The woman sitting next to Liv on the plane says, "You have a beautiful baby."
Liv glances up and smiles. "Thank you," she says.
The woman is older, maybe in her fifties. She has glasses on a necklace chain and she's reading The Davinci Code. She leans forward confidentially. "Are you visiting family in Omaha?" she asks.
Liv smoothes Milo's blanket but is careful to try not to wake him. He's been asleep in his car seat since just before take-off, which makes her feel like she's getting away with something. They book two seats whenever she opts to fly with the baby from gig to gig. She said she'd be fine with just the sling and checking the stroller, but Bernard insisted. "Actually," she says, "well, I’m in a group. Actually, a band, really."
She worries that "band" makes her sound like some kind of irresponsible mother, but there's no good single word for "traveling carnival of men who smoke and drink, and sometimes sleep with each other loudly, very, very loudly," and she's not sure what kind of mother that makes her sound like, either.
"We have a show in Omaha, actually," she says, finally.
The woman nods vaguely, and looks like she doesn't know what to say, settling for, "Goodness, that's -- interesting."
Liv smiles awkwardly, and smoothes Milo's blanket again when he stirs lightly in his sleep. There's no sensible way to say that she'd really rather be on a bus from Des Moines right now, because that probably wouldn't make any sense to anybody else. The plane ride is quick and easy and climate controlled, but there's ginger ale in cups with too much ice instead of moonshine and soy milk, and episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond instead of impromptu acoustic duets and games invented on the sly that always seem to end with broken limbs.
After a minute, the woman smiles back and returns to her book. Liv wonders if the woman would understand if Liv tried to explain how strange it is to be wrestling a diaper bag onto the plane instead of Polly. She knows Sala is taking good care of her, probably better care than the band ever did when left to their own devices, but it's still different. Which isn't to say that it's good or bad, just not the way things used to be.
In his car seat, Milo blinks and opens his eyes, and looks up at her with his mouth open in an 'o' in a way that reminds her that sometimes she thinks he's going to grow up looking exactly like her father. She imagines Milo will grow up feeling as at home on a tour bus as everyone else in his family, but sometimes there's something to be said for a little climate control.
Ian leaves L.A. reluctantly. Mostly reluctantly. In L.A. there are pleasantries like air conditioning, valet parking, and attractive men in his bed on a very regular basis. He can also have all these things on the road, but several of them will lead to Viggo repeatedly attempting to corner him and talk about things like The People and the Peter and Fran Path. Ian never really knows what Viggo's on about, he makes it a policy not to, but he still doesn't enjoy it.
Nonetheless, the point comes in each tour when Ian needs to put in an appearance. He buys a first class plane ticket and meets up with the caravan somewhere pointless and terribly Midwestern. There's a brief signing and acoustic set scheduled at some dirty local record store selling lots of used vinyl. It's Ian's least favorite type of record store, but after six years selling Peter and Fran he's learned to accept that one can't always have the market base one would choose for oneself. He's grateful for the rabid support the band has with this set, he just feels that the sales clerks would all be equally lovely and hip if they washed regularly.
The show later that evening seems to go well. The air-conditioning holds out after a shaky start, Sala says they sold quite a few t-shirts at the sales booth, and there's a photographer visiting from Spin taking shots of the band on the road for some summer touring special.
Predictably, Viggo tries to convince the photographer to do something "experimental" but Ian saw the danger of that about a second after scheduling the photographer and he's able to intervene before Viggo follows through on his promise to ask about hanging a swinging rope from the catwalk.
A car picks Ian up after the show is over to drive him to their next stop. The driver plays a lazy game of tag with the tour bus on the highway and Ian happily listens to Italian opera on a comfortable leather seat, grateful for his discretionary fund and that the band is finally popular enough that he can afford separate transportation.
The next morning he hosts a brunch for the band and key members of the support team. There's fresh squeezed orange juice and a lovely fruit salad with fresh mango. There's also a delightful eggs benedict with fresh dill, but not everyone eats that. Once the meals are served and everyone has made at least three-quarters of their food disappear, Ian taps his glass and looks around the table, raising his orange juice high once he has their attention.
"Well this is a strange little family, but I'm quite fond of all of you." Ian clears his throat and looks at Viggo, "most of the time at least." Ian smiles. "Do try to keep it together, I'd much rather be promoting you lot that some of these other kids they're throwing at me." Ian looks around the table. "That's all."
There's a little pause and Ian catches a look from Dominic which might be a suppressed eyeroll, but then Viggo coughs a little too and looks around the table. "Well then," he says, "I think those are our marching orders."
