Take It To The Limit

There was a limit to the number of times he could try and reach out, Lindsey had recently discovered. There had been a time, decades ago now, when he’d been hard-pressed to get her to shut her mouth, but her silent gaze these days just made him uneasy and frustrated. If he pushed too hard, he simply received a dismissive shake of her head and, on the one occasion he’d tried to goad her into an argument, Karen had stepped in, asking him to leave. A fucking statue would’ve been more responsive to him. Even Kristen, who had perfected coolness and ambivalence towards him, would have been provoked into SOMETHING. 

She sat now, gazing into her mirror blankly, and he wondered whether she’d even noticed he was in her dressing room. It was odd to think that they’d known each other for this long and that she didn’t have that awareness of him that he had of her. He’d assumed it was a reciprocal thing, something both of them had battled and failed to absent themselves of in the years since the break-up. Apparently not. He shouldn’t be surprised, really; he’d once assumed a lot of things - that they’d marry, that they’d have children, that she would always love him, that he could make her happy. 

Illusions (delusions?), every last one.

Lindsey cleared his throat. She turned to face him immediately and at least that was somewhat gratifying. And how lowering that he would even think of it in such a way; he hadn’t always had to put up with the crumbs from her table. She’d once begged him for EVERYTHING. 

“Yes?” she said calmly, and he wanted to screw all that lack of emotion up into a tight ball and banish it to the nearest garbage can. 

“Five minutes until we run through a few songs.”  

“I might sit it out tonight.”

“Suit yourself.”

And so he walked out, feeling her eyes on his back, making sure he closed the door behind him with perhaps more energy and volume than it required. This had been the state of affairs for well over a year now, he thought to himself as he walked back to the stage, and it was hell. While he’d taught himself relatively well to tamp down any remaining hopes for some kind of future together, her coldness towards him just provoked him into wanting to make her feel something towards him, in whatever way he could. Hate he had handled before, but apathy was a new kind of hellish existence. 

In Phoenix, she’d come to him for tenderness and comfort onstage and he’d happily given it. At the time, he’d even thought that MAYBE it could be a turning point, a moment that could become more. But no, when he saw her the next day, she’d smiled that inane smile and merely asked him if he’d had a good night’s sleep. She’d been polite and completely disinterested in his actual response, and he’d been left wondering how she managed to switch off so completely after leaving the stage. She’d once found it impossible to separate the two persons. That leg of the tour had ended mere days before Christmas and he’d decided to try again after the final show, cornering her in her suite, where she’d been alone for once. They’d sat cross-legged on her bed as he gave her the jewelry he’d especially picked out, and he’d found himself looking intently at her face, searching for what he wanted to see. She’d been very thankful, almost effusively so, giving him a warm hug and saying all the right things. Lindsey had found himself wanting to shake her, even kiss her soft lips, maybe push her down on her ridiculously large bed and torture her with his hands and his mouth until she screamed his name. He’d wanted to make her eyes light up with something he hadn’t seen in far too many months… 

“Ay, watch it!” 

Christ. He quickly moved closer to the wall to avoid a collision, watching in annoyance as a young crew member he wasn’t sure he recognized kept walking, apparently heading in the same direction he was. Charming. 

Twenty minutes later, as the band - minus Stevie - lazily played their way through an instrumental version of Think About Me, he found himself thinking about the performance they were due to give later in the evening. He had always tended to overthink things, even when he was so stoned that he should’ve had no clarity at all, and this tour had been no different. They’d recently re-introduced Sara into the set and, as usual, what he saw and felt during the song almost entirely contradicted how she responded to him offstage. There had been an unspoken rule for years now about keeping their distance there, primarily in order to prevent any ‘mishaps’ or ‘mistakes’, but she had taken it to a new level, one he felt was more than merely uncomfortable, and which was actually wholly unnecessary. Did she think he was going to jump on her and demand sex if she gave the slightest indication of liking him, even as a friend, for fuck’s sake? He’d wondered if she was perhaps scared of her own responses, but had discounted that apparently poorly formed theory relatively quickly after their most recent show.

Two nights ago, she’d looked into his eyes as he’d given her an Eskimo kiss (he’d almost congratulated himself on his self-restraint; he found it too easy to get caught up in a moment) in Sara and it had been bliss, a few seconds where he’d felt his heart-rate increase and his arousal start to stir. And he could’ve sworn it was real. He’d once prided himself on being able to gauge Stevie’s moods and emotions and, after the show had ended, he’d decided to confront her. Ignoring the issue hadn’t helped, so it was the only recourse left. 

