CHAPTER 21

When morning arrived, it came with gray skies and rumbling thunder. The sun was nowhere to be seen. Chloe envied its ability to hide from the world. She wanted nothing more than to disappear. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. Kicking back the sheets, Chloe sat up. With her elbows propped on her knees, she dropped her head in her hands and sighed. Even though she knew it shouldn’t have been possible, her lips still tingled from his kiss. It had been everything she’d dreamed. It was perfect in ways she never imagined. Until it wasn’t. She rubbed the tips of her fingers over her swollen eyes and stood. After showering and eating breakfast, she packed her things, doing whatever she could to keep her thoughts from wandering to the night before. But no matter how hard she tried, one word echoed in her mind and pierced her heart over and over again. Mistake. When she knew she couldn’t hide in her room any longer, she grabbed her violin and bag for the show. Each step toward the lobby caused her anxiety to spike. By the time she stepped off the elevator, her heart was nearly at a full gallop. “There you are,” Greer said, walking in her direction. “I thought we were going to have to send a search party.” When he moved in front of her, he paused. His brows pulled together and he frowned as he studied her. “Are you okay?” Chloe shifted her weight and gave him a weak smile. “I’ve got a bit of a headache, to be honest. I might have had a few too many beers last night.” “You know, all you had to do was ask, and I would have happily come over and helped you out. You might give people the wrong impression drinking alone,” Greer laughed, causing Chloe to roll her eyes, a smile threatening to break across her face. “Greer, how are you going to get through the next couple of weeks without having Chloe around to harass?” Inky asked, joining the pair. Greer smirked. “I have her number. Among other things.” Chloe’s face blanched. “What did you do?” Greer patted her cheek and laughed. “You’ll see. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the festival to catch a few bands. If you decide to come, text me.” Chloe stood frozen as Greer joined the rest of the group and headed out of the hotel. “I’m scared,” she whispered, only half joking. Inky grinned and pulled Chloe’s bag from her shoulder. “So, what do you say? Wanna head to the festival and listen to music with the others?” “What about rehearsals?” Chloe asked, noticing for the first time that Reid was nowhere to be seen. “No rehearsals today,” Inky answered, leading Chloe out of the hotel. “Reid figured since this was the last show and you guys already played here once, it should be fine.” Her steps slowed as she turned toward Chloe, a knowing glint in her eyes. “What?” Chloe asked, fidgeting. “I just think it’s funny.” “What’s funny?” “That when Reid came downstairs, looking just like you do, he gave Tom the exact same excuse. I didn’t believe him any more than I believe you.” Chloe dropped her eyes and cleared her throat. “I’m not lying. I did have too many beers last night. Although, right now, one sounds about perfect.” “Chloe.” Inky reached out and placed her hand on Chloe’s arm. “What happened?” Chloe’s eyes filled with tears. She swiped her thumb across her cheeks, her head still down. “Nothing.” “Listen,” Inky said, pulling Chloe away from anyone within earshot, her voice compassionate, yet firm. “I’m no saint. As a matter of fact, I’m quite proud of some of the idiotic things I’ve done. I also learned a long time ago not to judge other people. I mean, I do judge them. I judge people all the time. Because there are some really stupid fucking people in this world. But I understand that things are not always black and white. Any idiot can see there’s something special between you and Reid. A spark. But he’s with Jess, and I don’t think he’ll ever leave her again. I’m not telling you this to be cruel, but you’re my friend and I don’t want to see you get hurt.” Chloe sighed and finally lifted her gaze to Inky’s. “I don’t want him to leave her. This has nothing to do with that. I promise.” Inky raised her brow and pursed her lips. “You know I don’t believe a word you’re saying, right?” Chloe let out a soft laugh and smiled. It was small and tired, but genuine. “I know, but I promise I’m okay. I just need a little time to myself to get my head right. You know how it is on the road,” she said with a shrug. “Bones get confused sometimes. And dogs can be quite charming when they want to be.” Inky nodded, a sly smile curving her lips. “True as that may be, they still lick their own ass.” Chloe choked as her laugh stuck in her throat. “Oh my God, Inky,” she gasped. “You’re the best.” “Only on days that end in ‘y.’ Now, come on. Let’s go listen to some jams and forget about this bullshit. You’ll be back in New York in a couple of days, and all of this will be forgotten. And if it isn’t, go out, find a fuckhot guy, and be his bone.” “You realize I’m going to buy you one of those stupid dogs playing poker pictures for your birthday, right? As a matter of fact, don’t be surprised if every gift I ever send you from this point forward is a dog or a bone or a combination of the two.” Inky laughed. “As long as the dog and bone aren’t joined, we’re cool. Actually, now that I think about it . . .” “Inky!” Chloe screeched, her face red with laughter. Inky waved her hand dismissively. “Fine, fine. Keep the porn to yourself.” For the rest of the day, Chloe immersed herself in the excitement of the people around her. She danced, sang along with the crowd, and pushed aside all thoughts of the night before. It worked too, for a while. However, once dusk turned to darkness and the group made their way to the artist area to get ready for their set, Chloe could think of nothing else. “All right, listen up, guys,” Tom said, holding up several sheets of paper. “This is the set list for tonight. Everything will be the same as last week except we’re adding two songs. Reid wants to open with ‘I Don’t Mind’ and ‘Last Time.’ We played these when the tour started, so there shouldn’t be any issues. Chloe, you’ll come in on the third song, and we’ll finish out as usual. Any questions?” Chloe looked away. She hated how much it stung that he’d changed up the set list. It wasn’t that the songs were special to her in any way. It was the fact this would be the first show in months she hadn’t played from beginning to end. “Why the switch?” Greer asked, moving next to Chloe. Tom shrugged. “The fans. Apparently there was some hashtag thing on Twitter last night where fans were commenting on what songs they hoped to hear tonight. Those were the only two not currently in the set, so I convinced him to add them in at the beginning.” Drew shrugged. “Makes sense. Those were his first two hits.” Tom handed out copies of the set list and grinned. “Let’s rock this last show and get the hell back to LA. You guys ready?” “Hell yes,” Greer answered, his brows drawing together as he looked around. “Where the fuck is Reid?” Tom cleared his throat and averted his eyes. “He’ll be here soon. Now, everyone get ready. See you in an hour.” Without another word, Tom turned and left. “Something’s going on,” Drew whispered, moving behind Chloe and Greer. “You think he fell off the wagon?” Greer asked, his brow arched quizzically. Chloe’s stomach dropped. Her heart hammered inside her chest. Surely he hadn’t felt so guilty about kissing her that he’d do something so stupid. Her eyes darted around the room, looking for some sort of proof that Greer’s question was completely off base. “Nah, man,” Drew said, his eyes flicking on Chloe. “I’m sure he’s just in one of his super emo moods. I wouldn’t worry about it. Let’s get our shit ready.” Greer opened his mouth to speak but snapped it shut when Drew gave him a pointed stare. “You guys realize I can see everything you’re not saying, right?” Chloe asked, finding her voice. Drew rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry, Chloe. I’m just not sure how much Reid would appreciate certain aspects of his life being discussed in the open.” Chloe nodded, not bothering to let them know just how much she knew. Like Drew said, Reid probably wouldn’t appreciate his life being discussed in the open. “No problem. I’m going to get changed. I’ll see you guys in a bit.” Chloe took off toward their bus, freezing when a hand wrapped around her bicep. “Are you okay?” Greer whispered, looking over his shoulder. Chloe turned, her brows drawn. “Yeah. I’m just tired. And I’m a little bummed about this part of the tour being over.” Chloe shrugged and gave him a small smile. “I guess I’m having my own super emo moment today.” Greer stared at her, his eyes clouded with suspicion. “If you say so. You know you can talk to me if you need to, right? No matter what,” he added, his meaning clear. “You’ll be