CHAPTER 13

Lightning flashed across the sky and dark clouds stretched as far as the eye could see. Strong gusts of wind rocked the bus as it sped down the empty highway. In the tiny bedroom at the back of the bus, Reid sat on the edge of the bed with a smile on his face. He flipped to the front page of the notebook he’d found on the table and read Chloe’s note again. Things will only be as awkward as you make them. Don’t be awkward, be awesome, Padawan. Never in a million years would he have believed that he’d be sitting on the bed grinning after the gauntlet of emotions that had barraged him since he crept out of Chloe’s room at dawn. Filled with apprehension and guilt, a million thoughts wreaked havoc on his mind. Sleep evaded him. Jess called nearly a dozen times before he found the courage to answer. At the sound of his voice, she yelled once before breaking down in a fit of tears. She was worried, scared, and completely in the dark. His guilt increased tenfold. He reassured her the best he could, explained how he stayed up all night working on music with Chloe then crashed the moment he returned to his room. Her relief was obvious, but he didn’t miss her change in demeanor. The melancholy tone of her voice left no doubt that, as happy as she was he hadn’t made any stupid decisions, she hated that someone else had given him the support he needed. The thing was, Chloe had given him so much more than support. It was the reason his guilt swelled and crested throughout the day. He was dishonest with Jess. He lied by omission. When she’d asked if Chloe knew about his addiction, he said yes and changed the subject. He didn’t tell her how he’d given Chloe a blow-by-blow of not only the night his life went to hell but also how he ended up there in the first place. In all the years he and Jess had been apart, never once had he expressed how angry he was that she couldn’t find it in her heart to forgive him. People only knew of his heartbreak. They heard it in every track he recorded. On top of all of that, he told Chloe about what he’d done the first night on the bus. He hadn’t breathed a word about that night to Jess, and he had no intention of doing so. This, among other things, was the source of his apprehension. He felt vulnerable, exposed. More than a dozen times he questioned why he told Chloe such personal things, but in the end, the answer was always the same. He trusted her. She made him feel safe. A sudden dryness formed in his throat, forcing him to swallow several times to relieve the discomfort. Over the past twenty-four hours, Chloe had made him feel far less innocent things than safe. Shaking his head, he tried to focus on the notebook. Music notes covered the pages, an organized version of the chaotic mess he’d left in Chloe’s room that morning. She’d copied every note, every thought, creating a similar version of the notebook she carried everywhere. A sudden burst of laughter from the living area broke his concentration. The sound made him smile. Closing the notebook, he cast a fleeting glance at his cell phone before turning to join the others. Moving down the short hall, Reid leaned against the wall and looked around the room. Chloe and Inky were stretched across the bench seating surrounding the kitchen table, while Greer and Drew kicked back on the sofa and chair. He hesitated, his gaze drifting to Chloe, before he walked to the sofa and knocked Greer’s feet to the floor. “Hey!” Greer protested, scrunching his face in annoyance. “Shut up,” Reid laughed as he fell heavily onto the furniture. He’d wrestled with how to approach the guys about the night before, but in the end, he knew it wasn’t his business. They were the same guys they’d always been, and as difficult as it was for him to accept, they’d done exactly what he asked. Kept it away from him. “So what are you guys up to?” “Nothing,” Chloe answered, averting her eyes. “Well, that wasn’t convincing at all.” Reid threw his arm across the back of the sofa and slouched farther into the soft leather upholstery, the new position straining the ripped and worn material covering his knees. “How old are those jeans?” Chloe asked, deflecting. Reid looked at his pants and scrunched his brows. “I have no idea. I think I found these in a drawer at my parents’ when I visited a few months ago.” “Vintage. Nice.” “Why are we talking about my jeans?” “Yeah, Chloe.” Inky extended her leg and nudged Chloe