Backstage Pass --------------- by Lorelei

The Comfortable Couch
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We didn’t stay for the encore.  It was someone else’s song to begin with—one that I didn’t like by a 60’s duo that I did--one that I thought was not suitable to Jeremiah’s large, tremulous voice anyway.  You know…Jeremiah Rothke, the Russian-Jewish/Norwegian-Lutheran, California-born young singer who is introducing a generation of screaming teenage girls to over-the-edge romantic pop in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Not that I am one of them, mind you…but his tousled black hair and almost Asian eyes—set off dramatically by porcelain skin—tall, lanky frame, and devastating smile do make me almost as weak as his voice can.


No, I am middle-aged and married-with-children, and came to the concert with my elderly mother because no one else in the family cared. So here we were standing outside, waiting for my father to come back from wandering the downtown mall and pick us up.  The turn-of-twentieth-century theatre had a deep awning lit underneath by hundreds of tiny clear bulbs, but in order to see around the corner I had to risk my cashmere sweater, velvet pants, and gigantic, glossy program in a misty, early-April rain (it was Easter Monday).  Not to mention putting myself at possible risk for being accosted by someone suspicious….


As soon as that last thought crossed my mind, a man dressed all in black came sauntering up.  “How ya doin’?”  I didn’t answer, even though he had a backstage pass hanging over his tight t-shirt.  He really didn’t look all that threatening--except for the spiky, disheveled, frosted hair—and Jeremiah’s two huge buses were parked down the alley from which he had emerged.  Maybe he truly was one of the roadies.  I looked nervously at my mother—who was leaning out from under the awning, staring down the street, oblivious to my potential danger--then back at this guy, who was still smiling in an unsettling way.  “You waiting to get that signed?” he asked, nodding toward the program I was clutching to my chest.  His gaze lingered there a moment too long for my comfort, causing me to shrink from him involuntarily. 


When I did this, I backed into my mother, who—it turned out—had begun paying attention to my predicament at some point.  “You go ahead, sweetie”, she said—which surprised me to no end, considering how she and my father still tended to treat me like a child.  She must have seen my incredulity in my face, because she patted my arm and went on, “I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for you.  When your dad gets here, he and I will just drive around until we find a parking space at the curb.”  Then, looking the roadie straight in the eye, she concluded a bit more loudly, “But if you aren’t back on this spot in an hour, we will call the police!”  The guy chuckled, but his smile faded when he realized from her expression that my mother was perfectly serious.  I managed a weak smile over my shoulder at Mom as the roadie touched my elbow and led me up the alley to the first bus.  I had seen it, inside and out, on TV, but nevertheless was sure I must have been dreaming as he walked up the steps and held out his hand to help me up. 


Once inside, I saw Jeremiah sitting on one of the long black leather couches that lined both sides of the front half of the bus.  He looked so relaxed and open—graceful arms draped over the backrest, gangly legs spread wide, a faint smile curling his full lips—but rose quickly when the roadie walked up, leading me by the hand.  With one of his unbelievably wide grins, Jeremiah held out his hand for me to shake.  I just looked at it, finding it to be even more elegant in person than I had seen it in close-up on the big screen behind the stage set, as he had played the piano. 


Jeremiah looked past me at the roadie, nodding slightly to let him know he could leave.  Suddenly able to remember why I had come in here in the first place, I started to hold out my program to him.  “Mr….Mr. Rothke…” I began to croak (I had been suffering from laryngitis—couldn’t sing in church the day before or, worse yet, during the concert this evening).  “Nooo, call me Jere,” he replied—pronounced “Jair” (the fan websites all said that he detested being called “Jerry”)—“And you are…?” 


My cheeks were burning as I tried to answer, clearing my throat several times before he finally said with a sly look, “Oh, I’m sorry…did you lose your voice from screaming during the show?”  I had to laugh, painful as it was.  “No,” I managed to whisper, “I had laryngitis already.”  His expression briefly changed to one of concern before he nodded and smiled, “Oooh, I gotcha—been there, done that, many times!”  His speaking voice had the same slightly breathless quality as his singing, especially now when it was not amplified and was filled with a genuine understanding.  I felt myself floating on that sweet sound…


I was brought to the strange reality of my situation by Jere gesturing toward the couch.  He sat back down—legs crossed this time--and held out his hand again.  As I sat, I gave him the program and he reached behind him to the surrounding ledge for a pen.  “Where would you like me to sign?” he asked, holding the program flat on his outstretched left hand.  I opened it and indicated the full-page picture of him in a flowing white shirt on the inside cover.  “OK, do you think you could tell me your name now?”  He gave me another sly, sideways glance, melting me to the point where even if I had had my voice I would not have been able to tell him.  I just shook my head, staring at the floor. 


