Steve could hardly contain himself for the next several days. Overflowing with happiness, he spent his days bouncing around the house, twirling Beth around, playing music and singing at the top of his voice. He didn't even want to go to bed at night. He found unspeakable joy in the sights and sounds of everything around him, and he wanted to stay awake so he could keep experiencing it all. Steve also took joy in the fact that he no longer felt the irresistible need to take ibuprofen. He couldn't believe that he had been so weak as to allow himself to become addicted. He had been frightened by his inability to control himself - especially when Beth tried to deny him his pills. He apologized profusely to her for his behavior.
"I can't believe I let that happen," he said. "I can't believe that I acted that way! My God, how did you ever put up with me?"
"Steve, please!" Beth exclaimed. "You're worrying about the way you acted when you were weak enough to let yourself get addicted?! A witch put an evil spell on you that left you in constant pain, and took away your sight, your voice and your hearing. I think it's safe to say that you handled yourself as well as possible under the circumstances."
Despite Beth's assurances, Steve insisted on doing everything for her. He wouldn't let her lift a finger for herself. "Remember," he said when she tried to protest. "I'm supposed to be waiting on you hand and foot one day for every day you had to answer to that bell. In fact, I think you should use it."
"Nope," he said, handing her the bell. "No arguing."
Beth opened her mouth to protest again, then sighed. "What the heck am I complaining about?" she asked aloud. "Pamper away, hun."
"What can I get you?" he asked. "A soda? Some munchies?"
"I don't know. My show's coming on, though. Maybe some popcorn?"
"Sure thing." Steve handed her the remote and went to make popcorn. He put Beth's sweet popcorn in the microwave, listening idly to the MTV news report that always came on just before her favorite show. There were a couple of new artists out. One sounded pretty good. The other made Steve wonder who was in charge of giving out record contracts these days.
"Man, who gave you a contract?" Beth cried.
"Now, now," Steve said, trying not to laugh. "Be nice, baby."
"Yeah right. I know you were thinking the same thing."
Steve chuckled. "You know me too well."
"Hey, look," Beth said suddenly. "You're on TV!"
Steve poked his head out of the kitchen. "I'd think you would be less excited about that by now," he said. "I mean, you were on TV yourself long before I was even in Journey."
"Yeah, but that was in connection to Westlake," she said, still refusing to call him "Dad." "Besides, I'm being pretty mellow compared to the first time I saw you on TV. It was almost as bad as the first time I heard you on the radio."
Steve chuckled at the memory of Beth squealing and dragging him bodily to the television. They'd been high as a kite for the next week. To be fair, he'd jumped up and down at least as much as she had. Probably more. Steve shook his head and started paying attention to the news brief. It was always a good idea to keep abreast of what the media was saying about him.
"...failure at the hands of modern medicine, Steve Perry turned to a spiritualist group for aide. Apparently, they used ancient herbal remedies and chanting to cure him. Steve has not been contacted to confirm the story, but sources say that he has made a full recovery. Congratulations, Steve." The reporter gave the camera a thumbs up sign.
"Thanks," Steve said.
"Herbal remedies, huh?" Beth said.
Steve shrugged. "Let 'em believe what they want," he said. "Don't want to give the public more than they can handle, right?"
"Right," Beth said. "Besides, there was chanting."
Steve pulled out the popcorn and shook it up to make sure it was fully popped. Then he opened it, still listening to the news. "...recently reported on most news stations that Journey had hired a new singer named Steve Augeri to replace Steve Perry. Now they claim that information was false - a hoax caused by a misunderstanding."
"What?!" cried Steve.
"You have got to be kidding me!" Beth exclaimed. Steve went back into the living room and stared in disbelief at the television. "Do they really think..."
"Shhh," Steve said, waving a hand at her, still staring at the TV. She stayed quiet, and he listened intently.
"The band's manager, Herbie Herbert, gave a statement to the press earlier today to the effect that the hoax was probably the result of a misunderstanding between the band and Steve Augeri. Herbert claims they only hired the young singer to help clear up a few vocals for songs the band had already recorded but had never released. Apparently, they planned to do a second release of Escape in lieu of a tour, and they intended to use the songs as bonus tracks. Herbert maintains that they never intended to hire Augeri permanently. When asked why Ross Valory and Steve Smith left the band, the manager will only cite 'creative differences'. The band apologizes for any pain the hoax caused, and they hope to resume planning and start rehearsals for a belated Escape tour as soon as possible."
