CHAPTER 7

Chloe stared at her reflection in the mirror. “Breathe,” she whispered, pulling in a deep breath and releasing it slow and controlled. Reid and the others had already taken the stage, but since Chloe wasn’t joining them until midset, she had a little longer to wait. She’d thought going on later would be less nerve-racking, but she wasn’t so sure it would make a difference anymore. “You okay?” Chloe turned to Inky and smiled. “Yeah. Just nervous. I’d be better if someone hadn’t taken my bag of Starbursts. I can’t find them anywhere.” “Is that a euphemism for drugs?” “No,” Chloe laughed. “I don’t eat them unless I’m touring. I know it sounds weird, but it’s my thing. Someone lifted the bag I brought. Now I don’t have any and I’m kind of having a mini freak-out.” “You’re being serious,” Inky said, her expression bewildered. “I am.” “Man, I thought Reid had some strange rituals before he went on stage. You two are perfect for each other.” Chloe’s eyes snapped to Inky’s reflection in the mirror, then her own. She was grateful Inky’s focus was on her phone and not Chloe’s pinked cheeks. Not wanting to dwell on her body’s reaction to Inky’s words, she focused on the other part of what Inky said. “What kind of rituals?” For the first time, Chloe realized she hadn’t seen Reid since the opening band went on. Inky tsked. “No way. I’m not getting on his bad side this early in the tour. You want to know his crazy little quirks, you’ll have to ask him. Now, you need to get your cute little ass ready to go on stage. You good?” “Well, now that I’m picturing Reid biting heads off chickens before he goes on stage, yes. I’m sufficiently distracted.” “Good.” Inky tugged on the ends of Chloe’s hair and grinned. “You’re going to be amazing. This is no different than any other tour.” “Except there’s about ten thousand more people in the audience,” Chloe mumbled as she stood. Inky shrugged. “Minor detail. Now, I’ve got some merchandise to sell. Catch you later.” Chloe waved good-bye and moved down the hall toward the stage. Her hands shook with nerves and excitement as the sound of Reid’s voice grew louder. People bustled around her. Some with headphones and clipboards, others carrying instruments or checking cables. No one paid her any attention;everyone was focused on their own task. It wasn’t until she reached the side curtain that she finally saw a familiar face. “Hi, Tom.” “Hey, Chloe. I was about to come looking for you. Everything okay?” “Yeah. I had a small Starburst crisis, but Inky distracted me.” “I have no idea what that means, but as long as you’re good, I won’t worry about figuring it out.” Chloe laughed. “I’m good. Two more songs, right?” “Two more songs.” Chloe leaned against the wall and checked all the points on her violin. She’d already tuned and checked it more than a dozen times, but one more time wouldn’t hurt. “So,” she began, attempting to sound casual. “Reid has some pretty strange habits before he goes on stage, huh?” She cut her eyes to Tom, who stared at her with narrowed eyes. “How do you mean, strange?” “I don’t know.” Chloe shrugged, her forced nonchalance crumbling into a laugh. Tom cracked a smile. “Thank God you don’t have aspirations of working as an interrogator.” “Right? I suck at this.” “And ignore Inky. She likes to bust Reid’s balls. It’s funny as hell to watch, but you don’t want to get caught in the crossfire. Boredom causes their childish sides to come out. They’ll have toothpaste in your socks if you’re not careful.” Chloe wrinkled her nose. “I don’t want any part of that.” “Good. Okay, it’s almost time. You better get into place. See you after the show.” “Thanks. See you soon.”“Are y’all having fun?” Reid asked, the crowd cheering in answer. The heat from the lights and the rush of adrenaline caused sweat to trickle down the side of his face and neck. He grabbed the water bottle next to his feet and took a big swallow before dumping the rest on his head. “It’s fucking hot up here, man.” The crowd roared, those by the stage lifting their drinks in offering. Anything to draw his attention, pull him in their direction, be noticed, if only for a second. “I have a surprise for you guys. You like surprises, right?” Reid lifted the bottom of his shirt and wiped the sweat from his face, working the already electric crowd into a frenzy. He looked to the side of the stage and smirked at Chloe, who stood hidden, shaking her head and laughing. “Y’all might know this next song. It’s about the first girl who ever broke my heart.” Reid lowered his eyes as the crowd booed. After a beat, he lifted his chin and flashed a devious smile. “That’s okay, though. Do y’all know why it’s okay?” “Because karma’s gonna get you, girl!” Everyone screamed as Chloe stepped out of the shadows and began to play the familiar opening chord of the song. Reid bobbed his head and turned to Chloe with a huge smile. The lights reflected off her white tank top and danced over her colorfully inked skin as she made her way across the stage. Her cotton and lace skirt fluttered around her legs, the dainty material a stark contrast to her chunky knee-high combat boots. The closer she moved to Reid, the more the cheers grew. Once the pair stood next to each other, they turned to face the crowd clapping in sync with the beat of the drums. Reid watched those closest to the stage. Chloe’s violin piece was a new addition, and from what Reid could tell, it was a success. Although he wasn’t quite sure if it was the music, or the person making it. Either way, he felt a level of relief he wasn’t sure he’d have the opportunity to experience. When Chloe hit her last note, Reid began to sing. It was the summer of ’03 and there was only you and me Wind in our faces and the sun at our backs we