He'd be hard pressed to ever admit it in public, but Sala rather likes that the band and crew of the Peter and Fran traveling circus are one big happy family. Which is not to say, however, that he doesn't mind that the crazy, singing, instrument playing side of the family gets its own bus when it comes to traveling: Sala has memories of what it was like during the first tour when it was the entire band plus Lawrence, Bernard and himself all squeezed into a broken down Eurovan. Except that they're not memories so much as they are terribly unpleasant flashbacks that leave him feeling like he needs a stiff drink and renewed his resolve to never let anyone without tits sit on his lap again for any purpose, ever again.
Still, there's a fair amount of back and forth. Sala and Lawrence trade over to the band bus sometimes to play poker (Karl is cut throat, Dom and Billy prone to cheating and Orlando is, sort of predictably, terrible, but that's probably a product of their instruction more than anything else), Astin invades the crew bus to waste film portraying them as people who sit around and carry instruments for a living and Viggo comes over sometimes so they can have talks about the instruments or Russian silent films or whatever.
This afternoon it's the instruments, because Viggo's read some article and decided they can only use a tuning bell on the trumpet from now on. Usually talks with Viggo cover such familiar territory or are so obscure and confusing anyway that Sala only needs to be semi-conscious, but this time he has to try and talk Viggo out of it so he's required to wake all the way up from his nap.
"Absolutely not," Sala says. "There's only one brace, and you have to take the whole business apart and wrap the bell any time you want to move it anywhere and sometime they still break for no reason at all."
Viggo rubs his hands together. "You can really tell the difference, though, you know? And Elijah mentioned wanting to reclaim ska and I want to support that, so--" he trails off, because Viggo has a way of politely waiting for you to realize that you're not going to get to say no.
"I'm packing it myself," Sala says finally, raising his eyebrows. "And you have to give me notice on a day when you want to use it on stage."
Viggo nods and claps his hands together. He says, "Shake on it?"
"Orli, are you getting off the phone soon? We need you to play Drunken Sardines." Elijah's voice is a long whine over the scratchy sound of too much smoking and Orlando rolls his eyes, moving his mobile away from his mouth.
"Hold on a second, yeah?" he shouts from his bunk and then mouths along as Elijah counts "one" and then asks, "Ready now?"
"Elijah, leave him be," Viggo says, his voice gravelly and amused. "I know it's hard to believe, but sometimes people need a break from the madness."
Dom says something Orlando can't make out and the typical sounds of a scuffle follow, including Viggo's indignant yell, breaking glass, Elijah's squeal and a string of what is probably extremely foul Kiwi slang from Karl. Orlando pulls the curtain of his bunk tighter.
"Important band things?" Eric asks, laughing.
Orlando moves the phone back, smiling against it. "Let me tell you a secret, Professor." Orlando pauses for dramatic effect. "With this band, nothing's ever important."
Eric laughs again and Orlando reaches up to trace the patterns of the ceiling with his finger. "Still, you should go." Orlando opens his mouth to interrupt, but Eric continues. "I've got to leave, anyway."
"Chemistry emergency?" Orlando tries not to sound disappointed, is actually surprised that he's quite as disappointed as he is. "Explosion at the lab?"
"Nothing so fun. Dinner with the Dean." Eric's voice softens. "I'll see you next week, though, eh?"
Orlando nods and rests his palm flat against the ceiling. He's always liked the top bunk best. "Bernard's getting us a car so we have the option of not being on the bus. I'm sure you'll appreciate that."
As if to prove the point, Billy comes running through the bunk area, followed closely by Karl. "You shouldn't think I won't kill you just because you're smaller than me, you wee Scottish bastard," he shouts and Orlando wonders what Billy did.
"Oh, it wasn't so bad last time. I mean, they're all hooligans, but I can handle that." Orlando laughs because really, there's not a better word. "I'm looking forward to staying for more than just a night, actually. Really get the touring experience."
"You say that now, but just wait until Dom sticks a fish in your luggage or Viggo hires a doctor to tell you I have the herpes," Orlando warns, but he thinks it'll be fun, too.
Eric chuckles and then says, "Really do have to go."
"I'll ring you after the show tomorrow?" It's a question because Orlando's voice turns up at the end, but they already talked about it, so he doesn't wait for an answer. "Have a nice dinner."
"I can't promise that, but I'll try." And Eric is gone because he doesn't really believe in saying goodbye. Orlando grins at the phone and moves his hand 45 degrees on the ceiling.
He thinks about just going to sleep, but his curtain moves aside and Dom's face appears. He must be standing on his toes, Orlando thinks and leans down to confirm it.
"Orli." Dom's eyes are wide. "They've stolen my boyfriend. My soulmate. The man who makes my tea in the morning." Dom clutches Orlando's shoulder. "Have you seen me make tea?"
Orlando hides a smile. The last time Dom made tea on the bus, it took days for the smell of burned rubber to dissipate.
