As I sat there, another faceless voice in a giant crowd, I couldn’t help but smile. I remember thirteen years ago when this all seemed like a dream. I remember watching him play the barn. I remember going to warped tour. I remember when they told us he didn’t sell enough albums. I remember when he was just Ryder Sullivan.
But here we are today. Millions of fans and album sales later, and yet he’s barely changed. Sure, his life hasn’t been perfect, but when it comes down to it, he’s still the same man he was becoming back then. No, he’s better. He’s no longer afraid to give his opinion. He’s no longer afraid to talk to people. He’s no longer afraid to be himself.
As I glanced over to my younger brother I couldn’t help but see the same qualities in him. An enormous smile spread across his face from ear to ear, showing he truly was in heaven. I wish I could go back and bond with you. I wish I could’ve been the brother you always wanted me to be. But I guess hindsight really is 20/20. All we have left is where we go from here, and I promise it’ll only get better.
Somewhere in their set I got lost in it all. The fire, smoke and sparks were cool and all, but my mind was on the man in the middle. Something was so different about him up there. I’ve seen him perform so many times before, and sure, he’s always connected with the crowd. Yet, I’ve never seen it like this. It’s like he’s giving them the absolute last of what he has left. Like he’s completely emptying the tank.
“You’re wanted backstage.” I heard one of the bodyguards tell Oliver. “Come on.”
“I-I don’t know.” He nervously stuttered. “Ryder told me that,”
“I know what he told you.” The security interrupted. “But you’re wanted backstage.”
As Oli nervously stood up I noticed my dad whisper something to my mom. “I’ll go with him.” I shouted, seeing the concern spread through our family.
Oliver slowly nodded his head before looking over to Mark. “You want to come or stay?”
“I, uh, I think I’ll stay.” The teen forced out over the music.
We both nodded before following the bigger man back into the club and towards a hidden exit. “Is everything okay?” Oli asked in a gulp.
“Just fine.” The man replied. “You’re just requested.”
“But Tommy is he?”
“All the band members are fine.” The man grunted, growing tired of the questions.
I nervously placed my hand on Oli’s shoulder as we walked, anxious to find out what Ryder could be planning. I get he wants to surprise the kid, but he’s got him genuinely worried!
The music seemed to grow louder and louder the closer we got to the stage, until finally we were climbing a small black staircase. The sights and smells of being backstage haven’t really changed all that much, they’ve just gotten, well, bigger!
As I looked down at my brother I couldn’t help but laugh. Amazement entered his face as his eyes carefully scanned everything around him. From the staff desperately shuffling around with the bands back up instruments, to the pyro techniques trying their hardest to ensure everyone’s safety.
“You.” A man with an earpiece shouted as he saw Oliver. “Are you ready?”
“Am I ready?” Oli gulped as two other people rushed him with a jacket and some other supplies.
“You’re going on.” The man dismissed as the stage hands tried their hardest to make him look the part. “Did Tommy not tell you?”
“Tell me what?” Oli asked as his hand began to tremble.
“You’re surprising Ryder,” The man answered in a groan. “Of course he didn’t tell you!” He angrily shouted. “After this song the lights are going to go down, and you’re going to switch places with Tommy to give him a break.”
“A break?” I repeated.
“Yes, I would say he’s earned one, wouldn’t you?” The man impatiently asked.
“Sure.” Oli quickly nodded. “But I, this, this is, it’s a stadium!”
“Glad to see you’re not stupid.” He sarcastically dismissed.
“He’s just a kid.” I defended, beginning to stare down the stage manager.
“He’s also a musician.” The man corrected. “He’ll have to get used to crowds eventually.”
“But this, this isn’t just a crowd.” Oli gulped. “This, there’s like, like, sixty thousand people out there!”
“You have less than a minute.” The manager warned looking over to me. “Get him ready.”
