One of the big motivating factors for me to write the Dust & Ash Saga was my love of music. I come from a pretty musical family. My grandmother was an opera singer. All three of her children (my mother included) played instruments: guitar, percussion, and piano. My aunt and uncle ran a piano studio for years, and I started piano lessons at six years old. I eventually took up trombone, percussion, and voice, and I studied both classical and jazz forms. I was a member of every choir and band at my school, which led to me playing a (short-lived) stint with a garage band.
Even my very first job centered on music. At sixteen I went to work for National Record Mart. (See that? I just dated myself horribly!) I loved that job. I got paid to hang out at a record shop and listen to music, and that was wonderful. Through the store, I got to attend music conventions and meet up-and-coming bands. I have a treasure trove of fond memories from that time that all focus on music, and I built on that experience and those memories to create the world of Dust & Ash.
Dustin didn’t understand what was going on, but he didn’t like the vibe of the whole situation. He turned to Matt, who he’d started to consider his closest friend among the Boys. “Sorry, Matt. He’s new at this whole relationship thing, and he’s, uh, not very good at it yet.”
“Relationship, huh?” Matt looked at Dustin with a raised eyebrow. “Interesting word choice. Lemme explain what this is and what it isn’t so you don’t think we’re a bunch of assholes up in your business.”
“That’s kind of the definition of ‘band.’ At least any of them that I’ve been in, anyway.”
Matt barked his laugh and led Dustin through the house. “You know Ash’s family has run the band for over twenty years, right? Well, obviously in that time, the guys in it had girlfriends and, uh, relationships, and some of them turned out to be… less than healthy for the band.”
“I get it, Matt.” Dustin nodded, making a go-ahead motion with his hands. “I even get the reference to Yoko Ono, who most hardcore Beatles fans believe pulled the band apart through her relationship with John Lennon.”
“Right. Well, in the Boys, if two or more members start to worry that there’s a problem with another band member over a chick—or, you know, a… person—then we call a Yoko meeting and we talk it out. Uh, before things get crazy. Or at least we try to. A few times in the past, guys missed the signs or ignored them until shit got critical.”
As Matt and Dustin emerged into the basement, Dustin saw their equipment had been moved back and the couches pushed forward to form an L-shape. Jason and Jared already sat waiting. Jared looked perfectly at home, smoking a cigarette. Jason looked tense.
“When was the last Yoko meeting?” Dustin asked, curious.
“Five years ago.” Matt pointed to the empty couch. He and Dustin sat down.
“So none of you were in the band?”
“I was,” Jared said.
“So was I,” Ash said as he came down the stairs. He carried a twelve-pack of Rolling Rock longneck bottles and a Tupperware container. His eyes met Dustin’s and immediately softened. He held up the container. “This okay, babe? I mean, you weren’t saving them for anything, were you?”
“It’s fine.” Dustin smiled and shook his head. “Although I don’t know how you can be hungry. We just ate.”
“Dessert.” As Ash looked around the room at his bandmates, his grin turned dark and brooding. “Since my other dessert plans were so rudely canceled.”
“Yeah, uh—” Dustin cleared his throat. “So, who was the last meeting held for?”
Ash flopped down beside Jared. He popped the lid on the container and pulled out Dustin’s version of Rice Krispies treats, which he made with marshmallows and whatever cereal was leftover at the end of the week, then drizzled with chocolate and caramel. This week’s happened to have raisins and nut clusters in them, and Ash had been hoarding the container since Sunday.
“My older brother, Rhett,” Ash said, his mouth full.
Dustin stared at him for a full minute before saying slowly, “You have a brother named… Rhett?”
The guys all started snickering, and didn’t stop even when Ash threw them all dirty looks.
“Yeah. He and I are both named after the heroes of great literature.”
Matt snorted. “You’re named after characters from Gone with the Wind, dude.”
At that Jason and Jared busted out laughing, and Dustin couldn’t help it; he joined in. Ash scowled, then popped another chocolate-covered treat into his mouth and chewed ferociously.
