The passing weeks were hard. I tried my hardest to throw myself into lacrosse and student government, but school still hadn’t started yet, and the summer season had ended. Every now and again I would hang out with Blake and Liz, but ever since I found out they were dating it just hasn’t been the same. Worst of all seeing their whispers and held hands, it made me miss Ryder even more. Face times were good, but it’s not the same as having him here with me, as being able to hold him, or having him hold me.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I listened to the short cover album he gave me. It lived in the CD player of my car, and on the music app on my phone. On the bad days, like really bad days, well it was the only thing that could cheer me up.
My parents and Mrs. Sullivan tried their hardest to give me speeches on dependency. To remind me that I’m strong enough to be on my own for a little bit, but at the end of the day those words always seemed to fade. When you’re lying awake alone at night, well I’m starting to learn that it’s one of the hardest things in the world.
When the first week of school finally did roll around things got a little easier. I had something to distract me, and people to talk to. That is, until I got the endless questions about Ryder. How is he? Where is he? Can I get tickets to one of his shows? Can I get something signed by him? Can you tell him I say hi? Suddenly all the kids that didn’t give two shits about him, all the kids that wished him dead, well they all wanted something from him. They all wanted to say they were his best friend. But deep down that’s bullshit and we all knew it.
To his credit the only person that stayed true to his words was Mike. He listened to Messiah just as much as anyone else, maybe even more, but his hatred for Ryder stayed the same. Especially since I still refused to talk to him; he tried to sit with us in the morning and during lunch but I ignored him, and pretty soon Blake and Liz followed. We’d all grown up. Grown past him. And as hard as it was to leave him behind, well, we all knew it was for the best.
“How are you feeling?” My dad asked for the hundredth time as we boarded the flight to Atlanta. “Got any first flight jitters?”
“No.” I shook my head, wishing we could be landing in Atlanta already. “I just want it to be tonight already.”
“Ahh, so you’re excited for the concert?” My dad teased trying his hardest to lighten the mood. “You’ll be with him soon.” He comforted. “The hardest part of this tour is already over.” I nodded but didn’t say anything. He went to speak but before he could the flight attendant came over the PA to give us the whole safety speech.
It didn’t take long for him to pass out, and honestly I’m kind of glad he did. Sure, maybe I needed his advice, but not as much as I needed to hear Ryder’s singing. To hear the covers he sang for me, and only me.
The two and a half hour flight couldn’t go by fast enough, but when it finally did I was smiling from ear to ear. “Theodore!” My dad shouted, trying his hardest to keep up with me. “Theodore slow down!” but there was no stopping me. I was going full speed with my soul leading me. Somehow, someway, it knew how to find him, and I wasn’t letting anything get in its way.
When I finally saw him I couldn’t help but freeze in my tracks. He had his hood over his head, desperately hoping no one would recognize him as a big bulky man stood next to him. His hair was longer then when he had left, and yet it worked for him. The earrings he wore were replaced by small gauges and there were two black rings tattooed around his lower left forearm and no doubt one more up on his bicep, just like Blake had planned. As I finally started getting closer I noticed something about him was different. His posture was better, and his arms, somehow they seemed slightly bigger. He’d been working out, there was no doubt about it, and his body, well somehow, someway, it had already started showing the improvements.
“Hey stranger.” He let out as I finally stood across from him. “Long time no see.”
I went to speak but couldn’t manage any words. Instead I ran head first into his arms, and the second we touched. Well my heart finally felt like it was beating again. Our lips connecting seemed to immediately freeze my heart again before sending it into a frenzy of beats. Sparks flew like they never had before, and just like that I felt like I was finally home. “I’ve missed you so much.” I let out, hearing my dad’s footsteps behind me.
“I’ve missed you too.” He let out, trying his hardest to keep it together. “It’s, these three weeks, they were an eternity.” He shook his head. I pulled away but the second our eyes reconnected he pulled me right back in. “If I wasn’t certain when I left, well now I know there’s no replacing you.” He exhaled as a tear or two fell from his eyes.