with her foot. “Why are we talking about Reid’s jeans?” Chloe rolled her eyes. “It was my pathetic attempt at avoiding my turn in this stupid game. Clearly, you guys aren’t interested in sparing me from embarrassment.” Reid grinned. “I like this game already.” “Not you too,” Chloe groaned. “What are the rules?” “Well, they’re pretty simple—” “And dumb,” Chloe interrupted causing Greer’s face to twist into an expression of mock annoyance. “Don’t be a sore loser. You’re the only one who has managed to avoid embarrassing yourself.” “Will someone clue me in on what’s going on?” Reid asked again, his eyes darting between Chloe and Greer’s stare down. Inky sighed and rolled her eyes. “Two people roll a die. The one with the lowest number has to tell the story behind a tattoo of the winner’s choosing. Chloe hasn’t lost a match yet. Until now.” “See,” Chloe muttered. “Dumb.” “The more you protest, the more intrigued I am about what you’re hiding,” Greer said with a smirk. “I should have worn a turtleneck,” she sighed before holding her arms out, the thin tank top exposing the tattoos on her arm as well as the ones wrapping around her shoulder. “What are the rules on tattoos that aren’t exposed?” Reid asked, a sly smile pulling at the side of his mouth. Chloe gasped. “You’re not helping!” Reid shrugged and looked at Greer with an innocent expression. “If I’m going to get in on this game, I should know all the rules, right?” Greer laughed before looking at Chloe with a face that was anything but sympathetic. “Sorry, Chloe, but he does have a point. Inky, what’s the rule concerning hidden tattoos?” “Dogs and bones,” Inky muttered before giving Chloe a reassuring look. “Sorry, guys, but you can’t ask about a tattoo you haven’t seen. You have to describe the tattoo you want to know about. That means it would have to be one you’ve seen.” “No more midriffs for me,” Chloe snarked.“Hey, now,” Drew cut in. “Let’s not get too hasty.” “You’re all ridiculous.” Chloe turned to Greer and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, pick your poison.” Greer leaned across the small space and studied the ink covering her arm. When he reached out and lifted Chloe’s arm to inspect the underside, Reid shifted in his seat. Greer hummed and narrowed his eyes in thought before leaning back in his seat. “Explain the glowing, battling dicks.” Chloe’s eyes widened and she covered her mouth to hold back her laughter. Reid wasn’t as subtle as he choked on the laugh trapped in his throat. “Those aren’t dicks,” Reid gasped, his hands braced on his knees. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Chloe giggled, tears leaking from her eyes. “Those are lightsabers, you idiot!” Drew and Inky doubled over when they got a good look at Chloe’s tattoo. She tried to compose herself, but when Reid caught her eye, she lost her breath with laughter all over again. “You’re not going to get some crazy story out of this one,” Chloe said, her words broken. “I’m obsessed with Star Wars. I got that one completely sober.” “Well, shit,” Greer exhaled. “That was a waste.” Chloe wiped under her eyes. “It really was.” She turned her attention to Reid and lifted her brow.“Okay, mister, time for you to take a turn.” Reid started to protest, but the words died in his throat with Chloe’s challenging expression. “Fine. Who’s rolling against me?” For the next hour, the group divulged stories that were both nostalgic and shameful. Inky, unsurprisingly, had more stories than anyone. Reid couldn’t help but wonder how much longer it would be before there wasn’t a single place on her body that wasn’t colored with ink. “Okay, last roll. Chloe, it’s you and Reid.” Chloe grabbed her die and looked to Reid. “You’re going down.” “He wishes,” Greer mumbled, earning a kick from Inky. As soon as the dice hit the floor, Reid’s arms flew in the air. “Finally,” he laughed. Chloe grumbled under her breath and rolled her eyes. “You got lucky. Now pick a tattoo so this game will finally end.” Reid scooted to the edge of the couch and, like Greer, he lifted Chloe’s arm to look at the tattoos hiding on the underside. Not satisfied with the angle, he stood and pulled Chloe to her feet. His swept his thumb across her skin and tried to ignore the way she shivered from his touch. Clearing his throat, he dropped her arm. “I wanna know about the one with the zodiac signs. What’s the story behind that one?”