“So what did, uh, Rhett do to deserve a Yoko meeting?” Dustin asked, trying to get his laughter under control.
His question brought an abrupt end to the revelry. Solemnly, Matt met Dustin’s eyes. “He used the Boys’ bank account to buy his girl an engagement ring.”
“Well, that’s not so terrible,” Dustin said, feeling the innate romance of it sweep through him. “I mean, we make good money. Did he intend to—”
“He spent ten thousand dollars from the operating account on Tricia’s ring.” Ash’s eyes were darkly ferocious as he stared at Dustin. “It doesn’t matter that she’s my fucking sister-in-law now. There was nothing okay about it. It was wrong, end of story.”
Dustin’s jaw hit the floor. Ten thousand dollars? For a ring?
Ash looked away, then quickly back, the fire in his eyes quenched. “The situation was rectified.”
“So… yeah.” Matt jumped into the ensuing silence. “Yoko meetings. They don’t happen very often, and, uh, this one is, unusual, given that you’re both, uh, in the band. But some stuff has kinda caught our attention and… well, we’re concerned.”
Ash folded his arms across his chest, and Dustin imagined that his Native American ancestors probably looked very similar as they faced down the White Man invading their lands.
“So how’s this work?” Dustin asked. “Is it like an intervention? You each say what you’re concerned about, we deny that there’s any problem, and then you convince us that there is and send us to some center for wayward gay musicians in lust?”
Matt barked again. Even Jared snickered at that, but Jason didn’t so much as crack a smile.
Damn, Dustin thought, tough audience.
“Not exactly,” Matt said.
“Well, before you guys get started with whatever it is you’re going to say, I want to say something,” Ash said.
Jared sighed and Jason looked away, but Matt just nodded. “Go ahead, Ash.”
“It really bothers me that you guys would do this so soon. Me and Dust are still so new that we haven’t even gotten around to telling our families about each other, much less make some kind of formal announcement to the band. Seems to me this is more about my sexual orientation than any kind of band business, and that really pisses me off, because who I fuck is nobody’s business.”
Matt smiled and scratched his forehead before folding his hands in his lap. He gave Ash kind eyes. “I hate to break it to you, dude, but who you fuck is no secret to us. We all knew long before Dustin came along that you, uh, weren’t exactly a girls-only kind of guy.”
That obviously shocked Ash. “Really?”
“Man, I live with you. I knew the score four years ago,” Jared said.
“Well, yeah, but….” Ash eyed Matt and Jason.
“I caught some of the action at Karen Spicer’s New Year’s party two years back,” Matt said, his cheeks coloring.
Ash raised an eyebrow. “Do I want to know what exactly you saw?”
“You were getting pretty friendly with Trang and Mai Pham in one of the walk-in closets. I just needed a dry place to put my coat.” Matt closed his eyes and shook his head. “Needless to say, it wasn’t going to be there. Not after what I saw the three of you doing.”
Ash smiled and cut his gaze to Dustin, who was looking at him with his eyebrows up in a share-with-the-class-please sort of expression. “Uh, Trang and Mai were these Vietnamese exchange students,” Ash explained. “Cousins, I think.”
“Yeah, they were cousins.” Jared nodded as he stubbed out his cigarette. “Mai was a sweet girl. I remember your mom going on and on about what pretty babies the two of you would make if you’d just settle down and marry her.”
“Yeah, that would’ve worked out real well.” Ash made a rude noise. “Not.” He looked at Jason. “So did you know too?”
“I knew you’d fuck anything with a pulse.” Jason gave Ash an angry glare. “You made it real clear to me last summer that you don’t do relationships.” He looked away as the guys opened fresh beers, and mumbled, “If I’d known this might happen, I wouldn’t have asked Dustin to join the band.”
Ash didn’t know what to say to that. He scanned the faces of his bandmates. “So what’s the big stink, guys? Because I’m not pulling a Rhett here. What’s the problem?”
Matt looked at Jared, who shrugged.
“Go ahead,” Jared said.
Matt tried to meet Jason’s eyes, but the bassist sulked, ignoring them all.
