Never Be the Same: Chapter One

Luminous

“What are you still doing here?”

Sierra jumped when Kyle poked his head in the door. For a moment, she felt as confused as he looked. Then she glanced at the clock. “Mierda!” She pushed her chair back and stood, leaning over her keyboard, mouse flying to close down all of the open programs and log out. “I was trying to get a head start on the Erickson report,” she muttered, reaching into the bottom drawer for her purse. “Totally lost track. Gracias, Kyle.” He backed out of the doorway as she barreled through, turning off the light and locking the door behind her. “Thanks,” she said again.

“Hey, no problem,” he smirked and spread his hands to his sides. “But hey, if you wanna thank me, maybe put us on the list to get in without a cover?”

Sierra glanced back in surprise. “I thought you guys couldn’t make it?”

Kyle’s smile softened. “We were supposed to have a double date, but the other couple backed out at the last minute. Tony’s kinda bummed, so I thought I might surprise him and bring him to the show. He hasn’t stopped talking about the last one I dragged him to.”

“Cool,” Sierra said. “Consider yourselves on the list. See you there!” She reached the elevator and spent the entire ride down glaring at the numbers indicating their current floor. Four stories shouldn’t take so long. She checked the time again when she reached her car, wincing at the digital display. “Guess I’m parking around the block tonight,” she grumbled. By the time she made it home to change and grab her bass, she’d be lucky to find a spot anywhere near the bar. At least the rest of her gear would already be there. Bless Intira for letting them leave it all at her place after practice and volunteering to bring the trailer to the bar.

~**~

Moonshine opened its doors at seven and expected soundcheck to be done by six forty-five. Sierra exited her car three blocks from the bar at five-forty and ran for it, cursing under her breath at all of the restaurants on the street whose patrons were hogging the prime parking spots. By seven she’d be grateful for them–her stomach was already rumbling–but for now they were just a pain in the ass. Technically, she was only ten minutes late, but she wasn’t there yet, was she? If all went well, they had plenty of time for their soundcheck before the bar’s owner got cranky. But Sierra wasn’t one to assume luck was on her side. She let out a sigh of relief when she got close enough to see Bobby coming out of the alley carrying his keyboard stand. If the band was still unloading, she was right on time.

Scusi, signora, have you seen a cat around here?”

“What?” Sierra stopped short, blinking at the intrusion to her inner panic. She gave herself a shake and looked around to find the speaker, eyes landing on a hulking man that she wouldn’t want to run into alone in the dark. “I’m sorry, a cat?” With as much subtlety as she could muster she took a step closer to the alley, where her friends were, and away from the stranger.

, my cat, he is missing,” he said.

“Lots of cats around here,” Sierra gestured at the restaurants. Stray cats flocked to the dumpsters. Along with birds, and dogs, and all other sorts of wildlife. “You might try looking in the alleys.”

He narrowed his eyes at her and Sierra took another step away. “This cat is special,” the man insisted. “If you see him, you let me know, ?” He tried to hold out a card to her.

“Uh, sure,” she said, pretending she didn’t see the card. “I’ll keep an eye out. Good luck finding him. Look, I’ve really gotta go.”

She edged toward the alley, hands tight on the strap of her bass case. For a moment, it looked as if the man was about to follow her, but then his head swiveled in another direction as if he’d heard something. He left without a backward glance. Sierra’s muscles turned to liquid as the tension fled her body. Then she jumped about a foot in the air when a voice behind her said, “There you are! Just in time. Hey, are you all right?”

She gave Bobby a weak grin. “Fine,” she said, rolling her shoulders as her heart slowed back down. “You just caught me by surprise. Here, let me help.” She followed him back to the band’s trailer and grabbed her amp from inside. “Come on,” she said, walking into the bar with him, “we’ve got a rock show to play.”

