LOUDER THAN THE RAIN 2

 

"Honey tip your head back a little more," she said moving her hands over her sweatshirt to push the arms back before she tilted her daughter's scalp back so that she could have a better angle at her head. She smiled at the color of her daughter's hair. It was dark, almost black like her father's. It was a shame that the Irish part of her had been bullied out by her father's Italian side of the family, but she had her mother's blue eyes and that was enough for her. It made the little girl with olive skin look exotic, unlike her mother's cookie cutter look.

She'd already parted her hair down the middle and was about to begin what had become a morning ritual of braiding her hair for the day. Today they'd dressed for the day and were sitting up front listening to the radio and eating breakfast as they drove the last few miles into the Oakland Coliseum. She had her daughter sitting in front of her, her coffee on the counter next to her and on the other side the phone. It was the perfect set up, and the only way to function at six in the morning.

Gabby was sitting on the couch in front of her peeling a banana carefully as she brushed back her dark hair and began to French braid it down the side of her head so that the braid would rest over her shoulder. "Can you do pigtails again?" she asked holding a piece of fruit back over her shoulder so that she could get a bite while she braided.

They'd stopped that morning on the north side of the San Francisco Bay Area and filled up the bus with food at a grocery store they saw when they stopped to get gas. It was a good thing that they'd found the store because she wasn't sure when they'd have a chance to go shopping again. That was one of the disadvantages of being on the road. They had schedules to keep and grocery shopping wasn't very high on the list of priorities.

"Sure kiddo," she said, "Is Farzana still asleep?"

"Yep," Gabby said with a laugh looking towards where the door that led to the back was closed, "She and Rodney are having Snoring Wars again." It was no secret that the other two passengers on the bus were snorers. Everyone knew it, but it was their luck to get stuck on this bus with them instead of the other crew bus. Oakly had even gone as far as complaining about their problem telling them that he would put them under the bus with the luggage if they didn't stop.

When the tiny red cell phone rang where it sat next to her hip on the tiny couch she didn't have to wait long for Gabby to reach over and pick it up, pressing the button and putting it carefully to her ear. She chewed her mouthful, took a breath and clearly said, "Patricia Brown's phone, this is Gabby her assistant, can I help you?"

Even in her slightly tired mood it was hard for Patty to hold back her laugh. She'd always had considered Gabby her assistant, but recently the seven year old had taken on the title, making herself more official now that they were on tour again. She was amazed every day at how poised her daughter was. Most kids she knew would never have the balls to say that into a phone, especially since Gabby knew that her phone was used for business and the people that called her were like the Gods on Mount Olympus when it came to the music industry.

"Tim who?" Gabby asked pausing for a moment to listen to the reply, "Oh, Tim Miller...oh...yeah, hold on a second, she's right here."

Patty dropped the braid that she was working on and took the phone knowing that it was the Tour Manager that they'd be working with. She'd only spoken to him briefly over the phone the week before, but she'd come to know him a little through emails from his assistant and himself. "Hey Tim."

"Where are you guys?" he asked immediately.

"Hold on, lemme check," she said and covered the phone, "Hey Oakly?"

"Yeah?"

"Are we there yet?" she asked with a sarcastic tone.

"I'd say another half hour or forty five minutes," he called, "Tell him we're on the far side of the San Rafael Bridge."

"Thanks," she called to him then turned back to the phone conversation, "Oakly, the driver said that we're on the far side of the San Rafael Bridge."

Gabby was smart enough to go off and find a pad of paper and a pen for her, but Patty just left them in her lap as she listened.

"Ok," Tim said, "When you get here you're going to drive through where all the buses are parked and park on the far side of the section that is closed off. All of our buses got in last night and the guys are staying in a hotel in the city. I know that your budget doesn't call for it, but we've booked you rooms over there with them...well actually the guys booked you rooms so if you want to we can Vanpool you guys to the hotel tonight and have you come back in the morning."

Although the offer sounded perfect, knowing that with an act that big they'd be staying in some place nice, and that they hadn't stayed in a real hotel for a week, Patty thought that she needed to decline the offer. Booking hotel rooms and spending more money than the budge allowed was out. They might have the backing of a big record label, but she wasn't about to make enemies with the accounting department over staying in a hotel room. "That's not necessary," she said, "We're fine on the bus tonight."

