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Chapter 30: Musical
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes/Warnings: Not really anything to mention for this chapter - enjoy!

Posting a little earlier than usual today, but I didn't have time to get this chapter to my editor in chief, gwoman, so please let me know if anything is repetitious, out of place, or just plain wrong.

Back to Chapter 29

As Kate had predicted, it didn't take long before the group got back to their normal routine. The first few days had seen an explosion of creativity from the group, and they'd practiced and recorded a few more new songs and finally decided they had enough for the new CD.

Lex sat with the rest of the group while they mixed it down, Victor doing a lot of the mixing board and after effects work and the rest of the band pitching in to be sure everything sounded as they'd intended. At one point, while taking a break, Casey came out of the kitchen to sit by Lou. She looked excited as she started talking.

“Hey, everyone, I just got a call from Laura in LA. Victor, Kate, I know you didn't meet them, but they're members of a band out there, End of the Road. We met them when we toured last time. They and another band, Jacob's Hammer, have been setting up tour dates for the next three months. Since it's going to happen over the wintertime, they're planning to stick to the south, mostly California. They called because they'd set it all up with a third band who pulled out at the last minute. Anyway, it's supposed to start in three weeks, so I wanted to ask you guys if you think we could be ready for another tour by then. What do you think?”

Lex looked at Casey and smiled, then looked at Riss and Lou, who both seemed happy as well. Victor and Kate appeared to be having a conference by look, so the rest waited until they'd finished.

“I really liked them, and I think the kind of music they played will fit well with what we do,” Lex finally said, looking at everyone in turn as she spoke. “But Kate should probably be the deciding factor,” she finished, glancing at her friend.

When she felt everyone's eyes on her a moment later, Kate covered her face. “You guys!” she laughed, finally peeking out by widening her fingers. “I'm fine now. I was still kind of tired for the first week after, but I feel pretty much normal now. I haven't met your friends yet, but if you like them, I'm sure it'll be fine to go on tour with them. What do you think, Victor?”

He nodded in response. “I'm up for it. I have a few things I've been working on that might help during the tour, so maybe we can test them out before we go.”

Lex found herself nodding, wondering what he'd come up with.

“I'm in,” Riss said, nodding at Casey and then looking at Lou.

“Sounds good to me,” he replied, leaning to hold hands with Casey. “They seem like some good people, and three months on the road doesn't sound too bad, as long as we aren't too tightly booked. Did they send you a schedule?”

Casey shook her head. “No, she wanted me to ask everyone first to see if anyone was interested. I'll give her a call back to let her know we're in, and we can all look at the schedule together.”

Lou nodded and Lex could see Casey give her boyfriend's hand a squeeze before she went to call the other band with the news.

Riss turned to the group of them, the tiny smile she sometimes wore on her face. “Do you want to finish mixing this one down and then take a break? I had an idea for the cover art, but I'll need Kate's help.”

Kate turned and nodded. “Sure. Let's finish this song, then.”

The next few weeks were busy as they practiced and prepared for the upcoming tour. Victor had come up with a tiny amplifier with a lot of power that they could use in case they were playing at venues larger than they'd previously been used to, and as a result they ended up shopping for a couple of new speakers. A few days after she'd talked about it, Riss presented everyone with a sample of the cover art she'd created: a close photograph of Kate's new eye. The color looked stunning, and the band members all agreed that's what they should use.

One day, they decided they needed to spice up Kate's wardrobe for the tour, so everyone went shopping. Lou and Lex got a bunch of new t-shirts, although Lou's taste swung more towards rock-band tour shirts while Lex got a few more anime shirts as well as one with a skull with crossed cutlasses underneath.

“I figure I could match Casey's,” she said with a smile as she modeled it.

Casey, Riss, and Victor all got a few new pairs of jeans; Casey favored the standard cut blue jeans (which she always seemed to have to buy in men's sizes), but both Riss and Victor got a couple of pairs of skinny black jeans. When the both of them saw what the other had chosen, they shared one of the silent, secret smiles they'd sometimes give one another. It always made Lex grin that somehow they seemed to be alike enough that they didn't have to talk to understand each other's thoughts.

Kate bought a good number of things, since the few clothes that she owned looked old or worn down. The crowning piece seemed to be a leather top: not exactly a corset since it had elastic in the back, but it looked like one, although instead of ties in the front it zipped up with a heavy metal zipper. She laughed at the expression on Lex's face when she emerged from the dressing room.

“What?” Kate asked with a laugh. “Maybe more people will come to see us play if I wear this,” she finished, still laughing.

Lex laughed in return. “Probably. You definitely have more guts than I do, though!”

As they broke the shopping spree to have a snack, Kate disappeared. “I just thought of something else I want to do while we're out,” she said, smiling secretively. “I'll be back. This shouldn't take too long.”

