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The Angels Had Guitars

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Buck didn’t recognize the guy unloading their gear from the trailer, and figured he was part of the local crew for the venue rather than one of their usual roadies.  For a while, he watched the bustle around him, sipping on his water bottle and just enjoying the hell out of not being cramped in the tour bus.  As he focused on the guy at the trailer once more, a frown pinched his brow, because the guy wasn’t being terribly careful with some of the instrument cases, just banging them down on the pavement.

He didn’t think everyone loved them; hell, he’d been around enough to know that most people just didn’t give a damn one way or the other.  But, he thought, people should at least have a little consideration for the equipment.

Frown deepening, Buck was just about to push off the wall he was holding up and give the guy a clue when it happened.  JD had mentioned just the night before that the locks on Greta’s case weren’t latching properly, and when the guy jerked the case out of the trailer, they failed.  The force of the jerk flipped the top of the case open and the electric guitar tumbled to the pavement.  Buck winced as he heard the crack of the neck snapping, the twang-twang-twang of the strings as they came away from the body.

“Oh, shit,” he heard the guy mutter, before glancing around, like he was making sure no one had seen.  Then he knelt down, as if he was planning to put Greta back into her case all broken.

And let JD find her like that, Buck thought, storming forward.  Too bad for you I was watchin’!  “Hey, what’re you doin’?” he shouted, reveling in the way the guy twitched and looked guilty.

“It just came open, man,” the guy said, clearly defensive.  “I didn’t touch it!”

“Yeah?” he retorted, getting right up in the guy’s face.  “Well, if you hadn’t been tossin’ the cases around like they were bales of hay, maybe it wouldn’t have!”

“Buck!”

He didn’t look away at Chris’s shout, just kept staring the guy down, and the guy blinked first, dropping his gaze to stare at his sneakers.

Chris came up next to him, and Buck turned away from the inept crew guy just in time to see Chris see Greta in pieces on the pavement.  “Shit.”

“Yeah.” He blew out a breath.  “Kid’s gonna be devastated.”

“Yep.”  Chris sighed softly.  “All right, you find JD, tell him what happened… Me and Ezra’ll take care of this.”  He took hold of the crew guy’s collar and started dragging him off.

“Hey!” the guy complained, his fingers scrabbling at Chris’s hand where it clenched in his tee-shirt.  “What the hell are you doin’?”

“I’m gettin’ you fired,” Chris replied with one of those grins that made him look like he was halfway to crazy.  “Ezra!” he called, and from where he stood talking with the head of their road set crew, Ezra straightened, eyebrows arched in silent question.  Chris jerked his head in a come here motion.

Knowing that between the two of them the guy wouldn’t know what hit him, Buck turned away and knelt to pick up Greta’s body.  He blew out a breath at the damage: her neck was snapped clean in half, the headstock dangling only by a couple of strings.  Luckily, though, it seemed like her cream-colored body was only a bit scuffed, not chipped.  He moved her carefully into her case, but didn’t make any effort to pretend she was anything but broken.

“Hey, Buck, what’re you… doin’…”

Buck twitched at the sound of JD’s voice right next to him. When he turned, JD was staring at Greta with her graceful neck broken, horror painted across his face.

“The guy unloadin’ the trailer wasn’t careful with her,” he said softly.  “Her case opened up and she went flyin’.”

JD swallowed heavily, but said nothing.

“We can get her repaired, JD,” he continued in the same tone, like JD was a skittish young horse.  “Might take some time, though…”  And it would, he knew; she wouldn’t be ready for tonight’s show. 

“I was gonna get a new case today,” JD said, his voice faint.  He was still staring down at Greta.  “Or… or maybe see if I could fix the latches…”

“The way that asshole was heaving things around, I’m not sure it woulda helped.”  Probably ain’t helpful for the kid to hear that, Buck thought, studying JD’s pale face, but it’s true.

JD dropped to his knees beside him, hitting the pavement with a thump that made Buck wince.  His hands hovered over Greta’s body, not quite touching.

