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Chapter 13

Ruby

I crossed my arms on the windowsill of my hotel room and leaned forward, propping my chin on my wrists. In the distance I could see the lights on the Ferris wheel down near Corio Bay as it spun lazily, and when I looked down over the windowsill I could see cars driving along Myers Street, headlights slicing through the darkness. It was late, and I was exhausted after what had felt like one of the longest days of my life, but I needed to take a few moments for myself before I went to bed. In the morning the Victorian regional leg of the Shout It Out tour was due to begin, and with it would come the inevitable insanity that always accompanied a Hanson tour. Only this time, I wasn’t just part of the teeming masses of fans that packed concert venues and tagged along to television and radio stations. I was part of the inner circle as well. And if I was being honest with myself, that scared me just a little.

“Ruby?”

I looked back over my shoulder at Taylor. He was sitting on the edge of one of the two beds in our hotel room, squinting at me through the lamplight. “Yeah?”

“‘S late,” he said tiredly. “And I know you’re tired.” He yawned, covering his mouth with one of his hands. “C’mon, bedtime – got an early start in the morning.”

“I hate early mornings,” I grumbled as I got up from my perch at the window and wandered across to my bed, being careful not to bang my shins on the coffee table that sat between the lounge and the room’s writing desk.

“Yeah, I know. I hate them too.”

I eyed him with one eyebrow raised. “So says he who wakes up at half-past four two mornings a week to go surfing before TAFE,” I said.

Taylor’s only response to this was a half-hearted scowl, before getting to his feet and planting a kiss on my forehead. “Get some sleep.”

I smiled and returned his kiss. “‘Night, Tay.”

The next morning, what woke me wasn’t the alarm on mine or Taylor’s phones, either of our ringtones, or traffic meandering its way through the streets of Geelong. It was my phone’s message tone, blasting its way into my ear from under my pillow.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” I mumbled without opening my eyes. I had no idea what time it was, only that it was the next morning. “I’m going to kill whoever it is that’s texting me…”

“It’s probably Kate,” Taylor said from somewhere near my head, and I finally forced an eye open. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, fully dressed and nursing a mug of what I guessed was black-as-pitch coffee. He gave me a smile when he saw me squinting at him. “Good morning sunshine.”

“Why would it be her?” I asked as I rubbed at my eyes with the heel of one of my hands. “And what time is it anyway?”

Instead of answering me straight away, Taylor held up a finger as he drank some of his coffee. “Kate asked me for your mobile number yesterday,” he said at last. “She and Nikki have lunch together on the first day of each tour – I guess they thought you’d like to join them. I mean, you don’t have to,” he added hurriedly. “But I’m going to be busy with interviews most of today, and sound check isn’t until like three o’clock this afternoon. Don’t want you to feel left out.” He checked his watch. “And it’s just gone six-thirty.”

“No, it’s fine,” I assured him. “I don’t mind.” I reached under my pillow and felt around for my phone so that I could read the text message that had just arrived – and just like Taylor had said, the message was from Kate.

Hi ruby :) this is kate, zac’s better half. Nikki and i were wondering if you’d like to have lunch with us today – there’s a café down by the bay that we like going to whenever we’re here for tour. Would love to get to know you a bit better. :)

Kate’s text message left me feeling a little stunned. My original plans for the day had mostly involved going for a wander around Westfield Geelong for a few hours, and then hiding out in mine and Taylor’s hotel room watching really bad movies on the hotel’s in-house movie channel until Taylor got back from sound check. I hadn’t wanted to feel like I was intruding on anyone else’s plans. But now it seemed that people I barely knew and had only met once before yesterday actually wanted to include me in what they were doing.

“You look like a deer caught in headlights,” Taylor commented.

“Kate and Nikki want me to have lunch with them,” I said. “They…they want to get to know me.”

Taylor grinned. “Thought so. You’ll like them, I promise.” He finished off his coffee and got up from his bed, and took his coffee mug into the bathroom. I soon heard the tap running, followed shortly by his phone’s text message tone sounding off. “Okay, I need to head off,” he said as he came out of the bathroom. He dropped the coffee mug next to the kettle and started gathering all the bits and pieces I figured he needed for the day. “I’ll see you after sound check – you need anything, you text me. Okay?”

“Okay,” I replied with a smile, one that he returned before heading out into the corridor. I waited until the door had closed behind him before replying to Kate’s text message.

That sounds great, I typed into my phone. Let me know where and when to meet you – i’ll see you then :)

My reply sent, I eased myself upright and got out of bed, and started getting ready to head out.

Kate and Nikki were waiting for me outside the Wharf Shed Café when I arrived just after midday, both of them waving to get my attention. I waved back and headed over to them, skirting my way around a somewhat scraggly-looking pine tree so that I didn’t drive my wheelchair right into it. As soon as I put on the brakes I started massaging my wrists, working at the sore joints with my thumbs.

