CHAPTER 5

Chloe closed her eyes and reclined in the tub, resting her head on the back. With a content smile, she let the warm water and swirling steam lull her into a relaxed state. It had been a good, albeit overwhelming, day. True to her word, she’d arrived at the studio that morning with breakfast in tow. Unlike the day before, however, she found Reid waiting with two cups of coffee. Over peach turnovers and expensive coffee, the pair discussed the previous day’s stage rehearsal and what to expect once the tour started. When they entered the venue an hour later, the place buzzed with people. In a whirlwind of introductions, Chloe met the remainder of the crew who would become her family for the next year. Names, faces, and jobs blurred together until Chloe wasn’t certain of anything other than the backline tech, front house engineer, sound monitor engineer, and lighting guy were named Randy, Jeff, Chad, and Lincoln. The only name, face, job, combo she would have no trouble remembering was the girl with fiery red hair and a slight English accent who introduced herself as Inky, the merchandise girl. While Chloe was certain that was not her real name, it could not have been a more appropriate nickname. Apart from her face, Chloe was willing to bet there was not an inch of skin not decorated in colorful ink. “Did you drown in there?” Chloe yelped and jerked upright when the sound of Josie’s voice rang out on the other side of the door. “Shit. No. Sorry. I just zoned out.” “I’m sorry I got stuck on set again last night and had to cancel. If you’re tired, we can do this another night.” Chloe pulled the stopper from the tub and stood. “No way. I leave in two days. There’s not a chance I’m going to miss hanging out with you guys.” “Thank God. Maddie would have dragged your ass out of the house by your hair.” Chloe laughed. “Why do I get the feeling this is something you have experienced firsthand?” “Because you know, when it comes to Maddie, anything is possible. Now, move your ass before I do it for her.” Once dressed, Chloe fixed her hair and makeup in record time. When she walked into the living room, she spread her arms out and smiled. “Am I good?” Josie gave her a once-over. “More than good. You look great. Let’s get going.” Chloe followed Josie to her car and climbed into the passenger seat. “So where are we headed?” “Holden reserved us a booth in the back of his restaurant.” Josie cut her eyes to Chloe, her expression suddenly nervous. “Listen, I didn’t tell you before because I didn’t want to stress you out, but Anders is coming to dinner. Which isn’t a big deal, but it does mean there’s a chance dozens of paparazzi will be waiting outside when we leave.” The look on Chloe’s face was nothing short of incredulous. “I’m more worried about meeting Anders than paps hanging around with cameras. The last thing I want is to do or say something stupid in front of your famous boyfriend.” “You’ll be fine. Anders is like anyone else. Just a little more high maintenance. And moody. But underneath all his gruff exterior, there’s just something about him. I can’t explain it, but he’s pretty perfect. For me anyway.” Josie blew out an exasperated breath, then smiled. “Just let Maddie sit across from him.” Chloe shook her head, but she couldn’t help but match Josie’s smile. “Why do I have a feeling that’s the last thing that should happen?” “Just think of it this way. As long as those two are next to each other, you’ll be free from any unwanted attention.” “Dinner and a show? What more could a girl ask for?” “That’s the spirit!” Josie laughed. The remainder of the drive, the two friends talked about their day. Chloe noticed Josie refrained from asking any sort of questions about Reid. She was certain the avoidance had everything to do with Maddie. Once parked, they exited Josie’s car and walked through the side door of the restaurant to the booth Holden reserved. “Hey, guys!” Maddie waved as Chloe and Josie approached. “Holden had to run to the kitchen for what I’m sure will be one of a dozen emergencies.” “We could have eaten somewhere else,” Josie commented as she gestured for Chloe to slide into the large corner booth next to Maddie. “Are you kidding? No way would he miss the chance of showing Chloe this place.” “I hope it’s not an inconvenience for you guys, but I gotta say, I’m really happy we’re eating here. I read all the articles I could find about the place when it opened. My mom brags to anyone who will