“Mr. Sullivan.” The big man let out before I could speak. “This, you’re starting to draw some attention. I suggest we move to the car.”
“Yeah.” Ryder sniffled, finally letting me go. “Let’s get you guys to the hotel.” I nodded and went to grab his hand but before I could he reached out and shook my dad’s. “I’ve missed you as well.”
My dad let out a laugh and pulled Ryder in for a hug. “Our house has been quiet without you kiddo.” He comforted, giving Ryder a nice tight hug.
The second my dad let him go Ryder’s hand went to mine. He led us out the door and to a nice big Mercedes. The type that looks like a jeep but isn’t. It’s funny, I’d never picture Ryder in one of these, but now that he’s the face of rock. Well it seems to fit him. “Gotta keep up with appearances.” He bashfully shrugged, showing he was still the same teen from three weeks ago. “It’s just a rental to take us to the hotel and show anyway. Right Scottie?”
“Right sir.” The big man answered, throwing the car into drive and pulling out of the airport.
“Scottie, this is my boyfriend Teddy and his dad Harry.” Ryder introduced. “Guys this is my driver, bodyguard, and caretaker Scottie.”
“Not a caretaker sir.” He quickly corrected. “You’re old enough to take care of yourself.”
“Martin tell you to say that? Or did you come up with it all on your own?” Ryder teased as their eyes connected in the rearview mirror then broke way. The big man shook his head and put up the window divider between us. “He seems, well, mean, but he’s a good guy.” Ryder nodded with a smile.
“You already need a body guard?” Dad forced out, taking a good look at Ryder.
“I didn’t think so.” Ryder shrugged. “But Tommy got into a bar fight and ever since then your brother and my manager have been insistent I have one.”
“Why? It sounds like Tommy just did something stupid.” I weighed in. “It’s not like he was attacked out of the blue.”
Ryder raised his eyebrows, letting me figure it out for myself. “Like I said, caretaker.” He emphasized.
“But you wouldn’t be dumb enough to get into a bar fight.” I confidently let out as we pulled up to the massive hotel.
“Tell that to your uncle.” He sighed, opening the door for both of us. I went to grab my suitcase but before I could Ryder took it for me. “What a gentleman.” I smiled, as his body guard drove off to park.
“Okay,” Ryder began once again as he led us into the elevator. “So the all bands have the top floor for tonight, but I got us two rooms across from one another on the fourth floor so we’re not near the chaos.” As the door opened Ryder showed us the way to the two rooms. “Harry,” he nervously began handing over the room key. “I, there’s no easy way to ask but, do you mind, can Teddy spend the trip in my room? It’s, I just want to spend time with him, and I haven’t seen him in,”
My dad shook his head and opened the door to his room. “I didn’t expect Teddy to spend the night in a room with me.” He confessed turning back around. “Go ahead.” He waived off. “But that means you have to let me pay for this room!”
“Nope.” Ryder shook his head. “I owe you money anyway.” He giggled, taking a step across the hall and opening the door to our room.
“You’re such a handful.” Dad let out, shaking his head once more.
Ryder shrugged his shoulders but kept the smile on his face. “I’ll happily take that. Just be ready to roll out at around six. Show starts at seven, and we go on at eleven.”
“Wait?” I let out thinking it over. “Isn’t that a little late if you go on before,”
“We overtook the main spot a week ago.” Ryder bashfully confessed. “We go on last now.”
“What!” I exclaimed as my smile grew even wider. “Why didn’t you tell me that?!”
“Because I wanted to see your face in person when you found out.” He blushed. “I think I made the right call on that.”
“I’m not surprised.” My dad proudly let out, standing in his doorway. “If only that fragile kid who showed up at my front door looking for Teddy could see you now.”
“He wouldn’t believe any of this.” Ryder shook his head, still trying to wrap his mind around it all. “Especially not that he’d wind up head over heels for Teddy Haner.”