~**~

Cammy fell silent and her fingers stilled on the strings as she finished the song. The crowd let out a collective sigh and then the cheers and applause rolled in. Cammy beamed at her audience and threw a wink back to Sierra. Sierra grinned back. She’d been the one to suggest covering “Anna Begins” and it never failed to be a crowd-pleaser. Cammy gripped her microphone, “Thank you! We are Dragonfly! We appreciate you coming out tonight, and I hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves.” Another round of cheers erupted and Sierra exchanged smiles with Intira and Bobby. The show had been stellar–one of their best in months, in fact–and it was just what she’d needed after a long, crappy week at work. Cammy was still working her charm, calling out across the bar to the back, where the owner stood keeping an eye on things. “That just about does it for us, although I think we might have time for one more. Let’s ask my mate Dillon what he thinks.”

Sierra could make out Dillon tilting his head in consideration, then he shrugged and gave them the thumbs up. More cheering met this. Sierra glanced down at her set list, looking over the reserve songs they’d talked about at rehearsal. Two of them jumped out at her, but one was a cover. They usually tried to keep those down to one a set, and she was in the mood for something a little more rocking tonight. “Soulfire?” she mouthed at Intira and Bobby. They both nodded their agreement. By the time Cammy turned back to the band to see what they wanted to play, Intira was starting the opening beat.

“Perfect!” Cammy said, winking at Sierra again. Sierra jumped in with the bass line and Bobby joined in a few beats later on the keyboard. The crowd, already riding the end of night high, went wild. “For those of you new here,” Cammy called back as she joined in on her guitar, “this is the first song we ever wrote together. Feels like a good night to bring it out of retirement, don’t you think, loves?” As they hollered their agreement, she launched into the first line and Sierra let herself get lost in the music.

~**~

Load out took a little longer than usual that night. It seemed half of the people in the bar wanted to come up and talk to her while she lugged her gear out to the trailer. Sierra didn’t mind, exactly, but she did wish they wouldn’t keep stopping her when she was carrying heavy things. She didn’t have it as bad as Cammy, though. If half of the bar wanted to talk to Sierra, Bobby, and Intira, all of the patrons wanted to talk to Cammy. She had a way of working the crowd that was mesmerizing, and she’d been on fire tonight. Even Sierra found herself pulled in Cammy’s direction more than once. She finished loading all of her gear going to Intira’s and paused to watch.

Cammy couldn’t get two steps across the room without someone asking for her to sign their CD or shirt, or to ask if Dragonfly played private parties, or where they got the ideas for their songs. More than one tipsy patron tried to imply–some more subtly than others–that they wouldn’t mind seeing more of Cammy after she left the bar. As always, Cammy managed to deflect these suggestions with a grace and ease that Sierra envied. She’d had plenty of drunk people hit on her after shows, and she could never quite manage to turn them down without feeling as if she’d come across as rude. When Cammy was interrupted in yet another attempt to return to the stage after being stopped by a fan, Sierra started breaking down Cammy’s gear as well.

“Let me help,” Bobby said, noticing what she was doing.

“Thanks,” she replied, grateful for the assistance.

They found Intira at the trailer, settling her bass drum into a secure position. “Cam get stuck again?” she asked, seeing Cammy’s gear in their arms. At their nods she cracked her knuckles and headed back inside. “Guess someone should go play bodyguard.” She tossed the trailer keys to Sierra as she passed her. “I’ll break her out and we’ll go find Dillon. Keep an eye on things here?”

“Sure,” Sierra said, hiding her grin. Intira didn’t really look like the bodyguard type. Petite as she was, most people tended to miss her athletic build on first glance, to their disadvantage if they got in her way. If anyone could extract Cammy from the crowd, she could. By this point, it was pretty much their post-show routine. Any of their regular fans who were sober enough to retain logic would clear out when they saw her coming. “I wonder if we can get Dillon to throw in extra pay for clearing out the bar for him,” Sierra mused, leaning against the trailer. She leaned back and peered up, trying to see if she could make out any stars. It was usually easy to do this late at night, but here in the alley, the edge of the building obscured her view.

Bobby snorted. “The day Dillon pays us extra for anything, I’m going right out and buying a lottery ticket. Jackie’d be set for life.”

