CHAPTER 10

Sweat rolled down the side of Reid’s face as the heat of the lights beat down on him. In long, slow strides, he paced the stage. The heels of his boots scuffed along planks of weathered and worn wood. The roar of the crowd smothered his thoughts, even though he was completely alone. Moving to the center of the stage, he lowered his head and pulled in a deep breath. Images danced in his mind. Pictures of past shows, past lives, all the things he’d gained, and all the things he’d lost. He was trapped in a torturous euphoria. He wondered if he would ever find his way to the other side of the looking glass, get back to the man he was, or more importantly, if he deserved to. With his eyes closed, he let the last couple of weeks play like a slide show as a beat formed in his head. It started off slow, pulsing, new. The blood rushing through his veins echoed in his ears. His fingers tapped against his thigh as the rhythm grew, and he swallowed hard to keep excitement and hope from rising to the surface. A thump and a beat. A pause and a breath. A low hum rose from the back of his throat, deep and dark. Words floated and fluttered in his mind, moving close then dashing away, teasing and taunting. His muscles tensed as the beginning of a melody worked its way to his lips. “Steel and silk,” he whispered, his mouth dry. “Soft strands floating in the wind, a canvas of color covering her skin . . .” He paused when the words and melody began to fade. He tried to pull them back, hold on to them just a little longer, but as always, blackness closed in, the colors and wind fading to all-consuming nothingness. “Goddammit,” he roared, grabbing the mic stand next to him and hurling it into the open space past the stage. Defeat and frustration lay across his shoulders like a blanket of concrete, causing his knees to buckle until he dropped to the floor. “Reid?” The sound of Chloe’s voice caused him to stiffen. His heart pounded in time with her steps as she moved closer. He worked to compose himself, but when the tips of her fingers pressed gently against his shoulder, he knew it was pointless to try. He’d faked his enthusiasm about the tour since rehearsals in LA. Through Dublin, Belfast, and Manchester. He was so tired of pretending. “Are you okay?” Silence hung heavy in the air. “Reid?” “I can’t write,” he whispered. “What?” Chloe’s confusion resonated in her words as she eased to the floor. “What do you mean?”Reid never looked in her direction, keeping his eyes on his hands as he spoke. “Writing. Composing. I can’t do it.” Chloe laughed. The sound caused the tension in Reid’s body to double. When he spoke, his tone was sharp, angry. “How is that funny?” Chloe laughed harder. Reid cut his eyes in her direction, ready to say things to a woman he’d never imagine himself capable of when he saw the expression on her face. It wasn’t mocking or degrading; it was understanding. It was disarming. “Why are you laughing?” “I’m relieved,” she said, pulling herself together. “You’ve been so agitated lately. Once the shows and fan signings are over, you disappear every time. I was starting to think maybe I was bothering you, hence the avoiding thing.” Reid’s brows furrowed and the familiar feeling of guilt washed over him. He had avoided her. Intentionally or not. “What made you think you were the reason for my agitation?” Chloe shrugged. “I’m the newbie around here. Isn’t everything the newbie’s fault?” Reid sighed and pushed his hair out of his face. “Believe me, if I was going to avoid anyone, it would be Greer.” A slight smile pulled at the corner of Chloe’s mouth. “I can always count on Greer to get on people’s nerves more than me.” Chloe fidgeted and let out a breath. “You know it’s normal to go through dry spells.” “Dry spells, I can handle. What I’m going through right now? This is different. I haven’t written a single song in over a year.” He let out a bitter laugh. “I haven’t been able to do the one thing that makes me who I am. I’m a fucking fraud.” “Oh,” Chloe exhaled. Reid didn’t need to look at her face to see the surprise reflected in her voice. “And it’s not just that. It’s everything. Nothing’s familiar anymore. If it weren’t for Jess . . .” Reid’s thoughts drifted to the nightmares plaguing his sleep almost every night. They were always the same. He was stuck, and the only thing keeping him from falling back into old habits was the thought of Jess. She was his lifeline. She was his connection to something real. “I know how much it sucks to feel like you’re all alone. I’m glad you have someone.” “Thanks.” “You’re not, though. You know that right?” Reid cocked his head to the side and met her gaze. “What?” “Alone,” Chloe said with a smile as she stood. Extending her arm, she motioned for Reid to take her hand. “I might not be able to help you the same way as Jess, but I can help.” Reid averted his gaze. “I’m not sure anyone can help me.”