“Yeah, because that’s the hardest thing to believe.” I shook my head, pushing him into the room and shutting the door behind us. The second I looked around I realized it wasn’t a room at all, but instead one of those giant fancy suites. Extravagant doesn’t even scratch the surface of how this room looks. “Ryder,” I exhaled shaking my head.. “This-you didn’t have to, it’s, we have to switch rooms.”
He let out a small laugh and took a seat on the bed. “I haven’t seen you in three weeks, and I, to be honest the label pays for the rooms. You should really thank your uncle.”
“There’s no way he signed off on this.” I let out, still looking around in disbelief.
“He did, he just didn’t realize I’d snuck a suite onto the bill.” Ryder cackled as his grin turned mischievous.
“He’s going to kill you!” I exclaimed as he pulled me down onto the bed.
“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Besides it’s a chance I’m willing to take for a night alone with you.” He pulled me in closer as he exhaled a breath of relief.
“How did you go from sleeping in a van to these hotels?” I shook my head, as the face of a new rock movement held me tightly.
“It’s not always like this.” He shrugged. “Most times we sleep on the tour bus, but when the guys heard you were coming, well, all the bands pushed for the hotel instead. I think they even flew in a few of their girlfriends or wives. It’s just, when Messiah blew up this went from a normal tour to, well it just became something different.” He humbly explained.
I tilted my head and thought it over. “They did this for us?”
“Yup.” He nodded his head. “Brandon rallied them all up. I know it doesn’t sound like him, but he’s excited that we get to be together for a day and a half.”
A smile crossed my face as the hard to read twenty –something year old popped into my head. “He acts tough, but he’s a softy isn’t he?”
“Oh yeah.” Ryder exhaled. “He’s become a big brother, and as much as he tries to bully us, he wants us to make it. I promise you he does.” Suddenly both our phones began to violently vibrate in our pockets. “Cheating one me?” Ryder teased as I pulled the phone out.
“I heard your phone go off too wise guy.” I giggled. “It’s the group chat with Blake and Liz that you never answer!”
“It’s because I’m always texting this cute guy.” He teased as I scrolled through the texts. “It’s not you though.”
“Oh shhhh.” I waived off, clicking the screenshot Blake had sent us. “Messiah Front man Ryder Sullivan Gay?”The caption read. “TMZ has all the pictures and first reactions to prove it!” As I scrolled up I saw a picture of us kissing in the airport just a little bit ago. I felt my face turn a bright shade of red as I realized just how little privacy we now had.
“I’m-I’m so sorry.” Ryder let out as he saw the message on his own phone. “I didn’t even realize that people saw me. It’s not even like my sexuality is a secret. I swear Scottie said that,”
“You should be.”I shook my head, trying my hardest to fake anger.
I saw shock enter his face as our eyes connected. “I swear I didn’t know, I would never let someone post a picture of us without,”
“I mean you’re gay!” I shouted as the serious look on my face broke. “How could you not tell me?! That changes everything.” I giggled as a blush entered his face. “God I can’t even look at you!”
“I hate you soooo much.” He laughed trying to push me off of him, but I refused to move. “That was so mean dude!”
“You should’ve seen the look on your face!” I giggled, as his blush slowly faded. “You were so scared!”
“I really am sorry.” He exhaled, looking back down at his phone. “It’s not right that they post a picture of us like this.”
“I know,” I supported, slowly taking the phone away from him so he couldn’t overthink it. “but that’s not your fault. The media’s always been shitty. Besides I don’t care who knows we’re dating. I’d scream it from the mountain tops if I could.”
A smile crossed his face as he heard my words. “Do you really have to go to college? Can’t you just travel the world with me?”
“Believe it or not I aspire to be more than your trophy husband.” I teased as he pulled me on top of him. “Let me go!” I giggled. “You’re gay! I don’t want to be near you!”
“Oh be quiet.” He hushed as our lips met.
The afternoon zoomed past us without warning. It took so long to get here and just like that it’s already gone. But spending time with him, laying with him, well it put all my fears to rest. It’s no wonder I was so sick over missing him. He’s everything I want, and everything I need. He’s Humble, honest, kind, sweet, but most importantly he’s mine.