listen that her best friend’s son owns a fancy restaurant in LA. I understand her excitement, though,” Chloe said, looking around the large room. “It’s beautiful.” “Thanks,” Holden said, taking the spot next to Maddie. “Sorry about that. I told them to pretend I wasn’t here tonight; that should hold them off for about ten minutes.” “Like you wouldn’t find a reason to go back there and check on things anyway,” Josie joked before her phone beeped, redirecting her attention. She smirked when she peeked at the screen. “Anders is here.”Chloe shifted and tugged on her lip ring with her teeth. She was nervous about meeting a guy who was the equivalent of royalty. It didn’t matter that he was dating her childhood friend. “Shouldn’t Maddie and Holden switch seats?” she joked. Holden looked between Josie and Madison with narrowed eyes. “Hell no. Not happening. Chloe, if those two sit across from each other, they will cause a scene. They love to pretend they can’t stand each other. If it wasn’t so damn obvious how completely devoted Anders is to my sister, I’d swear something was going on between him and Maddie.” Madison smacked Holden’s arm. “What about how completely devoted I am to you? Shouldn’t that count for something?” “You’re not sitting here,” Holden retorted. “Thank fuck,” Anders said as he appeared at the table. “It’s been a long day. I could do without Maddie’s endless ballbusting.” “Behave,” Josie laughed. Chloe blinked in surprise and moved farther inside the booth so Anders could slide in next to Josie. He flashed her a brief glance before turning his attention to Josie and smirking. “One of these days you’ll give up on the notion of me behaving, Ivy.” “A girl can dream,” she sighed dramatically before leaning forward and placing a soft kiss against his upturned lips.Chloe looked away, suddenly feeling a bit like a voyeur. “They’re always like this,” Madison stage-whispered. “It’s the only reason we keep him around.” Madison tried to sound annoyed, but it was obvious to Chloe that she couldn’t have been happier with the way Josie and Anders were together. Chloe leaned into Madison. “‘Ivy’?” Madison grinned. “That’s what he calls her. Because of the ivy tattoo on her hip. Of course, the story is much more interesting than that, but we’ll save it for another time.” Anders laughed when Josie groaned and shifted toward Chloe. “Anders, this is Chloe. Chloe, this is Anders. Anders, be polite and say hello.” “She acts as though I have no social skills. I can be nice when I feel it’s necessary. It’s not my fault that 99% of the time I feel it’s completely unnecessary. In your case, however, I’ll make an exception. Chloe, it’s nice to meet you.” Madison’s and Josie’s mouths fell open in shock as they looked at one another, wide-eyed. Holden chuckled and Chloe sat in shock. When she remained silent, Anders spoke. “This is usually the part where you say it’s nice to meet me as well. Is something wrong with her?” he asked, looking toward Josie.“No. God. Sorry, this entire situation is a bit overwhelming. It’s nice to meet you, too.” Chloe gave Anders a nervous smile and grabbed the glass of water in front of her, taking a large gulp before placing it back on the table. “Don’t worry about it. I get that a lot.” Anders smirked. “What is happening right now?” Madison stuttered. “Why are you being nice to her?” Madison turned to Chloe with an apologetic expression. “Not that I want him to be mean to you, it’s just, well, he’s kind of a prick. His contact name in Josie’s phone is ‘Asshole,’ for Christ’s sake!” Madison turned back to Anders, who watched her with what looked like a part amused, part annoyed expression. “Were you abducted by aliens? Are you on drugs?” “I know I should defend you right now,” Josie added. “But the last time I introduced you to someone, you told them to empty their pockets to make sure they weren’t trying to record our conversation.” Anders bristled. “That guy was shady as fuck, Ivy. I don’t care that you went to school with him. He looked like he was one step away from a tinfoil hat.” “Are you talking about Ryan?” Holden asked. “Because I have to agree with Anders on this one.” “That’s it. We’re all doomed. The apocalypse is here.” Madison threw her hands up in dramatic fashion as she looked helplessly between Holden, Anders, and Josie. “He’s the guy that does that weird brow thing, right?” Chloe asked, her voice hesitant and timid. Anders slammed his hand on the table as Holden