Kate came back as the rest of the group finished eating and spun in a circle for everyone to see. “How does it look?” she asked, smiling as if she'd put a joke over on everyone.

Her new haircut seemed shorter than the fairly conventional looking bob she'd had before. She'd gotten an uneven, bold cut that highlighted her angular face and interesting features. She also held out a container of hair coloring.

“I figured I should join the rest of you in getting some cooler colored hair,” Kate explained, smiling at Casey and Lex.

“Well,” Lex replied, running her hands through her own hair as she looked in a mirror across the way, “I think I need to touch up my color, too.”

“Come on, everybody,” Casey said as she stood up with a smile. “Let's go home.”

They dyed Casey's first, since the color needed to sit in her hair for a while, and then they did Kate's and Lex's. Casey's hair came out as black as ever, but they were both surprised when they looked at Kate's new color. It seemed to be black at first, but as you looked at it in the light, the sheen of her hair appeared green.

“Well, I thought it would go with the one eye, anyway,” she laughed.

As practice runs for performing out, the band did a couple of shows in town. Lex had been worried at first that Kate would have trouble performing on stage, but as it turned out, her friend took to it like a pro.

“My parents always liked me to be in chorus and in school plays and things,” Kate mentioned with a shrug afterward. “I got used to performing at a young age.”

A couple of weeks before the next tour started, Riss called everyone to sit around the table.

“Just a few things everyone should know,” she said, gazing around to look everyone in the eye. “First, thank you for your confidence in letting me take care of all of our money. I appreciate your trust in me, and I've been trying to make sure to live up to it.”

She passed out a sheet of paper to everyone and continued. “As you can see from the top section, since Kate and Victor have joined us, I've been able to recover $600,000 of their money from MSI. Like before, I invested half of it and put half in our joint account. What we've been getting in the increase in our investments has been keeping pace with our spending. I wanted to point out one more thing, however.”

Again, Riss looked at everyone before continuing. “Our CD sales keep going up. Over the past few weeks, we've been making a couple hundred dollars a week.”

Casey beamed at the news. “How come you didn't mention this before?”

Riss shrugged. “I figured that everyone would have figured it out by now because of how many CDs we've had to make, but I guess you lose track when it becomes a normal part of the schedule. We've been averaging about 35 CDs sold a week recently. We'll be gone for 12 weeks, so it'll be over 400 CDs during that time if it holds steady. Since we're also going to be selling them on the road, I'd recommend we have a run of 1,000 made for both of our CDs. We haven't started selling the new ones yet, so I'm not sure how much they'll sell, but I figure it's better to have more than run out,” she added, giving Casey a glance with a raised eyebrow.

“You aren't the ones who have to deal with all of the disappointed people who can't get a CD. Some of them can get really angry,” Casey replied, crossing her arms over her chest.

“So you've said,” Riss replied, her ghost of a smile evident. “So, what does everyone else think? I've found a place that'll do a run of 1,000 for us for a dollar a CD, and they can have them back to us before we leave.”

After discussion, everyone agreed on the idea. Riss nodded, then added one more thing before the group broke up. “I forgot to mention about our digital sales. The payment cycles don't seem regular, but we usually get something from some of the services every month. For the past few months, it's been somewhere around $500.”

Silence fell around the table as Lex, Lou, and Casey exchanged glances, then looked back at Riss. She still had a grin on her face, but Kate smiled wider. “I guess I'm getting involved with a successful band, then,” she exclaimed, thumping one of Lex's shoulders.

The appointed day dawned sooner than Lex had expected, and although they had less room in the van due to the addition of two more people and their gear, everyone had enough to be comfortable. Lex appreciated the clear and sunny day and the bit of fall chill in the air, and everyone seemed to warm up as they packed all of the instruments and bags on board. Lou took the first driving shift, so Casey sat in back, resting on her backpack. Riss took the front seat with Lex, Kate, and Victor sitting in the middle seats of the van.

“Is everyone ready?” Casey called from the back. Lex giggled and Riss smiled as she turned her head in that direction. Kate called back, “Hell yes! It's about time we went on tour, so let's get to it!”

The drive took around six hours, but between the chats, the breaks, and the singing contest that Kate had insisted on, the hours seemed to fly by. They still had an hour or two of sunlight by the time they reached the hotel they'd chosen (near to Laura and Eddie's house, of course), and they all grabbed their clothes and miscellaneous things to move into their rooms.

Since they'd been invited over to Eddie and Laura's house for dinner that evening, after about an hour the group got back on the road. All six of them filed through their friends' front door some time later, Casey carrying bags from a nearby grocery store piled with sodas, corn chips, and some other odds and ends for dinner. Laura came running up and hugged everyone, even Kate and Victor. A petite bundle of energy, she stood somewhere under five feet tall, her long, curly blonde hair bouncing as she moved from person to person.

