CHAPTER 23

Reid groaned and rolled onto his back. Using his arm to shield against the bright sunlight streaming through the windows, he looked around the room, freezing when a figure came into view. He sat up quickly, the room spinning until he was able to focus his vision. “Greer?” Reid’s voice was thick with sleep and his throat burned like he’d swallowed fire. “Well, well, well. Good afternoon, fuckface.” Greer’s voice was loud, chipper, and a little bit smug. “What time is it?” Reid kicked his legs over the side of the bed and cradled his head in his hands. He felt like shit. Like, beat-up, put through a meat grinder, and run over by a stampede of wild horses shit. “Almost four.” The remaining traces of sleep vanished when Reid realized what that meant. “Shit,” he swore, jumping to his feet. “Fuck.” “You missed your flight. There’s no point in busting your ass to get to the airport. It’s not like they’re holding the plane for you.” Reid dropped his shirt to the floor and threaded his hands through his hair. His stomach rolled and a sheen of sweat broke out across his skin. Saliva filled his mouth and with it came a surge of nausea. With his eyes closed, Reid swallowed and willed his heart to slow. “Looks like you had quite the night,” Greer commented. Reid opened his eyes to slits and swept his gaze around the room again. A half-empty liquor bottle lay on its side. Next to it was an ashtray full of cigarette butts. Bile rose to the back of his throat, the burn causing his eyes to water. It wasn’t the sight of the liquor or cigarettes that caused his reaction, though, it was the small mirror covered in white residue with a rolled bill lying across it. “Shit.” Reid swallowed thickly, but his attempt at taking a deep breath was thwarted by his stopped-up nose. “Where is everyone?” “Gone.” Greer smirked and laced his hands behind his head. “Well, everyone but Tom. He’s currently making sure no pictures of you walking around Devon coked up out of your mind have surfaced. You’ll be the luckiest son of a bitch on earth if they don’t.” Reid paced the length of the room. “I only left once,” he muttered, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes as he tried to bring the memories of the night before to the surface. “Why the fuck did you leave at all?” Greer asked, his cool demeanor slipping. “Any of us would have done a run for you, man. Hell, we have people who have people who would have gone out to get you fucking alcohol and cigarettes. Why would you take the chance of someone seeing you? You’ve managed to find someone to do it for you this entire tour; why slip now? Shit had finally started to cool down.” Reid froze, his hands falling to his sides as he stared at Greer. “What the hell are you talking about? You’ve been with me every damn day. You know I haven’t been fucking around with this shit.” Greer narrowed his eyes, his gaze distrustful as he stared at Reid. After a beat of silence, he spoke. “No way, dude. I don’t buy it. You might not have messed with it in the beginning, but your mood swings have been all over the damn place. I wasn’t sure at first, but since we got to Devon, you’ve been in a bar fight, bailed on the band the last day of the tour, and well, I think the evidence speaks for itself about what you did last night.” Reid pressed his lips into a thin line, his anger surging past his regret. “What I did yesterday is none of your fucking business, and if you would’ve taken care of Chloe in the first place, I wouldn’t have ended up in a bar fight. Also, for the record, until last night, I hadn’t touched a line of coke.” Reid was too angry to worry about his half-truth. For months, he’d struggled almost every day with his desire to chase that high. To forget about everything wrong in his life and instead focus on the vastness of nothing. With his posture tall and his eyes locked with Greer’s, Reid dared Greer to refute him again. Greer sighed and leaned back in the chair. “Then what the hell happened? Why do something like that the last night of the tour? You were fine before the show, but the minute it was over, you were dragging Chloe down the hall like some kind of psycho” Greer’s lips parted and his eyes widened as a look of understanding crossed his face. “Son of a bitch. This is about Chloe.” Reid balked. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” “Don’t I?” Greer asked, his voice taking on a hard edge. “You think everyone can’t see what’s going on with you two? Did she get pissed about you going to spend the next few weeks with your girlfriend? Or did she tell you to fuck off when you tried to convince her you were going to end things with Jess?” Reid lunged toward Greer, grabbing the front of his shirt and yanking him to his feet. “I am not fucking Chloe. She is not pissed that I’m going to spend the next few weeks with Jess, and I haven’t tried to run any kind of game on her. That’s your style, remember?” He pulled Greer closer before shoving him back into his chair once more. The sound of Greer’s breathless chuckle caused Reid’s back to stiffen. He turned around, his hands balled into fists. “I’m sorry, man,” Greer sighed, his hands held out in front of him. “I just needed to hear you say it. I like Chloe. I don’t want to see her dragged into some kind of fucking love triangle. And it’s obvious