He doesn’t really know when he became Stacee Jaxx.
They’d all come out of high school together, the 5 of them, with their second and third hand guitars, the broken bass, the drum kit that was more duct tape than anything else and Dirk’s shiny new keyboard from his rich uncle out on the East Coast.
They’d graduated – fucking finally – and started looking for gigs. This was what they wanted, this was their dream and if he had anything to do with it they were going to rocket up to superstardom pretty much overnight.
Their manager found them at a tiny little gig in this hole-in-the-wall joint in western Arizona. They’d been touring for almost 8 months at that point, working gigs to pay for the gas to get to LA and begin their new lives.
Tom had been pissed to give up his bike, but they’d traded it in along with all the cash they could bear to part with for a beaten up van big enough to carry all their gear and all of them, Sam always at the wheel, more at peace with the empty road than the rest of them, happy to tap out a rhythm as he drove while the others sat and fiddled with their songs, humming and singing and shouting over each other.
Mike used to pick out interesting riffs while he scrawled out lyrics into notebooks that could fit into his back pocket, while Tom used to feel the bass in his bones before he could bring it to life.
There was this time in this one city whose name he’s forgotten, when the streets had been too narrow for the van, where they’d carried everything into three separate bars one night after the other, by themselves, Dirk grumbling about drum kits being too heavy but quite happy to share the weight of his keyboard.
They’d stopped playing the small towns when they’d reached the big time.
The manager had flown them to LA and they’d sold the van three hours before the flight left.
Tom had written a song about the van, called it “an Ode to a Moving Home”, but it never went on any of the records. Too raw, too soft.
He wonders if Tom’s still got the song. He’d liked it, it was all muted strings and gentle keys. And Tom was good with words, knew how to get them to work in such a way that they really hit somewhere inside.
He and Mike were the ones to write things for fun, like “Cum On Feel The Noize”, dicking about with the spelling up as much as they could as a big “screw you!” to their high school teachers, who’d told them they would never get anywhere.
They sure showed them.
The thing is – no matter how much he’s grown up, changed and, yeah, ok, gone a little crazy from it all – he hasn’t forgotten what it was like, how it felt to transport everything he cared about in a backpack in a van that was always minutes away from breaking down, or on his shoulders into the next shitty venue in the tiniest towns, helping Mike set up while Tom grabbed them a drink and talked to the owners.
So when did his priorities change?
He’s sitting in what he’s hoping is a puddle of rain and not his – let alone anyone else’s – vomit and he’s spent the last of his cash, so he has to muster up the energy to walk back to the hotel.
He doesn’t move.
He’s alone now.
The guys have matured and grown up instead of just growing old, and they left him behind.
No, he left them behind.
The solo career the manager pushed for, the solo career that is a slow death. The people in the band doing his backing are good and all, but they weren’t friends before they were put together by the label, didn’t have the 12 years of reading each other’s minds even when they hated each other.
If he’s being honest with himself – and if you can’t be honest with yourself after waking up in the rain in the gutter outside a strip club in a puddle of what is looking more and more like dinner last night, when can you be? – he knows it’s shit.
His Mom, back when he spoke to her, used to tell him off for being all about the band all the time.
“I understand that they’re like family, but the band isn’t the world.”
He’d told her that his world was a lot bigger than that, but maybe it wasn’t.
Maybe his entire world had been the band, and the music was their way of connecting with the sun and stars around them, trying to shine as bright as the rest of the cosmos.
He stands up, wobbles a bit before he can see where he’s going and he’s not walking in a straight line, but he’ll be fine to get back to the hotel.
He misses them.
Dirk, who had grown up two doors down from him, Tom, who had let him cheat off his chemistry papers, Mike who had taught him how to play guitar and Sam, who was the quietest fucking thing until you got him behind a set of drums.
A taxi nearly runs him over and he swears at it as he slips trying to get out the way and almost cracks his head on the sidewalk.
He sighs. What’s the point of getting back up? He turns his head to look at the road.
He taxi comes to a sudden halt, someone gets out and the taxi moves on.
The dude comes closer, but his stomach is churning and he’s beyond caring at this point, so he just closes his eyes.
“Stacee? Hey, Stace.”
