Reece would listen to me whine about Skye. He’d probably even cancel his date, come over, and keep me company while I moped. He would, however, definitely say “I told you so.” When he’d found out I’d been covering for her, he hadn’t been happy. He’d outright accused her of using me. Turned out he’d been 110 percent right on that score.
The wound, however, was too raw to be prodded and poked. So … no Reece. In all likelihood, Lizzy would give me the exact same ass kicking Reece had. Neither had been a fan of the save Skye plan. Decision made. I’d go to the party and have fun before my world turned to shit.
Excellent. I could do this.
I couldn’t do this.
David and Ev lived in a luxury condo in the Pearl District. The place was sprawling, taking up half the top floor of a beautiful old brown brick building. It must have been surreal for Ev, going from our poky, drafty, thin-walled building to this sort of splendor. It must have been awesome. The old apartment building sat on the edge of downtown, close to the university, but David and Ev lived smack-dab in the middle of the very cool and expensive Pearl District.
Happily, Ev seemed delighted to see me. One potentially awkward moment negated. Mr. Ev, the rock star, gave me a chin tip in greeting while I did my best not to stare. I itched to ask him to sign something. My forehead would do.
“Help yourself to anything in the kitchen,” said Ev. “There are plenty of drinks and pizza should be here soon.”
“You live next to Lauren and Nate?” asked David, speaking for the first time. Good lord, his dark hair and sculpted face were breathtaking. People shouldn’t be so greedy; was it not enough that he was insanely talented?
“Yes,” I said. “I used to be Ev’s neighbor and I’m a regular at Ruby’s Café.”
“Every morning without fail,” said Ev with a wink. “Double shot skinny latte with a hit of caramel coming right up.”
David nodded and seemed to relax. He slipped an arm around his wife’s waist and she grinned up at him. Love looked good on her. I hoped they lasted.
I’d loved, really loved, four people in my lifetime. They weren’t all romantic love, of course. But I’d trusted my heart to all of them. Three had failed me. So I figured there was a twenty-five percent chance for success.
When David and Ev started sucking face, I took it as my cue to go explore.
I grabbed a beer from the kitchen (state of the art and beyond fancy) and faced the big living room with renewed determination. I could totally do this. Socializing and me were about to be best buds. A couple dozen people were scattered around the place. A huge flat screen blared out the game and Nate sat dead center in front of it, enraptured. There were a few faces amongst the crowd that I recognized; most belonged to people I’d never dare approach. I took a sip of beer to wet my parched throat. Being the odd one out at a party is a unique sort of torture. Given today’s events, I lacked the courage to start a conversation. With my talent for picking who to trust, I’d probably ask the only axe murderer in the room for his sign.
Lauren gestured to me to join her right when my cell starting buzzing in my back jeans pocket. My butt cheek vibrated, giving me a thrill. I waved to Lauren and pulled out my cell, walking quickly out onto the balcony to escape the noise and chatter. Reece’s name flashed on the screen as I shut the balcony doors.
“Hey,” I said, smiling.
“Date canceled on me.”
“That’s a shame.”
“What are you up to?”
Wind whipped up my hair, making me shiver. Typical weather for Portland at this time of year–October could definitely get cold, wet, dark, and miserable. I huddled down deeper into my blue woolen jacket. “I’m at a party. You’re going to have to entertain yourself. Sorry.”
“A party? What party?” he asked, the interest in his voice moving up a notch.
“One I wasn’t exactly invited to, so I can’t extend the offer to you.”
“Damn.” He yawned. “Never mind. Might get an early night for a change.”
“Good idea.” I wandered over to the railing. Cars rushed by on the street below. The Pearl District was a mecca of bars, cafés, and general coolness. Plenty of people were out and about braving the weather. All around me, the city lights broke up the darkness and the wind howled. It was lovely in a moody, existential-crisis sort of way. No matter the weather, I loved Portland. It was so different from back home in southern California, something I appreciated immensely. Here the houses were built for snow and ice instead of sunshine. The culture was weirder, more lenient in ways. Or maybe I just had a hard time remembering any of the good regarding my hometown. I’d escaped. That was all that mattered.
“I should go be social, Reece.”
“You sound off. What’s up?”
Groan. “Let’s talk tomorrow at work.”
“Let’s talk now.”
“Later, Reece. I need to put on my happy face and go make Lauren proud.”
“Anne, cut the shit. What’s going on?”
I screwed up my face and took another sip of beer before answering. We’d been working together for almost two years now. Apparently, plenty of time for him to figure out my tells. “Skye’s gone.”
“Good. About time. She pay you back?”
I let my silence do the talking.
“Fuuuuck. Anne. Seriously.”
“What did I tell you?” he snarled. “Didn’t I say–”
“Reece, don’t go there. Please. At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do. She was a friend and she needed help. I couldn’t just–”
“Yeah, you could. She was f**king using you!”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yes, Skye was f**king using me. You were right, I was wrong.”
