Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest

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Title: Performance Anxiety

Picture Prompt Number: 36

Pairing: None

Rating: General

Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 2,492

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): Even though the anticipation immediately before a live performance brings on a sensation approaching panic, all I want to do is be on stage. The other obligations and complications are part of the "machine." The music, however, feeds my soul and brings me indescribable joy.

Warnings and Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any of the characters from the Twilight Saga franchise. Stephenie Meyer is the owner of Twilight. I just like to play in her dollhouse. I was a big Barbie fan back in the day. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, songs, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. This author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being made from this work. This work and the original ideas presented therein are the sole property of this author.

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A hand on my shoulder and a light squeeze from one of my best friends signals that things are about to get started for the night. I've been happily listening to my iPod in my bunk on the bus, reminiscing to songs that evoke happy memories from my life and trying to avoid thinking about the chest-crushing panic that always nearly brings me to my knees before I step on the stage.

I crawl over to the edge and drop to floor. I stand and stretch my arms to the side then as far up in the air as I can before my fingers touch the ceiling. I lower my hands to my waist and twist from side to side. I'm hoping to loosen up the muscles in my back and neck that stiffen up every night I have to spend in my lumpy, pod-like bunk. It helps a little. I pluck out my earbuds, and leave the device on the bed. I straighten my shirt and grab a hat since my hair is overgrown and uncooperative. I wait my turn for the cupboard-sized bathroom, do my business and brush my teeth. It isn't a good idea to step out into the crowd with pizza-breath.

The guys are engaged in small talk. I laugh as a stress ball is chucked from one end of the bus to the other, hitting a very surprised tour manager in the centre of the forehead as she steps up into the bus.

"Thanks for that." Bree rolls her eyes at our normal juvenile behaviour and continues with the rundown. "We've got the VIPs inside, so come on in whenever you're all set. Sooner, rather than later, would be good. We're already running a bit behind."

She steps down and heads back in to the venue. The place is a shithole. When we arrived earlier and loaded in our equipment I was surprised at the condition of the place. From what we'd been told, the looks of the website, and the reputation of the venue we had expected a pretty nice place. Instead we found a rundown room with antiquated electrical equipment and an ancient sound system. When Bree returned from the bowels of the building, where she had been directed to find the ladies room, she was perturbed to find that not one of the doors on the bathroom stalls latched and the toilet paper and hand towel supplies were already run down to practically non-existent levels. She'd tracked down the one supposedly senior staff member to bitch about it and he'd promised to take care of it. Our concert crowds consisted of predominantly female fans. It wouldn't look very good if they ran out of toilet paper before even the opening acts finished.

I close my eyes, take a deep breath and center myself so that I can slip into character. I'm cocky, confident and smooth. I'm a charmer. I'm a southern gentleman. I'm making myself gag. I frown at my own mental lapse and give my head a shake. I usually have no trouble slipping in to my second skin. I decide to blame it on the fact that I didn't sleep well last night. The highway was bumpy and G was snoring again. I try again. I feel the rock and roller take control.

I step off the bus and the large group of women, interspersed with some men, smile and wave. Some of them call my name. I, in turn, smile and wave. I notice that some of the women, who were already waiting in line when I popped out earlier to grab some lunch and spent a little while playing to the crowd, are looking a little pink and flushed in the hot July sun. At least now the sun has moved behind the building more so that the majority of the line is in the shade. The crowd is livelier than they were earlier in the day. They were happy and playful then, but I can feel the shift in the mood. It's become more raw. I steel myself to face what could be a wild evening.

We're never sure what kind of crowd we're walking in to. Some nights the audience is all about the music and having fun. Other nights the floor seems to be composed of cougars in heat. Sometimes it's a combination of both.

We walk past the main entrance and down the side of the building entering through a side door. Two of the guys head out first while Garrett and I stand back for a moment. We can hear the murmurs and chatter from the crowd as they step up on the stage and arrange themselves at their instruments. I accept a bottle of water from one of the bar employees, crack the lid and swallow down a few big gulps. I tip it towards G to see if he wants any and he shakes his head in response. When we make our way out from the hallway towards the stage, I quickly scan the small crowd of VIPs. There are about thirty people, mostly women, collected close to the stage. I hear some cat calls, and whistles but this group is fairly low key. As we settle onto our stools at the front of the stage, I observe the diversity of the crowd. There is a tiny Goth girl standing beside a group that appears to be made up of your average housewives. A couple of ladies have come with their boyfriends or husbands. There is also the usual assortment of bimbos. One of them makes a lewd gesture and I pretend to not have noticed. I see a few older couples, one of whom is at least as old as my grandparents. The people who have come in groups are as easy to spot as the ones who have come alone. Their body language is a dead giveaway.

Once everyone is settled, we play acoustic versions of a few of our slower songs. They are some of my favorites, but they don't always fit into a concert format. I make direct eye contact with, and smile at, as many of the VIPs as I can while I sing. I've found that the reactions are always better when the audience feels like they have an individual connection with the performers. It's much easier to achieve when we perform in this stripped-down way. The fancy lighting and dark backgrounds of the regular show make the performance seem slicker and less personal.

When we wrap up, we take our time setting our instruments down and amble down from the stage as the group applauds and whistles. Bree announces the instructions to the group about their opportunity to get photographs taken with us.