“It's so nice to have you here,” she said with a wide smile. “You're such angels for agreeing to do this! We'd been trying to set this tour up for months and then Fractal Page pulled out on us at the last moment. We thought we were screwed.”

Lex introduced Kate and Victor as Laura nodded. “I think we said something to you guys about getting a guitar player the last time you were here, so I'm glad you took our advice,” Laura added, bumping her hip into Lex, who jumped and laughed. “And a sound man! That's excellent! We may have to ask your help on the road; I hope you don't mind.”

Victor gave a polite grin in response. “Not at all. I'd be glad to help out.”

“Well, come on in!” Laura finally exclaimed, beaming at them. “I'll introduce everyone since Kate and Victor haven't met the rest of the gang yet.”

They all made their way into the kitchen and watched as Laura began pointing people out. “Over here in the corner is my brother Hal—he's the drummer for End of the Road,” Laura said as she gestured to a thin man over six feet tall with shoulder-length chestnut hair. He gave a wave and a good-natured smile. “Eddie here is my husband and plays guitar for End of the Road,” Laura mentioned as she leaned into a muscular man with short spiky hair, now dyed a deep blue, who smiled at the group and slipped his arm around Laura's waist as he did.

“It's really good to see all of you again, and I'm glad to hear you have some new members,” Eddie added, nodding at Kate and Victor. “Thanks a lot for agreeing to fill in on this tour with us. You really saved our asses.”

“It's to our benefit, really,” Casey replied with a smile. “I usually have to put in a lot of work to get a tour set up, like the last one we did. This was a lot easier to deal with. Unless you need help with the arrangements along the way, all I'll have to do is sell CDs, deal with the fans, and enjoy the music.”

Laura looked at Casey thoughtfully and shrugged. “We've been working with a guy here in town. He's sort of an agent, I guess, but we've really only had him book shows for us and that sort of thing. I'll give you his card and you can talk to him to see if anything needs to be done while we're on the road.”

Casey nodded as Laura continued with the introductions. “This is our roommate Jack, who's in the other band we'll be touring with, Jacob's Hammer. He's the bass player and shares lead singer duties for the band.” The man she gestured to stood with a hip rested against the kitchen counter, his physique somewhere between lean and muscular. His brown hair curled at his collar, and Lex appreciated the frank look in his green eyes as well as his strong jawline. Lex couldn't help but smile as she glanced to the side to see Kate checking him out. Jack appeared to have noticed as well, and smiled lazily in response as he gave Kate the once over.

“Very nice to meet you all,” he said, continuing to smile and look straight at Kate.

Laura raised an eyebrow but didn't comment further, instead pointing to the pots on the stove. “In honor of you guys coming over I cooked two pots of chili—the veggie chili is on the right. You can put some of the soda in the fridge if you want, and beer is in the cooler in the corner. The other two members of Jacob's Hammer are around here somewhere, Sarah and Rachel, and our other roommate, Luke, is probably up in his room, but feel free to introduce yourselves when you see him. So, dig in and make yourselves comfortable,” she finished, pulling some bowls out of one of the cupboards.

Lex wandered from room to room, listening in on the conversations going on, occasionally joining in but mostly appreciating just being there. She saw Casey and Eddie on the couch in the living room in deep conversation about some of the business end of being a touring band, learning that Eddie handled most of that for End of the Road as well as some of the business for Jacob's Hammer when Jack asked. Jack returned the favor by working on Laura and Eddie's touring van.

“How's he going to have time to tour with us if he's working as a mechanic?” Casey asked.

Eddie shook his head. “I guess he’s the best they have because the garage he's at now just gives him the time off. He worked at a couple of other places before that gave him shit about going on tour, so he just quit and went. He's good enough where he doesn't have trouble getting another job once he gets back in town, either.”

Lex moved back into the kitchen to find Laura and Lou talking about the bass and their love of the instrument. Lex smiled as she listened to Lou's story about playing the bass for the past fifteen years. He'd begun when he found a bass in someone's trash waiting to be picked up by the garbage truck. Lou had grabbed the instrument, taken it home, and figured out how to fix it. Since then Lou mentioned he never liked to be without a bass and had been in a few different types of bands over the years, mostly with people who liked to play for fun. Laura listened intently, then revealed that she'd only been playing for five or six years, having taken it up in high school. Her father had been a guitar player and had offered to buy her an instrument, but when they got to the music store, Laura had fallen in love with the way the basses sounded and insisted on one instead.

Lex nodded to the two of them as she pulled back from the conversation, then filled her plate again before moving on. She spotted Kate and Jack talking together in a corner of the hallway just outside the living room and just waved as she moved downstairs. Kate smiled at her wickedly and Jack raised his hand in response just before Lex passed out of sight.

Lex found two women downstairs playing some sort of sci-fi shooting video game, which they paused as they saw her.