"So you really are as tough as they say you are," Tim laughed. "It's a gift Miss Brown, a gift that if you decline will offend the guys."

"They who?" she asked.

"It doesn't matter," Tim said, "I'll have my assistant meet you at the production office and give you your hotel information when you're getting your security badges...also I heard that you have your daughter with you?"

"Yeah," she said defensively. This wasn't the first time she'd had issues with people about having Gabby on tour. When most people heard that she had a seven year old she wondered if they even knew what a little kid looked like, because they always assumed that Gabby was a snot-nosed little kid who needed someone to look after her every moment of the day.

He must have heard the attitude in her reply because he seemed to sigh. She knew he already was thinking of having her and their whole group on tour as a burden, but she was going to prove to him that she could run her little production as well as he could run his multi-million dollar one. "Just make sure she doesn't wander off ok?" he said, "The pyrotechnics for the NSYNC stage is massive and I wouldn't want something to happen to her."

"She's a big girl," Patty said squaring her shoulders. She hated when other tour managers got on her case like this. Didn't they know that she was an adult and had been in charge of Farzana's career for almost four years now? You'd think that they'd get the idea that she knew what she was doing. "She can take care of herself and she knows enough to not go where she isn't allowed."

"Well then, my assistant Trent will see you at the Production Office. Just ask any of the guards in the parking lot and they should know where it is and you have my cell number in case you need to get in touch with me."

"Will do," Patty said sharply trying to keep the conversation as business like as possible.

"Bye."

"Bye."

Pressing the end button, Patty threw down the phone and held back a string of swear words that she'd like to send Tim's way.

"Mommy," Gabby said, "Finish. Oakly said we're gonna be there soon."

Patty nodded and turned back to the work in front of her working for the next ten minutes uninterrupted as she finished the braids.

