I should’ve struck a better deal with the devil.
It wasn’t like I’d gone down to the crossroads and sold my soul all at once. I hadn’t needed to; the devil had come to me.
But I’d sold my soul all the same.
I looked around the afterparty to tally up what I’d gotten in exchange. Was this what people called success?
Two women who’d been circling like vultures suddenly flanked me, arms tucked around my lower back—no check that, one hand on my ass, of course—as they tried to squeeze into the shot for a duck-faced selfie. In the phone’s viewer, I saw myself, and I didn’t like who looked back. The dark circles under my eyes could’ve been mistaken for smudged guyliner, but the death pallor and ugly sneer were equal parts insomnia and self-loathing.
This was a never-ending parade, all part of the satanic bargain. You get to do the only thing you know how to do well, the thing you love, every night for lots of money. In exchange, you’re never in the same city two nights in a row—alone, except when you’re with strangers. And after selling your talent onstage, you’re obliged to charm the people who buy the product with the promise of access.
Well, fuck that.
I ditched the groupies and found Shane hiding against a back wall, hamming it up with a different pair of fans.
“Speak of the devil,” he said. “These young women were keeping me company until you were free.”
He was always moping that I got more action just because he hid behind a drum set while I strutted around like an oversexed rooster, but the truth was, he was never cut out for a string of mindless hookups. That was my area of expertise.
The girls giggled. One said, “Hey, Noah,” suggestively. The other echoed her, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear with a coy half-smile that said she’d like to see the back of the tour bus.
I cast them a glance but zeroed in on Shane, my heartrate rising. “I have to get out of here.”
Before Shane could protest about contractual obligations, I shoved my way through the remaining crowd out into the wide halls of the arena. Security and roadies clogged the arteries, but I just needed to get to one of the green rooms and breathe for a minute. My shoulder crashed into someone as I barreled down the hall, my vision tunneling. The first door I came to had the name Samuel Tucker pasted to it. As the lead singer of Whiplash, the much bigger band we’d just opened for, Samuel was likely at his own afterparty.
I took a chance and turned the doorknob.
I froze as I came face to face with Samuel, on a leather sofa, pants down to his ankles, knees canted wide, and his dick in the mouth of Crystal Cunningham.
Well. I guess ex-girlfriend now.
Samuel’s eyes went from slitted with pleasure to wide-eyed what-the-fuck in the time it took me to cross the room and pull Crystal off him, her long straight hair flying out like a cape. Security was faster still and had my cocked arm in a vise before I could take the first swing at Samuel.
As they pulled me from the green room, I snarled at Crystal, “Hey, babe. Don’t bother coming back to our bus.”
The funny part was, I didn’t even really care. I’d been in a mood to punch someone since long before I entered the room, and aiming my rage at Samuel was a pure caveman response to fight for my woman, but Crystal was just the groupie who’d stayed around past the end of one leg of a tour. I felt nothing. I’d given up my soul years ago, and tonight was another down payment on eternity.
Security let me go once they realized I wasn’t going to be a problem. I wanted to hit something, but it wasn’t Samuel. This existential crisis wasn’t new. I strode down the hall toward the exits, pushed open the doors, and kept walking. My name shrieked by teenage girls reminded me I couldn’t just hang out here, so I put my head down and ran.
The thing nobody told you about selling your soul was that it wasn’t a one-time deal. You sold it again, night after night after night.
By the time my phone started ringing, I’d reached Pennsylvania Avenue. I answered the call.
“Man, where the hell are you?”
I stepped into the crosswalk. “I needed to get away.”
He sighed. “Do you want to tell me what’s going on?”
“I know something’s up. Crystal came and got her things from the bus. Security was with her.”
Jesus. That would make the gossip rags in the morning.
“Noah, man. Come on back to the bus. Micah’s hella pissed.”
“I want my soul back.”
“What even? Where are you? We can come get you.”
I glanced up at the white columns of the National Gallery of Art lit from behind. “I don’t think you can drive the bus on the Mall.”
“Noah, what are you planning?”
“Look, I’ll catch a train up to Philly and meet you guys there tomorrow. Go on without me. There’s something I need to do.”
When Shane didn’t answer right away, I knew he was looking for the words to talk me out of the decision my feet had made before I’d even realized where I was going. At last, he said, “If you see Lucy, tell her I said hi.”
“Thanks, man.” I hung up and slowed my pace. I might have been rationalizing my actions, but I took it as a sign that we were in D.C. when Crystal opted to trade me in for the bigger rock star. It was a wake-up call to remind me I’d been trying and failing to forget what success had truly cost me. All the Crystals in the world couldn’t fill the void Lucy had left when she told me never to contact her again.
Honoring her wishes had been damn near impossible, but I’d done it—almost.
Did it count if I occasionally walked past her house after midnight when the band came through town?
I just wanted to be close to her, breathe the same air under the same moon and all that shit. I had no intention of walking up and ringing her doorbell.
She’d be fast asleep already anyway. As would her husband.
Even before she was out of reach, she’d always been out of my league. Despite that, I’d caught her once, with luck and a bit of charm. How had I been such a fool to think I could put Lucy on hold and find her waiting for me?
Here I was, thirty-one years old, in a band on the brink of finally making it, skulking around like I was sixteen and I could just show up at her door and woo her with a song on my guitar.
That time had passed, my soul belonged to the devil I’d sold it to, and I needed to move on.