“We're really glad you guys could make it after those other bastards quit at the last minute,” said the woman who'd introduced herself as Rachel. Lex noted a short, stocky blonde, her hair in a sculptured cut that framed her face but didn't fall all the way to her collar, which lent her a mischievous air. Smiling, she shook Lex's hand and turned to the other woman in the room, introducing her as Sarah.

Sarah held her hand out and smiled gently as Lex took it. “So nice to meet you,” she added quietly. Sarah's curly red hair reminded Lex of Serena's, but the tint looked darker and the length only fell to her shoulders. Sarah had the coloring of someone who spent a lot of time indoors, stood about a head taller than Rachel, and moved her thin limbs with grace.

“I play keyboards for Alexander's Army and sing,” Lex offered, sitting down on the couch with them when the other two women sat back down.

“Well, I'm the guitar player,” Rachel said, then nodded at Sarah. “Sarah here is our synthesist—she plays the keys and rhythm as well, and sometimes sings leads. She and Jack tend to switch back and forth, depending on the song.”

“Cool,” Lex replied, smiling again. “I look forward to hearing you play live.”

“Do you sing the leads for the band?” Sarah asked quietly. “We heard the CD you left with Laura and Eddie, and we both really liked the voice work.”

“Yeah, that's me,” Lex admitted, rubbing the back of her head.

Sarah looked at Rachel with a smile, and Lex watched as the blonde's hand seemed to unconsciously move over to link with the redhead's hand. Lex had to smile, as well.

“So,” she asked, “how long have you two been together?”

Sarah looked at Lex in surprise, but Rachel looked wary instead. “Why? Do you have a problem with it?”

Lex laughed. “No, I just asked because the two of you seemed so comfortable, and then when you started holding hands, well...” Lex broke off to smile at them as Sarah smiled back. Rachel still looked a little suspicious, though, so Lex continued. “If anything I'm probably a little jealous since I don't have anyone of my own.”

Rachel raised an eyebrow, her suspicious look having evaporated. “What, a beautiful lady like you?”

Sarah elbowed her with a smile and Rachel grinned as she looked back at her girlfriend, a familiar game. Lex responded, “My fiancé dumped me a few months ago and I guess I haven't really been interested in looking for another guy since then. Too much else going on, anyway.”

“His loss,” Rachel said with a smirk as she linked hands with Sarah again.

The three of them talked for a while about the upcoming tour before Sarah and Rachel decided to go upstairs and get some dinner. Lex followed them but continued going up the stairs after a glance in the living room, wondering where Riss and Victor had gotten off to.

She found them in one of the upstairs rooms. Riss sat in front of the monitor for a desktop computer near the door; she looked up at Lex and gave an almost invisible smile before going back to her work. Victor crouched near another man who sat on the floor, a thin blond with shaggy hair that stuck up on one side. He wore a big smile and a white shirt that proclaimed “E=mc2” above an oil stain, and some jeans with holes in the knees. Victor and the blond both glanced up when they realized that Lex stood in the door.

“Hi, I'm Lex,” she introduced herself as she squatted down near the two men. “You must be Luke.”

The blonde held out his hand and shook Lex's vigorously, his grin now nearly taking over his face. Lex looked down at her feet to see some little robots crawling or rolling around on the floor. Victor looked at her, halfway smiling, then went back to tinkering with the robot he had in hand.

“I'm so glad you guys came by,” Luke said, gesturing to Victor. “I'd been having trouble with this one and couldn't figure out why, but it looks like Victor can fix it.”

Lex laughed. “He can fix everything, as far as I know,” she replied, giving Victor a sidelong look and a grin, both of which he met.

She sat cross-legged on the floor for a while and watched while Luke showed her his robot collection, explaining how he'd made each one. Finally, Lex asked, “So, is this the kind of thing you do for work?”

He shrugged. “Well, sometimes. I got tired of just teaching robotics lab and wanted to do things a lot more cutting edge. I'm still on the faculty, but now I do a lot of movie work, too, building robots to support films. I've also started working with some colleagues in Japan on a couple of projects. The work they do with robots over there is just amazing.”

Luke became distracted as Victor closed up the robot he'd been working on, then turned it on and put it back on the floor. The little robot began moving across the floor in a serpentine fashion.

“See? That's why I was having so much trouble fixing it, I think. I couldn't figure out where it got stuck inside,” Luke concluded, eyes glued to the little figure sliding across the rug.

Lex remained there for a while longer, watching the mini-robots until Luke told her she could pick them up. After playing with a couple of them, she ended up leaving when the two men got into a deep discussion on some of the technical specs of one of the more complex robots, similar to a new project Luke had begun. She stopped by Riss' side for a moment before she left the room.

“Hey there,” Lex said, watching the multitude of windows Riss shuffled through. She turned away from the screen before she started to feel dizzy and looked at her friend instead. “How's it going?”