there’s something between you two, whatever it is.” The anger drained from Reid as he realized Greer was being sincere. “She’s my friend. I care about her.” Greer pulled out his phone and exhaled heavily, the action causing to tense. “Tom was checking to see if you were awake yet,” Greer explained as he typed on his phone. “He said to check your phone. He sent your new flight information.” Shoving his phone in his pocket, Greer walked to the door, pausing a moment before turning back to Reid. “One of these days you’re going to have to deal with all the shit you’re trying so hard to avoid. Have fun in Memphis.” Greer didn’t wait for Reid to respond before he slipped out the door. Alone, Reid turned in a circle in the room. Everything was a mess. He walked over to the table and grabbed the mirror, pressing his thumb into the white residue, the powder sticking to his skin. Using his forefinger, he swiped across the surface until it was clean before rubbing the same finger across his teeth and gums. Reid sighed as the bitter taste filled his mouth. Tossing the mirror back onto the table, he started cleaning the evidence of his night. After dumping the ashtray and pouring out the liquor, he walked back into the living room, stopping to grab the notebook off the floor. He flipped it over, freezing when his eyes landed on the page. Everything he’d tried to silence came rushing back as he read the words he’d written the night before. To the bottom I sink with my arms open wide I don’t swim, don’t fight the tide, I wanna stay lost in her Liz Taylor eyes His fragmented thoughts, hooks, and lyrics covered every inch of the paper. He smoothed his hand over the page, his brows denting when he felt raised lines. With shaking hands, he looked at the other side. What he saw caused his stomach to twist and an ache of longing to swell inside his chest. Like the front side, lyrics covered the page. Lyrics about longing, want, need. But it wasn’t the lyrics that twisted him in knots, those were familiar. It was the name scribbled in every available space between them. Over and over, he’d written her name until it overshadowed everything else. He wasn’t surprised; Chloe had a way of outshining everything around her. With a final glance at the page, he closed the notebook and pushed it inside his bag. No longer comfortable being inside that room, Reid quickly gathered his things and grabbed his phone. Like Greer promised, there was a text from Tom with his flight information, but that wasn’t all. There was also a short message with a photo attached. Was it worth the $20K it took to make this disappear? “Fuck,” Reid exhaled when he opened the picture. His eyes closed and his jaw snapped shut as he tried to forget what he’d seen. The picture wasn’t incriminating; it was just him standing between two female fans with his arms draped over their shoulders. But for anyone who knew him, there would be no doubt what he’d been up to. His eyes were glassy and red. His smile was too wide, his posture slumped and rigid all at once. “What am I doing?” he whispered, his chin falling to his chest. The image of Chloe leaving his dressing room, her eyes hurt, sad, and full of disappointment caused Reid’s throat to tighten. He wondered if she would forgive him for what he’d done.When his plane landed in Memphis, Jess was waiting. She stood at the entrance of baggage claim wearing a pair of cutoff shorts, Chucks, and a T-shirt that read “Move over Winona, there’s a new Ryder in town.” It was a shirt she’d made when he first signed with the label. From the threadbare material, he could tell it was the same shirt. A wave of nostalgia crashed over him. Jess had been there before he was discovered, and she would have stayed had he not hurt her so badly. Was he really going to break her heart again? Were his feelings for Chloe real? What if she didn’t feel the same? What if he changed his mind and lost them both? That wasn’t an option. “Your mom wanted to come, but I convinced her to stay home.” Reid smiled. “How on earth did you manage that?” Jess slapped her hand gently against his abs and tsked. “I’d never tell my secrets. Also, don’t you know the old saying?” “What’s that?” Reid asked, grabbing his bag from the carousel. “Hoes before bros.” Reid stumbled to a stop and looked at Jess, his mouth hanging open with shock. “Did you just call my mom a ho?” Jess lifted her hand and flashed two fingers, mimicking some kind of gang move. “Damn straight. She’s my homie.” “Are you drunk?” Reid whispered, looking around. A few people were staring, but that was to be expected. It didn’t appear anyone noticed that Jess had clearly lost her mind. She laughed and threw her arm over his shoulder. “Of course not. I’m just stupid happy you’re home. It’s making me act completely ridiculous.” Reid chuckled. “If that’s the way you want to deal with this, I’m cool with that.”The pair ducked out of the airport, only stopping to sign a few autographs. Once inside the car, Jess turned to Reid. “So where do you want to go? Tom sent me a text that your flight was changed and your phone was dead, so I’m assuming you’re exhausted.” The familiar feeling of shame wasted no time hitting Reid like a tidal wave, but along with it came a flood of relief. Tom had covered for him. He didn’t have to tell Jess. He didn’t have