CHAPTER 16

Reid grinned at Chloe. He loved how easy it was to rile her up. The last few weeks, since they’d left Berlin, things had felt different. But not in a bad way. Usually, at this point in a tour, after being stuck in confined spaces with a group of people for three months, tension tended to grow, not lessen. He credited Chloe for the change in dynamics. After all, she was the only new member. Inky had settled down, Greer was banging the merch girl of their new opening act, and Drew tended to stay blitzed and play video games with the others while they were traveling from one city to the next. It left Reid with a lot of uninterrupted time with Chloe. His phone buzzed, and when he looked at the screen, an overwhelming surge of guilt rolled over him. His finger hovered over the answer button, but when he caught sight of Chloe kicking her leg out across the bench, he ignored the call. Just like he’d done earlier. Like he’d done far too many times. Swallowing, he shoved his phone into his pocket and turned his attention back to Chloe. “I can’t believe you’ve never been to Paris.” Chloe laughed. “You do realize there are more people in the world who haven’t seen Paris than those who have, right?” “Whatever,” Reid answered with an eye-roll.“You know what I mean. You’ve been all over Europe. It just surprises me that you’ve somehow missed Paris every single time.” “One of the downsides to being a session musician. We have zero input on tour schedules.” Reid nodded and stretched out on the couch. “So what’s the first thing you want to do when we get there? It is your birthday, after all.” “I want cupcakes. Delicious, gourmet cupcakes. I know they might not be the easiest to find, but I want them.” Reid sighed and rubbed his stomach. “I like the way you think.” “Of course you do,” Chloe laughed. “What else do you want to do today? Since we have a show tomorrow on your birthday, we should fit in as much as we can today.” “Well, after cupcakes, I want to visit Père Lachaise.” Reid’s face twisted with confusion. “The cemetery?” “Yes. The cemetery. If you ask me why, I’ll literally jump off this bus while we’re going down the road.” The expression on her face made Reid question if she was actually kidding. “I see you’ve turned up the dramatics for your birthday,” he joked, ducking when Chloe threw a Starburst at him. Ripping off the wrapper, he popped the candy into his mouth before she could steal it back. With a satisfied smile, he tossed the wrapper in the trash. “I know why you want to go there; I just didn’t expect it to be one of the first things you wanted to do. Most people want to see the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, go shopping, that sort of thing.” “Honestly, I would love to do all of those things, but I’m not here for vacation and we won’t have a lot of time. I want to hit the highest priority places first. Everything else is just gravy.” “Do you guys ever sleep?” Inky asked with a yawn as she slid onto the bench beside Chloe. Chloe tugged the end of Inky’s hair. “Of course we do, but unlike the rest of you, we sleep at night like normal people.” “I sleep at night,” Tom corrected, ducking down the stairs. “But I can only handle you guys for so long before I need some time for myself.” “It’s okay, Tom, you don’t have to be shy. There’s nothing wrong with a little one-on-one time with yourself. I have me-time three or four times a day,” Greer laughed as he joined the others. Tom shook his head. “Thank you for proving my point, Greer.” “How much longer?” Drew asked with a yawn. Reid glanced at his watch. It was just after noon. “We should be there any minute now. Once we check in to the hotel, I’m going to show Chloe around a bit, then we can meet back up for dinner if you guys are up for it.” His tone made it clear that no one was invited to their outing. The bus slowed to a stop and Reid jumped to his feet to peer out the windshield. “The hotel is coming up. I’m going to grab my stuff.” Reid ignored the knowing looks from the others as he turned to move down the hall. Pausing before he slipped inside his room, he ducked around the corner and smiled at Chloe. “I’ll meet you in the lobby in a half hour.” Reid gathered his toiletries and clothes strewn around the tiny room and tried to shut out the chatter coming from the front of the bus. An unwelcome feeling of anxiety bloomed in his chest. The room felt smaller than before, the air stifling. Greer’s loud, obnoxious laugh followed by Chloe’s giggles caused his jaw to flex and his teeth to grind. He didn’t need to guess what the growing feeling trickling under his skin was; he already knew. It