Two weeks earlier…
The telephone was ringing. She could hear it on the other side of the door.
Twenty-three year old Jessie Grover fumbled with her keys while trying to balance the groceries in her arm. It was the Saturday before the Fourth of July, and she had just gotten back from shopping for the barbeque that her neighbors were throwing. With another ring of her telephone, Jessie finally managed to get the front door to her apartment open with a violent shove. She scrambled through the doorway nearly falling flat on her face as she rushed for the kitchen. Dropping the bags unceremoniously on the counter, she grabbed the phone just before the answering machine picked up.
"Hey, Jessie," the voice on the other line replied. "It's Val."
"You sound like you're out of breath." Valerie paused. "Is John over there?
Jessie scoffed at the teasing note in her best friend's voice and began to rummage through the groceries. "No, John is not over here. Do you honestly think that I'd let him spend the night? You know me better than that Val."
"I know…I just like to tease you," she rescinded. "I actually just talked to him an hour ago. He said that your date last night was very…quiet."
"What? You should be thanking me for setting you up on that date last night. John is a very nice guy and pretty good looking if I do say so myself."
"Oh, come on Jess! Why can't you just relax on a date for once! You're really making it so much harder than it actually is just because you're stubborn. I mean, honestly, how do you expect to ever get married if you don't get out and date?"
"Val! I'm not interested in finding the man I'm going to marry right now. For the time being I'm focusing on my graduate degree, and when I'm done with that, I'll get a good job, and then, only then, will I consider settling down."
"Come on, Jess. Get your head out of your books and have some fun once in a while."
"Do we really have to talk about this right now?" Jessie pouted. This was not how she wanted her day to end. "I've got things I have to do."
She finished putting away the rest of her groceries as Val sighed exasperatedly over the phone. "Alright already. I'll stop trying to set you up."
"But, only if you promise to go the barbeque this weekend at Alex's house," Val demanded. Jessie sucked in her breath and held it for ten seconds, trying to keep from screaming at her best friend. Deep down she knew that Val was only trying to help her, but at the moment she just wanted to be left alone.
"If I say yes to going to this party, will you promise me that you will never try and set me up with another guy again?" Jessie replied between clenched teeth.
There was a pause as Valerie considered the offer.
"I promise I won't try to set you up for a month," she finally responded. "How's that?"
"Fine," Jessie sighed. "I'll join you at Alex's house this weekend."
"Great. I'll make sure to get you directions tomorrow at work."
The girls talked for another hour about work, Val's new boyfriend, and the upcoming semester at Colorado State University. Both Val and Jessie were graduate students that lived in Fort Collins and worked for Hewlett-Packard. Jessie was finishing up her master's degree in Business Administration, but looking towards advertising as a career path while Val was finishing her Computer Information Systems degree. They had met two years ago when Val trained Jessie on how to use her computer after it crashed her first day. Even though they worked in different departments, they found that they had a lot in common such as going to the same college and living only five minutes from each other. They had started hanging out on a regular basis after work and were now the best of friends.
When Jessie finally hung up the phone, she wandered into to the room she had turned into a small office and eyed the work she was supposed to get done with an evil look. Sitting next to the stack of customer accounts that she was going over, was the research for her master's degree, which didn't appeal to her any more than her work did. She sighed and walked back over to the kitchen wondering why in the world it took so long to get an education. It was hard enough just getting through college with a bachelor's degree, but on top of that to get any kind of decent job you needed some sort of graduate degree.
Searching through the pantry, she chose a bag of popcorn and decided that she was going to be lazy and put off everything to the last minute like she always did. Sometimes it was a pain because she ended up putting a lot of stress on herself, but as much as she complained about it, Jessie thrived on stress and knew she would bore herself to tears if she didn't put that pressure on herself. She was wondering about how many other people did the same thing when the doorbell rang. Jessie threw the bag of popcorn in the microwave to cook and went to answer the door.
She opened the door with a smile expecting to see John coming to ask her on another date.
But it wasn't.
In front of her stood a young man of no more than twenty that had changed drastically since she had last seen him.
His mouse brown hair was now longer than when he had gone through basic training in the army. His shoulders were broader, but she guessed that was also from the training that he had to go through. A faded crescent shaped scar appeared just below the hairline next to his ear where before his skin had been smooth. The adolescent pimples had disappeared from his chin with age, and he now stood straighter and with more confidence. Green eyes that were hauntingly familiar watched her with interest as she stared with disbelief at him.
"Hello, Jessie." His voice had changed too. It was lower and stronger, and she knew that he had finally grown from the young boy she had known him as into the man standing in front of her.
"Mike?" she breathed. "What…what are you doing here?"