The only thing he could think to say was also something the kid wouldn’t want to hear.  “JD… This kinda thing, it happens a lot…”

“Not to me!” JD said, the words thick with emotion.  “I was always so careful, putting her in her case after a show, not letting her just lean against the amp… I just… I thought she’d be okay,” he finished, his voice falling to almost nothing.  “I mean, until we got here today, and I could get a new case for her…”

“I know, son,” Buck replied quietly.  After a moment, he added, “I know a repair shop, run by a real good fella.  We take her there, she’ll be fixed up, good as new.”

JD scrubbed his cheek with the heel of his hand.  “Back home?”

“Yeah, back home.”

“That won’t help us tonight,” Ezra said, startling them both.   He had come up behind them where they knelt by Greta’s case.

“Jesus, Ezra!” Buck glared at him and his insensitivity.

Surprisingly, Ezra looked uncomfortable as he squatted down next to JD.  “I didn’t mean it like that,” he said.  “And I am terribly sorry this happened.  But we do need your talent with the guitar in our show tonight; that’s all I meant.  Chris is asking some of the crew if anyone has a guitar we might borrow for the evening… unless you’d rather see what’s available for purchase?”

As Buck expected, JD immediately shook his head.  “No, I don’t wanna buy anything,” he said; the way he sounded, Buck though the might burst into tears any second.

“I didn’t think so,” Ezra said, and straightened.  “I’ll just help Chris, see if we can find… somethin’ for you.” He paused before retreating and his accent was heavier than usual as he said, “I really am sorry, JD.”

JD barely had time to nod before Ezra was gone, heading back inside to canvas the rest of the crew.

“Come on, son,” Buck said, nudging JD’s shoulder.  “Let’s take her inside.”

JD carefully closed the case.  “I think...” He swallowed.  “I think I need to be alone for a while, Buck.”

“Yeah, I know.”  And he did; this had knocked the kid for six and no mistake.  No one took better care of a guitar than JD did for Greta and Annie, his 12-string.  He was forever checking them for wear, making sure the strings were in tune, buffing them until they gleamed.  He’d bought them both secondhand, but that didn’t make any difference to JD; he’d still loved them like they’d both been made just for him.  And this… this was a heartbreaker of a thing to happen to anyone, never mind someone like JD.  “You take whatever time you need, JD.”

He watched JD trudge off toward the tour bus, Greta’s case cradled in his arms.  Reckon I should let the others know, he thought, if Chris or Ezra haven’t already.  But instead of seeking out Vin and Josiah and Nathan, he sat down on the trailer deck – not with the intention of guarding their gear from the next roadie that came along, but he realized that’s what he was doing anyway.  After a few minutes, another kid in jeans and a band tee-shirt came out to finish unloading the trailer.  At least this one was careful about it.  Probably got an earful from Chris, Buck thought, his mouth twitching upward in a grin he didn’t really feel.

Other crew from the venue appeared to take their gear inside the auditorium.  Annie’s case went by, covered with stickers from the places JD had played, and Buck smiled.  It faded quickly, though.  Wish there was somethin’ I could do for the kid…

Then he straightened from his slouch against the side of the now-empty trailer.  There was.  His mustache stretched with his grin, and he strode off to the tour bus.

***

The warm up band had finished – and what a change it was, Buck thought, that they had a warm up band now, that they weren’t the warm up band for someone else anymore.

The audience roared as Los Magnificos took the stage.  Buck waved, grinning with delight and excitement, as did some of the others.  Chris never did, but that was just Chris, Buck knew; he did acknowledge the cheers with a short nod, but that was all.

JD, unsurprisingly, gave a half-hearted wave as he headed for his spot, and Buck saw him falter briefly when he saw the flaming red guitar in the stand where Greta normally rested.  The kid visibly steeled himself to pick up the Telecaster, despite the fact that he’d already looked it over when Chris had brought it back to the tour bus.

A murmur went through the audience as JD reluctantly slung the guitar into place.  They know, Buck thought, approving and satisfied.  Their fans were good fans.  Waiting until now had been a good idea.

Having got the guitar positioned where he needed it, JD looked up, and seemed startled to find he was the focus of almost everyone in the concert hall.  He blushed and squirmed, and the muttering from the crowd got a bit louder.