sorry you said that when I call you at two in the morning crying over something ridiculously girlie.” Chloe giggled when Greer’s face twisted with disgust. “If you call me at two in the morning, it better be for one of two things: you’re dying . . . or a booty call.” Chloe laughed and smacked his shoulder. “You’re terrible! What if I was in jail?” Greer rubbed his chin. “Depends.” “On what?” “On if there’s a booty call happening once I bail you out.” Chloe rolled her eyes and pushed on his shoulder again before turning away. “Keep dreaming,” she called over her shoulder with a laugh. “While it’s nice to have your permission, I would have done so anyway,” Greer yelled, walking backward. Chloe could only cover her face and laugh as she stumbled to the bus. Taking a deep breath, she climbed the stairs and peeked around the corner. Her heart sank when she realized it was empty. Reid was really going to avoid her until the last second possible. For the first time since he’d left her room, Chloe felt a bubble of anger being to swell. Anger at Reid and anger at herself. Above all else, he was her friend, and at the moment, she felt like she’d lost him. What if he decided to use Valerie for the second leg of the tour? The option had been left open in her contract. What would that mean for the contacts he’d made for her in LA? Frustrated and confused, Chloe walked to her bunk and pulled down her things. She took extra time doing her makeup and hair. She wanted to look pretty, confident, like a girl who wasn’t feeling more and more heartbroken by the second.Chloe tightened her grip on her violin and walked the narrow path to the side of the stage. Drew and Greer were already on stage, Reid was the only one missing. Chloe froze and her breath stilled when she suddenly heard his voice. “I can’t wait to see you, too. I’ve missed you so much,” he said, his voice low, sad. Chloe’s eyes stung and her chin trembled as she moved into the shadows. She didn’t want to eavesdrop, but other than walking past him, she had little choice. Every couple of seconds he would pace into view, his phone pressed to his ear. “Sometimes I wonder how different things would have been if I’d never left. If I would have stayed in Memphis.” Chloe sank her teeth into her lip until the metal of her lip ring cut into her skin. How could he even think something like that? He loved being a musician. He would have been miserable had he stayed in Memphis. At least, that was what he led her to believe. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe Chloe didn’t know Reid as well as she thought. “I know. I know. Okay, I need to go. I’ll see you in a couple of days. I love you.” The tears Chloe had fought to hold at bay finally broke free. They rolled over her cheeks and dripped from her chin. She had no idea that hearing him say those words would hurt so much. And until that moment, she had no idea just how much she wished it had been her he’d said them to. She didn’t see him walk onto the stage, but from the roar of the crowd, she knew he had. With heavy feet, she turned to watch the bright lights flash across the darkened stage. The speakers pulsed as the hypnotic melody of a heavy guitar riff rolled over the crowd like fog. Bodies moved in fluid motion, their sweat-slicked skin covered in goose bumps as the music wrapped around them and sank into their bones. At the center of the stage, Reid stood with his eyes closed, his body motionless except for the tiny flick of his wrist as he dragged his pick over guitar strings. With stinging eyes and trembling hands, Chloe hovered in the shadows. As the first verse rolled into the chorus and the chorus faded into the next song, dread raced through her veins as she waited for her cue to walk on stage and pretend her heart didn’t ache. The echo of a single guitar note rippled through the air, and when it faded, the arena was blanketed in silence. That was her signal to walk across the stage and stand next to Reid, yet she remained frozen. Locked in a concrete vise of fear and sadness. Only seconds passed before she found herself trapped in Reid’s intense gaze. Perspiration glistened on his skin and the soft white lights surrounded him like a halo. In a slow, hesitant motion, he turned to face her. Murmurs rose as he moved toward the side of the stage. Chloe’s eyes darted to Drew and Greer. The confusion etched in their features caused her stomach to drop. She was going to