flew down the highway, young and free. Making out in the back of my S-10 under a big oak tree, I knew you and me were meant to be. Then one night, under the cover of the moonlight, I snuck to your window around midnight. When I looked inside, you were gone, and that’s how I came to write this song. The lights flashed and beams of color swept over the arena as Reid’s fingers flew over his guitar. Chloe stood next to him, the pair grinning as they played off each other. Reid strummed a final note then dropped his hands to his sides and walked to the front of the stage. He clapped with the melody that Chloe continued to play and began to sing the chorus. You played a game with my heart, now karma’s gonna play its part. It’s gonna get you, girl, it’s gonna, gonna get you, girl, Oh, karma’s gonna get you, girl. You played a game with my heart and now karma’s gonna play its part. It’s gonna get you, girl, oh, you better believe, karma’s gonna get you, girl, it’s gonna get you, girl. I hopped in my truck and drove all night, parked by the river around daylight. And what I saw, I’ll never forget, damn, my ego took a hit ’Cause there you were under our big oak tree,making out with someone who wasn’t me. I spun out of there in my old S-10, feeling like my world had come to an end. I stopped at the store to get some gas, and that’s when I realized karma had my back. ’Cause your daddy was there and anyone could tell that son of a bitch was mad as hell. He asked where you were and I didn’t hesitate. I sent him straight to where you were on Benny’s tailgate. I didn’t feel bad about what happened next, you shoulda known better than to become my ex. You played a game with my heart, now karma’s gonna play its part. It’s gonna get you, girl, it’s gonna, gonna get you, girl, Oh, karma’s gonna get you, girl. You played a game with my heart and now karma’s gonna play its part. It’s gonna get you, girl, oh you better believe, karma’s gonna get you, girl, it’s gonna get you, girl. The crowd erupted when the final notes were played and the lights dimmed and faded. Reid grabbed another water bottle and walked over to Chloe. “You did amazing,” he said before downing the water. “Thanks. You sure got the crowd into it.”Reid looked back to the audience. “Are you guys tired yet?” “No!” “Are we staying until they kick us out?” “Yes!” “What about you, Chloe?” Reid asked. “Do you think they really want to stay here all night?” Chloe’s eyes widened a bit, but she recovered quickly and shrugged. “I don’t know, Reid. Do you really think they can handle more?” Reid swept his hand toward the crowd and smirked. “Why don’t you ask them?” Chloe propped her violin on her shoulder and looked out over the sea of people. “How many of you out there are ready to party all night long?” The response was deafening. “Hell, Chloe. I think they like you.” Again the crowd screamed as Reid signaled for Drew to start the intro for the next song. With a slow beat, Drew gradually brought the drums to life. “What do you say, Chloe? Do you think they’re ready?” Chloe stepped forward. “Only if they can make me feel it right here,” she said, tapping the end of her bow to her chest. The crowd screamed and stomped their feet as the drums hit full volume. “Can you feel it, Reid?” Chloe asked, positioning her violin.Reid nodded and looked to the bottle of water by his feet. The vibration of the cheers and the drums had caused the entire stage to shake. “Oh, I can feel it. One, two, three, four.” For the next hour, Chloe and Reid set the stage on fire. Their onstage presence became a living, breathing energy that fed the crowd and kept them worked into a frenzy until the last note of their encore fell silent. “Oh my God, that was amazing,” Chloe said, breathless and keyed up, once they left the stage. “That was one hell of a performance you put on, Reid,” Tom agreed, slapping Reid on the back. “Chloe,” Reid said, motioning in her direction with a smile, “stole the fucking show. I had no idea it would be like that.” “Did I do something wrong?” Reid stumbled to a stop and looked at her with a bemused expression. “Are you kidding me? You were fantastic. I had no idea how much fun it would be having someone play alongside me.” “What the hell are we? Chopped liver?” Greer joked. “What do you think the audience would say if you asked them to compare you to Chloe?” Reid stood with his brow lifted in challenge. Greer gave Chloe a once-over before letting out a dramatic sigh. “Chopped fucking liver.” Chloe laughed and smacked his chest as the group moved down the hall to the dressing rooms. “Who’s up for a celebratory drink?” Drew asked. “Hell yes,” Greer said, tightening his arm around Chloe’s neck. “You really do have one hell of a stage presence, girl. I hope you realize that you just became spank bank material for every guy in that audience.” “Probably most of the girls, too,” Drew added. Chloe covered her face with her hands. “You guys are insane. Now, where the hell are those drinks?” “Reid, you in?” Drew asked. Reid pushed the hair out of his face and looked at his bandmates. He usually disappeared to decompress before meeting fans backstage to sign autographs, but that was the last thing he wanted to do tonight. He wasn’t sure if it was the excitement of the first show, or how completely different he felt performing with Chloe. All he knew was there was no way he was missing a second of this experience. “I’m in.” Everyone cheered and moved toward the lounge area. Beer sat in buckets of ice, and the equivalent of a full bar lined a table in the corner. On another table, there was a variety of food that Reid requested to be served after his shows. The group wasted no time filling plates of food and grabbing drinks. Once everyone was seated, Tom addressed the group.