Mike smiled warmly and shrugged his shoulders saying, "I was in the neighborhood."
Jessie trembled, in fear for a moment, not expecting this reaction from him. She stared at him knowing that he was waiting for her to say something or invite him in, but she couldn't do it. She couldn't believe that he would willingly come to find her unless he meant to scream at her for what she had done. Jessie stared at him for a moment longer before she lost her nerve. She moved her body back inside the door and slammed it shut with enough force to feel it vibrate through the walls. Holding her hands to her face, Jessie turned and placed her back to the door.
I can't do this! I can't do this! I can'tdo this!
A knock reminded her of who exactly was standing outside her door.
No, no, no, no.
Jessie could feel the rational part of her mind starting to kick in then. He hadn't yelled at her…yet. And even, if he did she knew she deserved it. Perhaps she could even explain everything.
Come on, girl. You knew this was going to happen someday. May as well get it over with now.
With shaking fingers, she turned and opened the door once more. Mike was no longer smiling and Jessie braced herself for the barrage of angry words that she knew were about to fly from his lips. However, he didn't speak and instead continued to gaze at her with an intensity that she wasn't sure she could bear.
Finally, he drew his gaze away and seemed satisfied because he said, "Did you know that there's a Depression concert coming to Denver in two weeks?"
Jessie searched his face for some idea of what he might be thinking before nodding her head.
"I have two tickets and I was wondering if you'd like to go with me?"
She shook her head and sighed while opening the door wider to let Mike into her apartment. He walked in and looked at the pictures hanging in the hallway as he waited for her to join him.
"I like what you've done here," he commented as he wandered into the kitchen. "Is that popcorn I smell?"
Jessie followed him into the kitchen and watched as he opened the microwave and grabbed the bag inside. Same old Mike, she thought with a small smile. Her smile faded, though, as she recalled what he had asked a moment before. "Mike…why would you want me to go to a concert with you?"
Mike looked up from the popcorn and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I just thought that maybe you'd like a nice evening out with me. We could go to dinner in downtown Denver and then head over to the concert."
"Those tickets wouldn't happen to have the words backstage stamped anywhere on them, would they?"
"Of course not..."
Jessie crossed her arms and glared at him, her fear momentarily forgotten. Mike just stared right back at her with innocent eyes that she knew from experience had a habit of omitting the truth.
"The tickets don't say anything about the backstage area…but the backstage passes do."
"What?" He threw up his arms in his defense spilling popcorn everywhere. Jessie growled in exasperation and moved to get the broom and dustpan silently cursing him with every word that she knew.
"I can't believe that you could even think that we would ever get back together!" she said with more venom then she thought necessary, but she didn't ease her voice knowing that she had to get her point across. "I hate to say this Mike, but it's not going to happen. It's over between us and that's it."
Jessie concentrated on the floor that she was sweeping as she felt tears pricking her eyes at her angry words. She knew what she said was true, but she hated the fact that it was. A finger underneath her chin forced her to gaze up into the caring look on Mike's face.
"Jessie, I'm not asking you to get back together with him," he said quietly. The tears that were threatening finally spilled onto her cheeks as Mike swept her up into a hug. She let the sobs rack her as she let out the anger and fear that had come back to her with Mike's arrival. She leaned into him and lost herself in her pain for sometime. Subconsciously, her mind registered that Mike steered her towards the couch in her living room where she collapsed. A tissue box found its way into her hand. For the next five minutes, she spent her time mopping her face desperately trying to pull herself back together.
Mike waited patiently, but he didn't take his eyes off her. She could feel his stare and did her best to ignore it.
"Why are you really here?" she hiccupped.
"I came to ask you to go with me to the concert. It's as simple as that."
Jessie sighed, hiccupped once more, and slouched into the couch as much as she could. "Mike…I just…can't."
"You can't or you won't?"
"I won't," she replied bluntly. "There's too many complications. You don't understand the situation."
"Then enlighten me."
"Why not? What is it that I don't already know? He told me everything."
"He didn't know everything," she grumbled. Mike shifted uncomfortably next to her. She knew he was tempted to wring the answer out her by force by the way that he was clenching his fists. It didn't surprise her. She had held something back that day, but it had been for a reason. After two years, she regretted her decision, but there was no way to fix the past and releasing the information now would have even more disastrous results now than back then.
"Will you please tell me what you left out?" Mike asked through clenched teeth.
"It's not that easy," she sighed.
"Yeah, you said that already."
"Then you'll know I'm serious since I'm repeating it," she grimaced, tired of having to think about something that had ended two years ago. Mike sighed and sagged into the couch mimicking Jessie's position.