was an emotion he had no right to feel, but it gnawed at him nonetheless. The ringing of his phone pulled him from his darkening thoughts as the bus crawled to a stop and the rumble of the engine faded. He looked at the screen, his stomach dropping when Jess’s name flashed across the screen again. His gaze darted from the phone to the door, indecision making his pulse quicken. When Chloe laughed again, he blinked once before shoving his phone into the pocket of his jeans and opening the door.By the door, everyone waited their turn to file out of the bus. Tom moved to Reid’s side and cleared his throat. “I need to tell you something.” Reid shook his head and moved forward. “Can we talk later? I’m starving, and I promised Chloe a cupcake.” Tom gripped the back of his neck. “Yeah, about that—” “Reid,” Chloe yelled, only her head visible as she spoke from outside the bus. “Inky is going to take care of my bags. Give yours to Tom and let’s go get my birthday cupcakes.” The wide smile and excitement dancing in her eyes caused Reid’s throat to bob when he swallowed. “I’ll be right there.” He smiled and offered his bag to Tom with a sheepish smile. “Do you mind? We can talk when I get back.” A look of concern crossed Tom’s face before it was replaced with what Reid could have sworn was pity. “I’ll take care of it. You guys go have fun. Take your time.” Reid hesitated for only a moment before disappearing into the warm June air. The sun glinted off water puddles trapped in the dips of the cobblestone road, the air fresh from the recent rain. “Wow,” Chloe whispered, her voice laced with awe. “This is beautiful.” “It is,” Reid echoed, tearing his eyes away from Chloe to see what had captured her attention.Clearing his throat, he looked around, noticing the curious glances from passersby. “Come on, let’s go find those cupcakes.” Side by side, Chloe and Reid strolled down the streets of Paris. The smell of fresh baked bread and sweet confections hung thick in the air. People bustled along the sidewalks, only sparing the briefest of glances at what they assumed was a beautiful couple covered in colorful tattoos. Reid knew how they appeared. Smiling and laughing, their hands moving animatedly in the air as they discussed music and food and cultures. His chest tightened and something akin to pride swelled inside him. It was a new and exciting feeling, almost manic. “I want one of everything,” Chloe sighed as she peered through the glass case protecting the rows of delectable cupcakes. Reid chuckled. “And exactly where do you plan on putting them? There are more than twenty cupcakes. After two, you’d be stuffed.” “Don’t underestimate the side pocket.” “The what?” Chloe laughed. “It’s something Josie and I used to joke about as kids. We’d eat until we felt sick, but there was always room for sweets. We called it our side pocket. She tried to tell Anders about it once, and he asked her if she had compartments like a cow. I’m telling you this now so you don’t make the same mistake.” She glared at him playfully. Reid’s eyes widened and his lips parted when he processed her words. “He didn’t.” “He did.” “Poor bastard,” Reid laughed. “I bet that didn’t work out how he’d planned.” Chloe shook her head but didn’t say anything more. Understanding that the conversation was over, Reid turned his attention back to the cupcakes. “I’ll make you a deal.” “Oh?” “You pick out one for now, one to have at midnight when it’s your birthday, and one for after the show tomorrow night.” “I can totally do that.” Reid narrowed his eyes. Her expression was too innocent. Too agreeable. “However,” he added. “I’m keeping them with me. You’ll get them just as planned, but they will come from me.” “What?” she nearly shouted. “That’s so not fair.” “I knew you were up to something,” he teased. “I’m putting you on cupcake rations.” Chloe rolled her eyes. Reid was impressed with her restraint from stomping her foot. After choosing her three cupcakes, Reid ordered the same for himself and the pair resumed their leisurely pace back to the hotel.