“Fine.” Matt blew out a breath. He was really uncomfortable now, and he could feel Dustin’s eyes on him. It made what he was going to say worse somehow, but it couldn’t be helped. “Ash… we know you, man. We’ve grown up with you. We’re like brothers. We’ve all seen how you operate. And while none of us begrudge you whoever you want to get it on with… Dustin is the best drummer we’ve ever had. We need him.” Matt met Ash’s gaze and held it. “We can’t afford to let your dick fuck up the best thing that’s happened to the Boys in the last five years.”
Ash stared at his bandmates, stunned. The sugary taste of the dessert turned wrong on his tongue, and he swallowed convulsively, trying to clear his mouth. He didn’t dare look at Dustin. He was petrified of what he’d see on his boyfriend’s face after that little revelation from Matt. He looked at Jason instead, and immediately wished he hadn’t.
“It’s Dustin’s turn now,” Jason said. “What’s gonna happen when his turn’s over, Ash? You gonna dump him the way you do all the others? Not call him, not talk to him, ignore his text messages, tell us how he’s driving you nuts, how he got too attached? ’Cause that won’t work when you’re seeing him at practice every fucking day.” Jason abruptly sat forward, his hands clasped in his lap. “And what about when you move on to the next person in line? Is Dustin supposed to watch? Is he supposed to live with you, practice with you, play gigs with you, and watch while you do the same thing, pull the same moves, run the same game on whoever comes after him?” Jason shook his head. “That would be really shitty to do to a band member, man.”
Ash was speechless. This was utterly not what he expected, what he came prepared to argue about. The guys weren’t worried about the gay thing, and they didn’t care that he was bisexual. They were worried that he was going to hurt Dustin or drive him away. Given Ash’s track record and everything that had already happened…
They were probably right.
Ash’s throat constricted and tears burned the corners of his eyes. He looked up at the ceiling, hoping it would be enough to wish them away, because he didn’t think he could bear crying in front of the guys. Not over this.
What truly sucked was that he remembered, vividly, laughing and joking at band practice last summer, his phone going off over and over during rehearsals as different hookups called and texted him, trying to set shit up. And Jason was right. Ash let the calls go to voicemail, blocked the texts, and bitched to the band about how trick after trick (though he never called them that—not in front of anybody, anyway) got too damn attached and wanted a “relationship.”
Ash closed his eyes, trying to take slow, regular breaths, as he remembered getting into that argument with Jason about the merits of the one-night stand. He finally thought he understood why Jason was so upset about this thing with Dustin, why he was being such a dick about it. After all, Jason and Dust were friends, and last summer Ash very loudly proclaimed that one-night stands were all he wanted, that they were the ideal relationship. He and Jason argued about it, for fuck’s sake.
Maybe they were right. If Ash loved Dustin—and he was pretty sure that the ache in his chest over this whole mess and the hollow feeling that seized him every time he thought about Dustin not being in the farmhouse was what love felt like—then maybe… maybe Ash needed to let Dustin go.
The whole meeting might have ended right there, with Ash agreeing to end things and not see Dustin anymore, if Ash hadn’t seen two things. The first was Jason’s eyes. They were fever-bright and filled with an odd anticipatory glee. The second was Dustin’s face, which was as miserable as Ash had ever seen it. And what capped it all was that Jason’s satisfaction came as he glanced from Ash’s anguished expression to Dustin’s unhappy face.
Oh. Hell. No. Fury roared up in Ash, drowning out the sorrow. He didn’t understand why he and Dustin separating made Jason so happy, but Ash wasn’t going to give up the first person to make him feel safe, whole, and like he was home without a fight.
To celebrate the first release in the saga, I’m sponsoring a giveaway! There are three ways to enter: like my author page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or – if you’re already following me on FB and Twitter – leave me a comment about your favorite music to listen to at a wedding reception. I’ll be giving away three gift cards, and the winners will get to choose what they’d like to receive! Winners will be announced on my blog on September 30th.
Once again, I’d like to thank Jana for hosting me and the Boys today. Turn on some music and enjoy the end of your summer!