to see the disappointment in her eyes. He didn’t have to relive the moments of embarrassment as he struggled to explain the cause of his relapse. “I’d actually really like to see my parents, if that’s cool with you. I know it’s probably not what you had in mind, but the last time I talked to my mom, she seemed . . . lonely. I’d just like to see her.” Jess put the car in drive. “Of course. I actually have a few things I need to take care of. Why don’t I drop you off so you can spend some time with them and then text me when you’re ready for me to come get you?” “You’re the best,” Reid sighed, leaning against the headrest. The remainder of the drive Jess peppered Reid with questions about the tour. He was all too happy to answer, enjoying the monotony of it all, until the conversation turned to his birthday. His stomach dropped and his mouth went dry at the memory of their last conversation. The conversation itself wasn’t the cause of Reid’s anxiety, it was what her call interrupted. His vision blurred as the memory of kissing Chloe invaded his mind. His pulse pounded as he remembered the silky feel of her lips and the way his muscles tightened from her soft moan when he tugged the silver ring piercing her lip. With short answers and uncomfortable pauses, Reid played off his behavior by exaggerating his jet lag. He didn’t want to think about kissing Chloe. Thinking about Chloe led to the memory of the last time he saw her, angry and hurt, as she left his dressing room. It led to the memory of the events that followed. On edge and filled with anxiety, Reid wasted no time grabbing his things the moment they pulled up to his parents’ house. With a swift kiss and a promise to call soon, Reid vanished into the safety of his childhood home, fighting the surging guilt of his lies to Jess. Days passed. Locked away in his old room, the walls finally crumbled. Consumed with relief, Reid succumbed to the riptide of inspiration. He let it suck him under and sweep him away from the world around him. He made excuse after excuse to avoid Jess, never once considering the implications of his actions. He only interacted with his parents and Jess when forced to do so. There was only one person he sought out. Only one person whose silence he didn’t want, yet received time and time again. With a sigh,he typed out a new message and held his breath as he pressed send. I watched Star Wars today. Any Padawan would’ve listened to Yoda if he’d looked like you. Five minutes turned to ten then twenty as Reid stared at his phone. Frustrated and weighted with unease, he tossed his phone on the table just as it vibrated. His breath quickened as he snatched it off the table and unlocked the screen. A shaky smile turned up his lips as he read her response. I have 2 inches of mud and a slimy green substance covering every part of my body. I think I actually *am* Yoda right now. He was still on edge, but the relief that came from her response was undeniable. So you haven’t been ignoring me after all? You just decided to become a swamp creature? Several minutes passed before she responded. Each second felt like forever. I needed time to sort things out. Reid propped his elbow on his thighs and dropped his head. He squeezed his eyes shut and willed his mind not to jump to conclusions. His fingers shook as he typed out a reply. Is everything okay now? Yeah. I’ll see you in LA. Reid fell against the back of the chair and released a heavy breath. Tossing his phone on the desk, he grabbed his notebook. He wasn’t sure why, but the confirmation she would be in LA didn’t make him feel as good as he’d hoped. Something about the tone of her text felt off, distant. Maybe he was just being paranoid. Maybe he was losing his damn mind. Either option was possible. With pen in hand, he moved to his bed and stretched across the mattress. He hesitated a moment before flipping to the page of lyrics he’d written his last night in Devon. Lyrics he couldn’t bring himself to erase. That girl from Brooklyn stole my heart, I should have seen it from the start. I love the way she makes me feel, You won’t find me singing the blues on Beale. Over and over, the lyrics looped in his mind. He thought about the first time they met, how she’d gaped at him before putting on her game face and showing him why Brian had so much faith in her. He’d known then that Chloe had the potential to complicate his life, but never in a million years would he have guessed it would be like this. No, this mess, it was all on him. Suddenly exhausted, he closed his eyes and drifted to sleep, no longer surprised by the purple hue of his dreams. He woke some time later to the sound of his door clicking shut. He blinked, groggy and confused. He thought he had imagined it until he heard hushed voices in the hall. ”Are you all right?” Reid’s mother asked, her voice laced with concern. “You look a little pale.” “I’m fine,” Jess answered, her voice shaking. “Has anyone come to see him?” “No,” his mother whispered. “No one has come by, and he hasn’t left. Other than when he’s hungry, he stays locked up in his room. I didn’t think anything of it. He used to do it all the time when he’d write his music.” There was a long pause before Jess let out a weary sigh. “That’s just it. He hasn’t written anything in over a year. Not anything he’s told