“Thanks for the cupcakes,” Chloe said as she took another bite. “You’re welcome.” Reid looked at her, a smile stretching across his face when he noticed icing smeared on her lips. Without thinking, he gently wiped the creamy, sweet topping from the corner of her mouth. Chloe’s lips parted and her eyes widened when he sucked the icing from his thumb. “You ate my icing.” Reid’s expression was unapologetic. “I did.” “But it was mine.” “Don’t be such a messy eater next time.” He laughed when she smacked his shoulder. “Do you want to head to the cemetery now?” “Yes,” Chloe answered with an excited nod. “I have a map in my bag of the places I want to see. From what I’ve heard, this place is insanely large and easy to get turned around in. I want to make sure I have the chance to see everything on the list before they close.” “Where are we going first?” “To see Jim Morrison, of course.” “You’ll be happy to know that even though I’ve been here before, this will be my first visit to Père Lachaise.” Chloe bounced on her toes a little and grabbed Reid’s free hand, pulling him along behind her. “Well, hurry up, then. We can drop the cupcakes off and grab my map from the hotel before we go.”Reid laughed and stumbled forward. “You got it, boss.” Chloe turned to face him and eyed the box. “I can carry that if you need a hand.” Reid lifted the box above his head, one-handed. “Nope.” Chloe dropped his other hand and narrowed her eyes at the box. “Don’t even think about it,” he warned. “You’ll never reach it. As a matter of fact, you’re more likely to knock it from my hands and to the ground than actually taking it from me.” “Fine,” she mumbled. “But you better have a cupcake for me at midnight.” “You have my word.” Reaching out, he tugged the end of her hair, his grin firmly in place as they entered the lobby of the hotel. “Reid!” Reid froze, the smile slipping from his face. He looked at Chloe with furrowed brows before scanning the hotel lobby. He lowered the box of cupcakes, his stomach dropping when his eyes locked on Jess. She stood next to Tom, a smile stretched across her face. Only a moment passed before she sprinted across the lobby and leaped into his arms. His grip tightened on the box, his free arm wrapping around her waist. “What are you doing here?” he asked, confused and off-balance. “Surprise,” Jess whispered, pressing her lips to his neck and inhaling as she hugged him tighter. “God, I’ve missed you.” The smell of her skin and the feel of her body were familiar, like coming home. Only this time, home didn’t make his shoulders sag and his body flood with relief. This time, it caused his pulse to quicken and his muscles to tighten. He cleared his throat and released her slowly, working to school his features before looking her in the eye. The moment he saw her dark blue eyes, a wave of guilt crashed over him. “I’ve missed you, too.” Jess leaned away, leaving her hands clasped around his neck as her eyes roamed over his face. He was on edge, hyperaware of Chloe’s close proximity. When he cut his eyes toward her, he frowned at the soft smile she wore. “Jess,” he said, shifting their bodies to face Chloe. “This is Chloe. Chloe, this is Jess.” Jess released him and stepped forward, wrapping Chloe in a hug. “It’s so great to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.” Chloe laughed breathlessly and returned Jess’s embrace. “I swear, whatever he told you, it’s not true.” Jess pulled away and reached into her purse, a huge smile on her face. “Well then, I have no idea what I’m going to do with this,” she said revealing a brightly colored see-through box filled with Starbursts. Chloe’s eyes widened and a sly smile pulled at the corner of her mouth as she accepted the box from Jess. “Okay, well, maybe at least one thing was true. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but thank you.” Jess looked over her shoulder at Reid, her eyes shimmering with happiness. “Consider it a thank-you for taking care of my guy.” A look of understanding crossed Chloe’s face when she met Reid’s gaze. “You’re welcome,” she murmured, breaking away from his intense stare. An unbidden surge of anger caused Reid’s neck to heat. He didn’t like the way Chloe looked away from him. He didn’t like the way Jess demeaned the time he spent with Chloe as nothing more than a babysitting gig. But most of all, he didn’t like that he felt angry at all. For months, all he’d wanted was for Jess to be with him. To be at his side and see all of Europe with him. Now, all he could think about was that he wouldn’t be going with Chloe to Père Lachaise. He clutched the box of cupcakes, the sound of the cardboard shifting drawing Chloe’s attention back to him. When their eyes met, his heart sank at the thought of disappointing her. Her expression changed as she gave him a sweet smile. It was almost like she knew exactly what he was thinking. “Jess, you have to be either totally keyed up or flat on your face exhausted. Either way, you haven’t seen Reid in months, so I’m going to get out of your hair and let you two spend some much deserved time together.” Jess smiled brightly. “I’m totally keyed up. I’ve never been to Paris. I want to see everything.” Jess paused, looking around the lobby