Riss stopped for a moment to look up at Lex and grin. “Pretty good. Luke told me his computer was acting funny, so I decided to take a look at it.”

Lex smiled back broadly. “That's very nice of you,” she replied, holding back a laugh.

“That's just the kind of person I am,” Riss replied as she turned back to the screen, tiny smile in evidence.

Lex made her way back downstairs a short time later, heading for the kitchen to see if anyone had brought dessert, and ran into Laura.

“I think I've met everyone I didn't know before,” Lex said, and Laura looked up at her and smiled.

“Good. I hope they’re behaving themselves?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Lex laughed. “Everyone seems to be getting along, if that's what you mean,” she replied, looking behind her in the direction of the living room to see Eddie, Lou, Casey, Sarah, and Rachel having an animated conversation.

“I'm glad. So, how do you think we're going to do on the road together for a few months?” Laura asked, laughing when she noticed Eddie make a point that included some of the beer he was drinking sloshing out onto his empty plate.

“We're going to have a great time,” Lex affirmed with a smile, knowing she meant it. “If the four of us could stand being in each other's company for months in a small metal box for a lot of the time, it should be even better to have some other people along. That way, we can switch up riding arrangements for a while if someone isn't getting along.”

“Good point,” Laura said, nodding now. “I think you're right.”

The members of Alexander's Army hung out until sometime after midnight, then made their way back to the hotel to get some sleep so they'd be ready for their first show the next night.

Backstage the day of their first show, Lex couldn't believe how nervous she felt. It seemed like the first time they'd played out all over again, so she took a few deep breaths and tried to calm herself. She looked over at Kate unpacking her guitar. Kate gazed at the instrument for a moment before she put the strap on and settled it over her shoulder. Suddenly remembering that the guitar was the only thing Kate had left of her fiancé, Lex felt ashamed. If Kate can be this calm at the prospect of our first really big show, I can too. The feeling cemented itself a few seconds later as Lex looked over at Riss, wearing her usual cool look but with a sizzling undercurrent of energy, and then at Lou, who gave Lex a grin as he hefted their speakers to carry them onstage.

“Knock them dead tonight,” he told her in an undertone as he passed by.

Lex couldn't say afterwards if she'd knocked anyone dead other than herself; the show had gone by so fast and had been so loud and full of color that she found it hard to remember. However, Lex could clearly remember the whole band breaking into their first song, one of the ones off the new album.

Five million years I walked alone in darkness
Ten million days were dead when I arrived
Four thousand excuses I once used to give
Until I realized that I'm still alive

And now I see you
I know you now, there's nowhere you can hide
I wanted you to understand me once
Now I know you'll never cross that divide

The song started off almost at a whisper, but by the time they ramped up to the chorus, Kate's guitar had begun to wail, Lou's bass drove the rest of the song on harder, and the rhythm Riss had built continued pushing the sound to a peak. Once the band got to the end of the song, Lex felt exhausted. Looking down at the stage she heard nothing but silence, but as she raised her head, getting ready to move on to the next song, the audience burst into cheering and applause. Lex smiled then and chanced a brief look at her bandmates, who appeared surprised but pleased.

She'd been glad to help pack the equipment back in the van and just watch the next two bands. Jacob's Hammer had a very bass- and synth-driven sound, while Rachel liked to play a lot of unique leads. Lex couldn't decide whether she liked Sarah's melodic alto or Jack's deep, growling voice better because each of them sounded like a perfect choice on each of the songs they sung. Once off stage, however, Rachel and Sarah joined Lex and Riss inside the club to listen to End of the Road. Sarah and Riss had gotten deep into a conversation about synth modules and control equipment when their other friends began to play.

The soul of End of the Road seemed to be Laura's soaring soprano vocals and Eddie's intricate guitar work, but the rhythmic bass parts and drums somehow managed to hold it all together. Lex found herself almost holding her breath as Laura began singing one of the songs she'd really liked when they'd heard the band the last time they were in town.

Visions claiming what's left of my mind
Clarion charming many crowds untold
Silently sharing warmth of lives releasing
Wander far alongside foreign shores

You were my original confusion
Taking far more than remaining time
Whether or not fledglings fly much farther
Changing into something all of mind

When they all met up outside as the last two bands packed their remaining gear into their vans, Lex noticed that everyone couldn't seem to stop smiling.

“So,” Casey finally said, “how about we do all of this again tomorrow?” Laughter rang out as the band members finished loading their vans and then headed off to their respective beds.

For the first week or so the shows had been scheduled in Los Angeles or the nearby suburbs, and Lex felt glad that all of the band members seemed to want to spend time together when not at a show. It turned out to be a boon to have Victor with them, since the show venues had been bigger than those they'd played at the last time they'd toured, which usually involved a central sound board to manage. From the first show they'd played together, Riss, Lex, and Lou had known that Kate had been a great addition to their sound and their live presence. As Victor pointed out, however, the fact that Kate seemed to be in love with her leather top didn't hurt at all. Lex had felt her face flame as he pointed that out, but Kate just howled with laughter.