“We’ll see about that.” Chloe looked at her watch and back at Reid. “Are we going to add any new songs in rehearsal this afternoon?” Reid rubbed the back of his neck and shoved one hand in his pocket. “Yeah. ‘City Nights’ and maybe ‘Ropes.’ Are you ready?” Chloe nodded. “I’ve spent a lot of free time working on my parts.” “Shit, Chloe. I’m sorry. I should have been working with you.” Only a week had passed since he blew up at Greer on the way to Belfast, but it was a week he should have spent working with Chloe and not wallowing in weakness. Chloe waved him off. “It’s no big deal. Greer took one for the team and volunteered.” Indignation crept up Reid’s spine. The thought of Greer working with Chloe on his music bothered him in ways he wasn’t prepared to contemplate. “I doubt Greer can be very helpful since it’s not his music. I’m the only one who can decide if you’re ready or not.” He sounded like an angry, petulant child. “Okay.” Chloe spoke in a soft tone, but Reid could hear her discomfort. He was being an idiot. And a little bit of a jerk. “I’m sorry. It’s just, considering my current writing issues, I’m really protective over the songs I do have.” “Understood. We’ll run through them, and if it’s not quite right, you and I can work on them later. Deal?” Reid felt the need to apologize again, but instead, he just nodded. “Go grab some lunch. I’ll see you back here in a couple of hours.” “You got it, boss.” Chloe flashed a wide smile and did a quick salute before disappearing the way she came. “Jesus Christ,” Reid muttered, still staring in the direction Chloe had left. It was the first time they’d been alone since Jess had casually mentioned the review she read about their show in Dublin. She’d tried to act like she wasn’t bothered, but Reid knew better. It made him paranoid. He didn’t want to give Jess any reason to doubt him. It was a complication he couldn’t afford. Not when there were so many other things trying to pull him down. Not when Jess was one of the things holding him up. Still, he couldn’t hide from his problems the entire tour. His music and his reputation—what was left of it—were on the line. He needed to be stronger. He would be stronger. He just needed to figure out how.Chloe stood in front of Greer and Drew with her hands planted on her hips. She gave them a stern look, but she knew from their expressions she wasn’t threatening. Bullying wasn’t really her thing.Bargaining, however, was something she excelled at. “Listen,” she sighed. “I swear he’s not going to be pissed.” Greer’s eyes widened with disbelief. “I’m sorry, are we talking about the same person? The one who has acted like he’s been on his period for a week?” Drew wrinkled his nose. “Dude. Gross.” Chloe cleared her throat, and Drew grimaced when he saw her annoyed expression. “Sorry, Chloe. It is gross, though,” he added in a mumble. “How about we make a deal? You guys do this for me, and if it pisses him off, I’ll hand-wash your clothes for two weeks.” “I don’t know, Chloe.” Greer scratched his chin, a mischievous smile on his face. “That doesn’t seem like a fair trade. If he gets pissed, then we’ll have to deal with the fallout.” “Greer, I know for a fact you didn’t pack enough clothes to last between laundering. I know all about your theory that inside-out boxers are the same as clean boxers. Let me just say, it is not the same. I promise. They still smell like sweat and funk. Honestly, I have way more to lose than you if he gets mad.” Drew laughed. “She has a point.” Greer sighed in defeat. “Fine.” “Sweet.” Chloe smiled, her eyes bright. Greer and Drew never stood a chance. She handed each of them a slightly modified version of the original sheet music she’d worked on the past few days. Ever since she’d left Reid on the bus. She would have liked to have spent more time tweaking a few things, but what she’d done would have to do for now. If Reid liked it, they could work on it more later. “I didn’t change a lot, but you might want to look these over before we play, or at the very least, keep them handy.” “Damn, this