"Listen, I'm not here to patronize you or yell at you for your mistakes. But you do need to end the pain that you're leaving caused."
Jessie looked at her lap in shame. He was right…she'd been cowardly and run off without saying goodbye. But how did he expect her to fix the mistakes she had made?
"You okay, Jess?" Mike yelled into her ear.
They were standing on the far left side of the stage doing their best to avoid the mosh pit that had formed, and Mike had to give some evil glares to keep Jessie from being hoisted into the air as a body surfer. Jessie wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to the rest of the crowd, though, and didn't hear one word of Mike's question. Her eyes were locked on one person.
His brown hair was gelled into a messy style with a few curls hanging just above his bright green eyes. A tall, toned body that was accented by well-fitting set of jeans and t-shirt finished off the appearance giving him an alluring look that made the girls go crazy. There was something, though, that no one but Jessie noticed. While it was clear to the fans that he was concentrating whole-heartedly on his music, she saw that the usual vigor that he put into playing his guitar was gone. The passion in his eyes had disappeared. This wasn't the same man that Jessie had known, and her shame returned full force when she realized she'd been the cause of it.
Mike's shout brought her back to her senses as he repeated his question to her.
"I'm fine," she shouted in return. She finally managed to pull her eyes away from the figure on stage and saw Mike shove another person back towards the chaotic mob that was trying to pull the two of them in.
"I think we should probably head back out to hallway."
"The concert's almost over, and it'd be a good idea to leave before we get run over by the stampede," Mike yelled jerking his thumb behind his shoulder to make a point. Jessie nodded and followed his lead with only one last look over her shoulder at the lead guitarist.
Half an hour later they were standing in line with the other screaming fans that had managed to get back stage passes. Mike stood on his tiptoes to look over the crowd and see how far they were from the front. Jessie knew that he was waiting for her because Mike had no reason to wait in line, but when Mike had seen her wringing her hands and nearly ripping her shirt to shreds, he had graciously suggested they get in the back where they wouldn't be seen for a while.
Jessie was now having second thoughts about this idea. What was she going to say to him? How would he react?
In all reality she knew how he would react, but the uncertainty and the hope that he would just forgive her continued to race around her head.
Suddenly, before she could even believe it had happened, they were at the beginning of the line. Three out of the four band members were sitting at the table smiling lazily at the group of girls that had preceded them. The last band member kept his head down, appearing to be concentrating completely on his signature, and ignoring the world around him.
I shouldn't be here, Jessie thought desperately.
She couldn't do it. She'd been a coward before and had no idea how she was going to change her ways now. Just as a she started to move out of the line, a hand grasped her wrist and forced her to return to her spot.
"You wouldn't be thinking of running off now, would you?" Mike whispered, silkily.
"N-No, of course not," she tried to joke. The smile on her face was watery as her eyes began to tear up again, and her heart began to flutter wildly.
A red headed woman with glasses walked up Mike with a smile and a clipboard in her hand.
"Well, well, well," her soft voice laughed. "What are you doing here Mike?"
Mike just chuckled and pointed to Jessie. The woman looked her up and down with a knowing smile and winked in Mike's direction.
"I see…well, go on ahead," she said, motioning them forward with her hand. "The guys will all be glad to see you."
A hand on the small of Jessie's back pushed her forward. The two band members on the right looked up and smiled at Mike as they approached, and like the red head gave him a knowing look and a wink. While Jessie didn't know these two, she did recognize the brown haired blue-eyed on the far left. Kyle was still laughing and joking with two girls that were stubbornly ignoring the guards that were trying to move them along to let the other fans get their chance to get autographs. He didn't see her, and she wasn't sure yet if that was a good thing. Another gentle push from Mike herded her in the direction of the man sitting next to Kyle.
He was quickly signing a pile of photographs leaving enough room for a name trying to move through people as quickly as possible, and Jessie nearly laughed at the thought about how much Cameron hated the spotlight. She stopped just in front of him, and waited for him to notice her. It took a moment, but he still didn't look up, and instead just pushed a signed photograph her way.
"So, who's your favorite band member?" he asked, and Jessie could almost detect a hint of resentment.
It nearly brought her to tears to think of how much he had changed in only two years, and it was even worse knowing that had been the cause of the problem.
"You are," was her whispered answer. What else was there for her to say? It would only be a matter of moments before her world came crashing down around her ears once more.
Jessie watched as Cameron rolled his eyes in exasperation and look up with a smile as fake as the one she had on all night. At the sight of her, his mouth dropped open and stuck that way while green eyes watched her with amazement, shock, and barely controlled rage. His fists clenched and ever muscle in his body quivered as she held up her hand in a small wave.