before turning her attention back to Chloe. “Do you want to come with us? We can grab a late lunch or something? I don’t know where everyone disappeared to and I don’t want to leave you here by yourself.” Reid felt like an asshole. While he stood agitated and angered by Jess’s unexpected visit, she was inviting Chloe to tag along with them so she wouldn’t be alone. Jess deserved so much more than he was giving her. She deserved so much more than him. “Are you kidding me?” Chloe scoffed. “We’re in Paris. The city of love. You two should have some time alone. I’ll be fine. I’m going to my room to relax, then I’ll see if any of the others want to explore. I promise, I’ll have no trouble whatsoever occupying myself. But thank you for the offer.” Jess leaned forward and hugged Chloe once more, whispering something in her ear that Reid couldn’t understand. Chloe giggled and, with a sharp nod, stepped away. “I mean it,” Jess said, smiling. “We’ll play it by ear. You might change your mind.” Chloe looked to Reid and smiled. “See you at rehearsals.” Without another word, Chloe spun on her heel and moved toward the elevators. Reid couldn’t tear his eyes away as she slipped inside the doors and pressed the button for their floor. Even as the doors slid shut, she never looked up. “Well,” Jess sighed, leaning forward and pressing a soft kiss on his lips. “Are you ready to show me Paris?” Reid looked at the box of cupcakes in his hand and swallowed thickly. “Sure. Let me drop this off at the front desk so they can take them to my room.” Jess peered at the box and licked her lips. “Oh my God, those look amazing. We should just eat them now.” “No,” Reid snapped, his regret immediate when Jess flinched. “I’m sorry. These are Chloe’s. I’m rationing her so she doesn’t end up in a sugar coma. We can pick up some fresh ones when we’re out. Okay?” Jess agreed, her face still colored with hurt. Reid leaned forward and pressed his forehead to hers. He pulled in a deep breath then gently kissed her lips. “I’m really glad you’re here.” Jess exhaled and gripped the front of his shirt. “Me too.” They stood that way for several moments before she gave him a light push and lifted her chin toward the front desk. “Go. Drop those off so we can explore. I’ll be right here.”With a nod, Reid headed to the front desk. “Hi,” he said, leaning against the counter. “Could you have these delivered to my room?” “Of course, Mr. Ryder—I mean, Mr. Higgins,” the clerk corrected with a sheepish smile. “Sorry, I recognized you. You don’t have to worry, though, I won’t tell anyone. Is there anything else?” Reid hesitated, a heavy sigh passing through his parted lips. “Could you do me a favor? Take that pink cupcake and keep it fresh. At midnight, can you deliver it to Ms. Bennett’s room?” The clerk eyed him curiously as he jotted down the request. “Anything else?” Reid motioned for the notepad and pen. The clerk passed it to him and busied himself with calling the kitchen as Reid scrawled out a note. Happy birthday, Chloe. I’m sorry I couldn’t deliver this myself. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. -Reid “Attach this, please,” Reid instructed as he folded the paper in half. “Everything will be taken care of. Please let us know if you need anything else. Have a good afternoon, Mr. Higgins.” With a nod, Reid rapped on the counter with his knuckles twice before turning and walking toward Jess, ignoring the part of him that felt like he’d completely let Chloe down.“Shit,” Chloe sniffled, leaning against the back of the elevator. She closed her eyes as she tried to clear her mind. Seeing Reid with Jess was like standing in the middle of Iceland naked as someone poured a five-gallon bucket of ice water on her head. It was jarring and eye-opening. It was a bitter slap of reality. A reminder that she was veering toward a path that would end in nothing but shame, embarrassment, and heartache. When the elevator dinged, she stepped out into the hall, her shoulders drooping when she spotted Inky seated on the floor by her door. “Hey.” Inky pushed off the wall and stood. “Do we need to tiptoe around why I’m here?” Chloe looked away. “No.” “Good,” Inky sighed. “I’ll skip all the bullshit and just ask if you want to go get shitty.” Chloe let out a tired laugh and smiled. “Okay, maybe we should tiptoe a little.” Inky shrugged. “Jess showing up the day before your birthday when you made plans with Reid has got to suck. I know we’ve had the dogs and bones conversation before, but just because it’s not allowed doesn’t mean the constant attention won’t mess with a bone’s head.” Chloe took the room key from Inky’s outstretched