LOUDER THAN THE RAIN 5

 

[ Later that night...]

The break at Kettleman's Station was needed. Lance would have rather walked to LA than to stay in that bus with Justin and Meredith. They'd been fighting and making out for most of the four hours between Oakland and the stop for gas. He wasn't sure which was worse, the bickering between them or the kissing. He'd showered and changed into sweats and was relaxed enough to go to sleep, but he couldn't. Even with the drapes drawn on his bunk, music playing in his ears from his CD player, and a pillow over his head he couldn't get the distraction of them out of his mind.

When they pulled into the Chevron Lance knew that he needed out. Truck stops weren't the best places in the world to hang out, but at two in the morning it was the only place he wanted to be. It seemed like the only places in the world that he actually got to be a normal human being these days was at truck stops in the middle of the night or in the confines of his own home, two places he didn't get to go often enough.

"Hi Lance!" Gabby called across the parking lot. She wore slippers and pajamas and had her hair into ponytails. He noticed then that Farzana, Patty, and Gabby had their hair that way and were all in long pajama bottoms, as if they were having some sort of sleepover. It reminded him of the days when his sister would have a bunch of girls over and he'd get banished to sleeping outside in a tent with the neighbor kids.

Lance waved and looked over at Patty for a minute. She was giving him a dirty look, but he ignored it and strolled over. "Isn't it past your bedtime Miss Gabby?" he asked finding it a little strange that she was being so friendly considering that he'd totally messed her up with the whole guitar fiasco.

"Yeah," she said, "But Mom said I get to watch a movie tonight because I got all my homework done last week."

"Cute pigtails," Lance said touching the side of Gabby's head while he looked at Patty. "Wait. Homework?" he asked, "Isn't it summer vacation?"

"She is home schooled. She takes breaks when we aren't on the road," Patty explained.

"I do all the boring stuff while I ride on the bus so when I'm at home I get to play all day long," Gabby explained happily. She slid her hand into his and looked up at him with a smile. "Where's Justin?"

"He's in the bus hanging out with Meredith," Lance said.

"Oh."

Gabby looked devastated, which seemed to alarm Patty, but instead of being sympathetic to the girl about her crush she moved out of the way of them and asked, "You want some popcorn honey?"

Gabby held onto Lance's hand and pulled him along with them into the tiny store. He went along with it just glad to be away from Justin and Meredith for a minute. "Can I get a Twinkie?"

"No," Patty said, "You know the rules."

Lance had to stifle a laugh as Gabby stuck her tongue out at her mother when she turned her back. He wondered if at seven he had been like that. He didn't remember having such an attitude, but he wouldn't have expected anything less from her considering who her mother was.

"So what are the rules?" Lance asked squatting down to where Gabby was looking at the candy section. Her eyes moved over the candy bars and gum as if she was looking at a stack of bars of gold.

"No candy after the shows," she said looking at him with a serious statement, "Too much sugar. It rots your teeth."

With a nod of his head Lance recorded the information into memory. "Any other rules?" he asked.

"I'm not allowed to go run around after boys," she said, "And I gotta get my work done first."

"You're seven and your mom won't let you hang out with boys?" he asked, "I wonder what she's gonna do to you when your sixteen."

"Nooo," she said with an exaggerated rolling of her eyes. "I'm allowed to like boys like Rodney and Oakly and Frank and the rest of our crew. I'm just not allowed to like you guys. Mom says that running after boys is a waste of time."

Lance looked over to where Patty was standing looking at the snack foods down the way. "Really?"

"Yeah," she said, "Boys are dumb...well that's not what I think, but Mom says the boys are an interior species."

"Interior?" he asked with a smile. Lance immediately knew what Patty had said.

"Something like that...she says it, but I can't pronounce it."

"Did she say inferior?" he asked picking up two Twinkies. He held them in his hand and watched her eyes stay on the packages.

Gabby nodded.

"Figures," Lance said.

"What?" Gabby asked.

"It figures that your mom would say that--" he cut his thought off and tried to think of something good to say. "She seems to be a pretty smart lady. She must know us guys really well."

"She doesn't know that many boys," Gabby said, "Just my daddy and Rodney and the crew."

Standing up Lance kept the Twinkies in his hand and walked with Gabby back up to the front when they saw Patty ready to leave. Lance paid for the Twinkies then handed one to Gabby. "Stick it in your shirt," he said with a whisper, "For later."

Gabby smiled up at him.

It was such a sleazy thing to do, bribing her with a Twinkie, but he didn't care at this point. If he had Gabby on his side at least things might go smoothly for the rest of the people on tour.

Why am I doing this? Why am I wasting my time on this? He asked himself over and over as they walked back towards the bus.

"Do you want to watch a movie with us?" Gabby asked.

"The last time I came on your bus it cost me twenty bucks," he said, "I don't know if I want to come over...your mom might charge me for the ride."

"She's not usually that mean," Gabby said, but Lance had a feeling she was lying about that.

Patty turned around from where she was walking ahead of them and stared at her daughter. "Gabby!"

"What?"