“Oliver.” I quickly began, turning him back towards me. “Ever since you heard Messiah you dreamed of going to their concert, and now, now you have a chance to not only be here, but play a song with them!” He nodded but his hand only seemed to shake more. “It’ll be just like at my engagement party, you and them vs the world.”
“But that was different.” He anxiously defended. “That was like thirty people.”
“Really? Because it was the most important moment of my life.” I warned. “And you killed it. You were absolutely amazing.”
“But nothing.” I shook my head. “That couldn’t’ve been easy by any means. Then, on top of that, you just played on national T.V. a few days ago! Oliver, you were born for this.”
“But what if I mess up?” He asked in a panicked voice. “What if I’m not good enough?”
“Thirteen years ago Ryder asked me the same thing.” I couldn’t help but smile. “And you know what I told him?” Oli eagerly leaned forward as he awaited my answer. “What if you are? What if you’re the best thing to ever happen to music but you let your fears get in the way?”
“What’d he say?” Oli prodded, scanning me from top to bottom.
“I think you could put that one together.” I couldn’t help but laugh as I turned him around to face the stage.
Sure enough, Ryder was still moving a million miles an hour. When he goes up on stage, well there’s no quit in him. He slams his foot on the gas pedal and never takes it off.
“Ready?” The manager asked as he rushed back up to us.
“Yeah.” Oli nodded through a deep breath. He took a few steps forward before suddenly turning around and wrapping himself around me. “Thank you Teddy.” He forced out before letting me go and returning to the manager’s side.
Suddenly the song came to an end and all the lights shut down. I saw some motion at the side of the stage as the two drummers tried their hardest to discreetly switch places. Before I knew it, Tommy was standing next to me, staring into the black stadium.
I heard Oli roll through the drums as he tried his hardest to get his bearings as fast as possible.
“What the hell was that?” Ryder asked as the lights kicked back on. “Scared the shit out of me.” He laughed as the crowd began to scream at the guest behind the kit. “And Tommy, drumming through it wasn’t funny.”
Oli gave him one last run through as the crowd grew louder and louder. “I know I know,” Ryder dismissed. “Everyone loves Tommy, but like a great man once said, he’s a fucking ass hole!”
The crowd grew even louder as Ryder stood there clueless of who was behind the kit. “You mean me?” Oli nervously asked into the microphone.
Ryder quickly swung around and laughed as he finally realized who he’d been talking about. “This wasn’t planned.” He instructed the crowd. “Just, how the hell did you get here?”
“When a mommy and a daddy love each other,” Oliver began, but a loud blare of guitar cut him off.
“Smart ass.” Ryder dismissed as the crowd yelled and hollered at their conversation. “Now that we have Oli, what do you say we play something new?”
“You mean play something I wrote that Tommy can’t keep up with.” Oliver teased one last time.
“Someone cut his mic.” Brandon joked turning back to the drum kit.
“He’s not wrong.” Joe chimed in getting the crowd to yell once more.
“Whatever.” Ryder dismissed. “I just know the crowd didn’t come to hear us bicker, did you?” He asked as he was greeted with shouts. “Didn’t think so!” He exclaimed. “This one’s a new one, and it’s called Twist of Fate.”
As the song began and Oli kicked it into gear I couldn’t help but laugh at how nervous he was. I always knew his confidence was a bit of an act, but still, he’s so good I never expected to see him doubt his skills. Especially since he works so hard to master them. This wasn’t something he was born with, nor something he’s just lucky with. It’s something he grinded away at since he was a little kid. Something he’s obsessed with.
“He’s really good.” Tommy remarked, watching him closely.
“You really think that?” I asked, glancing over to him.
“No doubt in my mind.” The older drummer nodded. “He’s a bit of an asshole, but what are you going to do?”
“You have a soft spot for him.” I teased with a growing smile.
“It’s not a soft spot.” Tommy rejected, watching him closely. “I’m just, I’m passing on everything I know.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked as my face grew serious.
