He always imagined a tour bus would be bigger. Maybe it was big, but with four guys, plus Manager, it made for a tight fit. Still, anything was better than driving from gig to gig in Dizzie’s mom’s minivan.
Cris slid out of his bunk, picking up his class ring as it fell. He grabbed it without looking at it- he had stayed up late many nights staring at it- and tucked it back under his pillow. He had only worn in once: the day he got it. That was also the day he met Jenna. She had worn it ever since. And now it was his again.
With a deep sigh, he pushed out the memories of her.
Paul- their new guy- had fallen asleep on the couch, guitar draped over his chest. One hand strummed absently at the strings, the other was dug deep into a half-eaten bag of Doritos.
Cris snatched the bag from him and tossed it on the table. They needed a real breakfast.
They had picked up Paul in Boston a week ago when Mat threw a bitch fit after a show and quit. He was an okay guy. He was pretty nice, too, though maybe a little too nice, but he played the guitar well and that’s all the mattered.
The only thing Cris could say about the guy was that sometimes he was a little too into his looks. He followed that “emo/scene” trend that everyone loved nowadays, with his hair dyed black, cut lopsided, and ironed straight so that it fell into his heavily eyelinered eyes. He was also really into the v-neck tees and skinny jeans.
Personally, Cris thought the guy could stand to eat a double cheeseburger or five, but that aside the guy was pretty okay. Plus, Manager said that he was good for business. Paul gave the rabid and hormonal teenage girls something to drool over. Also, it meant that Manager would stop pushing Cris into being emo. He really didn’t mind it if he had to, but he would have to lose a good fifteen pounds of muscles and give up his Korn and Metallica tees. He would be lying if he said he had never tried on eyeliner so that was no big, but he couldn’t do the whole skinny jean thing- something about it didn’t feel right.
So Cris didn’t argue. Manager always knew best.
Speaking of Manager, where was he? Cris could already tell he wasn’t on the bus- there really wasn’t anywhere to hide- so he stuck his head out the window. “Hey, Manager, you out there?” No answer. Cris closed the window someone had forgotten to shut and shrugged. The man had probably gone to get breakfast for them like always. He must have wanted to get an early start- most of the time he waited until they all were awake.
“Whyagoddabesolowd?” He heard Paul mutter and turn over, still half-asleep. His guitar dropped to the floor and he jerked awake, trying to save it before the neck hit.
Behind them, Dizzie rolled out of his bunk, picking up his cigs and a video game magazine and gave them a weak “morning” wave before locking himself in the bathroom. Cris made a mental note to stay away from that area for a while.
Diz wasn’t very social, and could be a little geeky sometimes- evident by his love for WoW t-shirts – but the guy was pretty chill and could beat the drums like nobody’s business.
Their last member was Joey, who was sleeping in the one actual bedroom the bus possessed because his girl had flown into meet up with them. They’d drop her off in Ohio to fly back.
Cris and Joe had been friends since childhood, growing up two houses apart. They were the originators of their band, “The Wicked Tuesdays”, and picked up the other members along the way. But they couldn’t take all the credit. Without Diz and Mat, they would have never gotten their first hit, “Wrong Turn into Yesterday”, on MTV and wouldn’t have been offered their own tour the day after their graduation.
“Morning,” Paul said after Diz, who wouldn’t answer until after his bathroom time. But Paul didn’t seem to even notice that he was ignored and turned back to Cris. “Where’s Mr. Prebolt- er, Prevlut-“
“It’s just Manager, dude,” Cris told him for the fifth time. “It’s easier.” Manager did have a real name, but it was long and Polish, so they gave up trying to pronounce it months ago. It was just Manager now.
“Sorry,” Paul apologized. “Where is the Manager?”
Cris didn’t want to correct him and just shrugged. “Breakfast, hopefully. Tengo hambre.”
Paul nodded, though Cris knew he didn’t understand- the guy was about as white as sliced bread. “Yeah, I hope so, too. I’m very hungry.”
Cris just grunted a response and sat down at the table, across from where Paul laid.
As if summoned by the mention of his name, the front door to the tour bus opened and Manager stepped in, carrying several bags full of to-go boxes in his hands. He dropped them haphazardly on the table.
“Eat up, boys,” Manager said, taking one box as his own.
“Finally, Manager, I was starving here,” Cris told him dramatically, grabbing an entire bag and digging in greedily.
“Hey, do you think I could have some pancakes?” Paul asked politely. Both Manager and Cris just stared.
“Dude,” Cris said, “just take whatever you want. It’s their fault for sleeping in.”
“So, they’re still back there?” Manager asked, lowering his voice as if they could really hear him from back there.
Cris nodded. “Unless they magically snuck by when I wasn’t looking.”
Manager chuckled and shook his head. “Kids. Anyway, we’re leaving in an hour and will be driving all day, so if you gotta stretch your legs, I’d do it now. Now, ladies, if you’ll excuse, I gotta go make a call about getting us a hotel tonight.”
Paul remarked about how nice it would be for them to stay in a hotel and thanked him for getting food. Cris just gave Manager a wave.
“They must have really missed each other,” Paul said when Manager had gone, pointing to the bedroom.
Cris shrugged, it really wasn’t their business how Joey and his girl chose to spend their time together. “Lena’s cool. She’s one of those girls you can just talk to.” Though talking probably wasn’t what they were doing. “Do you have a girl?”