The girl looked scared for a moment. Lance figured it was because she had the Twinkie stuffed in her shirt.

"Gabby you know better than to invite people over onto the bus," Patty said putting a hand on her hip to stare at her daughter.

"But Mom, it's just Lance," she said.

"Yeah," he said and rubbed his shoulder a little, "It's just me."

Patty stared him down and for the first time in a long time Lance found himself almost afraid of her. He thought about just telling her that he'd just spend the night on his bus, but soon she was sighing and saying, "Fine."

~~~~~

It took a little while to clear it with security that he was going to ride with them. Another few minutes were wasted while Lance collected up his phone and a sweatshirt and pillow. It was funny the way that they welcomed him aboard. Patty went in first then Farzana then Gabby pulled him along, "Come on or Rodney's gonna eat all the popcorn."

"Make sure your mom doesn't see that Twinkie," he whispered as they went up the steps, "Or she'll kill the both of us."

"I won't," Gabby said patting the space that was poking out of her shirt a little.

Lance stood in the entryway of the bus again looking at the place like it should be home, but the interior of the bus looked so foreign. He nodded at Rodney who was finishing up making popcorn in the microwave then leaned against something for support as the bus pulled out of the truck stop.

Farzana's phone rang and the girl immediately launched into an excited conversation that left Lance a little more than annoyed. If he'd wanted to sit all night with a screaming chatting high schooler he would have stayed in the hotel in San Francisco.

"You watching with them?" Rodney asked breaking his daze a little.

Lance took a deep breath and nodded, now unsure of what to do. He felt like he was at a sleepover, but he didn't know any of the kids.

"If you get bored of whatever they're watching I taped the Niners-Rams game from this afternoon," he said and shoved a bowl towards Gabby before making one for himself.

Lance nodded and gripped his pillow to his chest looking at Gabby for some kind of direction. He hated even being on the other guys' buses. He should have just stayed home and locked himself away from the drama in the rest of the bus.

"Don't worry. I put the guitars away. There aren't any strings around," Gabby joked and pulled him along to the back room where they settled themselves in front of the TV.

After sliding the movie into the DVD player Gabby took a seat in between them. The back area folded out into one queen-sized bed so Gabby sat between them with a bowl of popcorn on her lap. After a few minutes she leaned against Patty who moved so that her arm was around her daughter.

When her hand accidentally brushed his arm he leaned a little away from her.

"Hey Lance?" Patty asked a while later, just as Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards were arriving at the fighter school in the movie.

"Yeah?" he whispered back looking over to find Gabby sound asleep next to them.

"Can you help me put her to bed?" she asked, "Just lift her up for me and I'll put her in there."

"Sure," he said and moved so that he could take the popcorn from the sleeping girl.

He watched as Patty lifted Gabby off of her and handed her to Lance. Then moved so that she could grab Gabby and carry her down the hallway.

"You got her?" Lance asked. Putting a hand out to make sure that Gabby's head didn't hit the door jam.

"Yeah," Patty said softly, "I'm an old pro at this."

For the first time she was acting like a normal human being. It was strange to see someone who'd been so outwardly nasty to everyone around her act so overly loving with Gabby. She tucked her in, made sure that her teddy bear was near her then moved away from her, closing the curtains up just so her face could look out into the tiny hallway.

As they were standing there watching her sleep Farzana came through the hallway and climbed up into the bunk above Gabby's. "Was that Hannah?" Patty asked.

"Yeah," Farzana said, "She's gonna meet up with us when we get to Vegas."

"Did her brother actually say that she could come?"

"Yep," she said.

Patty turned to Lance to explain, "Farzana's friend from home is coming to visit for a week or so. We've been trying to get her out on the road with us for about a month now, but her brother wouldn't let her come. It's a huge victory to have that guy let his sister out of his sight so it's like fighting World War Three to get her out here with us."

"Oh," Lance said smiling at the excited look on Farzana's face, "Well maybe when she comes out we can all get a burger or something."

Farzana nodded then yawned. "Night guys," she said and pulled the curtain closed leaving the two of them alone again.

The silence was horrible. Lance hated that. It was so hard to start a conversation with a person he knew nothing about. He didn't even have a clue where to start any kind of communication.

Patty took a breath, "You can watch the football game with Rodney if you want to."

"No," Lance said, "I'll watch the movie...that is unless you're going to turn it off and go to sleep or something. I can just sit up with Rodney if you want."

Patty stared at him for a moment with a strange look on her face then reached and took her pigtails out. "I love my daughter, but I can't stand the things she makes me do to my hair."

"They were cute," he said and followed her when she turned to go back into the back room.

"You've got to be kidding me," she said rolling her eyes at him as she settled herself back onto the couch/bed. This time instead of sitting more towards the middle she made a show of moving all the way to the left side of the bed. She propped her pillow up on the side and leaned against it as if to make it look like she was sitting all the way across the tiny room from him because she wanted to lean against her pillow in that way.

"Hey, it worked for Britney...she's got a career now because of pigtails like that," Lance said moving so that he could lean on the right side of the enclosure, mimicking her placement in front of the television.

"I have a feeling Britney got her career with more than just her pigtails," she said looking up. She yawned, "I have a feeling that Britney didn't get where she was going on talent alone."

Lance burst out laughing. "You should fit right in with Meredith. That girl loves most people in the world except Britney Spears."

"I thought all those guys were friends," Patty said.

"So you actually keep track?" he asked.

Patty moved and pulled out a stack of magazines, "My daughter is obsessed with you guys."

"Yeah," he said, "I heard."

"She came right out and told you?"

Lance moved the magazines out of the way. His own face had been staring up at him and he hated that. When he'd gone into the quick stop earlier he'd avoided that isle like the plague, but it seemed as if he could never get away from the magazine and newspaper articles about him. "Well it's pretty clear that she wants to hang out with Justin so I guessed that's what it was," he said as he reached over and put the magazines back into place.

"She doesn't need to be hanging out with you all," she said, "If she ever becomes a pest just send her back home. She knows better than to get in the way."

"Believe me she hasn't gotten in the way. Actually we haven't really seen her much, but I'm sure everyone, especially Chris would love to hang out with her. He's the one who misses his little sister the most."

When the noise of the television suddenly died down they both looked over at it. The love scene with Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis was on and the two of them found themselves watching it as the song Take My Breath Away played for them.

It was Lance that noticed how close they were to each other. He'd noticed of course before that they were close, but it seemed that the sexual tension that had shown itself a little while earlier was now coming back full force for the two of them. She seemed to notice it too and when she looked back at him he, without a hesitation, moved so that his lips touched hers.

Having just one kiss would have been more than enough for him, but somehow Patty pulled him down against her and held him there so their one kiss turned into two then into three and then they seemed to move silently so that they were cuddled together so that they could be comfortable while they made out.

Just as Lance got comfortable kissing her and holding her; reality must have hit her over the head because she went from one moment pulling him against her to the next pushing him away.

She gave him a warning look and he backed away and sat on the far side of the bed for a moment, "Well I can see that went well. I think I'm gonna go up and watch the game with Rodney."

Patty started to say something to him. He put up a hand to stop her. He didn't stick around to find out what it was. He didn't need to hear any excuses. She'd chickened out plain and simple and that was enough for him to take the hint that she might not want him there with her for the rest of the ride to LA.

When he returned to the front room Rodney looked up at him and said, "They going to sleep?"

Instead of answering Lance took a seat in the front living room, but instead of watching the television he leaned his head against the window and watched the darkness outside. He was tired and didn't want to bring up what had just happened.

As the distance between him and LA grew smaller he rubbed his shoulder and tried to figure out why he'd just kissed her. He shouldn't have and normally wouldn't have, but somehow that night she'd become a real living breathing person instead of the bitchy manager that she was in the daylight hours and he'd been attracted to that...to her.

