn't want to be here, not with Stevie in the same venue, and it had taken a good deal of effort on his part to cajole and seduce a promise from her. He'd told himself she'd keep that promise, but as hours dragged by, he'd begun to worry. They had to start rebuilding trust. This benefit performance, close to home, was supposed to be that new beginning for both of them. "You're a couple of hours late. What happened? Did they give you trouble out front?"
"Just waiting for the main event, that's all." She touched his mouth with her fingertips, her expression serious, uncertain, and said to him, "You really didn’t think I’d stand you up, did you?"
“It crossed my mind,” Cooper admitted.
Beth’s attention drifted away from him toward the door that Stevie just exited. They exchanged a wary glance until Stevie abruptly turned and walked out, Beth's eyes following the direction Stevie had gone. “Hey,” he warned her, his voice gentle but his grip on her shoulders hard. “Let it go. It’s over. We’re not looking back. Fuck the past; that was our deal. I don’t want you thinking about anybody but me tonight. Got it?”
For a heartbeat she didn’t respond, and then she smiled and slowly ran her hand down his bare arm. “Then get out there and make sure I don’t.”
"Let's do this," Heydon's voice cut into the moment and Cooper looked up. The rest of the band stood waiting for him to take the lead, looking to him the way they always did to set the pace. Danny drummed absently on his thighs, Aidan waited calmly with a half grin, and Heydon, still seemingly bitter over what Coop could only imagine was resentment for the way things had gone down. But no matter what their differences were off stage, when they performed they were one cohesive unit.
Adrenaline pumped furiously through him; that same rush, the amped up electricity moving him forward with confidence as the legendary rock monster prepared to take the arena.
Halfway into the performance Cooper paused. His shirt clung to him, damp from sweat. Slowly and purposefully Coop pulled it up and over his head eliciting screams from the girls in the audience. The last remnants of winter had melted away and the early spring air felt great against his skin. He bent down, grinning at the girls in front as he reached out and clasped their hands briefly. Even the slightest attention from him had them all believing, fantasizing that he would notice them, take them back stage, each one wanting the world to know she was the one he wanted.
One of them, a girl with ample breasts, followed suit and removed her top and tossed it to him. Laughing, Cooper picked it up, lifting it to his face and inhaling deeply before wiping his face and body with it and tossed it back to her with a seductive smile and a wink. The girl, in turn, looked around proudly. She had been singled out and there was no doubt she would linger after the show hoping to catch his eye again.
Cooper looked back at the band. Walking over to Heydon, he leaned in and said something that caused Heydon to smile as he glanced toward the girls in front. In the next moment Cooper's guitar sang, a loud frenetic wail that was soon joined by Heydon's as well as Aidan's hard driving bass line. This was what it was all about; after all the years they had been together, despite their differences of opinion, when Mercury Rising took the stage they were a well oiled machine.
Cooper felt more alive than he had in ages. He was doing what he loved, performing on stage, and the adrenaline, that natural high fueled him. It was a part of who and what he was. He had already made up his mind that he needed it, wanted it, and with Beth's blessing he planned to make that happen. Ever since the beginning, with Julia, with Stevie, with all the women who blew in and out of his life, it all lead to this moment, where he was now. This benefit performance was just the beginning.
Strutting around the stage, giving it everything in his impressive arsenal, Cooper put on a show for his girl who stood by the back of the stage and watched him, waited for him, wanted him and supported him; it was what he dreamed of.
Finishing the last song in the set, they took their bows and ran off the stage. "I hope that performance met with your approval," his eyes were lit with the energy and passion he took from the music as he smiled down at Beth.
He was dripping with sweat now, and her skin glowed with the heat, fever hot against his as she brushed up against his body, shouting above the crowd and breathless. “You’re incredible! You’re so going to do this – you’re going to go on tour again! I want you to do it! Don’t tell me you won’t!”
"When have I said no to you baby,” he grinned sucking in the heat and the sexual energy, electric between them, and impulsively dove into what he’d been considering. “You're coming with me. I know what you want, and I’m taking care of that, but this is what I want. I want you with me, I want you there. You come with me."
Laughing, Beth stepped even closer and whispered in his ear. "I always do come with you."
Drawing a quick breath Cooper looked around before shifting his eyes back on her. "I've got one quick encore and a meet and greet upstairs. Wait for me and then we're getting out of here." He started toward the stage before looking back, happier than he had been in years, and caressed her cheek, "I love you baby."
As he turned once more, Cooper stopped suddenly hoping to avoid running straight into someone and the euphoria he felt moments ago left him as instantly as if he had been drenched with a bucket of ice water. The woman blocking him, standing in his way, looking directly at him – Julia. It couldn’t be. He staggered and fought for his balance, found it somehow and angrily confronted her, "Who the hell are you?"
NEXT CHAPTER: Passages 16