“Are you all right?” Nikki asked, and I nodded.

“Wrists just hurt, that’s all,” I assured her. “Wouldn’t be surprised if it’s going to start raining soon.” I finished working at my wrists and gave the two of them a smile. “Well then, shall we?”

The first thing that Nikki asked almost as soon as we had placed our lunch orders, much to my relief, wasn’t the same question that almost every member of the Hanson family over the age of eighteen had asked me since Taylor and I had met.

“Have you ever been on tour before?”

“Nope,” I replied. “I spent the weekend in Sydney during last September’s tour but that’s the closest I’ve ever got. This makes it a bit hard to chase bands around the country.” I poked the seat cushion of my wheelchair.

“I can imagine,” Kate commented, and Nikki nodded. “You know what the fans are like, then?”

“Considering I am one, yeah,” I replied, feeling just a little defensive of my fellow fans.

“Oh we are too, don’t worry – it’s how we met them.” Kate nodded toward Nikki. “Isaac chucked one of his guitar picks at Niks here during a show and smacked her in the forehead with it.” I snickered at this. “She’s still got it – wears it as a necklace.” At these words Nikki lifted a leather cord from beneath her shirt, onto which had been tied a shimmery green guitar pick with a hole punched through it and the Hanson symbol printed on both sides in white.

“What Kate is trying to say, Ruby,” Nikki said as she hid her necklace away again, “is that dealing with the fans as a fan is one thing. Dealing with them as one of us, that’s something else entirely.”

“I figured it would be.” I dropped my gaze to look at my hands. “I’m actually kind of scared of them now, if I can be honest with you. I know exactly what they can be like, and when I imagine what their reactions will be if they ever find out that Taylor and I are going out…” I tried my best not to shudder.

“Joel should have everything under control,” Nikki assured me. “That’s assuming that Taylor’s actually told him?” I nodded to confirm this. “Good. Caroline and the security crew will probably get filled in before tonight’s show as well.” I looked up just in time for Nikki to give me a smile. “I know Taylor very well, Ruby – he’d never let anything happen to you.”

It wasn’t very long before our lunch orders arrived – Nikki’s Greek salad, Kate’s chicken wrap and my chicken risotto. We had also ordered a pizza to share between us. “So do you have any advice for me?” I asked as I started picking the cauliflower and zucchini out of my lunch. “Seeing as I’m part of the inner circle now.”

“The inner circle, I like that,” Nikki said. “Never thought of calling it that before.” She speared a cube of feta with her fork and popped it into her mouth. “Okay, first bit of advice – don’t let the fans get to you. I don’t have to tell you that they can be extremely catty.”

“They can smell fear,” Kate added. “Not even kidding.” She picked a bit of chicken out of her wrap. “A lot of them will be even nastier than usual if they ever discover that you and Taylor are going out. One of Taylor’s best friends – her name’s Sophie, you’re bound to meet her at some point if you haven’t already – knows all about it. She was on the receiving end more than once, and she never even went out with him. They just assumed she was. She doesn’t like fans very much anymore, as you can probably guess.”

“I never thought they could be like that,” I said, feeling just a little bit shocked.

“Kate, don’t scare her,” Nikki admonished. “They’re not all like that. But a few are, so just watch your back.”

“Got it. Anything else in particular I should be aware of?”

“A couple of the really clued-in fans will notice that you’re part of our group fairly quickly,” Nikki said. “They might try and talk you into letting them backstage, or they might try weaselling where we’re staying or the flights we’re on out of you. They might even follow you around if they think you won’t notice. Be friendly with them if you want to, but don’t get too close to them. If you’re in any way worried about what they’re doing, tell Joel, Caroline or one of the security crew. They’ll handle it.”

“Now you’re starting to freak her out,” Kate said. She bit into her wrap. “Ruby, all you have to do is use common sense. Tell one of us where you’ll be at all times, keep your phone charged and on you, don’t tell your whole life story to strangers, and don’t go off at night by yourself. That’s all.”

“I’m starting to wish I hadn’t left my dog at my parents’ place now,” I commented. “I have an assistance dog,” I added when I saw both Kate and Nikki raise an eyebrow at me. “If someone was after me, she’d do her level best to lick them to death.”

That little comment seemed to do the trick. Both Kate and Nikki burst out laughing, and I grinned. This touring thing was turning out better than I thought it would.

Later on that afternoon, I had just stepped out of the shower when I heard the door of the hotel room open and Taylor’s voice calling out. “Anyone home?”

“In here!” I called back, and quickly wrapped a towel around myself before going to stick my head out of the bathroom door. “Bathroom’s free if you want to have a quick shower.”

“Oh, thanks.” He gave me a smile and waited for me to step out of the bathroom before following me down the short hallway into our hotel room. “How was lunch?”