Beth flipped off the TV and they stared at each other in stunned silence. Steve battled the anger, hurt and outright shock vying for control within him. At last, Beth broke the silence. "How... how can they... can they get away with that?"
Outrage finally got the better of Steve. "Hell no!" he cried, flinging his arms out in anger and sending a shower of popcorn everywhere. "Dammit!" He tossed the bag to the floor in frustration. Steve started to pace, getting angrier and angrier the more he thought about the news report. "What the hell is this anyway?" he shouted. "Now that I'm well again they think they can just... erase what they did to me? They think they can feed some bullshit story to the press and I'll lay down and pretend this never happened?!"
"I don't see how they could," Beth said. "I mean, too many people know what really happened. Augeri himself, for one. And what about Ross and Smitty? 'Creative differences' my ass! Neal and Jonathan pretty much told them that their opinions where the band is concerned didn't mean a thing. I can't believe either of them will let that slide!"
"Me either," Steve said. "But that's what Neal and Jay are counting on. I don't know about the kid. Maybe they paid him off. Or, maybe they just decided to leave him in the lurch, I don't know. Either way, they want me, Smitty and Ross to let bygones be bygones. They need us to, or the press will know in a heartbeat that they were lying."
Beth frowned. "Well, wouldn't it have made more sense for them to crawl in here on hands and knees and beg your forgiveness before talking to the press?"
"You're absolutely right!" Steve cried, getting angry again. "They could have at least apologized. They should have! Hell, even a bribe would have been better than nothing. But they didn't even try! They just assumed I'd come right back to the band, no questions asked! They probably thought I would be so pathetically happy to be let back in that they wouldn't have any trouble at all!" The idea made Steve so mad he could hardly see straight. "I can't fucking believe this!" he yelled, slamming his fist into the wall.
Beth gasped, and Steve looked down in alarm. He'd actually punched a hole in the wall. He yanked his hand out, dislodging dust and pieces of plaster. "Oh my God, Steve," Beth cried, rushing over to him. "Are you all right? Let me see!"
"It's fine," he said, worried despite his confident tone. "I think I just scraped my knuckles." He opened and closed his fist slowly, relieved that he felt no sharp pain. "See? Nothing's broken. I can't even feel anything."
"Right now," Beth said, gently inspecting his hand for herself. "That's because you're still pumped with adrenaline. I'll bet it'll hurt like hell after it wears off."
"I'm sure you're right," he said, renewed anger swiftly pushing his worry aside. "But I just don't care. All I can think about right now is Journey."
"I understand, baby," Beth said. "But sit down and think, okay? I need to take care of your hand."
Steve sat in an armchair and thought about things while Beth went to get supplies. In a few moments, she returned laden with an ice pack, a bowl of water and the first aide kit. She set about cleaning and bandaging his hand, asking him every few seconds if he was okay. He only grunted or nodded in response. He was too busy brooding to really pay attention. "This is it, you know," he said when she'd finished. "Even if the others do decide to go back, I won't. This is the end."
Beth gently rested the ice pack on Steve's hand and started to stroke his arm. "I'm sorry, baby," she said softly.
Steve sighed heavily, running his good hand through his hair. His fury was finally starting to give way to sadness. And fear. He sighed again. "I'm sorry about the mess."
"Don't worry about that right now," she said gently. "We'll take care of it later."
"What am I going to do, Beth?" he whispered. "What if... what if I can't make it without them?"
Beth sighed. Then she took his face in both her hands and looked him directly in the eyes. "Steve. Please! You have a powerful, beautiful voice, excellent song writing skills, awesome stage presence, and tons of fans. What are you worrying about?"
Steve smiled. "Thanks, Beth." He took a deep breath. "Give me the phone, will you baby? I have some business to take care of."
In less than two hours, Steve, Ross and Smitty were sitting opposite Neal, Jay and Herbie, outlining in no uncertain terms just exactly where they could shove their "belated tour rehearsals."