me about, anyway. I don’t know if he has anything left.” “Oh, honey,” Reid’s mother soothed. “I don’t think that’s true. Every time I’ve checked on him, he’s been writing in some notebook. Did you see it? I’m sure it’s filled with beautiful words.” Reid’s heart slammed inside his chest. His pulse thundered in his ears and his skin flushed hot. He sat up quickly, the notebook across his chest falling to the floor. Wide-eyed, he looked from the door to the notebook, a sinking feeling that she’d seen the pages setting in. “Yeah. I saw it. I’m just not sure what I saw were lyrics.” When Jess’s voice broke, Reid jumped from the bed and tripped his way to the door. He tried to control his emotions, but when he ripped the door open, the force causing it to bang against the wall, he knew he’d failed. Jess and his mom jumped from the sound, their eyes wide as he appeared next to them. “Hey, Jess. I thought I heard you.” He stepped next to her and slid his arm around her waist, placing a soft kiss on her cheek before turning to his mom. “What are you two up to?” His mom rolled her eyes, a small, knowing smile on her lips. “Talking about you, of course. Now, don’t you think it’s about time you come out of that room and spend some time with Jess before you leave again?” Before Reid could answer, Jess spoke. “I don’t want to bother him if he’s working.” Reid gripped her a little tighter, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. “I’m not working on anything. Let me grab my stuff and we can go.” Jess’s brows dented as she searched his face. He felt exposed. Like she could see straight through him. Like she could see all the secrets he was trying so hard to mask. “Your stuff?” Reid nodded and stepped back, keeping his eyes locked with hers. “Yeah. I thought I could crash with you until I have to go back. I’m sure Mom and Dad are ready to have the place to themselves again.” “Nonsense,” his mother cut in before stepping forward and giving him a hug. “I’ve loved having you here, but you should spend some time with Jess. We’ll see each other again soon.” Reid smiled. “Of course.” Looking at Jess, he shuffled his feet and cleared his throat. “So what do you say?” Jess’s eyes shimmered and her smile was strained as she fought to control the emotions Reid could see swimming in her gaze. “Really?” she asked, small and unsure. “Jess,” he whispered, pulling her against his chest. With his eyes pinched shut and his mouth pressed to her ear, he exhaled. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re upset. Let’s get out of here, okay?” Jess pressed her forehead against his shoulder and clutched his shirt. “Okay.” After saying their good-byes, Reid and Jess drove toward the city. “So what do you want to do?” Reid drummed his fingers over the tops of his thighs and hummed. “Let’s go to Rum Boogie.” Jess’s mouth fell open and her eyes widened. “You want to go to Beale? What on earth for? Once people recognize you, it’ll be a nightmare.” Reid pulled out his phone. “I’ll call ahead. We’ll sneak in the back, say hi to a few people, have a drink, and leave before anyone is the wiser. What do you say? It’ll be fun.” “If you say so,” Jess mumbled, eyeing him warily as she drove toward Beale. The truth was, Reid didn’t want to go to Beale. He needed to go. He met Jess in that bar. They’d fallen in love there. It was filled with the best kind of memories. He hoped being there with her after all this time could ignite the fire that had faded to smoking embers. He had to give them a chance. For himself and for Jess. She deserved at least that much. Reid reached across the car and placed his hand on Jess’s thigh. “Maybe tomorrow we can go out to the farm? You can show me the colt you delivered. We could even go riding.” Reid laughed. “God, I haven’t been on a horse in years. I’ll probably fall off and break my neck.” Jess giggled and flashed him a bright smile, her eyes sparkling. The sight caused his chest to ache. Her eyes had always been his favorite feature. It hurt to admit that when he looked into their deep blue depths now, it only made him miss Chloe that much more.True to his word, Reid spent the next several days focused on trying to find what he’d lost with Jess. From horseback riding to lounging on the dock by the river, they spent all their time together. In the evenings, they would cook dinner before curling up on the couch and watching movies. It was exactly how it used to be before he was signed. It was nothing like what he wanted now. Try as he might, not a day went by that he didn’t think of Chloe. The silence was deafening. He hadn’t heard from her since the last day at his parents’. He itched to hear her voice, to call to see how she was, but he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. As it was, his guilt was crushing. With a sigh, he washed his hands and dug through his bag for a change of clothes. The corner of his notebook caught on his T-shirt. The sight of it made him want to slam his head against the mirror. He was antsy. He felt caged in the open space. He wanted noisy streets and neon lights. He wanted the feel of the warm ocean breeze against his face. He wanted to be home. Reid stood motionless as the realization sunk in that Memphis was no longer home. Sure, he loved it. Loved the vibe and the people, but it wasn’t