“Good. Kate and Nikki are really nice.”

“Told you they were.” He grinned and started going through his suitcase, eventually dragging out his Sydney Roosters hoodie and three shirts – a black T-shirt with i void warranties in white lowercase text on the front above a row of what looked like screwdriver heads, a plain white T-shirt, and a dark blue short-sleeved button-down shirt. He left his hoodie and the black T-shirt on his bed and started heading toward the bathroom. “Oh, before I forget – what pizza do you like?”

I paused in digging through my own suitcase in search of something to wear to the show and looked back over my shoulder. “Pizza?” I asked hopefully.

“Yeah, pizza,” Taylor replied with a chuckle. “What do you like on yours?”

“Hawaiian or Margherita,” I said. “Either one’s fine by me.” Taylor nodded and headed into the bathroom, and I resumed my search for a concert outfit.

By the time Taylor was finished in the bathroom, I was ready to go – I’d decided on my usual concert uniform of jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, and was just pulling my still-damp hair back into a neat plait when the bathroom door opened. “I hope you didn’t use up all of the hot water,” I called out as a cloud of steam billowed out into the room, my tone teasing. Taylor’s response to this was a smirk as he came over to sit down on his bed, snagging his boots and a pair of socks from his suitcase on his way past.

“We’re due at The Playhouse at four-thirty,” he said as he put his socks on. “Van’s leaving from out front at twenty past – we can go with everyone else or I can call us a taxi. Up to you.”

“Actually, I wouldn’t mind walking,” I said, fully prepared to be knocked back. “I went past on my way to Westfield this morning, it’s not that far.”

“You sure?”

I nodded. “I could do with the exercise. I’d want to get a taxi or the van back though.”

“Works for me. I don’t much fancy the idea of walking back here in the dark anyway.” He quickly slipped his feet into his boots and laced them up. “Oh, before I forget – Caroline asked me to give you something,” he added as he went over to the desk and started digging through his backpack. From the very front pocket he drew out a purple lanyard with a white plastic card about the same size as my driver’s licence hanging from it. The side that I could see had the Hanson symbol and Shout It Out – Victoria Regional Tour 2013 printed on it in black. “This is for you – it’ll get you backstage at all the shows during the tour,” he said as he handed it to me. On the card’s other side were my name, my photograph and the words Access All Areas. “Security shouldn’t give you any trouble while you’re wearing it – if they try to start anything though, tell Joel or Caroline. All right?”

“All right.” I wound the lanyard around the card and slipped it into one of my pockets, glancing at my watch as I did so. “It’s a quarter past, d’you want to head out now?”

“Yeah, might as well. You got everything?”

I did a very quick check of my handbag to make sure I had everything I would need, nodding once I had checked that both my phone and powerbank were fully charged. “Yep, got everything.”

Even with how slowly we walked so that I could keep up, not to mention the number of roads and streets we had to cross, the two of us still managed to beat everyone to the Geelong Performing Arts Centre. The venue for that night’s show, The Playhouse, was just one of the theatres that made up the complex. It was a modern-looking sandstone brick and glass building that, I could see as Taylor and I made our way up Little Malop Street, already had a long line of people waiting out front. I instinctively tightened my grip on Taylor’s hand as we neared the head of the line, thankful at that moment that I was not only walking on Taylor’s left side, but that I was almost a whole head shorter.

“Hi Taylor!” a few of those lined up called out.

“It’s okay, they’re harmless,” Taylor said to me quietly, before saying in his normal voice, “Hey guys! Looking forward to the show?”

“No shit!” someone called out, sending everyone else into fits of laughter. I let out a snicker of my own at this, and Taylor grinned.

“Glad to hear it – any special requests for tonight?”

“Can you play Yearbook?” another voice piped up. “Please?” This seemed to be a very common request, for a wave of murmuring started rippling through the lineup.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Taylor replied – it wasn’t a promise, but at the same time it wasn’t an outright refusal either. “I’d better get inside before I get yelled at. You guys have fun tonight, okay?”

“We will!”

I didn’t let go of Taylor’s hand until we were inside the building, safely away from prying eyes. The second the door was closed behind us I dropped his hand and went to lean against the nearest wall. I tipped my head back against the wall and closed my eyes. “I’m pathetic,” I mumbled.

“Why would you say that?”

I opened my eyes and looked over at Taylor. He had joined me next to the wall, backpack hanging from one of its straps from his left shoulder. “Because I’m one of them,” I replied. “I shouldn’t be freaked out by them. But look at me – I walk past them once and all of a sudden I’m scared witless.”

“You want the truth?” he asked, and I nodded. His immediate response was to push the left sleeve of his hoodie up to his elbow so I could see his medical ID bracelet. “I used to freak out all the time around them. Still do sometimes. Social anxiety is a bitch.” He shook his sleeve back into place and straightened up. “Come on.” He gave me a smile and headed off in the direction of that night’s venue. I watched him go for a few moments before fishing my pass out of my pocket and slipping the lanyard over my head.