“My time’s numbered Teddy.” He shook his head. “We all know that. I don’t know how much longer I have,”
“But Ryder said that you told him,”
“Forget what I told him.” He dismissed. “The last thing I need is their pity.” He’s trying so hard to act tough, but I can tell he’s scared. I can tell he didn’t want to worry his friends. I can tell he doesn’t want them to be in any pain. “I just, I don’t know when I’m going to go.” He clarified in a brave breath. “But now I know when I do, well there’s someone to pick up where I left off.”
“It gives you peace?” I asked, but got a quick roll of the eyes back.
“Not everything needs to be so emotional Teddy.” He spit, staring at the drum kit. “Oliver understands.”
I nodded and grew quiet as we watched the rest of the song play out. It really was something special to see Oliver up on stage in front of sixty-thousand people. I could see signs of nerves, but for the most part he was locked in and killing it. He looked like a natural back there playing with a band he had idolized for so long.
When the song finally ended Tommy quickly made his way back on stage. “Alright, fantasy camp is over.” He announced into a microphone. “Tommy’s still here mother fuckers.”
The two drummers nodded to one another as respect flowed through their locked eyes. I know I was scared about Tommy being a new role model for Oliver, but now I understand. I see their connection and I know how important it is to the both of them. Have no fear Tommy. Oliver will carry on the torch.
“That was amazing.” I encouraged as Oli walked back stage. “You did so good.” I reached out for him. At first he hesitated, but quickly gave in and embraced me once more.
“Thank you.” He forced out as his body shook from excitement. “Do you, do you think we can watch from here?”
“Sure thing.” I nodded as he turned back to watch the stage.
I felt my hands rest over him as we watched the rest of the concert together. Just three months ago this would’ve been impossible. One of us would’ve killed the other before we got this close! But not anymore. Not since Ryder came back into my life.
The rest of the concert was jaw dropping. Messiah really does put on something special, especially for their last show. Their last few songs saw special effects I could hardly believe. I was left amazed by their use of fire, lights and smoke. It sounds so simple and yet they found such a complex way to use them.
But as their set list finally ended they played an encore, then another and finally a third! But this time they came out to what looked like a much smaller stage. The drums were moved forward near the cat walk and small walls of amps were built around it, giving the illusion that they were in a small space.
“For the final time, let’s kick it old school.” Ryder announced as the crowd roared at him. “This last one, it’s for all of you who want to give up. There’s always a reason to stay. This one’s called Surrender.”
Their last song seemed to be the most emotional I had ever seen them. It was clear they had all come to terms with what this song meant. That they weren’t bluffing when they said this was it. When the song finally came to an end, a teary eyed band stood on the catwalk arm in arm as fireworks shot off behind them.
I don’t know exactly how long they stood there staring at the crowd, but for a while it felt like time was standing still. As though the moment was never going to pass. Yet, just like everything else in life, time has a way of pushing you forward.
With one last waive Ryder turned away from the stadium crowd and headed right towards us. I quickly let Oli go and rushed up to him. “I’m so proud of you.” I comforted him as we embraced.
“I can’t believe it’s over.” He exhaled, hugging me closely.
“It’s just one chapter.” I reminded him. “You have so many more ahead of you.”
He nodded his head and held onto me for a little longer as his band mates surrounded Oliver. Before I knew it my parents and Mark arrived back stage and joined the bittersweet goodbye. It wasn’t easy on any of them, but I could tell it was what needed to be done. They were all ready to finally move on, and Messiah, it was just holding them back.
“We’re so proud of you.” Both our parents supported as they reached Ryder. My smile seemed to grow wider and wider as the emotions of the night came to the surface. I hope you feel all our love Ryder Sullivan. I hope you know how much you mean to us.
“So I was thinking,” Ryder began as he and Oli slipped away from the bigger group. “Being up on stage and all is fun, but something about it, it’s just,”
“Nerve racking?” Oli finished for him.
“Yeah.” Ryder sheepishly nodded his head. “And if you’re not careful, the spotlight, it destroys people.”