"Thanks Mommy," Gabby said when she was done, turned and kissed her quickly on the lips and went to go up front to sit next to Oakly, taking a blanket with her. Her favorite thing to do in the mornings was to sit up front and help navigate the bus.

~~~~~

The hallways looked in her professional opinion to be like an out of control circus. People were going in all different directions and orders were being yelled out, echoing in the cement enclosure, making it sound like there were a hundred thousand people in there instead of a few dozen. She knew enough standard language to know that they were doing last minute checks to the stage, but it seemed as if they were headed into battle considering the urgency of the calls to people and the directions given.

In the midst of the madness, Patty held onto Gabby's hand tightly as they headed to find the production office. So far all she was finding were crewmembers that seemed to be too busy to watch out for them as they walked let alone tell them directions. "You be careful back here, ok?" she said leaning down, "I don't want you getting run over by any of these maniacs."

Gabby just giggled up at her until they heard yelling from down the hallway. She gripped her mother's hand tighter and looked at the commotion down the hall with a scared look on her face. Patty didn't blame her. They'd been on the road enough visiting her father for her to see some real life rock-star adventures, but she figured that since NSYNC wasn't playing hard rock that the atmosphere around them would be a little less dangerous and hectic.

A moment later a huge bodyguard came barreling out of one of the side rooms with a tall young man lying up over his shoulder. "Bear! Bear! Stop it...come on...I was only kidding!" he yelled as the guard carried him away, "I didn't mean it. I love that hat on you...it doesn't make your ears look big!"

When Patty went to move along, seeing that the production office was down that way, Gabby stopped in her tracks breaking free from her hold on her hand. "What's wrong sweetie?" she asked looking at the little girl. She had on a white sweatshirt that morning and looked to be as white as a ghost. "Gabby what's wrong?"

"That was Justin Timberlake," she said with a dazed voice.

Patty rolled her eyes, as her daughter seemed to stop blinking as she stared down the hallway. "Gabby don't you get star struck on me now," she said, "You've met people more famous than these guys."

"But mom that was Justin," she said still staring where Justin and the bodyguard had disappeared.

"Jesus," she said trying not to roll her eyes again. It was bad enough to have to deal with fans like that for the next month or so, but having her daughter act that way was going to get on her nerves. "What am I gonna do with you?" She pulled her along into the office and a few moments later they were face to face with Trent collecting their security passes for the next few weeks.

Gabby, who would normally talk a person's ear off, had turned quiet and Patty noticed how her eyes floated to the door as if she was expecting one of the guys to walk in the door at any moment.

"Is she ok?" he asked giving a Gabby a strange look as if he expected her head to twirl around like Linda Blair's in Poltergeist.

"I saw Justin," Gabby said still sounding dazed.

"Don't mind her," Patty said embarrassed at the way her daughter was acting, "She's just tired."

Trent laughed it off and handed over the passes and had her sign for them. "Just be nice to them and they'll be nice to you," Trent explained.

"Isn't that the same thing they say about wild animals?" Patty asked.

Trent laughed again, "If you have any trouble with those passes just have whoever call me." He pulled a card from his pocket, "Or call this number and either me or Tiny will pick up and settle things for you."

"Tiny?" she asked sliding the other passes around her neck and his card into her pocket, "Why do I have a feeling that Tiny isn't really tiny?"

"He's not," Trent said as his phone rang. He grabbed it up, looked at the caller ID and put a finger up to them to tell them to hold on while he pressed the send button. "I told you that I'd call you back."

Patty nodded, realizing that she was socializing a little too long and that he needed to get back to work. She waved as she grabbed up Gabby's hand and pulled her back out to the bus to find Farzana. They walked back through the hall and out to the bus without seeing any more of the NSYNC guys. Gabby of course seemed disappointed, but Patty herself was glad. The less she saw of them the smoother this trip would go. She knew that Gabby had a mad mad crush on all of them and she wasn't about to feed into her addiction by having her daughter spend more time with them.

The crew was already up and unloading the trunks of equipment onto the dollies when she went to hand out their security passes. She reminded the 8 other people traveling with them that if they got into trouble to call her and then spoke with Peter, the head sound tech for a moment making sure that he'd gotten in touch with their Stage Manager Anthony to set up for that night's show.

When everything was settled she finally collected up Gabby from where she was crawling in the belly of the bus to help remove Farzana's extra guitars and they made their way to the other bus.

She smiled at Oakly and the other driver Frank as they smoke cigarettes before they went to go to sleep for the night then pulled the front door open of the bus she let out a sigh. The air outside the arena was definitely more relaxed and coming home to the bus seemed to make all the stress of the day go away, that was until she saw Farzana standing in the middle of the living room with a scowl on her face.

She put a hand on the hip of her red pajama bottoms, threw her long ponytail back over her shoulder, and whined, "So I go to take a shower and the water heater is broken."

"So take a cold one," Gabby said simply as if the older girl was just stupid for complaining. Farzana had a good point about not taking a cold shower. Having her hair be wet and for her to get a chill when she was already tired from the touring schedule wouldn't be a good idea.

"Lemme call up someone inside and see what I can do." Patty grabbed up her phone from where it'd been hanging and grabbed out Trent's number and called him.

"Hello?"

"Trent it's Patricia Brown?" she said uneasily. "I hate to call you right away, but I have a question."

"Go ahead," he said quickly cutting her off. He'd been pleasant enough with her when she'd retrieved her security passes, but it seemed now that he was back in business mode again; first impression time being over.

Patty tried to use her best pathetic voice to win him over as she slid into the kitchen booth. "Our water heater broke on our bus and with a whole crew and Farzana to take showers I was wondering if there is anyplace in the arena where we could--"

"Collect up whoever needs to shower and I'll make sure that someone comes out there in about fifteen minutes to show you the way to the locker rooms."

She didn't even get a chance to say goodbye before the sound of the dial tone rang in her ear.

"F, get all your junk together and we'll both go grab showers, k?" she said.

Farzana nodded and went into the back of the bus to collect her things.

Patty then looked over at her daughter who'd taken up a spot on the couch to watch TV. "Gabby have you talked to your father lately?"

"No," she said not moving her eyes from the television, "My battery broke on my phone."

"Honey why didn't you tell me. I could have gotten it fixed for you," Patty said, "Go get it for me and we'll replace it."

Gabby got up and kept her eyes on the television, some cartoon program, while she reached down and pulled out the drawer that had been assigned as hers. She pulled out her phone and Patty grabbed it up and went to find the replacement battery. It wasn't the best thing that her seven year old had her own cell phone, but in times like this, when they were traveling Patty thought that her having a phone on her would be safer. She never expected bad things to happen, but if she got lost or stuck or something there would always was a way for them to be in contact.

With the phone fixed, Patty plugged it into the charger and moved so that she was standing between her daughter and the television. Gabby was leaned back in her seat flipping her laminated security pass around by the chain that she'd had it on around her neck earlier. "Honey, Frank and Oakly are going to go to sleep for a while and Farzana and I are going to take showers. I want you to stay here. Don't go out of this bus or I'm gonna call your father."

Gabby nodded; giving her mother her eye contact for the moment needed then looked back at the television.

Patty stared down at her and for a moment wished that her father were there. Reese was spending that summer in London recording with Gabby's Uncle Joe. He was Joe to their family, but in reality he was Joe Satriani, the guitarist. It was a dream job for him and she wouldn't have wanted him to give that up, but without him around to call to help with the disciplining of their child, Gabby had run a little wild in the last few weeks.

Patty pushed thoughts of Reese out of her mind and took a breath. She'd been thinking about him too much lately. The night before she'd even had a dream about him, which was completely dangerous. They were separated now and she needed to remember that fact, if not for her own good, then for the good of Gabby. "When we get back I'll take you on a tour and we'll get Farzana off to her interviews and you can help me with the schedule for the rest of the week."

Gabby nodded, but didn't move.

"Maybe we'll go hunt down Justin," Patty said trying desperately to get some kind of a reaction out of the girl.

"Really?" Gabby asked siting up quickly.

"Yeah, I guess," Patty said.

A moment later a small gold cart came speeding up to the bus and a guy hopped off and came to stand next to Frank and Oakly who were still outside.

"Hey Patty," Oakly called into the bus, "That guy is here about the shower."

"Thanks Oakly," she said and hurried to collect up her things for the shower. She trusted that while she was gone Oakly would get the water heater fixed or at least figure out when they could get it done.