Buck held up a hand and the audience eventually went quiet – well, as quiet as a crowd of this size could ever be.  “Before we get started tonight, I’ve got some bad news.  Most of you can see JD don’t have Greta tonight.  That’s because she got broken this afternoon.”  A strange noise – half a gasp, half a groan – filled the hall; whatever it was, it was a noise of sympathy.  Buck glanced at JD from the corner of his eye and saw that he was staring down at the red guitar he held and blinking furiously.

From somewhere toward the back of the auditorium, a couple of female voices shouted in unison, “We love you, JD!” It left JD even more flustered.

“Aw, thank you, ladies!” Buck said, grinning.  “I’m sure JD appreciates that. Don’t worry, now – we’re gonna try to get her fixed.  But fixin’ a guitar… well, it can take some time.  That’s why he’s got that guitar – he’s borrowin’ it from one of the crew here in town.  And he’s gonna have to do that until we get Greta ready to play again.” Just for a second, he let himself enjoy the shocked expression on JD’s face, then took pity on him.  “Well, maybe not… maybe I got somethin’ that’ll help him out.”

He turned away from the crowd and took a few steps back to where Chris stood carefully cradling his bass and blocking JD’s view of what rested beside Vin’s drum set.  Chris moved aside, giving him a nod of approval and one of his warm, rare smiles.  He’d known just what Buck was going to do when he saw Buck tote it in earlier, and Buck hadn’t even had to ask for his help in keeping it a secret from JD; Chris had just done it.

Buck grabbed the case and returned to the front of the stage to open it.  He smiled, as he always did, when he saw the guitar inside, nestled safely within the protective recess.  There you are, darlin’, he thought, and lifted her out, swinging the strap over his shoulder before settling her into place, and ignoring the soft oohs of the crowd.

“Now,” he said softly, just loud enough for the mike to pick up his voice, but the venue fell as utterly silent as a place that size full of people could be, and his words filled the air.  “This is Lainey.  She’s been with me for a long time.”  He strummed lightly across her strings; she wasn’t hooked up to an amp or speakers, but the faint vibration through her body was enough for him to tell she was still perfectly in tune.  He’d found her in a second hand shop when he was in his senior year of high school, and had worked his ass off to save enough money to buy her, because she was the first guitar he’d ever seen that called to him.

Lainey was a classic Stratocaster, a midnight blue that almost looked black… except when the lights hit her just right, and then she shone, the tiny flecks of glitter in her paint reflecting back.  The pickguard was the same dark blue color as the body of the guitar, the neck was long and graceful and, as always, seemed small, fragile in his hands.  The pickups and bridge and controls were all gleaming silver, as shiny as the day she’d been made.

JD’s Greta was a pretty thing, he’d never deny it, but to him, Lainey was still the most beautiful guitar he’d ever seen.

Sometimes Buck wished he could actually play Lainey in a show, like he used to when Chris was running off drummers every other week.  But there were more of them now; it wasn’t just him and Chris and Ezra plus whatever hapless drummer needed a gig.  And the kid’s got real talent, he thought, smiling down at Lainey’s gleaming body.  He don’t deserve me pullin’ attention away from him like that.  He’s earned it.

“I know this don’t make up for Greta,” he said, his hands roving over the strings without thought.  Then he turned to JD, who was staring at him, open-mouthed and with a realization dawning in his face.  “But JD, I’d still like you to have her.” He unslung the strap from over his shoulder.

There was a stunned moment of silence, and then the crowd cheered, a long joyful, tearful, wonderful noise that seemed to shake the rafters.

JD took Lainey in hands that were almost reverent, then, holding her carefully out of the way, he wrapped his free arm around Buck.  Buck thumped him on the back a couple times before pulling back, grinning down at him.  No one but him had heard the choked “Buck” that JD had whispered, and in his ears, it had sounded just like the most heartfelt “thank you” ever whispered.

He stepped back to the microphone.  “All right!” he said, having to shout to be heard over the crowd.  “Now that we’re all properly equipped, let’s get this show on the road!”

Vin counted off the beat with his sticks, and they launched into “Rocking You Home”.  When it came to the guitar solo, Buck laughed with abandon as JD made Lainey wail.

***

January 21, 2017