He mumbled a long string of expletives while I waited mostly patiently. No wonder I hadn’t wanted to have this conversation. There’d never be a good way to spin such a shitty tale. Frustration boiled up inside of me, warming me against the cold.
“How much do you need?” he asked, voice resigned.
“What? No. I’m not borrowing money off you, Reece. Getting further into debt is not the answer.” Besides, business owner or not, I wasn’t sure he had it to spare. Reece wasn’t any better at saving than I was. I knew this because of the designer gear he wore to work on a daily basis. Apparently being Portland’s resident Mr. Lover-Lover required one hell of a wardrobe. To be fair, he wore it extremely well.
He sighed. “You know, for someone who’s always helping others, you’re shit at accepting help yourself.”
“I’ll figure something out.”
Another pained sigh. I leaned over the railing and hung my head, letting the cold, wet wind batter my face. It felt nice, offsetting the tension headache threatening to start up behind my forehead. “I’m going to hang up now, Reece. They have beer and pizza here. I’m pretty sure if I try hard enough I can find my happy place.”
“You’re going to lose the apartment, aren’t you?”
“It’s likely I’ll have to move, yes.”
“Stay with me. You can crash on my sofa.”
“That’s sweet of you.” I tried to laugh, but the noise that came out was more of a strangled cough. My situation sucked too much for humor. Me sleeping on Reece’s couch while he went hard at it in the next room with some stranger. No. Not happening. As it was, I felt small and stupid for letting Skye play me. Bearing witness to Reece’s oh-so-active sex life would be too much.
“Thanks, Reece. But I’m pretty sure you’ve done unspeakable things to many, many people on that couch. I’m not sure anyone could sleep there.”
“You think it’s haunted by the ghosts of coitus past?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me.”
He snorted. “My gross sofa is there if you need it, okay?”
“Thank you. I mean that.”
“Call me if you need anything.”
“Oh, hey, Anne?”
“Can you work Sunday? Tara’s had something come up. I told her you’d cover for her.”
“I spend Sundays with Lizzy,” I said carefully. “You know that.”
Reece’s answer was silence.
I could actually feel the guilt slinking up on me. “What if I do a different shift for her? Is it something she can move?”
“Ah, look, never mind. I’ll deal with it.”
“No problem. Talk to you later.”
And he hung up on me.
I put away my cell, took another mouthful of beer, and stared out at the city. Dark clouds drifted across the crescent moon. The air seemed colder now, making my bones ache like I was an old woman. I needed to drink more. That would solve everything, for tonight at least. My beer, however, was almost finished and I hesitated to head back inside.
Enough of this.
Once the drink was done, my lonely-girl pity party was up. I’d quit lurking in the shadows, pull my head out of my ass, and go back inside. This was an opportunity not to be missed, like I hadn’t wished a million times or more to cross paths with someone from the band. I’d already met David Ferris. So there, wishes could come true. I should put in a request for bigger boobs, a smaller ass, and better choice in friends while I was at it.
And money enough to pay for my sister’s college education and to keep a roof over my head, of course.
“Want another?” a deep voice asked, startling me. My chin jerked up, eyes wide. I’d thought I was alone but a guy sat slouched in the corner. Wavy, shoulder-length blond hair shone dully but the rest of him remained in shadow.
No. It couldn’t be him.
I mean it could be, of course. But it couldn’t be, surely.
Whoever he was, he had to have heard my half of the phone conversation, which was more than enough to mark me out as being one of the great idiots of our time. There was the clink and hiss of a beer being opened then he held it out to me. Light from inside reflected off the perspiration on the bottle, making it gleam.
“Thanks.” I stepped closer, close enough to make him out even with the low lighting, and reached for the beer.
Holy shit. It was him, Malcolm Ericson.
The pinnacle moment of my life was officially upon me. So I might have had one or two photos of Stage Dive on my bedroom wall when I was a teenager. Fine, maybe there were three. Or twelve. Whatever. The point is there was one poster of the whole band. At least, the photographer probably thought it was of the whole band. Jimmy was out in front, his face contorted as he screamed into the microphone. To his right, half shrouded in shadow and smoke, was David, smoldering over his guitar. And to the left, toward the front of the stage, stood the bulk that was Ben, playing his bass.
But they didn’t matter. Not really.
Because behind them all, there he was with the lights shining up through his drum kit. Naked from the waist up and dripping sweat, the picture had caught him mid-strike. His right arm cut across his body, his focus on his target, the cymbal he was about to strike. To smash.
He played with abandon and he looked like a god.
How many times after a day of looking after my mother and sister, working hard and doing the good, responsible thing, had I lay on my bed and looked at that photo. And now here he was.
Our fingers grazed in the way that’s pretty much inevitable during such a hand over. No way could he have failed to miss the trembling in mine. Thankfully, he didn’t comment. I scurried back to my place by the edge, leaning casually with a beer in hand. Cool people leaned. They looked relaxed.