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Katie McCoy allowed herself a little twirl and a skip as she took in the sights and sounds of an empty Alabama Arena, thrilled by the rows of empty seats, the sounds of the road crew working on the stage set, the faint scent of old popcorn and stale beer in the air. Her band, Sterling, was opening for huge country star Blake Jackson tonight and she felt like they had finally made it. The band’s debut album had been released to great reviews, and their first single, Valentine, had been getting so much radio airplay that even Katie was kind of getting tired of hearing it. When the band got the opportunity to tour with Blake on part of his Country Summer Nights tour, they jumped at the chance. The last couple of weeks had been a whirlwind of planning, rehearsals, contracts, wardrobe fittings, and local publicity stops. Only one thing dampened her enthusiasm, and she had been so busy getting ready that she barely registered the nasty emails and late-night phone calls from her scary ex-boyfriend Shane. He sent vaguely threatening missives from anonymous email accounts, hinting at creative ways he might end her music career or destroy her beautiful lying face. If she answered his phone calls, he called her terrible names and grumbled about how someone ought to teach her a lesson. His voicemails were unintelligible growls, or rambling mumbles punctuated by shouts of “whore!” or “liar!”. Her restraining order forbade him to contact her in any manner, but he managed to get to her anyway. She could never prove that it was him sending anonymous emails, and he never called from a number registered to him or anyone she knew. It had been exhausting, but she couldn’t let him ruin her chance to finally make it. The big day had finally arrived and there was so much security at the arena that Katie felt certain that she was perfectly safe for the time being. She was supposed to be in her dressing room waiting for the road crew to set up their equipment for sound check but she couldn’t resist a little sneak peek at the arena before it filled up with Blake Jackson’s adoring fans. It was exhilarating to walk around without looking over her shoulder, and the fact that it was just hours before her band stepped out in front of their largest audience yet just sweetened the experience.
She wandered around the stands, viewing the stage from all angles as she imagined what it would feel like to play in front of such a huge crowd. Crew members swarmed around the stage, running wires and cables, setting up chairs, props, and platforms, testing equipment. Katie clasped her hands in front of her chest and squealed with delight as the band’s giant banner was unfurled at center stage. Sterling’s logo was fresh and bold on the crisp new banner. It had cost the band a fortune but seeing it on the huge stage now Katie figured that it was money well spent. She could almost hear the crowd and feel the hot stage lights while she let herself slip into a daydream. The band plays flawlessly, the crowd goes wild, and then the band takes their bows in front of roaring fans. She smiled and giggled, hoping that the reality will be even half as good as the dream.
“Hey, doors don’t open until seven.” Katie froze, terror momentarily gripping her, and spun on her heel at the sound of the deep masculine voice. She looked up and was shocked to see Blake Jackson sitting in the stands, a smile on his rugged face and worn cowboy boots propped up on a seat in front of him.
“You’re Blake Jackson!” Katie stammered. God, I sound like an idiot! She blushed furiously and covered her face with her hands. Relief flooded her, giving her a moment before she registered the fact that Blake Jackson, the country’s biggest star, was sitting just a few dozen feet away from her.