‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

thirty-seven

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“Are you sure you wanna do this?” Amber asks as I check the tuning on my guitar. “He might actually divorce you over this.”

“Let him. The alimony will be amazing.”

“I’m telling him you said that.”

I laugh, shaking my head. “Just fucking call my husband. Ready, Don?”

Don nods and grins widely. I’d told him my plan before soundcheck, and now it’s time to put it into action. He stays off to the side while Amber gets Niall on a video call. He raises a brow when he sees me at the side of the stage.

“Hi, I miss you, just figured you’d wanna see at least one of my songs,” I announce before blowing a kiss. “Gotta go.”

Dawn settles her violin under her chin as I make my way to the centre of the stage. The lights dim to a navy blue and magenta, and I grin when the audience falls quiet. Glancing toward the wings, I roll my eyes at the sight of Amber holding my phone up so Niall has an unobstructed view.

“Now I don’t wanna lose you,” I sing, turning back to the audience. “But I don’t wanna use you, just to have somebody by my side.”

Even though I know what’s coming, I’m still nervous. Mostly because it’s Don freakin’ Henley. Don. What if I mess up? My grip on the microphone tightens, and I manage to keep my voice from wavering. Nothing can stop the churning of my stomach, though.

Don’s voice rings through the speakers before the man himself comes out of the shadows. “Yes, I may have hurt you, but I did not desert you. Maybe I just wanna have it all.”

The cheers grow louder as he stops beside me, throws his arm over my shoulder, and I can’t fight my smile even as we continue singing together. The fears I’ve harboured since Pete called with the offer have all vanished. The light in Don’s eyes, the fact he hasn’t walked away in the middle of the song… It tells me that maybe I’m not failing as badly as I think.

Don immediately embraces me as soon as the final note ends, and I exhale a laugh. I’ve done it. The first time I’ve performed Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough live, and it was a success. Waving to the screaming fans, I take a bow with my bandmates and traipse off the stage. Amber shoves my phone into my hands, wishes me good luck, then disappears with the others.

“You okay, babe?” I ask, but I’m pretty sure I can guess his answer based off his dropped jaw, wide eyes, and the hand gripping at his hair.

“Are - are you serious? Erin, you just…”

“I just what?”

“You sang with - Fucking Hell, Erin, how could you not tell me?”

I grin and duck around a tech scurrying to pack away the instruments. “Jealous?”

“So jealous.”

“I miss you.”

“I miss you, too.”

Niall goes to say more, but a very familiar crying starts up in the background. He closes his eyes, exhaling sharply, then gives me an apologetic smile. I swallow against the urge to demand he ignore Declan and focus solely on me. With a murmured ‘I love you’, he ends the call to take care of our son.

The next month drags by. The well-known routine of bus, show, meet-and-greet, repeat makes time seem even slower. The interviews have slowed - evidently, people have finally realised that touring isn’t exactly an easy thing to do in the first place. Adding photoshoots and interviews only makes it more difficult.

But, when the end is on the horizon, things go sideways.

“Are you serious?”

Tanner shrugs in apology as he raises his arm to show off the cast. Three stitches hold together the skin of his forehead. His cheek is covered in angry-looking scratches, evidence of his face-planting.

Two and a half weeks. That’s all he had to wait before he could do stupid, reckless things like skateboarding. Nineteen days. Sighing, I scrub a hand over my face and drop onto the lounge sofa.

I’d hoped, when Bryan said he had to take Tanner to the nearest hospital, that it wouldn’t be serious. A sprained wrist I could work with. At least then, I could do a couple of acoustic shows while he healed. I can’t do nineteen of them.

Zach pats my shoulder before flopping over to rest his head on my lap. I run my fingers through his light brown hair without thinking. All I can focus on is the fact my bassist is suddenly out of commission. I have to finish the tour without him.

I know my management company can take care of finding someone to replace him for the rest of the gigs. But Tanner was the one in the studio with me. On tour with me from the very first show of my solo career. He was at my damn wedding for gods’ sakes. No one can replace him, even if they know the songs by heart.

Tanner swallows a painkiller and disappears to the bunks with a mutter apology. I scowl, twisting the ends of Zach’s hair between my fingers, and let my head drop backwards. Today has already been a disaster. This is only the icing on the cake.