~~~~~

Showering in a public place wasn't the way Patty wanted to be starting her day off. It was true that the locker room would be guarded so that not just anyone could walk in, but having to stand in a shower stall that she knew that over a million people had used in the last few months made her cringe. The worst part though was that Farzana had made friends with the guard who'd taken her over to a different place to get her shower, the coach's office for the Golden State Warriors had his own private shower.

Pushing the ill thoughts from her head she ran her hands over her hair and lathered her shampoo then just as she was about to rinse off she heard a noise and then a yell. "Bear! Bear are you in here?"

With soap threatening to run into her eyes she ducked her head under the water hoping that whoever it was out there would just leave her alone.

A moment later she felt cold air hit her and she turned around to find Justin Timberlake standing there staring at her. She immediately grabbed for the shower curtain and began to curse. "What the fuck is your issue?" she asked, "Jesus Christ...is there no fucking privacy around here?"

Justin stumbled back a little, "You aren't Bear."

"Of course I'm not an over groan thick-necked-gold-tooth-wearing-ogre!" she screamed at him, turning off the water while trying to keep the shower curtain tucked around her. If she hadn't been so concerned about being seen naked she would have run away from that shower curtain, but present situation being what it was, desperate times called for desperate measures.

Justin just stared at her for a moment while he adjusted the arms on his long sleeved gray T-shirt. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans and tipped his older looking at back on his head. He looked like some white trash trucker instead of the pinup boy that Gabby had plastered to the roof of her bunk. He began to laugh, "I'm sorry...really I am. I didn't mean to...I thought you were someone else."

"What the fuck are you laughing a then?" she asked fuming now that he would have the balls first off to rip back the curtain and look in on her and second that he wasn't leaving like she thought he should be.

"Bear isn't one of the guards, although I'm sure they'd love to know what you think of them," he said with a smile and turned to leave, "Have a good rest of the shower. Hope the hot water doesn't run out."

"Fuck you!" she yelled as he left the room.

Patty fumed for the next few minutes, staring at the door as it closed behind him praying to all the God's above that something would fall on him once he left the room. Things so far on tour had been great, but she had a feeling that the rest of the trip wasn't going to go so smoothly.

She continued her shower, rushing through the conditioning and shaving session then jumped out of the shower, dried off quickly and headed back out to the bus, praying that Justin had disappeared and that no one else got in her way until she had more time to calm down.

In the hallway she heard more commotion and turned to find a huge three hundred something pound guy with an arm grasped around Gabby's arm.