“So what are you saying?” Oli gulped, looking at him closely.
“What if Unity is different?” Ryder asked. “What if, what if we have a different stage presence?”
“Hmm.” Oliver thought. “What if we’re just outlines on the stage.”
“That’s a good start.” Ryder nodded. “But I think we need something a little more unique.”
“Holograms!” Oliver yelped in excitement. “You know Gorillaz? We can do something like they did! Except now we have the projectors for it!”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Ryder excitedly asked. “I get to design yours!”
“No way! You’re going to make it look,”
“Guys.” I interrupted in a laugh. “This can wait until tomorrow. For now, just take this in.”
“Fine.” Ryder submitted in a laugh before mouthing something to Oliver who happily nodded.
I shook my head but before I knew it Ryder took me by the hand and started to walk with me. “Theodore Haner.” He began as we walked out towards the now empty stage. “Did you ever imagine life would be like this?”
“Not in a thousand years.” I laughed as we stared off into the near empty arena.
“It wasn’t perfect, was it?” He asked, taking me to the edge of the stage.
“No.” I shook my head as we took a seat. “But it’s ours, and in the end, it all worked out.”
“I always knew it would.” He teased with a smile.
“So did I.” I giggled, as I laid my head against his shoulder.
Thirteen years ago he told me there was always a place in his heart for me. That no matter what he would always love me. When I was seventeen that sounded so profound and deep. I thought I had lucked out and found my soul mate before my life even started. But then everything happened, and by twenty-one I couldn’t stand the idea of love. It all seemed so fake. It seemed like everyone was lying to one another just to get laid.
I was trying my hardest to get back into the game, but I just couldn’t. That is, until ten years later when he finally came back into my life. It turns out there was a place in my heart for him too, I just didn’t know it. There was a hole he left I was trying to fill with anything and everything. And now that it’s full again. Well, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to keep it this way.
Way back when I thought I was saving you Ryder Sullivan. Little did I know you were saving me.
----------------------------------8 years later-------------------------------------
“Dad!” A young voice cried out as I desperately tried to get lunch together. “Dad!” The voice repeated louder. “Dad!”
“Yes James?” I finally caved as I looked back at the ten year old.
“Oz said Daddy and Uncle Oli’s music isn’t good.” He whined as I finally handed sandwiches to the small trio.
“Nuh uh!” The six year old protested. “I said one of their songs isn’t good!”
“Oz is free to think what he likes.”I instructed them. “You’re not forced to like your dad or uncle’s music.”
“I think it’s amazing.” The third child added.
“I think it’s amazing too.” Ryder encouraged as he slowly made his way down the stairs. “And today’s the day for music.”
The three children jumped to life as they heard his words. “Thanks.” I sarcastically complained as I began to clean the kitchen. “Didn’t just take all morning to get them to eat or anything.”
“Come on Teddy,” Ryder smirked. “Take a chill pill.”
“Yeah, take a chill pill.” James echoed from the table as his younger siblings surrounded their other father.
It wasn’t exactly an easy road, but assembling our little mixed family was one of the best things Ryder and I did since we got married. I know we have more than enough money for surrogacy, and who knows, there’s still time for a fourth! But adoption just felt right for the first three. There are so many kids out there looking for a home, that it just felt wrong ignoring it.
“He’s giving you that look again.” Ryder giggled glancing over to James.
“I know he is.” The ten year old shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
“I can’t look at my oldest son?” I asked, walking closer and resting my hands on his shoulders.
“You can.” He nodded his head. “Especially since I’m your favorite.”
“You wish.” Ryder giggled as he pushed our daughter to me. “That’s his favorite.”
“I don’t have favorites.” I defended, letting James go and scooping up Nikki. “But whoever eats their lunch will make a case for it.”
“It’s not happening.” Ryder warned in a sigh. “Besides everyone’s coming over for the barbeque soon.”
“That’s tonight.” I dismissed, sitting Nikki back in her chair.