“Hey, if it sells more CDs or more tickets, I'm all for it,” Kate had replied once she'd finished wiping her eyes.

On the night of the last Los Angeles show, Lex had gone backstage to grab some gear to take out to the van when she spotted Kate and Jack in a dark back corner kissing. She looked away as she felt her cheeks heat up, but couldn't help smiling for her friend. Still, Lex couldn't help saying something to Kate as she stood beside her friend in the club a while later, watching the stage as End of the Road offloaded their gear.

“So, I guess you and Jack are an item now?” she asked, smiling at Kate.

Kate raised an eyebrow at her, moving away a step. “You don't approve?” she asked, her voice soft.

Lex shrugged a shoulder. “It's not up to me to tell you what to do,” Lex said, turning to look at her friend. “I'm just...well, you know how things are for us.”

Kate looked grim for a moment, then smiled. “Believe me, I know. I've told him that this isn't a serious thing, and he agreed to it. I didn't want to give him any false ideas because...well, I know how it is.”

The two of them looked back out at the stage for a moment, then Lex glanced back at her friend. “I figured you'd probably say something like that. Excellent choice, by the way.”

Kate returned Lex's look with a sly smile. “I agree. I'm surprised you didn't hook up with him when you were here earlier.”

Lex shrugged and glanced away. “I feel like I've kind of lost my taste for it after my fiancé, but really I guess it's just because all of this has been on my mind that I haven't even considered it, you know? Maybe I'll get used to it someday and find someone else.”

“You'd better,” Kate replied, smiling at her friend again. “I'm going to find someone for you if you don't.”

They moved on the next day, heading north first, then planning to go south again after hitting San Francisco and its suburbs. They followed a route along the inside of the state and stopped at a number of the larger cities along the way, usually playing a couple of places in the area before moving on. They also played at a number of smaller towns as well. On the way back down the state, they planned to hug the coast and hit some different towns.

Riss had brought their digital video camera on the road, which Casey had been using to document some of their songs at the shows, and used her cell phone to get still shots. Riss then updated their web page daily with links to new videos, new photos, and the dates of their next shows. When the other bands found out, they asked her to do the same for them as well, which Riss took on with a smile. Lex didn't know if the website updates or the emails Riss had been sending out to their fans in the area of a show had been doing the trick, or maybe the advertising in the venues the bands played in, but each place seemed more packed than the last.

Lex thought everyone in the bands seemed to be enjoying the tour. They had been checking in together late in the mornings over coffee or tea in the suite that most of Alexander's Army would stay in. Everyone would hang out around the kitchenette while Casey or whoever else felt like it cooked, and they'd discuss the tour to date.

“I don't think we've ever sold so many CDs,” Jack mentioned one morning, shaking his head as he sipped a cup of coffee. “I guess it's because there's so many people at the shows. You guys really know how to bring everyone out. And, thanks for helping us with the website stuff, Riss. All three of us aren't really all that technological.”

Riss inclined her head to the side, but Lex noticed her friend wearing her almost invisible smile. “No problem, really. It's just as easy to update a couple of sites once I'm into it.”

“Well,” Laura said with a glance at Lex, perched on a stool, and Casey, who stood next to her, “I think the numbers probably have something to do with it, but you've got to have something for people to hear when they get there, too. There's something about the show you Alexander's Army guys put on. Even though I've seen you play a bunch of times now, I don't ever get tired of it. You make it seem new every time. And the way you sing, Lex,” she finished, looking straight at her, “you take my breath away.”

Lex looked down in her tea cup and took a deep breath. “You know, you're one to talk,” Lex answered when she felt safe to look up again. “You've got a beautiful voice yourself.”

Laura's soaring soprano was something Lex had always admired, and the way the tiny woman could hold a note almost forever. Smiling in response to Lex's comment, Laura continued, “Thanks. But that's not exactly what I mean. There's something about the way you sing that really draws me in. I feel like I'm experiencing it instead of just listening to it.”

Lex laughed and ducked her head, trying to hide her blazing cheeks. Laura laughed in response and Lex felt happy when the conversation moved to other topics. It brought to mind her concern about being exposed, however, since every person who heard of them became an additional chance that one of them might be identified, in her opinion. Her main concern had begun to be that their popular exposure might bring them to the attention of someone who could figure out what she was doing.