laughed. “I knew it wasn’t just me,” Anders touted. “It’s like he’s having brow spasms or some shit. Creepy as fuck, if you ask me.” “Chloe, please don’t encourage Anders . . . or Holden, apparently, since they’ve decided to become besties.” Madison shuddered and twisted her face into a frown. Josie cut her eyes to Madison and Chloe and grinned. “Had I known weird eyebrow movements would have caused these two to play nice, I would have brought Ryan up months ago.” Anders sighed. “You two are absurd.” A waitress appeared at the end of the booth, a nervous smile on her face. “Hi, guys. Can I get you all something to drink?” “I know I’m going to regret this, but how about those tequila shots, Josie?” Everyone turned their attention to Chloe, their expressions ranging from excitement to dread. Josie grinned. “Excellent idea.” “That is the opposite of an excellent idea. If you made a list of every idea you’ve ever had, this would rank right at the bottom with the other times you’ve suggested tequila.” Anders’s deadpan expression matched the tone of his voice. Josie leaned into him and whispered in his ear. A slow, devious looking smirk pulled at the side of his mouth. “You’re going to be in so much trouble.” “So shots it is?” The waitress shuffled her feet and looked around the table. Chloe understood her discomfort. Anders and Josie were practically obscene and they were only talking. “Shots it is.” Madison grinned and turned to Chloe. “Now, tell us all about Reid.” “Or,” Anders cut in, “you could tell us stories about you and Josie growing up.” Josie laughed. “Now I get it. You’re playing nice because you think Chloe is going to dish dirt on me.” She patted his cheek. “When will you ever learn?” Anders smirked. “If she’s anything like you and Maddie, I won’t need to ask her anything. I give you two a half hour before you’re both telling stories that start with ‘Remember that one time . . .’” “It’s true. You and Maddie have always done that,” Holden added. Chloe cringed a little. “Maybe the tequila shots weren’t such a good idea, after all.” Josie waved her off as the waitress placed the shots on the table. “Whatever. We’ll regret this tomorrow. Tonight, I want to let loose and have fun with my friends.” She grabbed the salt-rimmed shot glass full of tequila and lifted it in the air. “To trouble.” “Jesus,” Chloe laughed as she raised her glass with the others. “Tomorrow is gonna suck.” Everyone nodded in agreement as they slammed back their shots. Dinner passed with a steady flow of drinks and conversations ranging from childhood memories, college shenanigans, music, and movies. Chloe watched the people around her with a wistful smile. Their obvious comfort and familiarity caused a feeling of longing to tighten her chest. For all the smack Madison talked about Anders, the two seemed to have formed a strange, sibling type of bond. It wasn’t until they decided to hit a bar for drinks that Chloe got a glimpse of the man she’d read about in the papers. His face a stony mask, Anders instructed Holden to the front of the group to form a barrier around the girls as they shuffled into the back of his waiting car. Paparazzi swarmed them, their camera flashes blinding as they shouted questions that caused Chloe’s face to redden and Anders’s temper to flare. With clasped hands, the three girls followed Holden, with Anders trailing behind Josie, his body rigid as he acted as a protective shield. “Holy shit,” Chloe gasped as the car door slammed shut. “Is that normal?”“Every fucking time.” Anders’s jaw ticked as he pushed his hand through his hair. “You okay, Ivy?” Josie smiled. “I’m good. At least this time they asked if Chloe was the new other woman. I don’t know if that vein in Holden’s neck can take much more of his temper if they keep asking that about Maddie.” “Are you serious? That wasn’t the first time they’ve asked you something like that?” Chloe stared slack-jawed as everyone in the car shook their heads in disgust. “Talk about a buzzkill.” “Oh, hell no,” Madison argued. “You’re leaving in two days. Those assholes aren’t ruining our night.” “Damn straight,” Josie added. “You realize you won’t be able to tell me I can’t stay with you tonight if you drink too much?” Anders asked Josie with a grin. Josie winked. “I know.” “Well, this isn’t awkward at all,” Holden deadpanned. “Tell me about it,” Chloe mumbled, causing Josie to laugh. “How about we drink enough tonight that any trauma inflicted on you will be wrapped