CHAPTER 18

“Chloe.” Chloe blinked and lifted her head. When she was met with silence, she dropped her head back to the pillow and closed her eyes. Now she was hearing his voice in her sleep. With a heavy sigh, she rolled to her side and pulled the blanket over her head. “Chloe, get up.” More alert this time, she snatched back the curtain, her eyes widening when she realized she was nearly nose-to-nose with Reid. Although the light was dim, she couldn’t help but notice how excited he seemed. “Oh good, you’re awake.” Chloe sat up on her elbow and propped her head in her hand. “You know,” she drawled. “I really hope you don’t plan to make a habit out of waking me at ungodly hours. I’ve been known to bite.” Reid laughed and tugged her hand. “C’mere. I want to tell you something.” “And it can’t wait until morning?” Chloe whined, but she allowed Reid to pull her from the bunk. “No. I want to talk to you while everyone is asleep. We haven’t had a chance to talk in a long time.” Reid paused for a moment as they sat on the sofa in the upstairs lounge before continuing. “I’ve missed you.” Warmth bloomed low in Chloe’s stomach and her muscles clenched. A nervous chuckle rose from her throat and she waved her hand in dismissal. “I’ve been here the whole time. Although, if this is your way of telling me that I need to increase our Jedi training lessons, I hear you loud and clear.” Reid’s shoulders relaxed, and for the first time in weeks, he seemed like he didn’t have a care in the world. “I have good news. I was going to wait to tell you, but I couldn’t.” Chloe perked up a bit. “Oh? What news?” Reid pulled out his phone and opened his email. He scooted next to Chloe until their bodies touched from shoulder to knee and handed her the phone. “Look.” Chloe scrolled through nearly a dozen emails, all with the same subject line: Chloe Bennett. “What is this?” she whispered, already knowing but needing to hear it anyway. “Gigs.” “All of them?” Reid nodded and pulled the phone from her hand. “All of them. Musicians, scouts, agents. You come to LA, and you’ll never have to worry about the fucking symphony again.” Chloe threw her arms around Reid’s neck and crushed him to her. She wanted to thank him, she wanted to say it over and over, yell it at the top of her voice, but the air had been sucked from her lungs and her airway constricted with emotion. Reid wrapped his arms around her waist and dropped his face to her neck. “I told you,” he whispered. “Never give up. Never let go. Things have a way of working out.” Chloe choked out a laugh, her chest burning. “When did you become the optimistic one?” Reid’s shoulders shook as he laughed silently. Pulling back, he looked her in the eye and shrugged. “It’s only hard to be optimistic when it’s about me.” “Then we’ll be each other’s glass half full. I’ll take care of you and you take care of me.” Reid swiped his thumb across her cheek, catching a fresh tear. “I like the sound of that.” “Thank you,” she said, her voice earnest. “I can’t say that enough. In a matter of months, you’ve done more for me than I could ever repay you for. Hell, since you brought me on the tour. I can’t tell you what it means to me.” “So you’ll come to LA?” Chloe smiled so wide that her cheeks ached. “Yeah. Yes. Hell yes.” Reid pulled her into his embrace and squeezed. “You won’t regret it. This is just the beginning.” Holding her for a moment longer, he untangled their bodies and pulled her to her feet. “Go get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.” “Okay. Thank you again.”Reid turned to leave but stopped. “Oh, hey, Chloe?” “Yeah?” “Can we keep this between us for right now? You know how these guys are. They’ll turn this into something it isn’t.” “Of course,” Chloe answered, unsurprised. She knew how the others would see it. The same as the fans and media saw it, even though they knew better. “I’ll see you in the morning.” A million thoughts were floating around in her head as she crawled back into her bunk, but the exhaustion of the day finally took over, and within minutes, Chloe was fast asleep. The sound of a cabinet door slamming jolted Chloe awake in what felt like no time at all. Curious, Chloe rolled out of her bunk and tiptoed to the stairs. “Calm down, Jess. Everything will be okay,” Tom soothed. Chloe’s heart hammered as she stood frozen in place. Did Jess know? Did Reid tell her? “What if she dies?” Jess cried. “I need to get home.” Chloe’s face paled, and without thinking, she darted down the stairs. “Is everything okay?” Tom and Jess looked up in surprise. It was Tom who spoke. “Jess needs to get back to Memphis. One of her pregnant mares is having complications. It doesn’t look good.” “Oh no,” Chloe whispered, lowering herself into the chair next to Tom. Reid had explained that Jess worked as a veterinarian for an equestrian farm that bred high-profile racing horses. If Jess was worried enough to fly back to Memphis, the situation must be bleak. Chewing the edge of her thumb, she watched Jess frantically search the lounge area of the bus for her things. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Jess flashed her a strained smile. “No, thanks. I can’t believe this is happening. I shouldn’t have left.” “Everything is going to be fine, Jess,” Tom reassured her again, his eyes focused on the screen in front of him. “Okay, I found a flight leaving Rome at six tonight. We should get there around noon. You’ll have plenty of time.” “Is there an earlier flight? I need to get back. If something goes wrong and I’m not there . . .” Jess’s eyes took on a faraway look as a flash of pain twisted her features. Tom cast a worried glance in her direction. “Let me see.” “Does Reid know?” Chloe whispered to Tom. When he shook his head, Chloe stood. “Let me take care of this. You go talk to Reid. I’m sure Tom will do his best to find the earliest flight possible.” “Thanks,” Jess said, her voice devoid of emotion as she dropped her things on the table and turned away. Chloe’s brows dipped in confusion as Jess slipped inside the bedroom and closed the door. “What the hell?” she whispered. She knew Jess was stressed, but her tone and the expression on her face seemed to convey so much more. She looked angry…at Chloe. “Don’t take it personally. She’s just upset,” Tom said, his face apologetic. Chloe shrugged. “That’s cool. I’m just glad I wasn’t imagining it.” After putting all of Jess’s odds and ends together, Chloe decided to go back to her bunk. She didn’t want to take the chance of being the object of Jess’s aggression again. Stretching out in her bed, she opened her notebook. Just as she started to read the lyrics on the page, the sound of Reid’s voice floated up from below. “Shit,” Chloe whispered when his voice grew louder. While his words were still garbled, it was clear he wasn’t happy. When she heard what she thought was her name being yelled angrily by Jess, she yanked back the curtain and rolled out of her bunk. She didn’t want to hear them fighting, much less if it somehow involved her. “So Jess is leaving?” Inky asked as soon as Chloe sat down next to her in the upstairs lounge. Chloe grimaced. “It would seem so.” “Good,” Inky said, her expression unapologetic.Chloe blinked in surprise. “You don’t like her?” Inky shrugged. “I like her just fine. What I don’t like is the effect she has on the group. We all have our issues, but her being here has added an extra layer of tension that’s made the last couple of weeks downright miserable. Why do you think Drew and Lincoln have spent time riding on the bus with the other band? They don’t want to be here. And don’t get me started on how it’s changed the onstage chemistry between you and Reid. It’s like someone dumped a gigantic bucket of ice water on you two.” Chloe stared at Inky with her mouth open. She wanted to argue that Inky was wrong, but it would be a lie. Everything had changed since Jess arrived. Reid hadn’t bothered to open the notebook she’d given him. Not once had he mentioned mixing up the set list like he’d done in the months before. Every second not rehearsing or performing, Reid had spent isolated with Jess. Except for last night, Chloe thought with a smile. “Exactly,” Inky said, taking Chloe’s silence for agreement. Instead of arguing, she shrugged. “How much longer before we get to Rome?” Inky laughed and bumped her shoulder. “That’s the spirit. Now come on, let’s play Mario Kart.” For the next few hours, Chloe, Inky, and eventually, Greer and Tom hung out in the upstairs lounge area playing video games. Although no one commented, the steady increase in the volume of the television confirmed that everyone was aware of the ongoing argument happening downstairs. When Tom casually mentioned they would be making a detour to the airport once they arrived in Rome, the air seemed to lighten.Reid tucked Jess’s hair behind her ear and cradled her jaw. “I know you’re upset, but being angry at me isn’t going to change the situation.” Jess’s eyes filled with tears. “I know,” she choked. “I’m so sorry. I’m having a bit of a meltdown. I shouldn’t have freaked out on you. God, everyone probably thinks I’m a bitch.” Reid pulled her into a hug. “No one thinks that.” “I bossed Tom around like he was a dog, and I was so rude to Chloe. I should have apologized.” Jess blinked away her tears and looked up at Reid. “Tell her I’m sorry. Tell all of them I’m sorry.” “I will. Don’t worry about that. Just get home safe and take care of that horse. I’ll see you in a month.” “I will.” “Text me when you get home so I know you made it safely. Or call me, whatever. I just want to make sure you’re okay.”