When show time came around the band begged him to ride with them to the venue, but he refused. He was going to drive with us, walk with us, and make sure we found our seats okay.
“This is The Tabernacle he proud let out.” As we pulled up to a giant old style building. “Your dad could probably tell you the history better than I can.” He nodded looking to Harry. “But it’s-it’s one of the reasons I really wanted you to come to Atlanta.”
“Woh.” I let out as the car pulled along the curb where near a hundred people had already lined up. “We’re getting out right here?”
“Mhm.” Ryder nodded. “I, I like seeing the crowd before I go inside.” He let out, but I could tell he was lying. I could tell there was another reason he had done it.
As we slowly got out I saw the crowd turn to us, and the second Ryder stepped out their anticipation turned to screams. “RYDER!” The crowd shouted at the top of their lungs. “Ryder we love you!”
He waived towards them before holding up his pink and index finger. The crowd saluted back as he quickly ushered us to the front door and inside. The second we stepped inside he quickly went over to the first few people barricaded in and started signing things. “Get your horns up!” He shouted to them as they warmly received him.
“He’s showing off?” I let out; shocked by the way he was acting.
“No.” My dad shook his head. “He’s walking in the front door just like they will. He’s signing things and taking pictures with them. He’s showing them he’s one of them. Earning their trust.” A proud smile overtook his face once more. “He’s showing them he’s human too.”
Before I knew it Ryder rushed inside and shut the door behind him. “Sorry.” He exhaled. “I just, I like getting to meet all of them.”
“That doesn’t scare you?” I asked, taking a long look at him.
“No.” He shook his head. “I mean it used to, but, I don’t know. They’re just like me, and I’m just like them. They’re family.”
“So corny.” I teased but caught my dad’s proud smile.
His hand eagerly returned to mine as he quickly showed us up a flight of stairs and onto a floor of seating. “Okay,” he began once again. “So these two seats are yours. Everyone else’s families will be sitting around you, so you’re not alone either.” He explained, taking us to two seats next to a wall with a door. “But if you’d rather stand backstage and watch from there you can do that too.” He took out two small passes and handed them to me and my dad. “You just have to show the guy who guards this door these.” He thought something over before nervously tapping his foot. “If you’re hungry or thirsty don’t buy anything, you can just go back stage and we have tables and tables of stuff. Oh!” He yelped pulling a plastic bag out of his pocket. “And I bought you both ear plugs in case it’s too loud for you!”
He forced them into my hand as I shook my head. “Ryder.” I giggled. “We’ll be okay, I promise.”
“Good.” He nodded still trying to go over an invisible checklist in his head. “If you need anything just text me okay?”
“I got it!” I laughed as he pulled me in for one last kiss.
“I would stay here with you if I could.” He shook his head. “But I have to shower, then get dressed up and do a meet and greet then there’s some last minute sound checks and warm ups, I mean you can come hang out with me through,”
“It’s fine!” I interrupted as he began to ramble once more. “I would just distract you anyway.”
“That’s true.” He smiled. “I’ll see you after the show.” He lingered for another few seconds before finally forcing himself to walk through the nearby door. “Oh!” I heard him shout from the other side. “I knew I was forgetting something!” He began once more cracking the door open and throwing two tee shirts through.
“Goodbye Ryder!” I laughed forcing the door shut before he could give us anything else. I looked down at the T-shirt in my lap and smiled. On it stood the five members of the band all dressed in black. Above them the band name in capital letters, below them read “Straight From Hell Tour” Is it weird to wear a t-shirt with you boyfriends face on it? Fuck it! What do I care?
“Same old Ryder.” My dad let out, snapping me out of my own mind.
“Yeah.” I nodded as my smile grew. Sure he’s more confident and outgoing, but he’s the same kid that I saw three weeks ago in New Jersey. And nothing can make me happier than that.
Before I knew it the small venue was packed from top to bottom. It looked so small when it was empty, but now an ocean of twenty-nine thousand people flooded it. Screaming, dancing, singing, doing whatever they could to pass the time before the bands came on. I’ve been to so many different concerts in my life, but there’s always something about rock concerts. The people just seem so much more animated. Ready to go off at any moment.
