CHAPTER 11

The small space off to the side of the stage was dimly lit and smelled of stale alcohol. Reid imagined to most it would be unpleasant, but he found the familiarity comforting. After a quick glance back at the stage, he shuffled his feet and motioned down the hall toward his dressing room. “Do you mind if we go back there?” He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to speak with her in private. No one was around, and even if they were, the two of them chatting wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Even still, he felt uneasy. “Of course,” Chloe agreed, turning quickly, but not fast enough for Reid to miss her sudden look of concern. He was making her as uneasy as he felt, which wasn’t his intention. “There’s a cooler full of Coke in my dressing room. I’m thirsty as hell.” Reid smiled when Chloe’s gait slowed and her shoulders dropped a little. His remark had its intended effect. “Do you think there’s a Sprite in your cooler full of Coke?” “I’m pretty sure there’s a little bit of everything. We should be able to find you something suitable.” He moved around her and pushed the door open, stepping to the side so she could walk inside. Once the door clicked shut, he moved to the cooler and pulled out an icy Coke and Sprite. “Looks like you’re in luck.” “Awesome. Thanks.” Reid followed Chloe to the sofa and sat on the opposite end. With their bodies facing each other, the pair sat in silence and sipped their sodas. Reid followed Chloe’s movements, watching the way her throat constricted as she swallowed. A feeling Reid knew all too well stirred in his abdomen. He quickly averted his eyes and cleared his throat. Twisting the tab of his can, he mentally scolded himself for the direction of his thoughts. This was why he didn’t want to talk to her in front of the others; he didn’t need anyone getting the wrong idea. The sound of crinkling paper distracted him from his thoughts. When he looked up, any lingering feelings of inner turmoil vanished. “What the hell are you doing?” Chloe’s face colored with surprise as she froze with a Starburst hovering over the mouth of her Sprite can. “Huh?” Reid wore a bemused expression as he waved toward her hands. “Are you shoving Starbursts into your Sprite can?” Chloe looked from the can to Reid. “Yes,” she answered, the word drawn out. “Is that weird?” Reid took a moment to look at Chloe. He made a mental list of all her unique qualities. Like how she attended Juilliard, yet never hid her crazy hair, nose and lip piercings, or colorful tattoos. She joined the wrestling and roller derby teams, even though she had a gift to make the most beautiful music playing the violin. Hell, she quoted Star Wars better than any comic book nerd he’d ever met. Shoving Starbursts into the top of her Sprite can was just par for the course it seemed. The thought made Reid smile. “No,” he chuckled. “Not even a little.” He shook his head and threw his arm along the top of the sofa. “I wanted to say thanks for what you did.” He laughed again and cocked his head. “I swear, it seems like all I’m ever doing with you is apologizing or thanking you for something.” “Well, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by that, but I must say, it’s better than having you yell or be angry.” “It takes a lot to make me mad. I’m pretty even-tempered. Usually,” he mumbled. “Then Greer is quite talented at pushing your buttons.” Reid ran a hand down his face and groaned. “That’s a story for another day. I asked to speak with you to say thanks for playing that song at the end of rehearsal. I have a lot of stuff going on, most of it self-inflicted.” He shifted on the couch and cracked his knuckles, before wiping the palms of his hands over the tops of his thighs. “I don’t know if that’s the right word. I’m just under a lot of stress of my own doing. Playing that song, well, that was the lightest I’ve felt since this tour started.” Chloe fidgeted and took a sip of her drink. “I consider you a friend, and when my friends are upset or sad, I want to help. Sometimes my efforts are appreciated, sometimes they aren’t. The thing is, you’re an amazing musician. The idea of you not writing music is unacceptable. My methods might seem silly, but they’ve worked for me. I didn’t see the harm in seeing if they might work for you as well.” “There’s no harm at all. Honestly, I don’t know what, if anything, can get me back in the headspace to write again. But anything that makes me forget about the bad stuff for even just a minute is a welcome relief.” “I know I’ve said this before, but if you need to talk, I’m here.” Reid nodded and stood from the couch. Much like Chloe had done earlier, he reached for her hand and pulled her to her feet. “Thanks. I might take you up on that one day.” “If you don’t need anything else, I’m going to grab some food before I start getting ready.” “Nope. You go ahead. I’ll catch up later.” Reid watched Chloe step into the hallway. The moment the door closed behind her, his anxiety came rushing back. The feeling twisted his stomach and tightened his throat. His skin felt as though an army of ants was marching from his scalp to his toes. It was maddening. One foot in front of the other, he paced the length of the room. When his phone rang, the sensation intensified. “Jess.” “Hey, you. I wanted to check in before your show. See how things were going.” Reid raked his