It built to the point where her sleep had become restless, and then the dreams began. Lex noted that when she felt stressed she'd have dreams like being lost in the middle of some sort of bureaucratic maze and unable to get out because she didn't have the right paperwork. The new dream sliced through her normal dream cycle, however. It would fade away to darkness in her dream world, and then a pair of eyes would open slightly above her. No matter where she moved in the darkness, she still seemed to be in front of those eyes, and eventually she noted that there was movement in them. The irises were an unusual reddish-brown color, and those eyes appeared to be searching for her but not yet finding her. Since she couldn't move out of range, however, Lex knew the game would end in a matter of time.

She awoke with a gasp one night at a crawling feeling of terror from the searching eyes, which seemed to be coming ever closer in the darkness. Lex sat up in bed, only to meet Riss' eyes. The other woman sat in a chair beside a small lamp on a table across the room, working on her laptop. She watched Lex for a moment, then spoke in a low voice.

“So, what's been bothering you?” she asked, then just waited, gazing at Lex, unmoving.

Lex shook her head, trying to clear it of sleep, then grabbed her robe and put it on as she crossed the room to talk to Riss. She sat on the floor with her back against one of the table legs as she tried to assemble her scattered thoughts. “I'm just worried we're getting too visible, Riss. I keep feeling like someone's bound to recognize us if we keep getting more popular, and that my idea that we become a touring band was a bad one.”

Riss raised an eyebrow, cocking her head to one side before responding. “I don't think I'd say your idea's bad. It's gotten us out of the house and made us some money. I admit the jury is out on the extra exposure, but I should tell you that the team they've sent after us is in the area.”

She gestured for Lex to sit at the table. Once Lex had, she took in a sharp breath at the sight of Riss' picture staring at her from the laptop screen. After a moment of study, Lex realized the picture had been attached to a Wanted poster.

“Not exactly what I wanted to see the last time I had to send a package,” Riss added, one side of her mouth turning up as she glanced at Lex out of the corner of her eye.

Lex nodded, but stopped as she scrutinized the picture more closely. “You look...different in this picture.”

“Yes, I noticed that, too. I think it's the one they took when I started at the agency. In my defense, thought, the ones of you, Casey, and Kate look even more different when compared to you now.”

“I suppose that's true,” Lex murmured, resisting the urge to touch it as Riss flashed Lex’s old photo on the screen, also embedded into a poster.

“At any rate,” Riss continued, flipping past the Wanted posters for the rest of the group, “here's some information about the people they sent after us.”

Lex held her hand up at the second photo, a familiar dread in her stomach as she looked the woman in the eye. “Do you have color pictures of them?” Lex asked, still staring.

She felt more than saw Riss shake her head. “Not right now, but I can find some, if you want.”

“Yeah, that would probably be good,” Lex replied, swallowing against a dry throat. Probably doesn't matter, though, since I recognized the eyes out of my dream even in black and white.

“This group doesn't seem to be onto us in any way, though,” Riss added. “I've been keeping an eye on what they do, and they spend a lot of time harassing people on the street and trying to get police reports. It would probably be a miracle if they found us.”

“Good. Can you continue keeping a close eye on them and let me know right away if they get any real leads? It probably wouldn't hurt to start thinking of contingency plans, too, in case the worst happens.”

Riss nodded in reply. “Sure, I'll keep on with it and start researching some other things.”

“I'll start thinking on it, as well,” Lex replied, clasping her hands together in a tight ball.

“I didn't tell you any of that to worry you, though. Go ahead and get back to sleep; I'm on top of things.”

Lex nodded, still looking at the screen, a bit afraid to meet Riss' eye. “Yeah, you're right, I guess,” she agreed, hoping against hope that the nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach was just worry and over-protectiveness for her friends.

As the tour continued north, however, Lex had the dream more frequently. By the time they hit San Francisco she was having it every other night. As they began to head south again, the dream decreased in frequency until she pretty much forgot about it by the time the tour had reached San Diego.

The crowds continued being enthusiastic and large the entire way through until the bands had been playing to packed houses every night the last few weeks of the tour. One night Casey came backstage as Alexander's Army prepared to go on. “You know they've had to turn people away tonight,” she said, looking at the band to gauge their reaction. Everyone exchanged incredulous looks.

“What do you mean?” Lex finally managed.

“I managed to hear that they've had to turn people away for the past half-hour or so because there were too many people in here for the fire code. When I went outside to see if it was true, I found a crowd of people out there, so I sold a bunch of copies of the new CD,” she finished, grinning at her own cleverness.

Lex shook her head, then looked at Kate, Riss, and Lou in turn. “Doesn't seem possible,” she said, still shaking her head.

Riss and Lou both shrugged, but Kate just grinned. “So, let's get out there so we don't disappoint the people who made it in,” she replied.

“Yeah, you're right,” Lou said, and with a final smile at Casey, he started carrying their gear out onstage.

The live shows had been continuing to get better, Lex thought, as all four of them got used to each other's styles and tastes. They started being willing to take a few chances with what they played, and the audience seemed to appreciate some improvisation in the songs. There was another change as they were out on the road that Riss alerted them all to one night after they'd gotten back to their hotel rooms from a show.