hand and stuck it in the door. “So what you’re saying is, even though the dog is completely off the table, it’s understandable that the bone might think about things it shouldn’t as a result of the excessive amount of time they’ve spent together?” “Exactly.” Inky nodded. “At least, I think so. The analogy is way more complicated than it used to be.” “Tell me about it,” Chloe mumbled as she walked into her room. “Thanks for bringing all my things up.” “You’re welcome. So me, Lincoln, and Chad are going out to grab a few drinks. I think Tom and the others are going to join us later. Do you wanna come?” Chloe dropped her bag on the bed and turned to face Inky. “Not now, but will you text me where you guys end up so we can meet up later?” “Absolutely.” Inky paused. “Are you sure you’re okay?” “Yeah.” Chloe smiled. “I’m good. We’ll catch up later.” After Inky left, Chloe set about putting away her things and setting aside her clothes for the following day. She showered, washed her hair, and took extra time with her makeup. Anything to keep her mind off what happened earlier. She spent much of her time debating whether or not to go to the cemetery, but in the end realized she’d be an idiot not to go. With her map shoved in her back pocket, she left the hotel in the direction of Père Lachaise. For the next several hours, Chloe immersed herself in the rich history of her surroundings. In awe, she walked leisurely down the winding pathways. Large catacombs, intricate headstones, and statues carved from stone towered around her, each engraved with names, dates, and inscriptions from loved ones. The endless sea of gray stone, cracked and weathered by time, created a somber atmosphere. Even the occasional burst of colorful flower arrangements did little to change the mood. It was everything she’d hoped and more. For the first time since Jess had showed up at the hotel, Chloe’s mind was calm. A serene smile curved her lips as she came to a stop in front of Jim Morrison’s final resting place. It wasn’t like the pictures she’d seen from years before. The bust was gone and metal barricades now surrounded the area. Even still, dozens of flowers and notes littered the grave, proof that avid fans hadn’t been deterred. Chloe pulled out her camera and zoomed closer to snap a few pictures. She paused at one note in particular that read: Abney was here in spirit. She loves you, Jim. Chloe imagined someone scaling the barricade to place the note there for a friend. The thought made her smile. After a couple more pictures, Chloe took a final glance over her shoulder before working her way toward the exit. The afternoon might not have gone as planned, but it was perfect nonetheless. Later that evening when Inky texted about dinner, Chloe declined. Not because she was moping, but the exact opposite. She was content, happy. The last thing she wanted to do was listen to the others speculate about Jess’s unexpected visit. Instead, she spent the evening lounging in her hotel room, eating room service, and watching old black-and-white movies. She fought to keep all thoughts of Reid and what he was doing at bay as the clock crept closer and closer to midnight. Deciding to call it a night, she crawled into bed seconds before there was a knock at the door. Her pulse thundered in her ears as she made her way to the door. Not bothering to ask who was there, Chloe opened the door. She hated the way her heart sank at the sight of the hotel employee. She should have known better. She did know better. “I have a delivery for you, Ms. Bennett.” “I didn’t order anything,” Chloe said, her brows pulled together in confusion. “It’s from another hotel guest, ma’am.” Chloe stood motionless until the guy lifted the silver domed plate toward her. Blinking, she pulled it from his outstretched hands and said thanks before stepping back and letting the door fall shut. She walked back to the bed and set the plate down. She knew what she’d find when she lifted the top.What she wasn’t sure of was if seeing it would make her feel better or worse. Rolling her eyes, she lifted the top, and as expected, a single cupcake sat in the middle of the plate. She grabbed the folded piece of paper along with the cupcake and moved the domed plate to the table. Taking a bite, she closed her eyes and exhaled. If nothing else, at least this part of her surprise was pure bliss. After another bite, she read Reid’s note. Her vision blurred as tears forced themselves to the surface. She blinked and looked away, refusing to cry on her birthday. Instead, she finished her cupcake, crawled into bed, and thought about anything other than Reid and Jess.