When the first few bands came on the people around us and down in the pit let it all out. I saw circles of people pushing and pulling one another as they ran in and out, trying their hardest to time it along with the music.
With each band came their own unique stage set up and banner behind them. They were alright, but I had the feeling the co-headlines were worlds above them. When the band before Messiah came on I couldn’t help but be floored by the way the crowd reacted. The crowd grew so loud that I could barely even hear my own thoughts. Yet as big as they seemed behind them I noticed just another banner. Like they were equals to the first two bands. As their set wound down my Dad couldn’t help but emphasize how good they were.
“For Messiah to take the main stage from them,” He shook his head. “Ryder must have really upped his game.”
I shrugged my shoulders but couldn’t help but smile. If there’s anyone that knows how to put on a show its Ryder. I know it is. Once more the stage hands run on to clean and swap out instruments, but as they pulled down the banner nothing was left but a giant LED screen. Before we could see too much a giant curtain fell over the stage causing the crowd to boo.
“Messiah!” “Messiah!” “Messiah!” They began to chant, demanding the young band take the stage. Pretty soon the chant turned into a familiar name. “Ryder!” “Ryder!” “Ryder!” they began, doing whatever they could do make the process go by faster.
Before we knew it the curtain dropped and with it followed all the lights. Darkness filled the concert hall and suddenly the crowd of people violently pushed to the front of the stage, trying anything they could to get as close as possible. I saw a few people stumble as hundreds pushed their way through.
A mysterious sound filled the air as lights begin to fly all across the room. The sound got louder and louder until finally it stopped and a single light fell on the center of the stage where an old style radio sat. Static filled the air as though the radio was scanning, searching.
Various hit songs and news reports began to play on it, taunting the crowd, reminding us of what a violent world we live in. That is, until a young dark figure holding a bat stepped out on the stage sending the crowd in an absolute and complete frenzy.
The lights went dim as the young figure wound back and slammed the radio with his bat, silencing the static and leaving the room full of screaming. “I’ve got a simple choice for you,” I heard Ryder let out in a groan. “Left or right.” He continued. “Fucking move.” Before I knew it the crowd parted down the middle just as Ryder had commanded.
Slowly but surely a few more outlines appeared on stage and the last spotlight turned off. “Three,” Ryder began as the crowd began to count down with him. “Two,” he continued, a faceless voice in the dark. “One.”
Music began to blare over the speakers as the crowd ran headfirst into one another. Smoke flew from the stage and before I knew it confetti and streamers were falling from the sky. It all seemed so ironic. A genre so dark and angry and yet it looked like a party out there in the crowd. The LED screen began to flash with different imagery, and symbols. I saw icons from various religions combined with violent scenes from movies all mixed behind the outlines of the band.
Ryder was jumping along with the crowd, doing everything in his power to rile them up even more than they had been. Yet, the second he opened it up the crowd took over. If I thought it was crazy before, well I have no idea how to describe the place as Ryder started to sing.
Imagine the worst riot you’ve ever seen, and then dial it up ten ticks more. Ryder’s vocals grew angrier and angrier as he stood up there on that stage telling his story. As the song finally came to an end the lone spotlight returned finally illuminating Ryder for all to see.
I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was seeing him right. I’d spent hours and hours with him, and yet, I’d never seen him the way he looked on that stage. It was like he was possessed by his anger and pain. For all the times I’d seen him live, well this, this was like none of them. He stood in tattered clothing with a thick black line stretching from one side of his head across his eyes to the other.
“Atlanta.” He let out as the band scurried around him to get ready for the next song. “The world is fucked.” He announced, moving to the edge of the stage. “Everything you know. Everyone you love. We’re all fucked.” He shook his head. “But when we go down, we’ll go down swinging. They’ll hear our screams and know our names. We’ll never surrender.” He let out as the lights shut off and the band began to play one of their biggest hits.