First, we ran late this morning. I’d had to eat a protein bar on my way to the only interview we couldn’t reschedule or cancel. I hadn’t even been able to FaceTime with Niall and Declan like I’ve done every morning since the tour started. Soundcheck went horribly, which is why Tanner and Zach had even gone to the skate park.

Now I can’t help but think today is cursed. It has to be. That’s the only explanation for everything that has happened since I woke up.

“Zach?”

“’Sup?”

“Pinch me so I can wake up from this fucking nightmare.”

He does then yelps when I pinch his ear in response. Begging silently for luck, I shove him off my lap and reach for my phone. Might as well get the call to Jamie over. Her voice trembles with ill-concealed anger, just like I expected, after I tell her what happened.

“I’m gonna do an acoustic set tonight,” I assure her, “but I can’t do it every night.”

She sighs, and I imagine her pressing her fingertips against her brows. “I know. Fuck, why couldn’t he have waited? Okay, I’ll look around for a replacement. I swear, Erin, if anyone else breaks anything during the rest of this tour, I’m taking it outta your ass.”

“Why me? I didn’t do anything!”

“Because I love you.”

She hangs up without another word, and I groan. Today sucks. I blow out a breath and send a text to Niall asking how things are at home. He doesn’t reply, even after ten minutes. Honestly, I expected it. His hands-on approach to fatherhood means he’s hardly ever on the phone anymore unless it’s for our morning and nightly video calls.

To: My Darling
<
I fucking miss you and I hate today send me pictures of my kid.

The show goes as well as expected. It feels weird not having Tanner onstage with us, an acoustic set for songs not meant to be played without the driving beat, but we make it work. Dawn tugs me into her side as we make our way through the corridors, smiling gently at me. She promises not one member of the audience was angry about our decision. Even with her assurances, I go through meet-and-greet and signing merch in a hazy fog.

My husband comes through for me: By the time we unload at the next venue around eleven in the morning, there are no less than twenty new images in my inbox. I diligently save each of them to my phone’s gallery, not caring that most are nearly identical. They all contain Niall or Declan or both. I need to save them.

Amber helps keep us on schedule, barking orders and reminding me of the next day’s agenda while plying me with more coffee than she’s ever allowed me to have. Especially since I’m so stressed out. Niall texts as I’m heading out onto the stage to approve the layout. It nearly breaks my heart to have to say ‘no’. There is too much to do before the show tonight.

From: My Darling
>
That sucks :( We love you .

It’s generic, lacking any accusation, but there is no way of stifling the thought he’s upset and just doesn’t want to say so. We’ve always made time for each other. No matter how hectic our days have gotten, there was always enough time in the day to call each other.

“Okay, you lot,” Amber says when I enter the green room, “this is Matt. Matt, this is the band you’re getting the immense privilege of playing with for the next eighteen shows. Erin, Zach, Owen, Dawn, and Lisa. Don’t fuck up.”

Matt waves, a wide smile stretching his thin lips, and shakes our hands exuberantly. His blue eyes are wrong. He shoves his shaggy brown hair from his face as he launches into a short speech about how honoured he is to have this chance. I nod without interest when he vows to do his best.

“Who knows, maybe I could become permanent!”

Fat chance. Forcing a smile, I make my way to the bathroom if only to escape Matt’s excitability. There is nothing wrong with him - he seems sweet enough - but something in my gut tells me the other shoe will drop soon. It’s just the anxiety talking, I know it is, so I tell the voice to shut up. Everything will be fine.

Zach and Owen start up a game of Go Fish as Tanner walks Matt through the set-list. I sit on the couch, barely listening while I scroll through the thousands of photos in my gallery. My throat tightens every time Dec’s sweet face appears on the screen. Pictures of Niall, our friends and families are interspersed in the mix, but a vast majority of the recent ones are of my son.

As much as I deny it, it’s been tougher than I expected to transition from musician to musician who’s also a mother. There’s a heavy weight on me at all times, one that tells me I’m missing out on so much. That Declan is going to hate me when he gets older for all the times I haven’t been there for him. That he’ll resent me for choosing to make music and sing to live audiences nine months of the year.

My management company and band understand things will change after this tour. I’ll still put our records, but the tours will be broken up more. I need more than a couple of months at a time with my child. No longer will I spend a majority of my life on the road. Music will always be important to me - it’s gotten me through so much - but having a life with the family I’ve created is my main priority now.

They have to be.

I couldn’t live with myself if they weren’t.