The dude crouches down next to him.
“Fuck, man, you look like hell.”
Dirk, who picks him like he’s thirteen and way too skinny all over again, puts one arm around his waist and pretty much carries him back to the hotel, which turns out to only be a couple of blocks away.
He only realises he’s shaking when they’re in the elevator up to his room, where Dirk cleans him up and puts him to bed like he did the very first time he got drunk on cheap liquor in this basement bar in Kansas.
They almost end up back on the floor by tripping over his guitar when they come out of the bathroom.
Dirk frowns as he eyes the state of his clothes, the dark smudges under his eyes, shoves all the glitter and pink onto the floor.
“You’ve got to take better care of yourself, Ace. What would your mother think?” He asks, before calling room service for coffee and some food.
Nobody’s called him Ace in years.
He hasn’t been Ace in years.
It’s being Ace that made them turn him into Stacee Jaxx.
Dirk sits on the other side of the bed, frowning at him again.
You couldn’t be Casey Jackson and Arsenal from Smalltown, USA, if you wanted to be a star. And he had needed to be a star. So they’d twisted and warped his name into something people could yell from behind cameras and car windows, into something the fans could chant and something that could sell Arsenal even more than the music.
Food and coffee come real quick, so God knows what time it is.
Dirk forces a sandwich into his hands and won’t move until he finished it, so he sits up and chews. At least the coffee doesn’t seem to be for him – he’d just throw up if he had to drink it.
They were creating a brand, because a name isn’t just a name, boys and we need something iconic, you are gonna be huge, Stacee.
Dirk puts a hand on his shoulder, “Come on, go to sleep. I’ll call your manager, yeah?”
His manager’s done enough. It’s time for him to grow up properly now and be something else.
Stacee shakes his head, “I’ll call him in the morning.”
“Alright,” Dirk gets up, pastes on that crooked smile that all his fans love because it’s genuine, and heads towards the door, “Rest up. I’ll see you, ok? The guys will get over it.”
Stacee nods into the pillow. He knows Dirk means it because Dirk has never lied to him.
Dirk stops halfway out the door, “Yeah?”
Dirk raises an eyebrow. He gets it, an apology is a big deal from someone who used to claim to never be wrong. But he means it.
“Tell Tom I miss his van song.”
Dirk nods slowly, faint echo of a smile on his face, “Yeah. Yeah, I will. I’ll see you soon, Ace.”
If he’s still being honest with himself, he lied earlier.
Dirk’s gone now, the room is dark, and if it weren’t for the softness of the pillow it’d almost feel like being back in the gutter.
He knows exactly when he became Stacee Jaxx.
Her name had been Lisa, and he thought she’d be forever.
He’d written so many songs about golden hair and dark eyes, sultry tones and ruby red lips, lips like poison and wine, eyes like sparkle and sin, the way she moved, the way she kissed – you name it, he’d written it.
She’d thought that sleeping with the Stacee Jaxx would get her somewhere.
Arsenal had enough heartbreak songs for at least twenty records.
Last he’d heard, she had moved back to her hometown.
She’d told him he had to be someone different to keep her interested, and because he loved her, he’d tried. He’d gotten into the part.
When she had left, he’d just continued changing. The manager had thought it was a great idea.
A name was good, but an image was better.
And he’d really got into it, more so when Arsenal weren’t the day’s news – something’s got to keep you on their mind, Stacee. It was an act, but how long does it take for an act to become your whole life?
Especially because people love you when you’re a star.
Casey was long gone, all hail Stacee Jaxx, the hottest thing in music, period.
And when you’re the hottest thing, with all this cash just begging to spent, and a heart that still hurts despite all the kinds of lovin’ you’re getting from the fans, you’re not going to make any good decisions.
Stacee Jaxx was a great example.
Stacee Jaxx drank too much, so much that he passed out. Stacee Jaxx hung out in strip clubs, not tipping enough, trying to seduce the girls. Stacee Jaxx betrayed his bandmates.
Ace would never have done any of that.
Ace had been a good kid.
He’d been stupid to think that Ace would survive the rocket blast to stardom.
He curls up into a ball, thinks about the van again, the guys, his Mom.
He wants to go home.