“Don’t know if you need the lottery for that,” Sierra said, nudging him with her shoulder. “She’s already got the best daddy. She’s just the right kind of rich.”

“Don’t think the college tuition departments will see it that way,” he laughed, nudging her back in acknowledgment of the compliment.

“She’s only eight, Bobby, you’ve got time. Get her in band. Scholarships all the way.”

“We’ll see,” he said, shaking his head.

“Hey, speaking of colleges, are you going to bring her to the festival at campus next month? That’s a family thing. All ages.”

“If Aunt Agnes can get the day off to bring her, yeah. She’s been asking to come see me play again, and she keeps telling me she wants to be Intira when she grows up.”

“Don’t we all?” They shared a laugh, then both jumped at a clanging sound behind the trailer.

Bobby peered around the edge and let out a huff of annoyance. “Damn cats are gonna get themselves run over. Shoo!” He moved further into the alley, making sounds to scare off the animals. “Go on, get! Come back in another hour or so when the people are all gone!” He came back, shaking his head. “That’s weird. Usually they avoid that dumpster this time of night. Too much coming and going.”

“Maybe this one’s too hungry to care?” Sierra leaned around the trailer. She caught a glimpse of glowing eyes but nothing more.

“I guess,” Bobby conceded. “I’ll make sure to tell Tira to keep a lookout when she leaves.”

“Keep a lookout for what?” Intira asked, coming out of the bar with Cammy in tow. Cammy had her guitar case slung over her shoulder and was carrying the rest of her equipment.

Sierra moved aside so Cammy could get her gear in the trailer. “Cats in the alley,” she told Intira. “We heard some rummaging around back there.”

“Huh,” Intira said, closing the trailer and locking it up. “That’s weird. Bit early for them.”

“That’s what I said,” Bobby agreed. He glanced around at the group. “We got everything?”

“I need to grab my bass,” Sierra said.

“Here, give me your keys, love.” Cammy held a hand out.

“Why?”

“Bloke parked right out front is about to leave. I sweet talked him into staying put until you could take his spot. I can go get your car while you grab your bass.”

“Gracias,” Sierra said, handing over her keys.

“I’ll walk with you,” Bobby told Cammy.

They  headed off and Sierra turned to Intira. “Want me to stay with you while you pull the trailer out of the alley?”

“Nah, I’ve got this. You go on inside. I’ll meet you out front.”

Sierra nodded, but waited until Intira had climbed into her truck and started the engine before going inside, just in case. She nodded at Dillon as she hopped onto the stage, double checking her case to make sure she had everything. She stepped out of the bar just as Cammy and Bobby pulled up in her car. Cammy got out and waved as the guy who’d been holding the spot drove off and Sierra rolled her eyes. Guess I can’t complain, she thought as she put her bass in the trunk. Saved me a long walk in the dark. At least she uses her powers for good. Intira pulled up across the street and hopped down out of her truck, heading over to them. “You want me to follow you home and help unload?” she offered.

“No need,” Cammy said, stepping up beside her. “I parked at Intira’s house, so I’m riding back with her. I’ll help her unload the trailer. Least I can do, seeing as how you and Bobby got most of my things off stage for me. Thanks, by the way.”

“You seemed busy,” Sierra teased.

“Yeah,” Bobby agreed. “They were extra eager to get a piece of you tonight.”

Cammy grimaced and Intira threw a light punch at her arm. “You’ve got to learn to dial down that charm girl. Stop turning it up to eleven on stage.”

A look of guilt flashed across her face, and Sierra raised an eyebrow at her in question. She brushed it off with an apologetic laugh. “I’ll work on it,” she said. “But we did get a few gig offers.” She pulled out her phone and the rest of the band followed suit. “What do your schedules look like on the sixth?”

“Can’t do it,” Intira said, without even opening her calendar. “School carnival. I’m on deck with the dunking booth. Promised the PTA.”

“Jackie’s carnival is that night, too, so I wouldn’t be open either,” Bobby chimed in.

“Right,” Cammy said, making a note. “I’ll let him know we’re out for that one. Just a car show, no biggie. I’ll put him in touch with Jams. His band lives for that type of gig. How about the twentieth? Wedding.”

