The whole show had been a mess of light and sound and Jeff barely remembered a single moment of it even when he was in it. It was one angry song after another, the lyrics being screamed instead of sang, his guitar strings nearly breaking from how viciously he played them.
Even the songs that weren’t supposed to be angry were angry. Songs like Lover, You Should’ve Come Over and Dream Brother.
Even Grace was angry.
He couldn’t even bring himself to play All Flowers In Time.
There was no set list anyway. Not anymore. He played whatever came to mind, every song lasting at least two or three minutes longer than it had been originally recorded.
He could feel the eyes of his band mates on him the whole time.
He ignored them.
He could feel the eyes of the crowd on him.
He ignored them too.
He didn’t want to see the concern in their eyes.
They knew why he was acting this way and he didn’t want to see their pity.
It had been less than a week since Ana had been released from the hospital after her open-heart surgery after her heart attack. It’d been even less time than that since Ana had told him the doctor had told her that, despite the operation, despite him seeing her get cut open, despite the nightmares he would have of that moment forever, she was going to die in a few years anyway. Her heart was just too weak, too damaged, too stressed, and it would eventually give out despite everything.
Which meant everything was pointless.
Everything was useless.
It didn’t matter that he’d done his best to take care of her.
It didn’t matter that he’d saved her.
In the end, it hadn’t been enough. It would never be enough.
He wasn’t enough.
She was still going to die. And he was still going to be alone.
It doesn’t matter anyway, he thought over and over again. Once she goes, I will too.
But she was going to die.
She was going to die long, slow, and painful after a long, slow, and painful life and that was the worst part out of all of this. She didn’t deserve to die like that and she was going to anyway.
This was what was going through Jeff’s mind when he began playing Kanga Roo, Matt, Mick, and Michael all rushing to keep up with him. They’d been playing Eternal Life just seconds before, but Jeff had decided that wasn’t good enough. He needed to spend a good long time playing a good long song that he could turn into nonsense, into an endless vent for the agony that was burning him alive from the inside out.
He barely remembered playing the intro, he barely remembered playing anything until he got to the long guitar solo.
“You can call me a liar, a cheater, a beggar, and a whore,” he spit into the microphone.
He didn’t even know what he was singing anymore. It was the lyrics to Chocolate, but he was playing the instrumentals of Kanga Roo. He screamed into the microphone, saying the same words over and over and over again, trying to get the whole room to understand just what a failure he was, just what a piece of shit he was, so worthless that he couldn’t even save his fiancee from death, a death she had essentially caused herself, but that he still blamed himself for.
He didn’t realize that the entire room was silent.
“Your love is like sweet chocolate, melting on my back pocket, melting on the tongue of God!”
He hadn’t slept the night before.
“Every man has to be the devil!”
He’d refused to eat.
“Every woman has to feel like she’s been slapped around!”
He played so viciously his hands were bleeding, getting blood all over his guitar.
“Every body’s got to live with their demons in the same house!”
All over the stage.
“Everybody wants to be loved. Everybody wants to be loved. Everybody wants to be loved.”
He screamed so loud and long into the microphone his throat hurt.
He wheeled around, holding his guitar up to the amp speakers, letting the feedback mix with each other, listening to the wail.
It sounded like his own heart.
He dropped his guitar after a moment and took a deep breath, but no matter what he did, it seemed he couldn’t get enough air into his strained lungs.
Black spots appeared in front of his vision.
He closed his eyes.
Distantly, he felt his knees buckle.
The world fell away.
When Jeff opened his eyes again, he was staring at bright lights above him, the world spinning in lazy circles. He saw the faces of Michael and Mick were swimming above him, speaking, but he couldn’t understand anything they were saying. It was all muffled like they were speaking through water and he was lying at the bottom of a pool.
He felt arms under him, lifting him off the hard floor of the stage.
The world went dark again.
“Do you think we should call an ambulance?”
“No, he’ll be okay. He’d hate that anyway.”
“I want a fucking refund, man! I came for a full concert! Not this shit!”
“Fuck off, asshole.”
“I don’t give a shit his girlfriend is sick.”
“She’s his fiancee, bud, and you have no fucking clue what you’re talking about.”
The voices swam around his head in circles long before he ever opened his eyes.
He didn’t want to open his eyes.
He was lying on a couch somewhere. Presumably backstage.
He recognized half of the voices speaking: Mick, Matt, Michael.
The other half belonged to strangers.
“Jeff? Man, you okay?”
He blinked and looked up. It was Michael.
“Did he take something?”
This voice belonged to a reporter. How had they gotten backstage? How had the angry fan?
“No!” Mick, Matt, and Michael all shouted at once.
“Get the fuck out of here!” Matt said, strong-arming the reporter out of the room.
“Did you take anything, man?” Michael asked quietly.
Jeff shook his head. “Ana...” he started, but that was all the further he got.
“Ana’s at home, safe,” Michael reminded him.
But that wasn’t what he’ meant.
Ana. Ana being sick. Ana dying. Ana being hurt. Everything going on with Ana.
His inability to protect her, to save her.
That was what had caused this.
“I’m gonna take him home,” Mick said. “We’ll go out the back door. If anyone else comes in here asking questions, fucking call security. I don’t give a shit about being nice anymore.”
Matt and Michael nodded in agreement.
“Mickey...” Jeff said weakly as Mick lifted him up off the couch, slinging one of his arms around his shoulders as he half carried him out of the backstage room, down a short hall, to a door that led outside. Someone had already called a cab and it was waiting for them when they opened the door.
Jeff collapsed into the back of the cab.
Mick gave the driver his apartment’s address.
Jeff leaned his head against the cool glass of the cab’s backseat windows, watching the world fly by outside, the lights all melting together, every building of the city he called home suddenly looking exactly the same and he couldn’t tell where they were or if they were going the right way.
What if she dies while you’re gone?
What if she has another heart attack and dies while you’re gone?
She’ll die alone.
All of it will be your fault.
You weren’t with her.
The cab turned a corner and slowed then stopped.
Mick thanked the driver for the ride and paid him. “Keep the change.”
Then he felt hands pulling him up, dragging him out of the cab.
He didn’t look at the doorman as they went inside.
He didn’t remember getting in the elevator.
Suddenly they were standing in front of his apartment’s door and Mick was asking for his key.
He handed it to him.
His hands were still shaking too bad to put the key in the lock himself.
The door swung open slowly, revealing the darkened apartment, an apartment full of nothing but ghosts and furniture and records and shadows.
Mick helped him into the bedroom and laid him down on the bed.
“I’ll...sleep on the couch,” he said quietly. “I’ll call the guys and let em know I’m staying.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Jeff said quietly.
“No, I don’t have to,” Mick replied, “but I want to.”
Jeff gave a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Thanks, Mickey.”
Mick gave a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes either and left the room.
Jeff turned to Ana.
She was asleep, wearing her oxygen tube, her wasted chest rising and falling in time with her breath, her head turned towards him. Even in the dim light, he could see the bruise-like circles under her eyes, could see how pale she was, how sick she looked.
She looked like she was dying.
Which didn’t help anything at all.
Jeff kicked off his shoes and climbed beneath the blankets.
He pulled her tiny, fragile body into his arms.
She stirred, taking a breath and mumbling, her voice thick with sleep, “Is everything alright?”
“Yes,” Jeff lied, kissing her temple, pressing his forehead to hers. “Everything’s alright.”