home. Not anymore. Not for a long time. When his phone rang, he nearly jumped out of his skin. Darting from the bathroom, he grabbed it off the nightstand, startling Jess as she walked into the room. “Hello?” “Reid, sorry I haven’t called before now, but I wanted to check to see if you were doing okay.” Reid sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s fine. I’m good, Tom.” He looked at Jess and shrugged, his face apologetic as he mouthed he would only be a minute. With a nod, Jess stepped out of the room and pulled the door shut. “You staying out of trouble?” The slight edge in Tom’s voice caused shame to creep up on Reid again. “I am. I promise. I’m going crazy being here, but not because of that.” “What do you mean?” Tom asked, surprise clear in his voice. “Did something happen?” Reid groaned and paced the length of the room. “No. Nothing happened. It’s just . . . it doesn’t feel like it used to. It’s making me stir-crazy.” Tom chuckled. “Not loving the country life anymore?” “Memphis isn’t the sticks,” Reid deadpanned. “Where you lived certainly is. Actually, I might be able to help you out with that. It’s the other reason I’m calling.” “You mean it’s the main reason, but you weren’t going to bring it up until you had a chance to gauge my mood?” Reid retorted, smirking Tom cleared his throat. “Whatever. I got a call from MTV today. They wanted to know if you’d be interested in performing a mashup with Jack Green.” Reid smiled as excitement surged through him. “Hell yes, I would.” “I thought you might say that. The catch is, he has other obligations during rehearsals for the show, so you’d need to come back to LA early.” “Book my flight,” Reid answered without hesitation. “I’ll be there tomorrow.” “Tomorrow?” Tom blurted. “You don’t need to come back that soon. You can wait two or three more days.”Reid shook his head, his eyes darting toward the door before he spoke, his words hushed. “Tomorrow, Tom. Please.” A beat of silence passed before Tom spoke. “Okay. I don’t know what kind of flights they’ll have booking something this late, but keep your phone handy. It might take a while, but I’ll text you the details as soon as I have something.” “Thanks,” Reid exhaled, his shoulders relaxing. “Oh, and Reid? We’re going to talk about all the shit that’s happened recently when you get back. Just giving you fair warning.” Reid swallowed. “Okay. See you soon.” Dropping the phone on the bed, the excitement of going back to LA drained from his body. Jess was going to be upset that he was leaving so soon. Weary, he walked out of the bedroom to break the news. However, her reaction surprised him. She was quiet, distant, but not angry. She just looked sad. It was so much worse than her anger. Jess traced patterns over his forearm as they lay in bed later that night. He tried to talk to her, but her one-word answers and quiet demeanor eventually led to both their silence. “We’ll see each other again soon,” he tried again, his voice reassuring. “Why don’t you ever say you love me?” she asked softly. Her question caused Reid’s brows to dip in confusion.“What are you talking about? I say it all the time.” Jess pulled in a deep breath. “No. You don’t. I always say I love you, and you always respond with ‘you too.’” Reid licked his lips and worked to keep his breathing normal. “That’s what I’ve always done. For as long as I can remember.” “I know,” she admitted. “It’s just sometimes I’d like to hear you say it.” Reid pinched his eyes shut and pressed his lips to her temple. “You know how I feel about you.” “Do I?” “Jess,” Reid implored, his throat tight. With a huff, Jess turned to her side and pulled the covers tight around her shoulder. “Get some sleep. You have to get up early. I’m fine. We’re fine. It’s just been a long day.” Reid reached across the bed and pulled Jess against his side. “Don’t go to bed mad at me. Please.” Jess relaxed her stiff posture and sighed. “I love you.” “You too,” he whispered, hating himself for not being able to say the words. It was true when they’d been together before he always said the same phrase. Now, however, his inability to say it was for an entirely different reason. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Jess. He did. She was one of the most important people in his life. It was how he loved her that had changed. It was still dark when his alarm sounded. As quietly as possible, he gathered his things and crept into the kitchen. His leg bounced with indecision as he stared at the blank sheet of paper on the table. He knew it was shitty to leave a note, but he wasn’t sure he could handle seeing her cry when he walked out the door. It was selfish, but after all the pain he’d caused over the last several months, he wasn’t surprised. When headlights shone through the window as a car turned onto the long driveway, he walked back into the bedroom and moved to Jess’s side. With a gentle hand, he pushed the hair off her forehead and pressed his lips to her cheek. He lingered there for a moment before slipping back out the door. In the kitchen once more, he grabbed his bag and looked at the blank page. Tightening his jaw, he grabbed the pen and wrote the words he couldn’t bring himself to say before he disappeared into the still dark morning. I didn’t want to wake you. I’ll call you when I land. I love you.