“Works for me,” Sierra said, looking at her own schedule.

“I’m in,” Bobby said.

“Me too,” Intira agreed. “I love wedding gigs.” She closed her eyes and grinned, as if picturing it in her mind. “More importantly, I love the food at wedding gigs.”

Cammy rolled her eyes and smirked as she tapped something on her phone’s screen. “Wonderful. I’ll let them know we’re good for it.”

With that settled, Intira produced the envelope she’d wrangled from Dillon and handed out their pay. Cammy hugged them all and Intira shot Bobby and Sierra each a fist bump before the pair of them climbed into her truck and headed off. Bobby waved and headed toward his own car, not far from Sierra’s, and stumbled when a dark mass of fur came streaking out of the alley. “What the–?”

Sierra felt something brush up against her legs and realized it had darted under her car. A plaintive mewing sounded and she dropped down to both knees, peering behind the wheel. “Well, hello there,” she crooned, meeting a set of luminous eyes. “You gave my friend a bit of a scare.”

“Just surprised me,” Bobby grumbled, coming back over to investigate. “I almost tripped over the damned thing.”

A warning growl greeted Bobby’s approach. “Don’t mind him,” Sierra said, making a beckoning gesture with her hand. “It’s not you, it’s him. He’s just a big grump.”

“Hey!”

“Come on, kitty,” she clicked her tongue and beckoned again. “You can’t stay under there, I’m about to leave. I won’t hurt you.”

The cat went silent for a moment, as if considering, and then she could see the shadows shift as it took a few tentative steps forward. Something cold and wet touched her hand and there was a snuffling sound. After another moment, the cat slipped out from under the car, and Sierra found herself face to face with the animal.

“Sierra, I don’t think you should be so close to a stray. Wild cats can be dangerous.”

“I don’t think he’s wild, Bobby, look at him. He came right out when I asked. He’s used to people. Are you lost, little guy?” The cat answered with a sad meow. It was large for a domesticated cat, its black and reddish-brown fur suggesting the idea of sleekness, despite its current state of disarray. Sierra scratched it–him?–behind the ears and got a purr in return. “I bet that’s why he didn’t know to avoid the alley earlier,” she thought out loud. Sitting up she looked back down at the cat, who rubbed up against her knees, still purring. “That was you, wasn’t it?” She glanced back up at Bobby. “We can’t leave him out here. I don’t think he knows how to be out on his own. He’s too tame. The strays around here will eat him alive.”

“Don’t look at me,” Bobby huffed. “If I bring a cat home and Jackie sees it, we would never be able to give it away. Aunt Agnes would kill me.”

“Well I guess you’re coming with me, then,” Sierra smiled down at the cat. She held out her hands and he jumped into them, letting her scoop him up as she stood. “We’ll figure out in the morning where you really belong.”

“Yeah,” Bobby snorted. “Good luck with that. Enjoy your new cat.” He paused as Sierra opened her door and the cat jumped right in, settling down on the driver’s seat with an expectant air. “Huh. Didn’t think cats liked cars.”

“You can’t sit there,” Sierra shooed him over the passenger seat. “That’s my spot. There. Better. See you on Tuesday, Bobby. Have a good weekend.”

“Drive carefully,” he said, giving her a quick hug and then loping off.

Sierra slid into the car and buckled up, glancing at the cat as she pulled away. He seemed perfectly content to curl up on the seat as she drove, watching her with intent eyes. Which, now that she thought about it, was pretty weird for a cat. Her hermana’s cats always hated car rides. She was halfway home before she remembered the man she’d met earlier, looking for a cat. A special cat, he’d said. She thought this one might qualify. “Was he looking for you, then?” she asked the cat, not really expecting an answer. The growl she got in response surprised her and she glanced back over. “He didn’t seem very nice, did he?” She was suddenly glad she hadn’t taken his card. Even if she had wanted to call him to say she thought she’d found his cat, she couldn’t.

Something told her that was probably for the best.

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