ruin everything. The tips of her fingers whitened as she gripped the neck of her violin. With her eyes locked on Reid, she pulled in a deep breath and positioned the violin under her chin. Lifting the bow, she dragged it across the strings and stepped from the shadows. Cheers erupted, the roar insignificant compared to the deafening sound of her pulse throbbing when she noticed Reid still walking toward her. Confused and off-balance, she moved forward until they stood face-to-face, breath-to-breath. She continued to play even as her knees shook. She waited for him to face the crowd and sing. She waited for his lips to part and the sound of his voice to sink into her skin. He did neither of those things. Instead, he pushed the guitar hanging from his shoulder strap behind him. The beat of the drums softened, and Greer muted the keyboard until only a dull thump—a background vibration to the sweet sounds of her violin—remained. Reid lifted his hand to her face, timid and unsure. When the backs of his fingers traced the curve of her cheek, Chloe’s eyes fell shut. With a slow exhale, he began to sing, the sound of his voice raw and gripping. It consumed every breath in the building. Only dreams ease this ache, With memories of how you taste I hold you close and breathe you in, drag my lips across your skin. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She wasn’t supposed to fall for him, and he wasn’t allowed to look at her like his heart was breaking. Not when the words he sang and the emotions behind them were meant for someone else. Someone she would never be. But when I wake and reach for you, it kills me that it isn’t true. I never find you by my side, these secret visions are just a lie. Just a lie. These secret visions cannot hide how dead I have become inside. As he uttered the final words in a whisper and the lights faded to black, Chloe stood with twin trails of tears rolling down her cheeks and a pain inside her chest like nothing she’d ever experienced.Reid sucked in a sharp breath and leaned forward. In the cover of the darkened stage, his cheek brushed against Chloe’s as he moved his lips to her ear. “Please don’t hate me,” he whispered. He straightened his back, and with a gentle touch, wiped the wetness from her cheek. Chloe squared her shoulders. “I don’t,” was all she said before turning toward the crowd and readying her violin for the next song. A sinking feeling latched on to Reid’s shoulders and pulled against him until his legs could barely handle the pressure. All day, he’d avoided everyone. Consumed with guilt, regret, and longing. It was the last emotion that wrecked him more than anything else. As wrong as it had been, as bad as he felt for hurting Chloe, for cheating on Jess, he knew without a doubt that were he given the chance, he’d kiss Chloe again and again. She was a temptation like no other. Not drugs, alcohol, or the desire for fame had ever called to him so strongly. It made him feel unbalanced, out of control. He wasn’t sure if those feelings were a result of her, or his newfound battle against them. Either way, Chloe had become the one thing he feared the most. A complication. To everything.The rest of the show, Reid went into autopilot. Every step, chord, and verse was done without thought or feeling. It was almost as if he was floating above the stage and looking down on a complete stranger. It wasn’t until the end, when the last song of the show slowed to a close, that he was hit with the realization that in a matter of hours, everyone would be going their separate ways. Chloe to New York, and him to Tennessee. Anxiety trickled down his spine and his thoughts began to spiral when he considered the possibility of her not showing up in LA. It was the best-case scenario. He could make it happen. Valerie’s hand had healed. He could cut ties with Chloe and let her go on her own way. He’d given her enough contacts that she’d be set with work for the foreseeable future. If she moves to LA, he thought. Time seemed to stop the second he allowed the possibility to enter his mind. What if kissing her had done exactly that? What if he ruined everything by giving in to his desires? Any thoughts of cutting ties and walking away vanished as quickly as they appeared. He wanted to kick himself for avoiding her all day. What had seemed like the best thing for both of them now felt like one of the dumbest ideas he’d ever had. When the lights flashed