He could breathe on his own now, but it was hard, and his chest hurt almost all the time. He was depressed. Alone. Miserable. No one spoke to him. The nurses avoided him as much as they could. They tended to his needs, but they refused to talk to him. They wouldn't even smile. They'd heard, of course. Everyone had.
No one visited him. Who was there to visit, after all? Donna? She obviously hated his guts, and she was in jail now because of it. His parents were over 3,000 miles away with no money to speak of. And his friends? They hadn't turned out to be friends at all, had they? They hadn't visited, even after he'd called them. Said they would when they got the chance, but they couldn't yet. More like wouldn't. And now he knew why. Couldn't exactly be caught socializing with the fall guy, now could they?
He'd cried when he saw the report on the news. He'd never felt more hurt - more betrayed - in all his life. Not only had they claimed that hiring him as lead singer had been a hoax, but they'd actually blamed him for starting it. He could still see Herbie's face on the screen - still hear the words that cut through him like a hot knife through butter. "It was just a misunderstanding," he'd said. "I don't know how it happened. I mean, Jay called him up to ask if he could help us out, and I guess he just got the wrong idea." Wrong idea? Misunderstanding? How can you misunderstand the words, "How would you like to be Journey's lead singer?" How can you get the wrong idea from that?!
It didn't take long for his hurt to turn into anger. The more he thought about it, the more upset he became. It wasn't fair! How could they do this to him? Especially after the warm welcome they'd given him, telling him how great it was to have such a talented young singer join the team! What was he supposed to do now? It wasn't bad enough that his own girlfriend had tried to kill him. Now, thanks to his former band mates - no, his imaginary band mates from a band he'd never actually been asked to join - everyone thought he was some kind of over-eager, lying upstart bent on ousting Steve Perry! How could he even hope to get anywhere in the music industry with a scandal like this hanging over his head? How could he face anyone again? He was completely screwed!
He spent the next few days vacillating between hurt, fury and despair. Then it happened. They came. Neal and Jonathan - no Herbie. They stood in the doorway, remorseful expressions on their faces . Jonathan held a small bouquet of flowers. He stared at them blankly for several moments. Finally, they gave up on getting an invitation and came into the room of their own accord. Jonathan cleared his throat. "Brought you some flowers," he said quietly. Steve refused to comment. After a few uncomfortable moments, Jon put the flowers beside him on the night stand and stepped back.
"How..." Neal cleared his throat. "How are you?"
"Miserable," Steve said quietly. The pain in his lung still wouldn't allow him to speak above a whisper yet. "You?"
"Well, we're not doing too well ourselves," Jonathan said. "But we have some news that might make you feel better."
"We've decided to ask you to be our lead singer!"
Steve frowned. "You already did that, remember?"
Neal sighed. "We know that's the impression you got, but..."
"Don't!" Steve shouted, regretting it almost immediately. Sharp pain shot through his chest and he winced and clutched the bedclothes until it subsided. "You know damn fucking well you meant for me to replace Steve," he said through clenched teeth. "Don't even think about playing that game with me."
They sighed heavily. "Listen, Steve," Jonathan said. "We're sorry. You can't know how hard it was for us to... to do what we did. But we are sorry. Really sorry."
"I know you are," he said. "You're sorry because Steve wouldn't come back. He wouldn't let you get away with it. And that means you had to come crawling to me and beg me to come back."
"Look," Neal said. "We're not proud of what we did. But we can't undo it, no matter how much we want to."
"You're right," Steve said. "You can't."
"What did you think?" he asked. "Did you think I'd be so pathetically happy to be let back in that you wouldn't have any trouble at all? Is that it?" They just gaped at him, at a loss for words. "No such luck, guys," he said. "Steve wouldn't stand for this, and neither will I."
"No. You fucked up. You screwed Steve over and you screwed me over. You're crazy if you think I'm giving you the chance to do it again." They opened their mouths as if to speak again. "Just go. Please." Heads bent in defeat, the two men turned and walked out. Steve watched them go. Then he looked over at the flowers. It was a small, pre-wrapped bouquet that looked as if it had been bought as an afterthought at the hospital gift shop. Steve scowled. After what they'd done to him, he figured he deserved something a little better than that. He picked them up and tossed them in the trash.