Paul shook his head. “No, Mr. Preb- I mean, Manager, says I have to stay single. I’m more marketable that way. Besides, girls really aren’t my thing.”
Cris paused just for a second, sure that he had heard wrong. “What?”
“Girls aren’t my thing. Remember? I’m gay, dude.” Paul said casually, getting up to fetch the juice from the fridge.
“Oh,” was all Cris said. He looked Paul up and down again. Yeah, he could see it. With a lazy shrug, he began rolling up a pancake and dunking it into a bowl of syrup the restaurant had provided.
“Wait, I thought Manager told you,” Paul asked, his voice suddenly anxious.
Cris shrugged again and shook his head. “Nope.”
Paul froze. “Oh, well, damn. Sorry, man. Don’t worry, I’m not-“
“It’s alright,” Cris said between mouthfuls of food. “As long as you follow the Rule of the Bus and don’t bring back groupies, I’m cool.”
“That was easy,” Paul said and took a drink from the carton of OJ.
“Dude, Diz dresses up like an elf for fun. His idea of ‘going out’ is getting together with other dudes dressed up like elves and sword fighting,” Cris told him as if that explained everything.
“Ok,” Paul said, realizing that on some level, his answer did explain everything. “Well, what about you? Are you dating some lucky girl?”
Cris frowned, his expression suddenly going dark and he shook his head. “No,” he said stiffly and stood up. “I’m going for a walk. And make sure you stay away from the bathroom for a while. Once Diz gets out, the air’s like 95% cigarette smoke in there.” He quickly grabbed his class ring from under his pillow and nearly ran from the tour bus.
He continued to walk until he was at a point where the parking lot of the abandoned bar met a wall of trees. He knew he shouldn’t go in, because he’d get lost faster than you could dial 911. He was a city boy through and through. So he just stopped and stared into the woods.
The ring was still warm from when he held it while sleeping. Slowly, he brought it up to his face. It was a simple ring, with a brass band and a small fake ruby set in the middle. There was no inscription, no date of when he graduated- only his school colors, red and gold. The ring brought back memories. Painful memories about dates on the beach, long talks at the park, getting in trouble together for texting each other in class.
Jenna was his first love, the first girl he really cared for. She was beautiful, at least to him. She had long, curly brown hair, that always looked had the windblown look, even if there wasn’t a breeze that day. She never wore make-up, believing that she was most beautiful when she went natural. And she was always smiling, as if there was always some big secret joke going on in her head.
Since the day he left, he wondered what happened to her. She wouldn’t take his calls or respond to his texts, but he knew that she was somewhere, still thinking about what could have been. He often imagined just disappearing for a day and buying a plane ticket back home. He would show up at her door, unannounced, and she would be so surprised and grateful that he had come back for her that all would be forgiven and they would travel the world together with his band, living happily ever after.
But that was his dream. Her dream, as she would remind him every time he called, was to be the story everyone loved to hear about: married to her high school sweetheart, living in the country where they could afford a large house, pop out three kids and lead a long, simple, happily-ever-after fairytale. She had always dreamed of the country. She hated the constant buzz of the city and how rude people could be. He never thought his band would ever get famous, so he shared her dream for the longest time. After a while, he even looked forward to it.
But he did get famous, almost overnight, and everything changed. Suddenly, he was gone all the time, busy with press, or gigs, or photo shoots, and Jenna had been pushed to the side. He regretted it now, he had let his fame get to him, but what’s done is done. He tried to make time for her, and she tried to catch rides to some of the gigs, but they had different priorities now. Cris wanted to be famous. He wanted to play for thousands of people and be on TV. Jenna didn’t.
The day after graduation was the last straw. They were offered a three-month tour across America, with hopes of continuing it in Europe. They would be crammed into a bus, traveling every day, only sometimes booking hotels. She would be the only girl. Lena, Joey’s girlfriend, had a job and could only take short vacations to come and meet up with them. She realized that this new life that Cris had didn’t include her or her dream, so she left. He found his ring taped to his front door when he went home later that day.
He thought about her every day, wondering what would happen if he just quit and went back to her. He could fly right back and sweep her off her feet. They could go elope somewhere and her happily-ever-after dream life.
But there were two things wrong with that.
He had a band, and his band was his family. He would be letting them down if her quit, he would be letting Joey down. They had shared this dream ever since they went to their first Linkin Park concert at thirteen. And this was his dream. Now that it was actually a reality, he wouldn’t just let it go, couldn’t.
The other thing was the real problem. Jenna had a boyfriend now.
He did buy a plane ticket one day, back when they had a break in July. He did show up at her house unannounced, but she wasn’t there. Her mother informed him that she had moved to a town an hour away with her new boyfriend, he couldn’t sweep her off her feet. She was happy with her new boyfriend, too, so he shouldn’t show up at their apartment.
Heartbroken, he agreed and left. He’d been quieter ever since. That had been almost a month ago.
Some part of him hoped they had broken up, that he could go back now and try to sweep her off her feet again. But he knew better. She had a boyfriend, and he was in a rock band. That was that.
He clutched the ring in his fist one last time, and chucked it into the forest, along with his memories of her. Their lives went different paths now. He had to move on. She had a boyfriend and he was in a rock band.
“Hey, Cris,” he heard Manager shout. “Are you already ready? We’re going in a few.”
Cris just nodded and turned back to the bus. He was in a rock band. The guys were his family now. When all this was said and done, he’d find a girl to settle down with. And she’d wear his ring- a better ring- forever.