bright and blinding, he gripped her hand a little too tightly as he lifted their arms into the air before walking off the stage. He should have let her go, should have dropped her hand the minute they disappeared from the stage, but he didn’t. Instead, he held fast as he walked with purpose past Drew, Greer, and Tom. Past the crew and fans with backstage passes. All the way down the hall and into his dressing room he held her hand, ignoring the curious stares and Chloe’s protests. “Reid, what’s wrong?” Chloe gasped as soon as the door closed behind them. He stared at her, his eyes searching, his brows drawn together in contemplation. “You look different,” he said, the sound of his voice foreign. Chloe blinked, her lips parted with confusion. “What?” “Shit,” Reid groaned, his hands finding their way to his hair. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m saying.” “What are you doing?” Chloe asked, her voice soft and, if he wasn’t mistaken, a little bit scared. A humorless chuckle slipped past his lips. “I have no idea.” “Well, you’re kind of freaking me out, so if you could figure it out, I’d really appreciate it.” Reid arched his brow. “No Jedi training advice?” “Not this time,” Chloe whispered, dropping her eyes to the floor and tugging at the metal piercing in her lower lip. Reid pinched his eyes shut as he battled against the dread her response caused, as well as the memory of how the slim ring in her lip had felt against his tongue. “I’m sorry, Chloe. I’m so fucking sorry.” With her eyes still on the floor, Chloe held up her hand. “Can we just forget about it? It was a mistake. I get it. You’re with Jess and you messed up. No harm done.” “Why didn’t it feel like a mistake?” he murmured, his new proximity causing Chloe’s head to snap up and her eyes to widen. He cradled her jaw with both hands and walked her backward until she was pressed firmly against the door. When he leaned forward, Chloe turned her head and twisted out of his grasp. “You can’t do this to me,” she rasped, her eyes shimmering. “Don’t be cruel. I don’t deserve that.” Reid’s chest heaved as he tried to slow his breathing. “God, Chloe. I keep hurting everyone.” He gripped his hair and turned away, his eyes stinging with his regret. “Please don’t quit because I’m an asshole.” Chloe wrapped her arms around her waist, her eyes pained. “What are you talking about?” “The tour. Please don’t quit.” Chloe shook her head. “Reid, this isn’t okay. You and I aren’t supposed to be complicated.” “Fuck,” he growled, pacing in front of her. “I don’t want to fuck this up,” he said, motioning between them. “I can’t lose you, Chloe.”“Lose me in what way, Reid? I’m your bandmate. But beyond that, what is there?” Reid’s heart sank and his shoulders sagged as he processed her words. She was so much more than his bandmate, but he could never tell her that. He was with Jess, and Chloe deserved better than what he was doing. “You’re my best friend,” he whispered, feeling like a complete asshole. “I don’t know how or when it happened, but you are. I can’t imagine my life without you in it.” Chloe pressed her palm against her forehead. “We need some distance. I heard you talking to Jess before the show; maybe things will be clearer once you’re back in Memphis.” Reid’s brows pinched. “I haven’t spoken to Jess today.” In a matter of seconds, Chloe’s face wiped clean of emotion. When she spoke again, her voice was detached, monotone. “My mistake. I assumed. It’s none of my business anyway.” Chloe turned for the door, causing Reid to snap out of his daze. “Wait. Hold on a second.” He grabbed her arm and gently tugged her away from the door. “The only person I’ve talked to on the phone today is my mom. She called right before I went on stage.” Reid released her arm and took a step back. “I don’t want to leave things like this.” Chloe’s shoulders drooped as she turned to face him. “I don’t even know what this is. What I do know is I don’t want to feel the way I did last night—the way I feel right now—ever again. You’re supposed to be my friend and . . .” Chloe let out a frustrated sigh and threw her hands in the air. “I’m not sure about anything right now.” “Reid, it’s time for the meet-and-greet. Let’s go,” Tom said from the other side of the door, his voice causing both Chloe and Reid to jump in surprise. “I’ll be right there,” Reid said, his eyes locked on Chloe. “Are we going to be okay?” Chloe looked away. “Go do your