"Hey!" Patty yelled down the hall seeing that the guard was dragging her along by her arm. "Hey! Stop that!"

When Gabby saw her, the tears started. Patty knew well enough that the tears weren't real. She'd seen this act before a million times when Gabby would get into trouble with someone. "Mommy, he said he's gonna call the cops on me!"

"Put her down," Patty said as she reached them. A few people were staring at them, but she didn't care. No one was going to be diciplining her daughter without her permission.

"She's yours?" the guy said with a deep voice.

"Yes," Patty said and grabbed Gabby away from him. She stopped and made a little bit of a dramatic show of making sure that Gabby was ok. "How's your arm?"

Gabby showed her her arm and Patty looked up at the guy, "If she bruises expect a call from my lawyer."

"Bring it Lady," he challenged.

"So you want to play like that?" she said, "What the fuck is your name?" She hated to swear in front of Gabby, but this guy was on her last nerve. She didn't know about whatever company he worked for, but no one she knew in the security business would put their hand on a child in the way that he'd been holding onto Gabby.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" he said loudly back at her.

"Well if you took time to look at my credentials and my daughter's you'd see that we belong here," Patty said taking the pass and pressing it into his face, "Security passes do have our names and our titles on them so you should check next time."

"Ma'am...As much as you'd like to think that your daughter the thief over there belongs in that room, you're mistaken," he said with a patronizing tone.

"Now you're calling her a thief too?" she asked.

"If the shoe fits," he said, "I caught her stealing sunflowers from the quiet room."

"The quiet room?" she asked.

"That room." He pointed to the door that said NO ENTRY clearly on the front of it. "That room is off limits to everyone except the guys--"

"Well if it's such a guarded secret I wonder what your boss would say about you letting her in there in the first place."

"Mom, lets go," Gabby whined.

"No," Patty said with anger rising in her voice. Her heartrate was through the roof and her whole body was spring loaded, ready to jump at whatever or whoever was in front of her. "You better not lay a hand on my daughter again--"

"Is there a threat coming with this?" he asked.

She felt a presence behind her and a moment later Rodney stepped between them and Gabby was pulled out of the middle of it by Farzana who seemed shocked to see what was going on.

"What's the trouble here?" Rodney asked pushing Patty back a little.

"The kid was stealing stuff out of the quiet room."

Rodney shot Gabby a look and she ducked her head into Farzana's stomach as she hugged her. "Well that answers that question...now what's the beef between you two?"

"He was manhandling Gabby," Patty said glaring at the bigger guys in front of her.

"The little brat was kicking me," the guard said, "I don't know about you, but having a little--"

Patty surged forward and Rodney grabbed her under the arms, picked her up and put her down again a few feet away. "Stay put," he said in a low growl, "Or you're going to get your ass kicked."

Patty stayed where she was and Gabby came over and hugged her. Rodney stood with the guy for a moment speaking in hushed tones then came over, turned her in the opposite direction and pushed her along towards the door, stopping only so that she could get the backpack she'd dropped on her way to get Gabby from his grasp.

"Where are we going?" Patty asked looking back over her shoulder All of this was causing a commotion and Gabby looked worried, but Patty didn't want to back down. If she let that guy push her around it was only asking for the rest of them to do the same thing. She didn't need that kind of chaos happening later in the tour. "You better get me the name of that guy's boss."

"Shut up," Rodney said angrily, "Just shut up and go to the bus."

They were ceremoniously marched to the bus and the three girls sat on the couch while Rodney stared at them. "I don't want that ever, EVER to happen again."

They nodded.

"Gabby, you know the rules about this kind of stuff...and while your mother isn't being the best role model at the moment, you two better shape up because I'm not going to be stopping more fights on this tour. I'm here to make sure that Farzana is safe, not keeping you two out of trouble."

"Yes sir," Gabby said knowing that she was in trouble.

Patty just sat there, arms cross over her chest trying not to bolt out of the room to go and find that guard.

"Get that look off your face girl," Rodney said and Patty got up and went into the back of the bus, crawling into her bunk and closing the curtains.

She could hear Rodney a moment later ask Gabby if she wanted to come with them to the next interview or if she wanted to stay in the bus. She chose the bus so Patty closed her eyes and decided to rest for a little while. She knew she had work to do, but quickly set an alarm for a half hour later and closed her eyes to sleep.

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