Geri, April 2019
Her skinny fingers rippled across the strings. She played a G chord, one of the few chords he’d taught her in between gigs. She plucked it again, the twangy sound vibrating in her ears.
It was part of her nightly backstage ritual. Most important was polishing and cleaning his guitar. He was persnickety in the way he liked it. Lately, she had gotten the hang of it, but it had been rough going there for a while, as he was never satisfied with anything he asked her to do. Whether it was this task or another, she could never please him. Not until recently.
She’d thought being on the road would be a lot more fun. She didn’t hate it, but she didn’t relish it either. Time was a blur; it was as if school and her other life never existed, with every day seeming to stretch into an eternity.
She scanned the musty room, and when she was sure no one was lurking, Geri picked up the Gibson again and pretended to play the guitar like a rock god. Tossing her head back, she rolled her right arm like a windmill and closed her eyes, faking the strumming and picking motions.
It was dumb, childish as all hell. But, screw it. She needed to let loose.
Of course, if he saw her doing this, she’d never hear the end of it.
Fear gripped her.
Oh shit. Immediately, she put the guitar down.
“Dez!” she yelled back, her lower lip trembling slightly. “I’m in here. I’m in the dressing room.”
The door barged wide open as he blustered in. He sighed loudly.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He snatched the guitar away from her and started strumming.
“I’m sorry,” she said sheepishly, her hazel eyes bugging out. “I was just doing what you wanted me to do, what you told me—”
Dez’s gaze meandered toward the ceiling as he played the instrument, testing it before the sound check. His expression fluctuated between pensive and poker-faced.
“Not bad,” he said, as he continued to strum. “Not bad at all. Maybe you can actually do something.”
“Really?” She beamed, her smile radiating the heat of a million suns. She had been wary of him early on; now his approval was all that mattered to her.
“Yeah.” He cocked his head, fixing his sapphire eyes on her.
“Really.” His lips curled into a reluctant grin.
Her luminous smile engulfed her oval face, giving her peaches and cream complexion an almost Madonna-like glow.
He rolled his eyes, then placed the guitar back into the case before slamming it shut.
“Come here,” he commanded, in a tone not as harsh as before. Unfolding his arms, he enveloped her so tightly neither of them could breathe. “You stupid kid,” Dez mumbled as he stroked her hair, inhaling the balsamic fragrance of the shampoo she’d used that morning. “I never know what’s up with you.”
Then he did something he never did: he kissed the top of her strawberry blond hair, which she always clipped up in a messy bun, making her look like a cross between a jailbait librarian and an unkempt ballerina.
His lips on her head touched her like volts of electricity. It felt like ages since anyone had kissed her. The sweetness of that sensation encircled her in a ring of warmth that dissipated as soon as he let go.
“You see how easy it is when you listen to me, Geri,” he said, the sternness returning.
“I do, but sometimes,” she shook her head, “I get confused.”
“Because you don’t listen,” he shot back, a haughty smirk shading his finely sculpted features.
She scratched her mouth. “Can I go back to the hotel?”
“No,” he snapped back, indignant. “You need to stay here.”
“What did I say? I’m not going to repeat myself.”
Maintaining his resolve, Dez crossed his arms. The sleeveless jean vest he wore nicely accentuated his muscles. Those sinewy biceps always distracted Geri, especially the tattoo that sported her sister’s name on his upper left arm.
Underneath her name and lifeline was a simple red rose. Michelle had been Dez’s fiancée. If she hadn’t been killed in a car crash in Milan, where she was modeling the latest Dior fashions, she and Dez would have married last New Year’s Eve. Michelle had been in a car with another model, Selene, on their way to the airport, when their driver had been sideswiped by a drunken, middle-aged, off-duty police officer. They’d all died instantly on impact.
Geri was going to be her maid of honor. Last summer, while she was on her school break, Michelle had flown her to Paris for a special fitting with Henri, the finest wedding couturier in the business. Or so Michelle told her. She had modeled his designs in an issue of French Vogue a year before and was so smitten with his work, his name was the first that had popped into her head after Dez proposed.
The wedding was going to be held in a private Swiss chalet, a very small affair with a guest list that consisted of Dez’s manager, Larry, acting as best man; Lanie, a model-turned-makeup-artist who was a close friend of Michelle’s since their early go-see days; and Geri.
She couldn’t believe it when Michelle had announced she wanted her, not Lanie, as maid of honor.
“Me? You want me?” she’d cried.
“Of course! You’re my baby sister. Who else would I pick? All we have is each other.”
Their bond, forged in DNA and loneliness, had been an underlying theme in both of their lives. Their father, Jack, had died of cancer when Michelle was fifteen and Geri was five. Their mom, Lisa, had died four years later of a stroke, although Michelle always insisted she’d died of a broken heart, being that she and Jack had been as much in love when he died as they had been when they’d first met at the University of Colorado thirty years earlier.
Geri had been in the fourth grade at Grant Elementary School in Boulder when she found out that Mom was never coming back from the hospital. Michelle had flown to Boulder from New York City a week before when Lisa’s health took a turn for the worse. She had been waiting for her sister in the principal’s office.
“It’s just you and me now, kiddo,” Michelle told her. She hadn’t been wrong about that. Their mom was an only child. Both sets of grandparents had been dead for a long time. Jack did have a younger brother, who, last anyone had heard, lived in Florida. They hadn’t been in touch with him in so long, he might as well have been dead.
Because Lisa had died in February and school wasn’t over yet, Michelle had temporarily relocated from her Manhattan digs where she’d been a rising, in-demand model to tend to her sister. Her agency had almost dropped her until she’d reassured them she would return to New York City once her sister was done with the school year. Then Geri would move in with her and Michelle would enroll her in a school conducive to her needs.
As Geri was dyslexic, she had attended a special school for children with a myriad of learning and social disorders. It was considered one of the best in Colorado, and in the country. That it was close to the Boulder homestead made it even better.
Yet, as Michelle would tell Geri repeatedly, her sister had made a promise to her dying mom that she would take care of Geri and never abandon her.
“We’re in this together, you and me,” Michelle reassured Geri on the flight that would whisk her away from Boulder permanently to a new life in New York City.
Life had plodded along at a pleasant albeit unsurprising pace until Michelle met Dez. Then Geri’s life had imploded as the whirlwind courtship to end all courtships began, only to end in tragedy months later.