hand through his hair. “Okay, I guess. They’d be better if you were here.” Jess’s soft laughter floated through the phone. “I promise to try to get over there soon. We’ve been so busy at work. I delivered the most beautiful colt last night. It was amazing.” Reid smiled at the awe in her voice. No matter how many times she witnessed a horse giving birth, she managed to sound like it was the very first time. Sometimes he believed she loved those horses more than him. “Send me a picture when you can.” “I will.” There was a long pause, and when Jess spoke again, her voice was softer, melancholy. “I hate your being so far away. I can’t wait until you’re home for good.” Reid sighed as apprehension settled on his shoulders. He wasn’t sure why her words left him so unsettled, but his fear of losing the person who gave him a reason to push through each day kept him from pursuing the subject. Without her, there was nothing to keep the demons at bay. “Why don’t we focus on getting through the first leg of the tour? It makes our time apart seem less daunting.” “You’re right.” Several moments of silence passed before Reid cleared his throat. Just as he was about to ask if something was wrong, Jess began to speak. “I was finally able to watch a few clips of your shows on YouTube. You were amazing. I see what that reporter meant about your onstage chemistry with Chloe. She’s very talented. And pretty.” Reid knew better than to comment on Jess’s last remark. Even though he’d given Jess no reason to doubt his commitment, he wasn’t stupid enough to believe she wasn’t affected by the lifestyle he led when they were not together. He needed to tread lightly. “I think you’d really like her. When you come here for a show, I’ll introduce you.” He sighed heavily and let out an amused chuckle. “Although, as long as Greer’s around, you might have a little trouble getting any real time to talk with her.” “Oh?” Jess asked. The relief in her voice was obvious. Reid, on the other hand, felt anything but relieved. Whether it was from his misleading comment regarding Chloe and Greer’s relationship or the thought that a real relationship might develop would remain a mystery. Whatever the reasoning, Reid had no interest in continuing that particular conversation. “You’ve met Greer. He’s nothing if not persistent.” “True,” Jess laughed. “What about Chloe? Does she seem interested?” “Who knows?” Reid shrugged, his agitation growing. “We haven’t hung out much other than rehearsals and shows. Although, that’s going to change over the next couple of weeks. We’re adding the rest of the new songs into the set list, and I’ll need to work with her more than I have.” The moment the words left his mouth, Reid realized he was making an excuse to spend time with Chloe. “Hopefully Greer won’t give you too much trouble,” Jess joked, but the tone of her voice gave her away. She sounded uneasy. This wasn’t how their conversations were supposed to go. Things were supposed to be easy, better, reassuring. Reid needed to fix things before they hung up or he would be stressed the remainder of the night. “Oh, I’m sure he will, but that’s nothing new. If I don’t want to kill him at least once a day, the entire world seems out of balance. I’ll give Chloe that— she’s kept him out of my face. At least that part of the tour has been tolerable.” “Come on, it can’t all be bad.” “It’s not. I have my good and bad days.” “And what’s today?” Reid smiled. “It started off pretty rough, but it’s slowly turned around.” “I’m glad I could help,” Jess whispered.“Me too. Listen, I need to get ready. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?” “Break a leg.” With a soft good-bye, Reid ended to call. He stared at the screen of his phone for a second before shoving it in his pocket and heading toward the door. He felt dishonest for not correcting Jess, because for the first time in as long as he could remember, she wasn’t the one who turned his day around. This time, it was all because of Chloe and CCR.“Are you sure about this?” Chloe pressed the cold plastic of her water bottle to her forehead before downing half the contents. Reid looked over his shoulder toward the darkened stage. The roar of the crowd was nearly deafening as they chanted and cheered for the band to come back out for one more song. “Hell yes. Tom’s already checked with the venue manager. Their insurance covers that song since they’re with PRO, so we’re good.” “But I’m not finished. There were a few more layers I wanted to add. What we played earlier was just for fun, not performing!” Reid couldn’t help but laugh at Chloe’s panicked expression. “What’s the matter? Do you think we’re going to screw up your rewrite?”Chloe threw her arms in the air. “Of course not! Well, maybe,” she mumbled. “I’m hurt by your lack of confidence,” Greer said as Drew nodded in agreement, wearing a mocking frown. “I can’t believe you two are in on this.” Chloe threw her hands in the air. “I’m outnumbered.” She straightened her shoulders and gave the guys a defiant look. “If it sucks, you three only have yourselves to blame.” A smile remained stretched across Reid’s face as Chloe turned and walked away in a huff. “You’d think this was her song the way she’s acting.” Greer moved beside him and shrugged. “She may not have written the lyrics, but I’ll be damned if she didn’t make a hell of a lot of changes to the music. It looks like you’re not the only one who acts like a crazy person when it comes to protecting your music.” Greer’s face twisted with distaste. “I don’t know if I can handle you both. As it is, you’re barely tolerable on a good day.” Reid punched Greer in the arm, grinning when he winced. “You’re damn lucky I’m protective. Otherwise, I would have kicked your ass out of the group a long time ago.” Greer clapped Reid on the shoulder and smiled. “Face it, bro. You’d be lost without me.” “Whatever makes you sleep better at night,” Reid deadpanned.