is pretty cool,” Drew commented, banging out a few notes on the drums. “When did you do this?” Greer asked, doing the same as Drew. Chloe shrugged and fiddled with her violin. “It’s nothing. Just something I’ve been playing with the last couple of days.” “Impressive,” Drew praised. “Thanks. I’ll cue you when to start. Cool?” “Everyone ready to get started?” Reid asked, interrupting their powwow. Chloe spun around, her smile a little too wide. “Absolutely.” Her overenthusiastic response garnered a side-eye from Reid before he addressed the others. “We’re going to add ‘Ropes’ and ‘City Nights’ into the rotation if Chloe is ready.” “She’s ready,” Greer said, causing Chloe to grimace. She cut her eyes to Reid, who stood with his shoulders squared and his jaw taut. This wasn’t how she wanted to start the rehearsal. If Reid and Greer got into a pissing contest, there was no way Reid would be okay with what she had planned. She’d sworn to stay out of their battle of egos, but this time she needed to do damage control. “Eh.” Chloe shrugged. “I played ‘Ropes’ earlier and missed a couple of notes. I might need a little more practice. Reid, can you let me know if anything seems off when we run through it? I don’t want your fans pissed if I mess up one of their favorite songs.” Reid chuckled and relaxed his shoulders. “You’re not fooling anyone, Chloe.” Her innocent expression was almost cartoonish. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” “Chloe, I heard you yesterday. You didn’t miss any—” “Let’s do this,” Drew interrupted, sending Greer a meaningful look. Chloe smiled at Drew and avoided eye contact with Greer as she got into position. The last thing she wanted to do was demean Greer’s help, but he knew how protective Reid was about his music. Sometimes she wondered if Greer pushed his buttons on purpose. Regardless of his motives, the moment Reid turned away from the group, she turned to Greer and mouthed, “I’m sorry.” He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes before nodding with a sigh. “It’s fine,” he mouthed back.“Let’s start with ‘In the Dark,’” Reid instructed. Everyone got into position as Drew counted down with the tapping of his drumsticks. Chloe closed her eyes as the opening beat flooded the silence. The soft sounds of the keyboard and violin harmonizing with the deep bass of the drum pulled Chloe into the music. Lulled into an almost sedated state, she wasn’t prepared for the crushing emotion that saturated the air when Reid began to sing. Song after song, his voice mimicked the lyrics. Soft and sad, rough and tender, hopeful and despairing. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced, and it affected her in ways she didn’t realize were possible. She wanted to step behind Reid and wrap her arms around his waist. She wanted to press her cheek to his back and hug him as tightly as possible. She wanted to do anything to stop the pain in his voice. The more he sang, the clearer his lyrics became. Puzzle pieces fell into place and Reid’s past began to take shape. She’d heard these songs more than a hundred times but had never really thought about the inspiration behind them. Until now. Jess wasn’t just some girl; she was the girl. The one he sang about, longed for, and mourned the loss of. The one he’d finally gotten back. Chloe’s eyes stung and her chest felt heavy. Wistful and envious, she let Reid sweep her away with his words. As the rehearsal drew to a close, Chloe pulled in a deep breath and turned to Drew. A part of her wanted to forget her stupid idea, but the rest of her wouldn’t be deterred. After two hours of listening to the beauty of his soul, there was no way she wouldn’t at least try to help him find his words again. “Okay, last song. Let’s do ‘Memphis.’” Chloe smiled. “Memphis” was already in the rotation. One they’d played since the beginning. She doubted he’d be too upset about her interruption. Chloe turned her head toward Drew and nodded, before doing the same to Greer. He made the sign of the cross over his chest in dramatic fashion, causing Chloe to let out a choked laugh. She cleared her throat and diverted her gaze when Reid gave her a questioning look. A few moments later, Drew began to play, but not the notes Reid expected. The melody was slow and easy as Greer joined in and Chloe played the guitar piece on her violin. While Drew and Greer kept their eyes down, their attention focused on the sheet music, Chloe kept her gaze locked on Reid. His reaction