thing. I’m going to take off. My first flight leaves soon.” “Chloe . . .” “I gotta go, Reid,” she choked, turning away from him. Reid tensed, his body locked with indecision. He wanted so many things, and every one of them contradicted the other. “Be safe.” “You too,” she whispered before slipping out of the room. Reid stood motionless in the empty room, torn with indecision. Every step he made seemed to land him further and further from the direction he was supposed to go. He laughed, his jaw tight. He wasn’t even certain he knew what direction was the right one anymore. Nothing was easy. He was so tired of second-guessing every aspect of his life. With a heavy sigh, he walked out of the room toward the meet-and-greet. He smiled, signed autographs, and took fan pictures, but no matter how hard he tried, nothing could distract him from his conversation with Chloe. How his stomach had dropped and his chest burned when she turned away from him. The hurt in her expression. The tremble in her voice. He had been about to kiss her again. He hadn’t planned to do it, but when he saw her, all thoughts of reason vanished. He felt desperate. For her. Now she was gone, and instead of making things better, he’d only made them worse. He wasn’t certain how he was going to get through the next two weeks with his last image of her crying as she walked away. The glowing red numbers blur and fade, They’ll mark every second you’re gone away Reid blinked, his vision blurring as a melody started taking shape. He looked around the room wide-eyed as he searched for Tom. The moment he saw him, he rushed over, ignoring the shocked gasps of the people around him. “I’ve got to go,” Reid said, breathless. “What do you mean? You have at least another half hour.” “I can’t,” Reid stressed, gripping his hair. “I have to go now. I need you to trust me.” Tom searched his face. “Are you going after Chloe?” Reid let out a frustrated groan even though the thought had crossed his mind a dozen times. “No. I need to go to my room. I’ll explain later.” “Okay,” Tom answered, his voice wary. Reid wasted no time sprinting to his dressing room and grabbing his bag before disappearing out the back into his waiting car. Over and over, he repeated the words, praying he wouldn’t lose them. As soon as he entered his room, he ripped his notebook from the bag and flipped to a blank page, jotting down the lyrics from earlier. Consumed, the words began to pour from his mind. In the dark, I tell the lie: as time goes by, it’ll be all right. But in the light, the shadows fade, exposing the truth of this masquerade Hard to admit, hard to say, but there’s no use pretending I’ll ever be the same. For more than an hour, Reid unleashed every secret, every thought, and every desire that had been trapped inside his mind for more than a year. He smoothed his hand over the page and swallowed hard. The truth was, the words hadn’t been locked away for more than a year. The words now covering page after page were new, and nothing about them was random. He felt sick. He knew what was happening, why the crushing weight of longing and loyalty were tearing him apart. Falling for Chloe would do the one thing he promised he wouldn’t.He would break Jess’s heart all over again. The problem was, he didn’t know how much of a choice he had in the matter. Not anymore. “Fuck,” he whispered, his voice hoarse, his eyes stinging. He had no one but himself to blame for the turmoil picking him apart piece by piece. Everything hurt. He would have given anything for just one moment of peace. One moment where he didn’t hate himself, where the voices were silent. Dropping his pen and notebook to the floor, he moved to his bag. His throat tightened when he saw the handful of Starburst wrappers shoved into the side pocket. Chloe’s work, no doubt. He froze when he spotted another small object. His hand shook as he reached for the baggie of cocaine he’d shoved in there weeks earlier. He licked his lips as a dark wave of anticipation rolled from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. Numbness. Escape. A chance to silence the voices and blanket the memory of Chloe’s broken face. He wanted it. He needed it. Finally, he’d found something easy. Like riding a bike, he went through the motions. Powder to mirror. Rolled bill to credit card-cut lines. Everything to nothing. Sweet nothingness. Pausing, he pulled in a shaky breath before exhaling in defeat. “Fuck it.”