in the comfort of a blackout?” Josie suggested. “I’ll drink to that!” One bar turned into two. The girls danced, laughed, and gossiped like teenagers. It was the most fun Chloe could remember having in a long time. When the night ended and she fell into bed with a glass of water and a couple of aspirins on the nightstand, she knew any noise from the bedroom down the hall would be forgotten when the sun rose.When Chloe crept out of Josie’s house the following morning, she was thankful for the absence of breakfast. Her pounding headache could only be soothed by black coffee, aspirin, and time. Still, she didn’t want to show up at the studio empty-handed, so she added a chocolate chip muffin for Reid to her coffee order. Chloe stumbled into the studio just before eleven, the effects of the night before only becoming worse as the morning wore on. She dropped into the closest seat and folded her arms on the table before easing her head down. It wasn’t until the sound of Reid’s voice broke the silence minutes later that she finally admitted to herself that tequila was the worst idea ever. “Either you’re on death’s doorstep, or you drank enough to make you hiss like a vampire at the slightest hint of sunlight. Either scenario is going to make today rough for you.” “I made poor life choices last night. I will suffer through them with whatever dignity I have left.” Chloe grabbed the bag beside her and thrust it toward Reid. “It’s not homemade, but I brought you breakfast.” When Reid didn’t take the bag from her outstretched hand, Chloe turned and looked at him with a questioning expression. “You stopped and got me breakfast?” Chloe shrugged. “That was our deal.” “No. Our deal was that you would bring me extras of whatever you had, not that you would go out of your way to get me something.” “It wasn’t any trouble, I swear. But I would have felt bad if you skipped breakfast expecting me to bring something and I showed up empty-handed.” Reid gave her a soft smile and pulled the bag from her hand. “Thanks, Chloe.” “No problem.” Reid took the seat beside her and pulled the muffin from the bag. After taking a bite, he leaned back in his chair and gave her a once-over. “So, what was the occasion?” “A night out with friends. Since I’m leaving tomorrow, we decided to go out and get shitty. Let’s just say, if we were being graded on our performance of that task, we would have exceeded expectations.” “How about we take it easy today? We’ll go over a few stage markings and any special requests you have for food and such for the tour and call it a day. Tomorrow is going to be long, and I want everyone rested.”Chloe’s face twisted with concern. “You don’t have to do that. I’m sorry I look like I’ve been hit by a bus, but I swear I’ll be fine. This isn’t something I do often, that’s why it’s hit me so hard.” Reid waved her off. “I need to wrap up some loose ends today as well. It’s not a big deal. I just need to know what you want for the bus or the venues to have stocked.” “Starburst. It’s my guilty pleasure. I only allow myself to have them when I’m touring. And not the crazy tropical kind, just the original flavors.” “Starburst?” Reid asked, clearly confused. “Starburst. I love them. I would eat them for every meal and snack all day every day. When it got to the point where I had mountains of wrappers all over my house, I did a self-imposed intervention. Now I only allow myself to have them on tour. Otherwise, all my teeth would fall out and I’d be the size of the tour bus. No one wants to be a toothless tour bus.” Reid laughed. “Are you still drunk?” “If I had a Magic 8 Ball, it would waver between ‘Without a doubt’ and ‘Reply hazy. Try again later.’ I’m so sorry.” Chloe dropped her head in defeat and groaned. “This will never happen again.” “If it does, I won’t be so sympathetic next time. This time, however, you get a pass since you brought me breakfast. Now, let’s get this last rehearsal out of the way. Then you can rest, and I can make sure you have all the Starbursts you can handle.” Chloe sighed and stood. “You’re the best.” “That’s what all the girls say.” Reid stood and bumped her shoulder as he tossed the empty bag in the trash. “Come on, the others should be at the venue.” With a nod, Chloe followed behind Reid. As awful as she felt and as much as she wanted to crawl into bed and sleep until her hangover disappeared, the excitement of the next day was almost enough to put a little bounce in her steps. Almost.