“Tonight was one hell of a show. This is going to be a long tour, and there will be times when we’ll want to kill each other. Times when we miss our loved ones and want nothing more than to pack our bags and go home. But when that happens, I want you all to remember how you feel at this very moment. I want you to hang on to that feeling and remember you’re doing something you love, something that is part of who you are. There aren’t many people who can say that. No matter how tired, grouchy, or homicidal you feel, remember . . . You could be picking up trash on the side of the road or stuck inside a cubicle working a dead-end, nine-to-five job. Instead, you get to travel the world and be motherfucking rock stars.” “To motherfucking rock stars,” Greer echoed. “To motherfucking rock stars,” the rest of the group cheered, raising their glasses before slamming back their drinks.Their good mood continued through fan pictures and autographs. Reid couldn’t help but notice how people gravitated to Chloe, and not just the fans. Greer seemed to be a permanent fixture at her side since they’d left the stage. It made him wonder if something was developing between them. The thought bothered him. He felt protective of her. She was his friend. The last thing he wanted was for something to start with her and Greer, only to go south. “You okay?” Reid looked at Tom. “Yeah. I think the adrenaline is finally starting to wear off. It won’t be long before I’m ready to crash and burn.” “We don’t have much longer. Do you think you can hang out another half hour?” “I can handle that.” Reid’s eyes drifted to Greer and Chloe again. “Can you make sure everyone knows what time we need to be here in the morning? I don’t want to deal with hangovers.” Tom followed Reid’s gaze. “Sure thing. Have you spoken to Jess?” “I’m going to text her when I leave.” Reid didn’t look at Tom as he motioned for one of the waiting fans to step forward for an autograph. “Is there anything else?” Tom asked. “Nope. We’re all set. Just make sure everyone knows what time to be here tomorrow.” “You got it, boss.” For the next half hour, Reid smiled for pictures and signed autographs. Some women slipped phone numbers into his hand, while less shy women propositioned him on the spot. It was the same as always, but he felt more uncomfortable now. Maybe it was because he felt ashamed for inviting that sort of behavior over the last couple of years while he was single. Whatever the reason, he couldn’t wait to escape to the safety of his hotel room. “Okay, Padawan, time to wrap things up. You need your beauty rest,” Chloe said, thankfully interrupting one of the more aggressive fans. Reid laughed and gave the fan an apologetic smile. “Sorry. That’s all for tonight, guys. Thanks for coming out.” Groans of protest echoed around the room, but the security team quickly cleared the area. “Did you just Yoda me again?” Reid asked with a smile as they walked toward the tour bus. Chloe shrugged. “You looked uncomfortable. I thought I could lend a hand since the security team couldn’t seem to be bothered.” “I don’t know what the hell those guys were doing, but if they want to keep their jobs, it better not happen again.” “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I saw Tom letting the head guy have it. With any luck, tomorrow will be different. I bet you won’t be able to breathe without smelling the security guy next to you.” Reid’s face twisted with disgust. “Thanks for the visual.” “Happy to help,” Chloe laughed as they filed onto the tour bus. Hushed conversations filled the space as they drove to the hotel. Reid hadn’t planned to seclude himself, but once Greer settled in next to Chloe, he had the sudden urge to be alone. Falling onto the bed in the small bedroom on the bus, he pulled out his phone. Tiny folded pieces of paper dropped onto the bed, but that’s not what made Reid’s pulse suddenly quicken. Frozen, he stared at a plastic bag filled with white powder lying among the pile of phone numbers. He reached for it slowly, a phantom numbness sliding down his throat as he swallowed. With shaking hands, he lifted it from the bed, and without thought, brought it to his nose and pulled in a deep, burning breath. He wanted it; he wanted it more than he could have possibly anticipated. Like an old pro, he twisted and tugged the knot loose until there was no barrier between him and sweet oblivion. Reid struggled to pull away, to fight the temptation, but he felt helpless against the weight of need. He shifted his hand and dipped his pinkie into the center of the powder, only hesitating a second before parting his lips and rubbing the bitter substance over his teeth and gums. The image that followed caused his knees to buckle and acid to hit the back of his throat. Vacant green eyes. Pale skin stained in crimson. Reid heaved and staggered to his feet. Blindly, he moved to the tiny bathroom and flushed the bag down the toilet. Ashamed and sick, he slumped against the wall and pulled his knees to his chest. With each breath, he felt the weight of his weakness press into his shoulders until he could hardly breathe. He needed to be the man he used to be before all the fame. The man he used to be with Jess, if that guy even existed anymore. She made him stronger and gave him hope. There was nothing he wanted more than to see her face, hear her voice. Climbing to his feet, he walked to the bedroom and fell on the bed. It was the first day of the tour and his will was already being tested. He hoped it wasn’t a sign of things to come. Typing out a text to Jess, he dropped his phone to his side and closed his eyes. Today was almost over. Tomorrow, he would have a clean slate. Tomorrow, he would do better.