“Shit,” Chloe groaned and fell back onto the bench. “I was really hoping I’d be able to avoid this story.” Chloe traced her finger along the tattoo. “Although, I am impressed that you knew they were zodiac signs. Most people think it’s some kind of weird cave drawing.” Reid laughed. “I can see that. You have two girls holding hands while they stab a ram and then the same two girls kissing each side of a lion’s face. It’s weird, but there’s a story there.” Chloe sighed. “A drunk one, at that.” “About damn time,” Greer complained. “You have far too many sober tattoos.” Chloe stuck out her tongue and threw a pencil at Greer. “Shut up.” After repositioning, she took a final deep breath and told the most embarrassing tattoo story Reid had ever heard. “A few years ago, I was obsessed with zodiac signs. I spent way too much time researching personality traits, compatibilities, who was a sun sign, water sign, you name it. After a particularly bad date one night, I decided to listen to my sign.” Chloe rolled her eyes, her expression colored with annoyance. “I read that my most compatible sign was Aries. So I decided not to go out with anyone who didn’t fall under that sign. I would literally ask a guy his birthdate and tell him yes or no depending on his answer. God, I was an idiot. Anyway, eventually I met an Aries and we dated for a while. He was a total prick and it didn’t take long for things to fall apart. I assumed it was just a run of bad luck. At the time, I’d had my fair share, so I wasn’t going to give up. Two Aries later and I thought I’d found the one. That is until I went to his apartment unexpectedly one day and found him bent over his sofa. Apparently, had my name been Ian, we would have lived happily ever after.” “No,” Inky gasped, her face split in a wide grin. “Go on,” Chloe groaned. “Laugh. I can see it’s killing all of you to hold it in.” The moment the words left her mouth, the entire group exploded with laughter. “Shit, Chloe. Of all the directions I expected your story to go, this wasn’t it.” Drew braced his elbows on his knees and tried to catch his breath. “Oh, I’m not to the best part yet,” Chloe said, her voice thick with sarcasm. “After I left, I went to a bar down the street from my apartment. A friend worked there, and I knew once I told her what happened, she’d make my drinks strong enough to knock out an elephant. As the night wore on and alcohol started making decisions for me, I came up with this genius plan to make sure I never dated another Aries as long as I lived. I decided to get a tattoo of my sign murdering Aries. The guy next to me thought it was an awesome idea. Never mind that he was totally shit-faced; we were brilliant in our drunkenness.“After my friend closed the bar and started downing shots, she asked if there was another sign I should have chosen. I explained it had been a toss-up between Aries and Leo, and that clearly I’d made the wrong decision. That’s when everything went to shit. I convinced her to go with me to see my guy, the one who does all my ink. Together we came up with this,” Chloe said, waving her hand at the tattoo. “It’s Gemini killing Aries and finding love with its true match, Leo. The one it should have been all along. I have never felt more like an idiot in my life. The only way this won’t be my biggest tattoo regret is if I fall in love with a Leo and we live happily ever after.” The sound of Chloe’s soft laughter floated in the background as Reid stared blankly toward the wall, his mind fighting to understand the strange sensation flying under his skin. “Okay, what the hell just happened?” Reid jumped at the sound of Chloe’s voice, his eyes sweeping around the room. Beside him, Greer sat with a scowl on his face while Drew and Inky shared a mischievous grin. He didn’t need to ask why they wore matching Cheshire-cat smiles, he already knew. Inky turned toward Chloe and hooked her thumb in Greer’s direction. “Well, if you’ve really sworn off Aries men, Greer’s chances just dropped from slim to none.”Chloe rolled her eyes. “I don’t recall his ever reaching slim in the first place.” Reid let out a sharp laugh, causing everyone to jump in surprise. “Sorry,” he mumbled, avoiding Greer’s glare when a sudden thought hit him. “Wait a second. You’re a Gemini?” “Yup.” “Then you have a birthday coming soon. When is it?” “June thirteenth. Feel free to shower me with bags of Starbursts.” Chloe grinned while everyone else shook their heads. Reid stood and walked toward the schedule posted on the wall. “We should do something. Other than help you drown in Starburst wrappers. Where will we be then?” “France?” Inky answered, her voice unsure. “Paris, to be exact. We have a show on the thirteenth, but we have the twelfth off. We should plan to do something then.” “Sounds good to me.” Drew stood and stretched his arms overhead. “I think I’m going to catch some shut-eye before we get to Glasgow.” “Me too,” Greer said, a hint of annoyance in his voice. Reid hid his smile behind his hand when he caught Chloe’s amused expression as she watched Greer sulk away to the upper deck of the bus behind Drew.