was slow, delayed. His head tilted and his shoulders bunched then relaxed as the song became clear. When he turned to face the group, his eyes went straight to Chloe. “What are y’all doing?” he asked, his arms lifted from his sides with his palms facing outward. “Just go with it,” she urged, cueing the guys to loop the intro again. “Why are you playing this?” he asked instead,making no move to join in. “I’m Yoda-ing you.” Her face split into a smile when his eyes widened in understanding and a grin turned up the corners of his mouth. “You can’t be serious,” he chuckled, but he shifted his guitar into position and moved toward the mic. Instead of turning his back to the group as usual, he faced them. “I never joke about training, Padawan.” Chloe winked and looked at Greer and Drew, who both wore perplexed expressions. She waved them off and smiled. “One more time from the top.” The intro started again, and right on cue, Reid began to sing the opening lyrics of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” The atmosphere relaxed and the tension that had choked the air for the past couple of hours floated away with the melody. Reid’s voice softened and the words rolled off his tongue with a peaceful, easy feeling. Everything felt lighter. Greer bobbed along with the beat as Drew tapped his foot, both seemingly lost in the beloved classic rock song. Chloe swayed from side to side, mirroring the happy contentedness of everyone else. Off to the side, Tom stepped onto the stage. Chloe noticed his surprise and how it quickly morphed into a look of relief. When the final note faded into silence, Tom pushed off the wall and walked toward the middle of the stage, clapping the entire time. “I don’t know whose idea that was, but hot damn, that was amazing.” Reid pulled his guitar strap over his head and looked in Chloe’s direction. “While it seems she didn’t act alone, I’m going to bet it was the one trying way too hard to appear innocent.” “So, you’re not mad?” The desperate hope written all over her face made Drew laugh. Reid looked between the two of them before shaking his head slowly. “No. I think I needed that. It’s the most relaxed I’ve felt all day. Hell, all week.” Chloe threw her arms in the air and twirled before darting across the stage and almost knocking Reid off his feet as she threw her body against his in a massive hug. He let out an “oomph” and steadied her as she pulled away, her expression sheepish but no less happy. “Sorry. You have no idea how happy I am that you’re not mad.” “Oh?” Reid asked with a smirk as the others continued to chuckle. “And why is that?” Chloe shot a look over her shoulder at Drew and Greer, her expression full of mock pity. “Sorry, guys. It looks like you’re stuck with your own laundry.” “Why would you do their laundry?” “I told them if playing that song pissed you off, I’d do their laundry by hand for two weeks.” “Holy shit,” Tom laughed. “I don’t know if that was the ballsiest or dumbest wager I’ve ever heard.” “I didn’t really think it through, to be honest,” Chloe admitted with a little laugh. “Well, since I’m not pissed, just the opposite, in fact, what did you win?” Chloe’s expression softened. She lifted her bow and pointed at Reid, rolling her eyes in embarrassment as she did. “That,” she said, pointing at his smiling face. “Apparently, the possibility of improving your mood was worth washing Greer’s boxers. Again, I’m pretty sure I didn’t think that wager through as well as I should have.” “Chloe,” Drew said, moving to her side and throwing his arm over her shoulder. “That was the most idiotic wager I’ve ever heard of in my life. Next time, start with food runs. Don’t pull out the big guns from the beginning.” Chloe’s expression was solemn. “Got it.” “Well,” Greer sighed. “Looks like I need to go turn my boxers inside out before the show.” “Gross.” Chloe pretended to gag while the rest of the group groaned in disgust. Tom clapped to get everyone’s attention. “Dinner will be set up in about an hour. Everyone go get cleaned up and we’ll meet back here. Sound good?” Chloe nodded and waved good-bye as everyone scattered. She’d just rounded the side stage when Reid wrapped his fingers around her arm and pulled her to a stop. She turned to face him, immediately noticing his expression. His eyes were hesitant. He tapped the side of his leg with his free hand and chewed his bottom lip. He looked nervous, apprehensive. When he spoke, he confirmed Chloe’s suspicion. “Can we talk?”