“Ronnie,” Lola whispers, her voice laced with terror as she grabs onto either side of my face. “What happens when I die? Do I go to hell for the things I've done?” Her nails scrape the skin from my cheeks as I dial 911 with my right hand and hold her as gently as I can with the other. A quick glance up shows me that Poppet's disappeared through the curtains. A split second later, the music stops and I can hear her voice booming through the speakers.
“If you shoot him, then I'll shoot your son. I swear to God I'll do it.”
“I don't know, doll face,” I tell her, trying my best to smile. The 911 operator's talking in my ear, but I don't care. She can fucking wait. “But I can promise you that wherever it is, you're not going to find out until much, much later. You're gonna be okay. You are.” Lola shakes her head as I look away and pinch my eyes closed, letting my voice turn mechanical as I try to report what's just happened to the operator. Uh, a big fucking conspiracy has just crashed down on our heads. You should already have cops here doing crowd control, but I don't see them. Brayden Ryker is going to fucking die when I get my hands around his neck.
A hand wrenches my phone from my fingers and drops it to the floor, crunching it under a pair of heavy boots. I glance up to find the man in question standing there with a frown on his face.
“What the FUCK?!” I scream at Brayden, but he's already moving away from us, leaving Lola there to bleed out on the floor. The man's face is a mask of professional hatred and deep-seated frustration. The look's enough to tell me that however it is that he got himself embroiled in this shit, it's personal.
“Ronnie, I'm going to die. And I deserve it, so it's okay. It's really okay,” Lola whispers while Poppet's voice echoes through the speakers again, but I don't give a shit about what she's saying. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters except this.
“Lola, baby, you're not going to die.” I try not to grit my teeth while I say it, but I can't help myself. Memories of Asuka are assaulting me from all angles. Her voice is reverberating in my skull and a scream rests on the tip of my tongue, a cry of outrage and pain that I'm afraid I won't be able to hold back much longer. But I have to. I have to stay strong for Lola. More gunshots ring out and my heart seizes. Turner and Jesse. They're my brothers and if they go, I go. And Naomi. If she goes, Turner goes. We're all connected here by the threads of fate, connected by a glistening web of heartstrings. One snaps, we bleed out collectively. Nice how the strongest emotion on earth can also become a weakness when put into the wrong hands. “I'm going to get you through this, okay?” I tell her, struggling to tear my shirt from my shoulders without jostling her body. Once I get the fabric free, I press it against the wound, trying to staunch the bleeding as best I can. I don't know why Brayden Ryker crushed my cell, but I'm damn sure I have to get Lola some medical attention or she really will die here in my arms.
A hand slides across the floor next to us, diving for something … Lola's fucking gun. My body tenses, but I can't push Lola aside and fight for it, so I clutch her tight and glance up sharply to find Trey's sister, Sydney, whipping the revolver around and pointing it at someone behind us.
“Back the fuck off!” she snaps, panting heavily, eyes focused on something I can't see.
“Go help your friends, love,” Lola breathes, closing her eyes and reclining into my arms like she doesn't even have the will to fight.
“Goddamn it, Lola,” I growl at her, snapping her out of her trance. “Wake the fuck up and stay with me. We'll get through this together.” I can see that cursing at her's not doing me much good, so I switch tactics. “If you die, I die. I will seriously walk out of this building, find a knife and slit my own throat. Lola, I've already lost a soul mate and a brother. I barely survived it. If you leave me, too, that'll be the end, baby. Game over for Ronnie McGuire.” I brush her hair back as she sets her lips in a thin line and curls her fingers around my arm. Maybe, just maybe, the strength and determination I know she has inside of her will buy us a few more minutes. “Sydney,” I shout, hating how immobile I am. I want to get up, but I can't. Truth comes down to this: nothing here is more important to me than this woman. If I were to put her down and she died while I was somewhere else, my soul would be irreparably damaged, so fucked up that even if I were lucky enough to get reborn, I'd still be sad-sack Ronnie McGuire.
“Yep?” she asks, her voice rough and shaken. When she slipped her guest pass on and jumped in the van with us, I doubt she expected all of this.
“I need an ambulance for Lola, but Brayden fucked my phone up. Can you get out of here? Find a way to contact 911?” Sydney grunts in response as footsteps scatter around us, more shouts, another gunshot, and then another. The crowd explodes from beyond the curtain, bursting like a blister. I can hear the screaming, and I can just imagine the flailing stampede that it'll become. Within seconds, the death toll out there could reach astronomical levels. Don't believe me? At a concert for The Who in 1979, the doors weren't even opened yet, but the crowd heard the band's warm-up from outside and rushed the entrance thinking the concert was getting started without them. They managed to crush eleven people to death. Eleven people because they thought the band was starting the concert. Here? There's a crazy woman on the speakers, gunshots, a history of violent excitement surrounding our band's tour.