“Do they know that?” Ryder asked in a nervous laugh. “Your parents said they’re on their way.”
I couldn’t help but laugh in frustration. “Did you clean the grill?” I asked as he shrugged. “Did you clean our backyard?”
“We have that patch of grass,”
“We’re not sitting surrounded by gravestones.” I warned him as he let out a sigh before quickly making his way out back.
The house in the cemetery turned out to be a better idea than even Ryder had thought. The renovations brought out the old classical style of the house, while also modernizing it. We were even able to give ourselves a small buffer of space without graves around the house! Ryder turned a house that used to haunt him into one he’s raising his family in. One that’s full of laughter and love.
The summer’s day was a perfect example of that. Our kids and family hung around, spreading as much love as they could. It was everything I had ever dreamed of and more. The perfect guy by my side with a trio of crazy kids surrounding us. My parents and brother there with us and of course Blake, Liz and Hayley.
I heard Ryder let out a laugh as Hayley chewed Oliver’s ear off. “She totally has a crush on him.”
“Oh yeah.” I smiled. “Blake wants to kill her.”
“I think Oli does too.” Ryder cackled, waiving the now twenty-one year old over. “You finish writing those songs you were working on?”
“You finish writing yours?” Oli mirrored back, but all he got was silence. “That’s what I thought.”
“I have three kids.” Ryder defended. “What’s your excuse?”
“I had to take pictures.” Oli bashfully answered, trying to stand up straight.
“For your modeling career?” I asked, trying my hardest to hide a laugh.
“It’s not modeling.” Oli corrected. “They’re endorsements. They make me money.”
“Because you need more of that.” I teased, drawing a sigh from him.
“You’re one to talk. Ryder said you’re still a workaholic.” Oliver shot back.
“Dude!” Ryder yelped, as he got dragged into it.
“I’m sorry.” Oli sighed. “But he’s pushing my buttons again! You know how it gets!”
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Ryder complained as he reached behind him and grabbed the guitar. “You starting this time dad?”
“No way.” The older man laughed. “I need time to work up to it.”
“Alright,” Ryder nodded. “Oliver?”
“Nope.” He stubbornly shot down.
“James?” Ryder offered but the boy simply blushed and grew closer to his grandfather.
“Guess it’s you.” I laughed as Nikki walked over and fell into my arms.
“Then you have to play.” Ryder ordered, trying his hardest to hand Oliver the guitar.
Oli shrugged and quickly scooped up Oz from next to him. “I have one of your kids.”
“Was that a threat or a statement?” Ryder laughed as he began to strum the guitar.
“Both.” Oli teased as he began to fly Oz through the air.
I went to say something but before I could Ryder’s playing grew louder. Soon the meaningless strumming turned into a song he played the kids every night. A song he had grown up hearing.
I felt Nikki beginning to fall asleep in my arms as her father’s voice filled the air. I wonder if she knows how lucky she is, I wonder if they all know how lucky they are. Ryder’s committed to giving them the world. He’s committed to being the best father he can. He’s committed to showing them the sky’s the limit.
And why shouldn’t he? Next years a new year, this summers a new summer, and tomorrows a new day.
Thank you all so much for sticking around through it all! I know it was a lot to read, so I really appreciate it! Especially those who commented almost every chapter, and fueled discussions!
If you can find the time to fill out this survey about the book I would also really appreciate it! It's just a way to anonymously give me feedback so I know exactly where I need improvement. If you fill it out, don't hold back. Sometimes honesty is the best medicine! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TJF2C8L
Finally a third book is most likely on the way. It'll be a running Oliver book that get's updated every now and again. I'll be working on other projects so it won't be receiving the attention these two did. However, it'll still be a great way to keep up with the Haner family! It'll start with Unity's first concert and take off from there!
Other than that I'll be working on a new story arc for my story Blinded, before writing an entirely new book which will stand on its own! So if you liked this story make sure to be on the look out for more!