It seemed like when they played the only light they were given was the LED screen. Like they were outlines singing to the crowd. Like they were trying to hide away and let the music and imagery tell their story.
The more the set went on the crazier the crowd seemed to get. There was even a few times where Ryder jumped feet first into the crowd, causing them to go berserk in every which way. There were constant screams and chants, and it was clear to me that I had no idea just how big the band was becoming. I know it’s just about three thousand people in Georgia, but god damn it, the way they reached out to him. The way they called for him. It was like he wasn’t human. Like he was superman.
Suddenly I felt a hand tap me on the shoulder. “Come with me.” A man wearing an event shirt let out. I looked to my dad but he quickly waved me away, too enwrapped in the concert to think about what was happening. The man led me down the stairs and to the side of the stage. As another song stopped I saw the same spotlight return on the stage.
“Who here has ever thought about killing themselves?” Ryder blatantly asked and to my surprise every band member’s hand went up and hundreds of hands in the crowd followed. “Me too.” Ryder nodded in a pain soaked voice. “I was going to do it at the start of the summer. The day school ended I was going to go behind my house and hang myself from a tree.” He exhaled, fighting off a round of tears. “But the day before I was going to end it all the school president invited me to his party. Me. A nobody. A complete and utter fucking loser.” He shook his head as the crowd chanted words at him. “I had no plan to actually go. Why would I? I was a dead man walking. But as I tied the noose I thought of him. I wondered if he would blame himself if I killed myself instead of going to his party. And as much as I hated him, like completely and utterly despised him, I couldn’t do that to him. So I went to the party, telling myself I’d hang myself when I got home.”
He let out a sarcastic laugh thinking it all over. “But when I arrived the president talked me into sleeping over. So I decided I’d hang myself the next day. Then something weird happened. He promised to come to the bar I used to play at and hear me sing. I had to see if he was telling the truth so I told myself I’d finally end it after my next show.” He shook his head and looked out into the crowd. “I think you guys see the pattern here. He kept giving me excuses to stay. With every word he spoke he gave me one more reason to live another day. Now, I’m not saying you need someone else to give you a reason to live.” He clarified. “But what I am saying is there are reasons out there. And sure, it seems like there are thousands of reasons to kill yourself, but if you can find that one reason to not, that one thing keeping you here. Grab onto it and never let it go.I could be six feet under right now, but instead I’m here.” A small smile crossed his face as he looked across the crowd. “With all of you.” The crowd cheered violently at his words. Desperately trying to let him know he wasn’t alone. “And that president? He’s here too.” He explained turning and looking right at me. “I know I tell you I love you every day, but I have no idea if you actually understand what I mean by it. I mean you saved me. I mean you stopped me from killing myself. I mean you’re my reason to stay, and no matter where this tour takes me, that will never change. Come out here.”
I felt my knees buckle as Ryder waived me out towards him. It took everything in me to walk out on that stage, but the second I did Ryder embraced me in his arms. “This is my boyfriend Teddy.” Ryder announced. “And if that bothers you, you can turn around and walk right out that fucking door.” Before I knew it Ryder pulled me in once more, this time landing a kiss on my lips. The second we connected the crowd began to scream once more. “Now we don’t have any love songs, and I’m not about to cover one because I’ve already wasted enough time being sappy. So what do you guys say we show him how rock bands do it? Show him what a real concert is like?” The crowed screamed at the top of their lungs at his question. “This one’s another cover. This one’s Make It Stop by Rise Against.”
An angry punk beat filled the air sending the crowd into more chaos. I stood there speechless as thousands of people faced us. Watching our every move. Ryder grabbed my hand and pulled me to the edge of the stage as he started to sing. The way the crowd reached out to him, the way they longed to touch him. It blew me way. A tattered pride flag filled the LED screen behind us as he reached the chorus.
As the song wound down he grabbed onto me once more, shamelessly hugging me in front of thousands of people, shamelessly showing his vulnerable side in front of them. My uncle was right when he named them Messiah. My uncle was right about Ryder. He won’t just be their singer. He’ll be their leader.