Closing the program and saying again but more quietly, “OK”, Jere slid a bit closer to me—to have a place to set it down, I thought.  But then I noticed the concerned look returning to his eyes, and before I realized what was happening, he had gathered me into a strong, warm hug.  Completely unable to think, I put my arms around him too.  His large, delicate hands were stroking my back, and I mindlessly did the same to him. The long, tight grey sweater he was wearing felt more like cashmere than my own, and his curls against my cheek were softer yet.  Our legs touched, and I was seized with warm chills, the way I had been while listening to him sing tonight.


He must have felt me shiver, for Jere was now holding me even more tightly and whispering, “Are you too cold?  I can have Steve fix the thermostat.”  I shook my head against his and felt him smile.  Finding nothing better to say, I blurted hoarsely, “Is this sweater cashmere?”  His smile got broader and he nodded (still against my cheek).  “So is mine,” I said inanely, “but not nearly as nice as yours!”  At this Jere loosened his hold—though he didn’t let go entirely--and leaned back to look at me, laughing heartily.  It, just like his speaking, sounded as much like music as if he were still singing. 


My face flushed again, and I looked back down at my shoes.  Jere stopped laughing and lifted my chin, making me look into his fathomless black eyes.  “Why did you do this?” I whispered, feeling utterly ridiculous.  “What?” he asked.  “Invite me in here.” His smile returned as he replied, “I always invite the first young lady Steve finds waiting for an autograph to join me for a bit.”  I smiled back at him, but inwardly I was reeling.  Young lady?!  Me?!  “And why did you hug me?” I knew I was pushing it—tempting fate to shatter this incredible magic--but the words tumbled out before I could stop them.  Now Jere looked away, seeming flustered.  “Well, you just sounded—and looked—so miserable with your laryngitis, I wanted to try and make you feel better.”  Turning his gaze back to me, he whispered, “Did I?”  I nodded, “Oooh yes, Jere!”  He chuckled softly and pulled me close again.  “Good,” he murmured in my ear, then moved his head just enough to brush his lips against my cheek.


Now I was no longer just floating, but feeling as if I were going to faint.  I nevertheless took the opportunity to reciprocate, licking my dry-with-nervousness lips and touching them to his face (which was just the tiniest bit stubbly).  He smelled of some kind of very expensive cologne mixed with a bit of stage makeup; the taste of his skin was sharp with the cologne and salty with dried sweat.  It was just making my dizziness unbearable, when Jere gave me one last squeeze and broke the hug a few moments later.  He picked up the program and pen from the seat beside him and remarked without looking at me, “Now that we’ve kissed, you have to tell me your name!”


What I said next amazed me even as the words left my mouth:  “Oh, but we haven’t really kissed!”  For a second I just sat there, gaping with the shock—then the next second Jere was taking advantage of that fact.  His tongue was gentle at first, then quickly became more insistent, probing toward the back of my throat.  His arms were around me again, tighter than ever, and I began to struggle.  Not because I didn’t absolutely adore what was happening, mind you.  No, when he finally let me go, I looked Jere in the eye as I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, then rasped, “I hope you didn’t just catch my laryngitis!”


With another melodious laugh, Jere once again reached for my program and his pen.  “I hope not either—the tour is just getting started!”  He settled back on the couch with the pen poised over the page I had chosen and stared at me.  “C’mon now…I really kissed you, didn’t I?”  I nodded vigorously and he grinned, “So you have to tell me your name now!”  I told him, and he signed the book, saying aloud, “To the best kisser I ever met…” 


In horror I leaned over to see if he had actually written such a thing.  “Please don’t put that!  I could never explain it to my family!”  Jere’s laughter rang out again as he finished writing and showed me his autograph.  Of course, he had not really memorialized our “backstage pass”…but still, I said not a word to my parents as we drove home, nor to my husband and daughters forever after that sweet night.