Maeve cleared her throat. “Um, Duke?” No response. “Duke?”
She was about to repeat herself when his delayed reaction occurred. His eyes widened, and his whole body seemed to jerk away from her as he turned, like a cat taken by surprise. She flinched. She hoped that she hadn’t set him off again.
“What?” he asked, breathlessly. He looked like he was bracing himself for something, and she had a feeling that she knew what.
Again, she toyed with the idea of approaching him. It probably wouldn’t be a repeat of earlier, given that she wouldn’t be completely blindsiding him, but she didn’t want to take the chance. “We’re ready for the sound check,” she said. “Everything is pretty much ready to go.”
He blinked at her, and then nodded. “Okay. I’ll be out in a minute. Thank you for letting me know.”
“Anything for a friend,” she said. She gave him what she hoped came across as a warm smile.
The door was halfway closed when he spoke. “Wait! Maeve!”
She caught it with her foot and poked her head through the gap. “Yes?”
He had stepped away from the mirror and was leaning against the wall, hands behind his back. “Can I talk to you for a second, while we’re in private?”
Remembering what had happened earlier, she hesitated. She didn’t want to put herself in a situation where she couldn’t defend herself. Then again, those were extenuating circumstances, and Duke wasn’t the kind of person to hurt someone he knew couldn’t fight back. Not without permission, at least.
But she was tired of keeping secrets. “It’s not that I don’t trust you,” she said, “but can it wait until later? We need to do the sound check.”
For a moment, he looked like he was going to shout at her, but it vanished. He slumped. “Okay,” he said. He followed her out of the dressing room, completely silent. The urge to look behind her was overwhelming, but she resisted.
Joanna was pounding on her drum kit as they walked back onstage. Without missing a literal beat, she looked up at them and tossed her head toward the front. The microphone stand had been set up already and her guitar was resting on a chair, being “guarded” by Cooper.
As she lifted the strap over her head, Cooper leaned over to her. “This is gonna sound like a dumb question,” he whispered, “but is he alright? He doesn’t look as mad, but he looks more agitated than before.”
“I’m not sure. He was having a staring contest with his reflection when I was in the dressing room.”
“Sounds like a ‘no’ to me.”
She picked up an amp cable for her guitar, plugging one end into her guitar and the other end into the amp, she switched it on. She gave a string an experimental pluck. No sound came from the amplifier. She twisted one of the guitar’s volume knobs and tried again. Still no sound.
She turned back toward the amplifier and frowned. The reason it hadn’t made any sound was because it was off; it hadn’t even been plugged in. With a sigh, she removed the other end from her guitar and followed the cord back to the nearest socket. It appeared to have been pulled out by accident. She plugged it back in, and the red light near the power knob of the amplifier blinked on.
There was a second plug that had been pulled out. She couldn’t see where it went, but she figured that she might save someone some time later. She inserted it into the socket.
The room was suddenly filled with the ungodly howl of microphone feedback, knocking her onto her rear and making everyone wince and cover their ears. She cursed under her breath, realizing that it went to one of Duke’s speakers. She jerked it back out, and the sound ceased. Everyone quickly recovered.
Everyone except Duke. He was on his knees, covering his ears and shaking so much that it looked like he was in serious pain.
“Duke?” she heard Cooper ask. He didn’t respond.
Lifting her guitar strap over her head, she let the instrument fall to the ground as she jumped up and ran towards him. The rest of the band followed suit, Joanna even sliding to a halt on her knees.
“Duke,” she said. “Duke, look at me.” When he didn’t comply, she took his chin in her hands. His eyes were wide and the color had drained from his face. “It’s going to be okay. Please, calm down.” She turned to the others. “Dressing room. Right now.”
Maeve nodded, watching as Joanna helped him to his feet. They followed as she carefully guided him offstage and back into the small room, Cooper closing the door behind them. She sat him on the couch.
Sextus crossed his arms, a worried expression darkening his face. “What the bloody hell just happened?” he asked. He looked at Maeve. “Did you say something to him?”
She shrugged, but Cooper elbowed him. “Leave her alone. She’s been through enough today.”
“Sorry. Looks like the beginning of a panic attack to me.”
“I’m sorry,” Duke whimpered. He was shaking his head back and forth. “This is my fault. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I’m sorry I got mad, I’m sorry that—”
Joanna put her hand on his shoulder. “Shh. It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not! I lied about everything, I’m a liar, I’m a liar and you’re mad and you hate me—” He stood up, but began to sway. Joanna grabbed his shoulders and sat him back down.
“We’re not mad, mate,” Sextus said. “We’re just worried. You’re our friend, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Duke stared at him. He pulled his knees up to his chin. “Please don’t put me in a hospital,” he said.
“You’re not going to the hospital unless you want to go to the hospital,” Joanna said. “Don’t worry.”
Cooper and Sextus looked at each other. “Hospital?”
“Should I tell them?” Maeve asked Joanna.
“Ask him yourself,” she said with a shrug.
She sat next to him. “Duke, can I show them the letter?”
Without looking, he pulled the crumpled-up note from his pocket. “Thank you.” She beckoned the two men off to the side. After smoothing the note out, she passed it to Sextus. Cooper read over his shoulder. She watched as their faces darkened.
“Well, shit,” Cooper muttered.
“Took the words right out of my mouth.” Sextus’s voice was low. “We have to take him to the ER. We can’t just leave him like this.”
“But what if that just upsets him more? Then we’ll have an even bigger problem on our hands.”
“And what about the show?” Cooper asked. “I hate to sound shallow, but we’ve got an obligation to fulfill in about fifteen minutes that’ll pay next month’s rent.”
Maeve sighed. Why couldn’t these things be simple? What do they decide to do? Please return to the top of the page to vote on what happens next!