“I've been keeping an eye on this for a while,” Riss began, looking at all of them, including Casey and Lou. The couple had booked their own room as usual, but Riss had asked them to visit for a brief discussion as they drove back from the show.

“The thing is, we've started to sell CDs faster than expected. What we brought is running pretty low already, as Casey complained the other day, but we're selling them on the website pretty fast. I'd like to propose that we ask the people who made them for us last time to make some more and send them directly to our distributor,” Riss said, looking around the room to try to determine where everyone stood.

Everyone nodded or just shrugged. Kate put it into words for everyone. “Hell yes. Let's get them to make some more. I think the worst thing to do would be to run out if people are buying them.”

“OK,” Riss replied with a nod. “I'll go ahead and place the order. There's something else you should know, too. The last electronic music service payment we got came to about $5,000.”

The group was completely silent for a moment, then Casey finally broke it by standing up with her arm in the air. “Yes!” she exclaimed, a broad smile on her face.

Everyone just laughed then, and Kate clapped Lex on the back. “Good idea of yours,” she exclaimed, smiling with the other woman.

Riss looked at Lex as well, with a small smile. “I have to agree. If things keep going like this, I think we may end up making some actual money.”

By the time the tour ended in mid-December, all of the bands were having so much fun that it was difficult to split up and go their separate ways. They were all eating pancakes after the final show, talking in little groups about how the show and the tour had gone, lingering even after everything had been eaten. Riss, Victor, and Luke (who'd come out for the final show) were sitting in one corner deep in conversation while Casey, Eddie, Sarah, and Rachel were talking. Kate and Jack held hands under the table, and Laura and Lex sat talking at the very end of the booth.

“You know,” Laura said, “we should just do this again. I don't think we've ever sold so many CDs or so many tickets as when we went on tour with you. Maybe we should do it for longer next time.”

Lex couldn't help but smile in return. “That doesn't sound like a bad idea,” she replied, looking over at Casey who seemed to have overheard. She raised an eyebrow at the taller woman, who smiled in return.

“What does everyone else think?” Casey said as she raised her voice a little to get everyone's attention. “Do you guys want to do it again? Maybe for longer this time, six months or so?”

Lou looked at her as she announced the length, appearing a little skeptical. When he looked at Riss, however, the other woman shrugged, so Lou turned back to Casey and shrugged, signaling that he was at least willing to consider it. Around the table were a number of agreements. No one seemed to disagree, so Casey nodded.

“OK, I'll start looking into it as soon as we get back home,” she added with a smile.

Forward to Chapter 31
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome!

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Any band would be jealous of their rapid success..are they really that good or magic powers?

I found a little list of typos so gwoman doesn't feel she was unneccessary:

Lex saw with the rest of the group while they mixed it down, - saw=sang?

Riss took the front seat with Lex, Kate, and Victor were sitting in the middle. - This was confusing, I wasn't sure who was where

She looked away as she felt her cheeks getting heat up - her cheeks heating up

“I the numbers probably have something to do with it, - missing

Smiling in response to what Lex's comment, Laura continued, -"what" is out of place

I'd like to propose that we ask the people who made the for us last time make some more and send them directly to our distributor,” - made them for us

Lex responded, “My fiancé dumped me a few months ago and I guess I haven't really been interested in looking much since then. Too much else going on, anyway.”“His loss,” Rachel said with a smirk as she linked hands with Sarah again - This is a weird one, but it occurred to me Rachel doesn't know Lex's fiance is a "he", and since she's lesbian she might not assume

Thanks for the chapter :-)

Re: Musings and Typo List

Heh, heh...good question. We'll find out more about that later, but you're definitely on the right track. : )

Thank you for the list! I've updated them and re-posted; I really appreciate the use of your excellent eyes.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

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<It always made Lex smile in response; somehow, that they seemed to be alike enough that they didn't have to talk to understand each other's thoughts.>
The 2nd half if this sentence was awkward when I read it. Maybe it's the "somehow,". Maybe just simplify it to "That always made Lex smile".

<I invested half of it and put half in our joint account.>
Maybe I missed it but I didn't realize all their money was in a joint account. That's a recipe for disaster on many levels. They should have a band account that common expenses are paid from and to which a set percentage of profit are funneled but the rest should be in individual accounts. /steps-off-soapbox. :)

Looks like you already fixed another issue as I can't find it anymore.

Keep up the great writing! ^_^

Yay! Thank you for typo-spotting; I've updated the text and re-posted.

You're right that a joint account can be problematic; I think the reason they decided that in the first place was the fact that there was a great disparity in how much people were able to bring to the table when they started, so they decided to share and share alike. It does bring up some interesting discussions down the road, so stay tuned.

Thanks very much for reading very closely, and for your great comments! *still blushing*

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