Penny awoke early the next morning to a crash and a whimper. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she sat up to see William sprawled out on the floor at the end of the bed.
"William? Are you okay?" She asked quietly, trying not to awaken Sapphire who was snoring beside her.
"I'm fine." He squeaked, scrambling to his feet, "I just fell over some shoes."
He glared at the towering wooden platforms that seemed to mock him as they stood strong and steady, like a rock. He tried to kick one over and succeeded only in stubbing his toe. The shoe didn't budge. William threw his hands up and stomped off to the bathroom while Penny giggled and fell back onto the pillow.
The phone rang sometime after noon while Penny was sat on the floor with William, helping him go through the notes and bits of paper he'd already amassed.
She crawled across the floor to grab it, "William's room!"
"Penny?" Russell's puzzled voice on the other end of the line caught her off guard and she sat up straight.
"Hi, Russell." She replied, turning to raise her brows at William.
William immediately began motioning and mouthing words, waving his arms to get her attention. She knew he wanted her to ask Russell for another interview but this wasn't the right time. So she turned away, twirling the phone cord around her finger.
"You're staying with the kid?" Russell laughed and Penny felt her cheeks growing hot.
"Did you want to speak to William?" She asked stiffly.
"No, never mind that. Hey, come up to my room for a minute, will you?" He didn't even give her a chance to answer before hanging up.
Penny sat down the receiver and sighed, feeling a twinge of annoyance. Mostly at herself for allowing him to treat her this way. No. She shoved that thought aside immediately, deciding to focus instead on the project that lay ahead of her. She was really going to have to work on Russell. He could be changed. Molded and shaped. He had to be, he was so close to being perfect. And he cared about her. She knew that. He told her all the time.
A smile flitted across her face as she jumped to her feet, fluffing up her curls and sliding on her shoes while checking her reflection in the mirror. She had completely forgotten about William until he spoke up as she was headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" He asked, looking pitiful as he juggled his paper scraps.
"To see Russell!" She called back cheerfully as the door swung shut behind her.
As the show started that night, Penny was practically in a state of euphoria. Russell commanded the stage, she knew everyone's eyes were on him. All those girls in the audience were staring up at him like he was a god. And he was all hers. Well, almost.
Leslie had called earlier at the most inopportune time, while she and Russell were twisted up in his sheets. She could still feel the weight of him on top of her as he reached over to answer the phone, pressing his finger against her lips. She could still see him staring deep into her eyes when he told Leslie that he loved her before hanging up.
The lights came up on stage and the music rang out in the arena. The crowd roared. Russell paced the stage, his fingers flying across the guitar. She smiled, swaying to the music, secure in the knowledge that he could feel her eyes on him. She turned to say something to William but the grating, electric sound of feedback filled the air.
She looked towards the stage and saw Russell frozen in place, like his hand was glued to the microphone stand. From the side of the stage she could see his face. Immediately, she knew something wasn't right. For an agonizing moment, her heart and everything around her seemed to stop.
Then he dropped like a sack of potatoes and the music ground to a halt. Penny gasped, grabbing the arm of whoever was standing next to her. The roadies rushed to his side. She watched as they dragged him off stage, hurrying through the dark, and then she followed them at a dead run.
"Is he okay?" She asked desperately, dashing behind them up the steps and into their makeshift trailer.
"I don't know, I think he's in shock." One of the roadies said, propping Russell up on a chair.
Russell stared straight ahead, his hand lifted in the air like a dog with a wounded paw.
"Russell? Russell, it's Penny. Look at me!" She knelt in front of him, her hands cupping his face.
He looked at her without seeing her, his eyes unfocused. She patted his cheek, trying to keep his attention, but his eyes drifted.
"Get him a beer!" Dick suggested from the doorway.
Everyone seemed to drift in behind him, filling the tiny trailer. Someone handed Penny a beer and she popped the top, offering it to him.
He took it, then sat it down on the table beside him.
"Give me your hand, Russell." Penny said softly.
"I'm going to find whoever is in charge and kick his ass. Destroy this fucking dump!" Dick roared, slamming the door behind him.
And they did. As Penny wrapped a bandage around Russell's red and blistered palm, the band and crew overturned and broke everything in sight. Even William tipped over a half-empty cup of beer and then looked embarrassed about it.
It wasn't long before Dick returned, yelling and banging on the door, "Hey, hey, come on, come on! Let's get on the bus, let's go!"
Penny grabbed her tackle box purse and helped Russell to his feet as everyone flooded out of the wrecked trailer. They weaved towards the bus as Dick began arguing with a man in tight pants. Russell was still a little unsteady on his feet but Penny managed to push him up the stairs and into a seat. She was worried that he still hadn't said a word but at least his eyes were focused now. But he looked despondent.
She sat down next to him and took his hand, tracing the lines on his uninjured palm with her fingers as the rest of the band filed in.
"Russell, it'll be okay. I think this is a good sign for you. A very good sign. This is going to be a positive thing." Penny told him earnestly, smiling when he looked over at her, "It's happened to all the greats."
"Yeah?" He asked hoarsely and she nodded.
As the bus crashed through the locked gate and rolled off into the night, Russell laid his head on her shoulder and fell asleep. And all was right with the world.