Rob smiled out at the crowd of the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, feeling their energy flow through him. It was the end of another show, and it had come to his favorite part: wrapping up the show and talking to the audience during "Long Day".
"All right, all right, simmer down," Rob said into the mic, only causing everyone to make more noise. He laughed and turned to make a face at Adam. "We got a crazy bunch tonight."
Adam raised his eyebrows and nodded to show that he agreed. Rob continued to engage in the usual friendly banter, and wrapped up the song (and the concert) a few minutes later. As the lights dimmed down over the stage, the screams from the audience also quieted as people concentrated on exiting the arena. The band ran offstage, handing off their instruments to waiting stage hands.
"Good show, guys," a roadie said in passing. Rob nodded his thanks and followed the rest of the band, all of whom were going to shower and get ready for their late-night meet 'n greet with the few lucky fans who earned a spot backstage.
A young girl stood outside the venue near the backstage area, leaning her head against the chain link fence. Her eyes were closed in concentration. She was tuned into only one thing, and that was the concert that was wrapping up a few hundred yards away from where she was standing. She felt a lone tear slip down her cheek and onto the hard pavement.
With the last notes of "Long Day" dying away, the girl turned around and leaned her back against the fence. She reached down into her backpack by her feet and pulled out her matchbox twenty CD, along with a pen. Although she was depressed, she wasn't stupid. She knew exactly what needed to be done to get what she wanted.
And she was prepared to wait.
Not much longer now, she thought as she sat down on the ground. She smiled, her tears dry, her eyes glimmering with the knowledge of her plans.
The band was tired, but they loved what they were doing. All of them had wanted this for so long, and always refused to give nothing but the best to their fans. It took two hours, but each member made it a point to autograph every single article eagerly thrust before them, and to carry on short conversations with each amazed fan.
"Oh my God Rob, I love you!" one fan exclaimed. Rob smiled down at her, guessing her approximate age at thirteen. She was wearing a matchbox twenty tank top and too much eyeliner for a girl her age, and was in complete awe of him.
"Why...thank you sweetheart," Rob laughed, signing the T-shirt she had given him. After scrawling his name, he put a big smiley face. The girl took the T-shirt in quiet wonder. She looked up at Rob, whom was lost in thought about how hungry he was, and surprised him by tackling him with a hug.
"Thank you so much!" she breathed. Rob laughed again, still amazed at how other people were amazed of him.
"No problem," he responded warmly. He watched in slight amusement as the girl wandered away in a still slightly dazed fashion. He turned his gaze towards his groupmates, who were all occupied with taking pictures and signing autographs for the last of the fans. After everyone was gone, the group gathered all their things and got ready to head outside to their bus, which always took quite awhile due to the other fans who waited patiently outside for the group to emerge so they could have a chance to meet the band.
The girl had been waiting only ten minutes after the concert left when a group of people approached her. She knew what they wanted, but she wasn't going to let them have it.
"Hey, is this where the band comes out?" one boy slightly older than she asked. She was prepared for this question. She put on a look of confusion.
"What band?" she inquired innocently. The boy furrowed his brows.
"Uh...matchbox twenty," he replied. He looked at some of his friends, who shrugged.
"Oh....oh!" she said. "That's what all this fuss is about," she said in a tone that hinted she had just had a revelation.
"Aren't you here to wait for them too?" another person, this time a girl, asked of her.
She looked up at this new person. Then she pointed to a run-down building across the street. "See that building? I live there. My boyfriend works here and I'm waiting for him to get off work so I can go home."
"You live there?" the boy asked incredulously, turning his head to size up her supposed living quarters.
"Yeah. Got a problem with that?" she snapped back.
"Um..no, no. We just wanna meet the band," the boy said. "So, do they come out here or not?" She glared heaved a long, drawn out sigh. "No. This is the worker exit. The bands usually leave through the door on the other side of the building."
"Are you sure?" the boy persisted as he began to edge away.
"Ok then...thanks..." he trailed off. He turned around and walked away with the group, which had grown in size as other people gathered to meet the band.
The girl watched the group leave. She was once again alone.
And that's just the way she wanted it.
"Are we done yet?" Kyle asked, stretching his toned arms above his head. He slung a duffel bag around his shoulder and poked Adam, who was standing next to him. "Yo, Adam, wake up."
Adam snapped out of his trance and shook his head. "What? Oh, yeah. Let's go."
Kyle and Adam walked out together after meeting up with Brian, Paul, and Rob.
"Let's hope there aren't too many people waiting outside," Brian muttered through a yawn. "I'm really tired."
"At least we have a few days off now," Paul said, wiggling his eyebrows. "You know what that means."
"Yeah, a chance to let the blisters on my hands heal," Kyle replied. The group let out a collective laugh and opened the door to outside. They took a step out, looked around, and stopped.
"Okay...excuse me for sounding like the rock star I'm not, but...uh...where is everyone?" Rob asked. He scanned the empty area. "Weird."
"Maybe...they all went home," Brian offered.
"Maybe they're all invisible," suggested Adam.
"Maybe we have no fans and we're not that cool after all," Paul said.
Rob nodded. "Maybe..." He scratched his head. "Well, it was a good run while it lasted," he added, walking in the general direction of the bus.