~~~~~

[ The next day... ]

"You've gotten a lot of sun today."

Lazily Lance averted his eyes from the crowd of them on stage to look at Meredith who'd come out of no where to stand just to the side of him. He'd thought she'd been on the stage with everyone, but he must have not been paying that close attention to the group.

"I put on suntan lotion a few hours ago," he said putting a hand up to block the sun. He'd put on sunglasses, but even with them on he was still having trouble with the sun. He couldn't believe the heat of LA. He'd been there a million times before, but it seemed as if this trip it was hotter than hell. "I guess I'll have to get some more."

"Are you ok?" she asked seriously handing him over a bottle of it that came from inside her backpack.

"Yeah," he said moving his hand to grab the bottle. He found that he had been rubbing his shoulder again. It was becoming an unconscious thing now to sit there and move the muscles of his shoulder and upper arm around, like instead of biting his nails or scuffing his shoes on the ground he was becoming addicted to that instead.

"I'm really sorry about last night," she said grabbing the bottle from him she stepped behind him and put some on the back of his neck as he moved to put some on his face. "I know that our drama gets played out in--" She paused and looked in the direction he was looking. "What's that all about?"

"What's what all about?" he asked.

"You and that manager chick Patty seem to have a connection."

"Whatever," he said, "Anyway, can you speed this up...I've got a call to make."

Meredith nodded, "I want you to know that Justin and I talked last night and we're gonna make an effort to stop doing whatever we're doing to piss you off." She took the bottle back and looked at him. "Go on up and play with the boys. Chris is gonna get everyone if you don't.

"Yeah whatever."

"Lance you need to stop working so hard and enjoy all of this," she said, "I mean look at them up there--" She pointed to where everyone was having a silly string fight. Even Patty and Gabby looked to be having fun spraying each other and Farzana, but the most damage seemed to be going against the bodyguards who'd been caught off guard and who didn't have cans in their hands. "You have to get in there and hang out with those guys."

Lance nodded and moved away from Meredith. He joined the group onstage just as the song Danger Zone started over the radio system.

"Bogie at three o'clock!" Chris yelled and ran towards Lance spraying him with fluorescent pink and fluorescent green silly string then disappearing like the fighter jets on the movie the night before.

 

 

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