“Stevie?” he’d said softly, rapping on the door. Karen had opened it to him, rolled her eyes, and thankfully gone into an adjacent room, leaving him to speak to Stevie privately for once. His ex-girlfriend (that term always sounded so wrong in his head, but he still hadn’t yet found a right-sounding replacement) had been sitting curled up in a chair next to her bed and he was suddenly struck by how old she seemed, her hair newly washed, her make-up removed, and the blanket around her hunched shoulders. Time marched on and had no mercy. She looked vulnerable. 

His first mistake had been to sit down on the bed. She’d looked askance at that, and he’d been incredibly obviously irritated at her for it. Did she expect him to try and get comfortable on the floor or something? They’d played a three-hour show and he wasn’t that young anymore either, for fuck’s sake. So he’d simply sat there, refusing to acknowledge the warning in her eyes. It hadn’t been the best of starts, he’d later recognized. When he’d asked if she wanted to talk, she’d simply huffed and replied in the negative, adding the unnecessary “Not to you, anyway” just to twist the dagger a little bit more. 

He’d snapped, letting her words take him back to the role he’d been so determined not to take. He could have sworn he was a better man than that now, married, mature, sensible, balanced. 

“Oh, fuck off, Stevie,” he’d replied. Maturely. “Grow up,” he’d added, completely without irony. “I thought it might be nice, you know, finally getting the chance to talk. I’m not here to harass you or lecture you or even nag you. I just wanted to talk.”

She’d looked suspicious. And maybe she was right to. That tiny moment during the show that they’d shared had sparked that tiny ember in him, that oft-buried ‘maybe this time’. That last time had ended, as usual, in a complete mess. She’d refused to commit to anything beyond the next week and so he’d made a fool of himself at the bar, flirting too much with someone far too young. Somehow that had gotten back to her and the next time he tried to enter her room in the early hours of the morning, his keycard hadn’t worked. 

Lindsey sighed, holding his hands out in a gesture he hoped looked innocent. “Honestly, Steph. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Okay,” she’d said, and all he had felt was relief. 

“I wanted to talk about Sara,” he said, broaching the subject in a way which he later regretted. “I was just wondering - ”

Stevie had yawned. In his face. “Actually, I’m kind of tired. Can I take a rain-check? Thanks. Um, have a good day tomorrow, okay?”

A minute later, and a stuttered attempt to convince her to let him stay, he had been staring at her closed door again. It hadn’t been a nice sight.

“You even listening, mate?” he suddenly heard then, the familiar voice interrupting his memories, and he had a bad feeling it wasn’t the first time those words had been uttered. Mick was staring at him, eyebrow raised and a grimace on his face. “Get it together, right?”

Lindsey nodded and tried to focus on the guitar and not on the twisted feeling in his stomach, the one that had him wondering if Stevie would retreat onstage tonight as much as she had off. It had actually been better when it was both of them trying to awkwardly dance around residual emotions and longing. For some reason, he’d found it easier to be happy with his life back then, maybe because he knew he wasn’t the only one having difficulties keeping everything together. Or maybe trying to force Stevie to act like he wanted her to (no, of course he didn’t want her back; but he sure as hell wanted her to want to come back…) had made him more sensitive to how much he really hadn’t gotten over certain things. He wasn’t entirely sure and maybe it wasn’t even important. 

She was almost certain he’d been tempted to kiss her. His eyes had searched hers and there’d been a question there, one she’d been afraid to answer. She’d wanted to close her eyes against the intimacy of the moment, but she’d never been able to look away from him when his expression was as open and honest as it had been tonight. 

He’d tried to catch her after the show again, knocking loudly on her door until he’d eventually given up and left. She’d been profoundly grateful. Lindsey had been too attentive lately, too persuasive, too much of everything she was trying to avoid. 

Shutting down her emotions and feelings had never been something Stevie had been good it, but it was more necessary now than ever. She could almost feel the years getting away from her, moving her steadfastly closer to the time when her boots would be put away and the shawls would no longer be worn. It scared her. When the band was done, when her career had become a few public appearances and an occasional interview, what would tie her to him beyond a sense of duty? Who would he be to her? She sometimes let herself hope he would be the everything he’d once been, but there were no guarantees, a lesson she’d had to learn over and over again. So she was weaning herself off her dependence on him. 

Stevie curled onto her side, cuddling a spare pillow to her weary body. She was trying to become a bit less dependent, anyway. It didn’t seem to matter how cold she forced herself to be to him, he kept trying to break through. 

She wished he’d been that persistent, that caring, that understanding, that open to talking, forty years ago. She wondered if he hated her yet.

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