"It's too bad that I'll never live out my dream of becoming the first circus freak turn rock start to win a Grammy," Adam sighed. "But Adam...you were never in the circus," Kyle said, smiling.
"Dammit, Kyle! Way to crush all my girlish hopes and dreams," Adam cried out, bouncing around the group in his typical too-hyper-for-a-36-year-old fashion.
"But...Adam...." Kyle continued. Brian shook his head.
"Let him be," he said, playing along. "He's over the edge."
The girl had been sitting for another hour and a half when she heard voices approaching.
"Where is everyone?" she heard someone ask. It was Rob.
She didn't hear the response, but she did hear laughter. Standing up, she tousled her hair roughly. Then she took some dirt from the sidewalk and rubbed some on her face and clothes.
Perfect, she thought, looking down at herself. She licked the fingers on her clean hand and smudged her face to give the appearance that she had been crying. She was clutching the CD to her chest when they walked out and nearly ran into her.
"Oh I'm sor--," Rob began before stopping in mid-sentence to get a good look at who he had just run into. "Oh God," the words slipped out before he could stop them. This girl looked like she was 15 or 16, but she was in bad shape. He automatically assumed she was homeless. Maybe even a runaway. Just like he was.
The girl put on a face of utter hopelessness and despair. "Hi," she said in a small voice. "I'm sorry I was in your way."
"Oh honey, it's okay," Rob said in a soothing voice. He looked down at her hands and saw that she was holding a matchbox twenty CD very tightly. "Are you here for us?"
She nodded. Then she burst out in tears. Rob felt his heart lurch.
The rest of the band had gathered by then. They could see she wasn't crying out of happiness at meeting them.
"Dude, something is wrong with her," Paul whispered to Rob. Rob nodded and touched her shoulder.
"What's wrong sweetie?" he asked gently. She turned around and faced the band.
"It's...just...been so hard," she started. She sniffed loudly and continued. "And now I get to meet you guys and I've always wanted to because you're my favorite band," another sniff, "but...oh God..." she started sobbing again.
Rob couldn't take it anymore. He hated to see anyone suffer like this, especially since he had had it so easy as a runaway. He wrapped his arms around the girl.
"Shh...it's gonna be okay," he whispered into her tangled hair. "You wanna talk about it?"
The girl pulled away and wiped her nose. She gave a small nod and leaned against the fence.
The band remained silent as she took a deep breath.
"I guess I should...explain...I have been in foster homes all my life. I don't know what happened to my real parents. I don't really care. They obviously didn't want me, so why should I care?" she started, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "I get moved to all these different homes, and every time it doesn't work out. I guess it's my fault. I wasn't meant to be a perfect daughter for anyone. The last home I was in was horrible. The father beat me and the mother didn't do anything to stop him. One day he pushed me down the stairs and I broke my wrist," she said, holding her left wrist up to show. "The next night, I packed a few things and got a bus ticket to the city. I've been on my own since. That was...two months ago, maybe two and a half. I dunno. Anyway...I didn't know life on my own would be so hard. I looked for a job, but no one would hire me. I have to beg for food," the girl mumbled, tears rolling down her cheeks. "Some guys have taken pity on me, but I found out too late that they didn't want to help me....and...I can't take it anymore.." she started sobbing again.
The poor thing, Rob thought. I never had to worry about that.
"I was going to...going to kill myself...but....then I heard you guys were playing, and I really wanted to meet you...so I thought I'd stick around a little while longer..." her voice trailed off gradually. She shook her head briskly as if to erase the thought from her mind. She held out her CD. "Could you sign my CD?" she asked in a small voice.
"Uh...yeah...of course," Rob said, his mind whirling. He scribbled his name on the CD insert, and passed it around for the others to sign. Everyone else had kept quiet throughout the conversation, but they all felt the same as Rob.
After the insert had been passed around and returned to the girl, Adam spoke up.
"Guys, can we talk?" he said in a hushed voice. The others nodded, and Rob turned to the girl. "Could you excuse us for just a moment?" he asked.
The girl nodded. "Sure."
Rob turned to the huddle. "Guys, we can't just leave her like this."
Adam nodded. "I know."
"But what can we do? We can't very well take her with us," Kyle pointed out.
"Well..why not?" Rob asked.
Kyle gave him a look. "It'd be better if we brought her to the police or..something.."
"Oh come on," Rob said in a tight voice. "So she can just go back into another foster home? I don't want her to go through all that again."
"Well what the hell are we supposed to do with her? We can't take her on tour with us. People will talk. And what will we say to Mike?" Kyle asked.
"I'll take care of Mike, dammit. Don't you even care?" Rob snapped.
Kyle sighed. "Of course I do. But we gotta think this through first. What if someone finds out? What will people say?"
"No one will say anything because no one will know."
"She knows, she could talk."
"Who would she talk to?"
"I don't know...in a chat room?"
"Does that girl look like she has a computer?" Rob demanded in a loud whisper.
"Guys, why don't we just keep her tonight, and give her some money so she can maybe clean herself up and get a job or something?" Brian suggested. "She's not our responsibility, but we should help her as much as we can."
The group looked at Brian. Paul patted him on his back. "That's our Brian, always thinking."
"So...is that...what we're doing?" Rob asked of the group.
"Great," he said. "We'll take good care of her."
"For tonight only," Kyle added.
Rob sighed. "Yeah...for tonight."