“I’m sorry I picked a fight with you. I don’t know why I did it. I’m just so jealous of the time they have with you. I want that time. I want you. I’ve missed you so much for so long. I hate that the last day we’ll have together for more than a month was spent fighting. I don’t want that to be how we remember the last few weeks.” Reid shook his head and pressed his lips to hers. “This is what I’ll remember. You and me right now. None of that other stuff matters.” “I love you.” “You too,” he whispered. Giving her a final hug, he released her and grabbed her bag from the floor. “I’ll talk to you soon.” When she smiled, waved good-bye, and then disappeared into the crowd, Reid’s shoulders sagged with guilt. He hated himself in that moment. Because underneath the guilt and the shame, he felt nothing but relief and excitement. Relief that she was gone, and excitement that things could go back to the way they were. That he could go back to being with Chloe as much as he wanted. With a final glance, Reid headed back to the bus. As soon as he stepped on board, he could feel the shift. He could also smell it, and it was rotten. With his brows pulled together in confusion and disgust, he edged closer to the table where everyone had gathered, laughing as Greer held a shot glass in the air.“When this backfires, remember that you only have yourself to blame,” Greer warned before downing the drink. “What’s going on?” Reid asked, wasting no time slipping into the open space next to Chloe. “You don’t smell it?” she asked, her face twisted with distaste. Reid grimaced. “I don’t know what it is, but it smells like shit.” “Exactly. Greer broke the rules. He shit on the bus. This,” Chloe explained, waving her hand toward the collection of liquor bottles on the table, “is his punishment.” Reid’s eyes widened. “What the fuck did you guys make him drink?” “All of it,” Inky said, her voice deadpan. “All of it?” Reid repeated, his stomach rolling just from the thought. Chloe giggled. “Yup. If he shits on here again before we get to the hotel, it’s going to smell like death to us, but that hot sauce we added will make his experience so much worse.” “This is your fault,” Greer said, his face twisted in a scowl. “My fault?” Reid asked, his eyes wide. “Yes. You took too long in the airport. We should already be at the hotel. I think you should shoulder some of the blame.” Greer grabbed the shot glass and the closest bottle to him and filled it to the top.“I won’t do to you what these assholes did to me and mix ten different things. Consider this me going easy on you.” Reid looked around the group, noticing their wide smiles and relaxed demeanors. They were happy and having fun. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed all of them. Shaking his head, he moved next to Greer. “No way, man.” Reid smirked when Greer’s expression morphed to indignation. Not giving Greer a chance to speak, Reid grabbed the shot as well as the bottle of hot sauce. Using his thumb to spin the cap off the bottle, he lifted it toward Greer in cheers. “I did take too long. I won’t let you suffer alone.” With a deep breath, he downed the shot then chased it with a shot of hot sauce. Gasps of surprise and cheers erupted from the group as Reid choked on the fire sliding down his throat. With watery eyes, he slammed the empty glass on the table and coughed. “Fuck, that was awful.” Greer laughed and slapped him on the back. “Welcome back, bro,” he whispered before handing him a bottle of water. Reid coughed. “Thanks,” he croaked before narrowing his eyes, his expression clouded with mischief. “I think now would be a good time for one of those team-building exercises we always hear people talking about.” Greer matched his expression as a look of understanding crossed his face. “Now you’re talking.” Reid looked around the group, his smirk growing as he saw Chloe’s and Inky’s eyes widen. “What do you say, ladies? Let’s team build and shit.” “I could use a nice big dose of team-building,” Tom said, grabbing a bottle of vodka off the table and taking a long pull. “Who’s in?” To Reid’s surprise, as the bus weaved through the streets of Rome at one in the afternoon, the band passed around bottles of vodka and tequila, taking shots, laughing, and getting shit-faced. It was exactly what they needed and everything that had been missing since they had arrived in Paris. When they took the stage later that night, even though they were buzzed, sluggish, and worn out, they put on one of their best show of the tour. Chloe and Reid fell in sync, their chemistry resurfacing with fervor, the sheer force of it rolling over the crowd like an aphrodisiac. They played an hour longer than any previous show. No one wanted to leave. No one wanted the night to end, but none more so than Reid. After Rome, the weeks rolled by. Reid’s nightmares and stress had slowly begun to lessen, but the absence of his words and his cravings for things he shouldn’t have, both living and not, pricked at his resolve with relentless tenacity. He tried to focus on the positive. Like the fact Chloe had made arrangements to rent Josie’s newly vacated house. She was really moving to LA, but for some reason it just wasn’t enough. When they arrived in Devon, England on his birthday, the last thing he wanted to do was celebrate. In three days, they would head back to the States. In three days, he would wake up and Chloe wouldn’t be there. The pit of his stomach twisted and his chest tightened. She wasn’t even gone, and he missed her already. Just the thought of being away from her, even though she was sitting right next to him, hurt more than Jess being on the other side of the world. It was the first time Reid truly began to realize just how far he’d fallen.