"What's the plan?" Orlando asks, all thoughts of sleep forgotten as he jumps down to the ground and lets Dom drag him into the common room.
Karl rolls out of his bunk at about one-thirty in the afternoon. He installed himself in there about five minutes after the bus pulled out of the hotel parking lot, announcing that everyone had better keep their mouths shut because he wasn't leaving the bunk until he'd slept for at least one hour, straight.
The only time the band didn't heed this warning there was a little incident sometimes referred to (when the others thought Karl was out of earshot) as the Great Karl Hissy Fit of 2002. It involved a five hour battle of wills, one missed interview with Spin Magazine, and Ian, nearly in tears on his mobile phone, begging them to "just let the man sleep."
Having learned the meaning of fear, and never wanting to see Ian reduced to such a state again, the band allows Karl to sleep, at least with the aid of earplugs. When he emerges from his bunk about two hours later the bus is grinding along some sort of very straight highway and there are soft flicking noises from the front which suggest a game of cards. Karl hopes it's Uno, he's rather fond.
He heads out towards the mini fridge at the front of the bus and is wading around the kale and assorted yogurt cups in search of a ginger beer when something coughs behind him and Karl looks up to see a gargantuan man looking at him sheepishly and holding a red towel around his waist.
The man looks down at his waist, then frowns. "Sorry."
"Yeah," Karl nods, looks at the fridge, then looks back. "Yogurt?"
"Please." The guy holds out a hand and Karl hands him a container of blueberry. "Um," he looks at the cup, then back at Karl. "Do you know if there are any spoons?"
"Yeah." Karl pushes the bag of kale back into the fridge, not before noticing a promising looking lump, which may have been cylindrical and had the letter G on it. He closes the door and tugs at the drawer on his right, looking down into it. "Green or yellow?"
"Yellow." The man shrugs and Karl passes over a yellow handled spoon. "Ah. I'm Eric by the way."
"Okay," Karl nods, and moves past him towards the card shuffling noises. "Enjoy the yogurt."
Outside of Albuquerque it becomes evident just how bad that dodgy crab house was, as nearly everyone, including the bus drivers, succumbs to food poisoning. Eventually, Bernard agrees to take the wheel, and he's grateful enough not to be heaving his guts up into the bus toilet that he doesn't mind, really. Just like everyone says, it's like old times
Bernard takes the wheel and this bus is a good sight bigger than the broken-down Eurovan and it has pedals and levers he decides to ignore for the sake of simplicity, but every American freeway seems to have been born enormous and straight. It takes the challenge right out of it and after an hour he's half-hoping for a dangerous ravine or some falling rocks or at least a bit of baffling local signage.
He calls Elijah up to the front to sit with him because Elijah has a brain like a jukebox and can remember the words to Dylan songs written before he was born. Orlando wanders up after Elijah, along with that tall dark something-or-other who's sleeping in Orlando's bunk these days, and they make themselves at home sitting slouched close together in the aisle.
Bernard doesn't know Eric from Adam but likes him well enough anyway, all big hands and an easy laugh and a mostly ready acceptance of the madness among the band. Bernard likes him much better when Eric speaks up suddenly and trumps Elijah for the dirtiest joke told in living memory, the one about the minister, the shaman and the sheep rapist.
Bernard looks round and sees Elijah staring at Eric with something like awe. "I think they could arrest you under the Patriot Act for that. That's the best fucking joke I've heard in years."
Eric shrugs, grinning. He's sitting with one arm draped around Orlando, two fingers tucked just under the waistband of Orlando's jeans at Orlando's hip. "I know another one. It's a three-parter. Ready?"
Elijah waves a spoon at him. "Go."
Jokes give way to rounds and the four of them launch into a sort of feral feline chorus, Bernard and Eric booming lustily, Elijah soaring above in an unwise acrobatic falsetto, Orlando full of throaty enthusiasm.
When the piteous sounds of suffering coming from the back coalesce into calls to stop singing, for the love of mercy, Bernard sends Orlando back to the kitchen to cobble together a lunch of leftovers and when he returns they picnic on yogurt, bread, someone's pot of honey and a curry of indeterminate origin.
Elijah brings them tea and Bernard steers with his knees while he eats. He thinks, not for the first time, of the hypnotic sensation of driving long periods, when everything is half-way caught between slow motion and time-lapse. He's drifting serenely into the next lane when Elijah clears his throat, reaches over and nudges the wheel straight again.
"Admit it, you missed this part," Elijah says.
Bernard shrugs, grinning. "What, chauffeuring you lot all over creation? Not likely," but he's smiling too broadly to properly scoff. He puts two fingers on the wheel, for safety's sake, and reaches for the curry.