“Chloe, can we go over that stuff we worked on?” Reid asked, feeling nervous all of a sudden. Chloe smiled. “Of course.” “I’ll be right back. I’ve got to run to my room first.” Reid took a final look over his shoulder, catching a smirk from Inky before closing the door behind him. He leaned against the door and let his head fall back. With his eyes closed, he inhaled deeply and tried to push down the feelings beginning to stir in ways he couldn’t allow.Chloe sat with a smile as Reid disappeared into the back room, only looking away when Inky cleared her throat. Her brows furrowed when she noticed Inky’s odd expression. “Why are you looking at me like that?” “Just curious what you two are working on, that’s all. That was my nosy face.” “Your nosy face?” Chloe asked, laughing when Inky nodded. “Okay, then. We’re actually working on adding more layers to the CCR song we played. Reid came up with some really amazing ideas.” Inky’s lips parted in surprise. “Reid’s writing music?” At that moment, Chloe realized that whether or not Reid had confided in the others about his problem, they were aware nonetheless. “Yeah,” she answered, shifting her weight. “Well, I’ll be damned,” Inky muttered as she stood and grabbed a water bottle. The same look of mischief she’d worn earlier returned in full force. Chloe eyed her cautiously. “What?” Inky shook her head and moved toward the stairs. “I think I’ll grab some sleep too.” Chloe’s confusion intensified as she tried to work out what Inky was up to. “Are you sure?” “Yeah.” She grinned. “Oh, and Chloe?” “Yeah?” “Do you know Reid’s birthday?” Chloe swallowed hard. It was obvious that whatever Inky was going to say was the source of her canary like behavior. “No. Why?” Inky laughed. “It’s July twenty-third,” she said, before disappearing from sight. Chloe sat completely still as she put together why Inky found Reid’s birthdate so amusing. When it clicked, her eyes fell shut and her hand instinctively covered the tattoo decorating her arm. “Shit,” she exhaled, nerves rippling through her body. “He’s a Leo.” “What’s that?” Chloe jumped and spun toward Reid with her hand over her chest and her eyes wide as saucers. “Shit,” she gasped. “You scared the hell outta me.” Reid grinned and fell onto the bench beside her.“My bad.” “Yeah, yeah.” Chloe rolled her eyes and lifted her chin toward the notebook. “Do you like it?” “Are you kidding? This is awesome.” Reid ran his hand over the cover and pulled in a deep breath. “For a lot of reasons,” he mumbled. Chloe wanted to press. She wanted to ask what he meant, but after the last twenty-four hours, more complications were the last thing they needed. “So what are we working on?” Reid slouched against the back of the bench and raked his hand through his hair. “Do you ever have those days where you wish you could just forget everything?” Chloe fought to keep her expression neutral. This type of question was the exact opposite of avoiding complications. “Well, yeah. I think that’s normal. Although it wasn’t until the last six months that I started considering what everything included.” “What do you mean?” Chloe shrugged and looked at her hands. “I had two tours cancel back-to-back. When the bills started piling up, I thought I was going to have to throw in the towel.” Reid sat up abruptly, causing Chloe to jump. “What do you mean throw in the towel? Surely you don’t mean giving up music, because that’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard.”“Some of us don’t have the luxury of waiting out the bad times,” Chloe shot back, defensive. When Reid winced, Chloe knew her words hit their mark. “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to piss you off. It’s just that I can’t imagine someone as talented as you never playing again.” “I could say the same thing about you,” she countered, her eyes soft. Reid cleared his throat. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is all I’ve ever wanted. This has been a horrific year, and as much as I’m struggling, walking away just isn’t an option.” “That’s good to hear,” Chloe said with a smile. “And when I said I considered throwing in the towel, I didn’t mean music altogether. I meant this kind of music, this lifestyle.” “What other kind of music is there?” Chloe gave him a sad smile. “The kind of music my mother wants. The kind where I dress in pencil skirts and blouses that cover my tattoos. Where piercings and purple hair are a foreign concept.” Chloe threw her head back and straightened her shoulders. With her fingers laced delicately over her knees, she spoke with exaggerated enunciation. “In the words of my mother, ‘Only true musicians are given the honor of playing for the Philharmonic. Be the best of the best, Chloe. Don’t allow those bottom-feeding so-called rock bands to bring you down. You’re so above that lifestyle.’ You know what’s funny?” Chloe asked. “She married a middle-class man and lived a middle-class life by choice.” “What do you mean, by choice?” “My mother’s family is very well-off. When she met my dad, they forbade her from seeing him, so she left. Gave it all up for him. I think a part of her regretted it later when she saw firsthand how difficult life could be without having everything right at your fingertips. Maybe that’s why she treats me the way she does. She doesn’t want me to make the same mistakes. Which is a really shitty feeling because I’m a result of those mistakes.” Chloe slouched her shoulders and dropped her chin. She hadn’t planned to tell him so much about her mother, but once she started, she couldn’t stop. Maybe it was because after the things he shared the night before, it was only fair. Chloe’s eyes snapped to Reid when he hooked his finger under her chin. “There are a lot of words I could use to describe you, but mistake isn’t one of them. You’re right, I do have the luxury of waiting this thing out, but I need you to understand that I’ll wait until I draw my last breath if that’s what it takes. There is nothing else for me but this.” Chloe blinked back tears and straightened her back until she broke away from Reid’s touch. The sincerity in his voice and the tenderness of his touch caused her heart to race and her pulse to pound. “There’s that passion,” she whispered.Reid leaned away, his expression dazed. For several seconds, he stared blankly at the wall behind Chloe before a slow smile crept across his face. “Well, I’ll be damned. You really are a fucking Jedi Master.” A fit of laughter burst from Chloe’s chest, her arms wrapping around her waist when her muscles began to ache. She peeked up at Reid with glassy eyes. His skin was flushed, his bright hazel eyes pinched at the corners from the wide smile splitting his face. It was the most carefree Chloe had seen him, and she couldn’t help but notice how it made him even more attractive. The thought was sobering. Pulling in a cleansing breath, Chloe wiped under her eyes and relaxed against the back of the bench. Reid mimicked her position, leaning in the opposite direction. In comfortable silence, the pair stared at each other, wearing matching soft smiles. Chloe’s lips parted of their own volition when Reid licked his lips. His smile melted and his gaze intensified. Chloe felt heat rise to the surface of her skin and butterflies erupted in her stomach. When he leaned forward, her breath caught. “Chloe,” he whispered. “Will you promise me something?” “I’ll try.” “Please don’t ever give up on this. Music runs through your veins. It saturates who you are to the very core. You’re not meant to be lost in a sea of faces playing for a bunch of overprivileged rich people. You deserve to be seen at center stage.” Chloe nodded, the lump lodged in her throat preventing her from speaking. This was how Chloe knew Reid hadn’t lost his creativity; he spoke in poetry. The fire that had been absent in his eyes since they met was beginning to flicker to life. It was awe-inspiring. Clearing her throat, Chloe pushed the notebook on the table toward Reid. “As long as you promise the same.” Reid grabbed the notebook and flipped to the last page. Slipping around the table until he and Chloe sat shoulder-to-shoulder, he handed her a pen and smiled. “Deal.”