“Are you ladies going to stand here and chat all night, or do you plan on playing that encore?” “Shit,” Reid laughed as he turned to Drew. “Y’all go out there. Tom already let the lighting guys know what to do with the intro. Otherwise, everything will be the same except the song.” “I still can’t believe you want to do this without a real rehearsal,” Drew remarked. Reid shrugged and pushed his hair out of his face. “It feels right. We’ll be fine.” Pausing, he looked between Drew and Greer. “That being said, I hope you two spent the last few hours looking over the sheet music like I instructed.” Greer rolled his eyes. “Of course we did. Although keeping Chloe from figuring out what we were up to wasn’t all that easy. I had to threaten her with dirty boxers to make her leave the room.” “He really did,” Drew added with a laugh. “You should have seen her face. She left muttering something about hazmat suits.” Reid side-eyed Greer before shaking his head. “Round her up and get out there. And remember to loop the intro until I jump in with the lyrics.” With a nod, the guys took off toward Chloe, the three of them disappearing to the stage moments later. The chant of the crowd erupted into screams and whistles. A nervous smile broke across Reid’s face and his body shook with adrenaline and nerves. He wasn’t sure why, but something felt different.The anticipation causing his heart to spike was a feeling he thought was long gone. Swept away with bad decisions and their consequences. As he moved toward the stage, he pulled in a deep breath and tucked his hair behind his ears. When the opening chords of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” flooded the venue, Reid felt like he could fly. Relaxed and full of swagger, Reid took slow, lazy strides to center stage. Soft and easy, Drew, Greer, and Chloe played the melody on a loop as Reid adjusted his guitar. “So tonight, I’m going to close the show a little different.” When the screams intensified, Reid dropped his chin and smiled shyly. It only caused the roar to grow. Shaking his head, he peeked at the crowd. “I’ve played in a lot of cities. I’ve finished shows with a lot of different songs, but never one that wasn’t mine. Until tonight, that is. You see,” he said, taking a step back and turning toward Chloe. “A beautiful, talented violinist . . . we’ll call her Starburst,” he chuckled. “She hijacked my rehearsals earlier today with an amazing remake of one of my all-time favorite songs. It completely blew me away. So I figured, maybe I should play it tonight. See what the fans have to say.” Reid grinned at the dirty look Chloe gave him. “I think she might be upset with me for putting her on the spot.” He moved to her side and leaned into her so that when she spoke her voice would carry through the mic on his headset. “Are you upset with me, Chloe?” “I thought we were talking about someone named Starburst,” she snarked with an eye-roll, causing laughter to erupt from the audience. “Right. Of course.” Reid winked and turned toward the sea of people. “What do you say, guys? When you get home later tonight, will you send your tweets and Facebook comments about how fucking awesome this song was?” With the crowd’s roar of agreement, Reid jumped into the opening verse. With each word, each note, the feeling of euphoria took him higher and higher until he felt like he was floating above the stage. It was a high he’d only experienced with drugs. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. It was that feeling of fear that caused something to shift. Another layer of potential additions to Chloe’s rewrite began to trickle in, slowly at first, then all at once. In his mind, newly formed chords and rhythms burned behind his eyes. He wanted to scream. He wanted to tell the past year to go fuck itself. But most of all, he wanted to put pen to paper so he didn’t forget a single note. The pull was almost unbearable. It wasn’t until the sweet smell of lavender invaded his senses that he realized he had moved directly beside Chloe. For a brief moment, he wondered if the pull had more to do with her than his desire to put his thoughts down. When their eyes locked, she smiled. The silver of her lip and nose rings glinted from the bright, flashing lights. He couldn’t take his eyes away. He wasn’t sure how she did it, but somehow she’d found a way to chip away at the wall standing between him and his music. When the final notes of the song faded and the lights dimmed, Reid didn’t hesitate when he wrapped his arms around her and lifted her from the floor. He spun her around, happiness making his skin feel as though it were on fire. “Thank you,” he whispered, his nose pressed against her hair. “Thank you so fucking much.” Chloe dropped her cheek to his chest and returned his embrace, the pair smiling and giddy from the manic applause. “You’re welcome.”