We move towards the bar and line up, two on one side three on the other with a spot in the middle for the VIP to squeeze into. The first woman in line is no stranger; she's been at our last three shows. I can't imagine how she manages to do it. She must either have a fantastic job with a ton of vacation time or she's independently wealthy. If not, I'm stumped. She hands her camera off, jumps into place and chatters away to me and the guys like she's our best friend. We're polite and friendly as Bree snaps a quick photo, then the self-proclaimed 'superfan' is off to collect her camera.

We spend the next twenty minutes or so with chatty-Kathy's, terrified tremblers, Koala-clingers, gropers and some perfectly lovely ladies and gentlemen. One woman accidentally brushes her hand over my ass while retracting her arm from around my waist. She blushes bright fuchsia and tries to escape quickly with a quick, "Thanks boys," as she practically sprints to the far end of the bar and orders a drink. I do my best to pretend I didn't notice. It's a nice change from the purposeful and unapologetic groping that invariably takes place. After the line is exhausted, and the VIPs are busy getting their included bonus of a free t-shirt, we head to the private area of the club for a few moments of peace and quiet. I take the beer handed to me by Liam and take a few sips while leaning back into the well-worn leather couch. I nurse the beer while we wait for a local television crew to finish setting up for a pre-arranged interview. Once they are all set up, Bree leads us over and introduces us to the journalist. I make a mental note of his name and make sure to address him by his first name at least once to show that I was paying attention. As usual the interview ends up being sort of silly, but we still manage to do a good job of promoting ourselves and trying to give somewhat original answers to questions that have been asked at least a hundred times.

We have a quick break between the interview and the beginning of the individual meet and greets. We take a couple of minutes to watch the first opening act as they perform their first song. I finish off my beer and ask for a bottle of water which I take a few sips of. Bree returns and makes sure we're ready to go. We rise from our seats and stand in a loose semi-circle as the first group of four are led in. We take a few more pictures and I sign a few photos and a couple of body parts. That's one request I can't quite understand, but I do it because it makes the women happy. Peter politely declines to autograph people. It's a personal choice and I don't begrudge him his decision.

We're down to the last two groups of meet and greet winners and the second opening act is on stage. A group of four women enter the room and one makes a beeline toward me. She asks me to sign her ankle next to where she's had the autograph of another artist I've worked with before tattooed. She tells me she's got an appointment the next day to have mine tattooed over. I'm flattered, and a bit creeped out. I don't understand why someone I don't know, and have met once, wants my name permanently etched on their body. She hands Bree her camera and poses beside me for a photo. She then bids us goodbye and leaves. A small blonde woman stands over where Liam and Pops are speaking with them. The other two women had started over with Liam and Pops, and were speaking to Peter while not-so-subtly rolling their eyes at the autograph-seeker. They come over and speak to us asking the usual questions with a couple of new ones. One of them passes her camera to Bree. They get the third woman's attention and we all turn towards the camera for a photo. She takes her camera back and all three women head for the door.

G and I raise our eyebrows at each other in question and I shrug. It doesn't happen that often. I don't mean to appear conceited, heaven knows I'm not, but it rarely happens that someone who has gone through the trouble of obtaining passes to a meet and greet doesn't use the opportunity to speak to each of us. Especially G and I. I can't help but wonder why she's chosen to pointedly avoid us.

We spend time with the last meet and greet group then retreat to a private room in the club to take a few minutes collect ourselves while the second opening act finishes their set.

The knock on the door forces my attention back to the immediate future. The knock means only one thing - five more minutes. I take deep breaths and try and clear my mind and focus on the first song to try and stave off the nerves.

Make no mistake, I love what I do, this part of it anyway. The interviews and the meet and greets can become tedious. I love our fans, but some days you just want to hit the stage and go. I keep those thoughts to myself and do my best to overcome the fatigue and frustration on the days it wants to burst free.

I love being on stage, I love the rush I get when the audience is really digging the performance and when the entire room sings along. It's just the last five minutes before I go on stage that get to me. I can't block out the rush of thoughts that run rampant through my mind. What if I forget how to play a song? What if I forget the lyrics? What if the equipment fails? What if the audience doesn't connect with the performance?

I've never been completely comfortable in my own skin. I can't explain it. But when I'm on stage, when I'm performing, I can let it all go. I can lose myself in the music. It's the best feeling in the world. I am completely free. I can bask in the attention and absorb the energy. What the audience offers up to me for free, I return back to them tenfold.

I'm almost able to completely tune out the calls of "You're so hot" or, "I love you". That shit just makes me uncomfortable. I used to have that old song, "Don't believe the hype," run through my head at those moments. Would any of these women find me even the least bit attractive if I was your average, every day, run of the mill person with a normal office job? What if I was a construction worker or a teacher? Probably not. They are attracted to the 'idea' of me, not me for who I am. Most of them have an idealized version of me that they have convinced themselves is the real me. At first the attention was welcome and I took full advantage. I'm a man and I'm no angel. I'll admit it. Though I'm not necessarily proud of it, I certainly welcomed the attention for a while. After a while however, it just feels like you're selling your soul.

We make our way down the small back staircase and wait in the wings until we get the signal. I make sure my performance persona is firmly in place and we begin to file out on to the stage. The crowd cheers and the whistles and catcalls begin. I smile and wink, playing up to the audience in general, careful not to single anyone out. I slip the strap over my shoulder and adjust the guitar until it sits comfortably across my body and strike a cocky pose. It's this exact moment, the instant the first note sounds, all my nerves and the itch of anticipation slips away and I've found my happy place. I'd gladly live here forever.