Backstage at The Playhouse, I hung back near the doors at first and watched as Taylor got caught up in the crowd that filled the green room. That he was at ease around all of those people had me feeling a bit stupid that I’d been freaked out by a few fans hanging around outside.

“Bit of a madhouse, innit?”

I looked over to see a tall, dark-haired woman coming up beside me. “Just a bit, yeah,” I replied, and shoved my hands in my pockets. “Is it always like this?”

“Pretty much. When the family tags along it’s even crazier.” The woman held a hand out. “Caroline Wright at your service – tour manager and general wrangler of the lads when Joel isn’t around.”

I shook Caroline’s hand. “Ruby McCormick.”

“Taylor’s girlfriend! I was wondering when I’d be meeting you.” Caroline gave me a bright smile. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you at last, Ruby – Taylor told us all about you during the last tour planning meeting. Seems he’s very taken with you – he can barely stop talking about you.”

“I…I’m kind of taken with him too,” I admitted. “My nan would say that I’m smitten with him, actually.”

“Certainly seems that way to me. I’d better go and start getting everyone on schedule – you enjoy the show tonight, okay?”

“I will,” I said, and Caroline gave me one last smile before heading off, taking a whistle out of a pocket as she walked.

Before too long, the backstage insanity turned into organised chaos as everyone was given their various jobs to do. I’d had no idea before tonight how much went into getting a Hanson show running smoothly and on time – someone was dispatched to go and pick up dinner from a local pizzeria, the sound technicians were put to work making sure all the sound equipment was working properly, the stagehands had to check that everything that would be used onstage that night was in good working order (it seemed that nobody wanted a repeat of the little incident at the Enmore Theatre in 2006 that saw Taylor’s microphone stand taking on a life of its own), and the lighting technicians were sent out to the front of house to check the lighting rigs. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the road crew – they probably worked just as hard as Taylor and his brothers did, if not harder.

Before I realised it, it was almost time for Hanson to take the stage – which meant it was time for me to get my ticket off Caroline and go find my seat in the theatre. Before I did that, though, I went off to find Taylor. He had hidden himself away in one of the dressing rooms about half an hour earlier, and as I walked down the corridor I could hear him playing a song on his acoustic guitar. I knocked on the door of his dressing room to get his attention. “Tay?”

The door opened after a few seconds, and Taylor stepped out into the corridor with his guitar in hand. Over the collar of the T-shirt he was wearing under his button-down I could just see the scar above his right collarbone. “Yeah?”

“It’s almost showtime.” I jerked a thumb back down the corridor. “I’m just going to find my seat – thought I’d come find you first though.”

“Oh, right.” He gave me a smile, one I could instantly tell masked his anxiety. He was like a tightly-wound spring. “I’d better get a move on then, don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

“Break a leg,” I offered, and gave him a quick kiss. “For good luck,” I added.

The house lights were beginning to dim by the time I finally made it to my seat, in the third row of the stalls on the right side of the theatre. “Sorry,” I whispered as I narrowly missed out on stepping on a few toes. It was with an immense feeling of relief that I collapsed into my assigned seat and took a couple of deep breaths. The show hadn’t even started and I was already beginning to feel worn out.

As the beginning of Hanson’s first song for the night rang out through the darkness, I immediately felt all my weariness drain away. It was the song Taylor had been playing before I’d interrupted him – our shared favourite INXS song. The lights went up right as Taylor began to sing.

“This is the power since time began…every single hour that we have known…and from each moment, all that is left…sleep of the innocent, just one desire…

“Shine like it does…into every heart…shine like it does…and if you’re looking…you will find it…

“This is the story since time began…there will come a day when we will know…

“Shine like it does…into every heart…shine like it does…and if you’re looking…you will find it…

“Shine like it does…into every heart…shine like it does…and if you’re looking…you will find it…

“You will find it…you will find it…you will find it…you will find it…”

Cheering and applause went up from the crowd as the song ended, and Taylor sketched a little bow. “Good evening Geelong!” he said into his microphone. “How are you all doing tonight?” There was another wave of cheering, and he grinned. “That’s what I like to hear.” He swapped guitars for his red electric and played a couple of chords. “Let’s see how many of you know this one,” he said, and began playing the intro for Dancin’ In The Wind.

I grinned happily and settled back into my seat. I was probably going to regret this in the morning, but I didn’t much care. I was getting to see my favourite band play a show in a city I had already fallen in love with, and I could secretly hold the fact that I was dating the lead singer – someone I knew for a fact millions of women in Australia and New Zealand would jump given half a chance – over the heads of everyone else in the room. For just one night, all was right with the world.