CHAPTER 9

Reid raked his hand through his hair and stepped onto the tour bus. He stood silently at the entrance, taking a moment to concentrate on what he needed to do now, and not what he’d done the first night. He looked over the people who would be with him nearly every day for the next year, chuckling when his gaze landed on Chloe. Tucked in the corner of the L-shaped bench at the kitchen table, she bobbed her head and scribbled in a notebook, a pile of Starburst wrappers littering the table. “We’ll be buried in those wrappers by the end of the tour if we don’t intervene,” Drew said, pulling Reid’s attention away from Chloe. Reid nodded. “We should start a pool. Keep all the wrappers in a jar, and when the tour’s over, guess how many are inside. Whoever wins gets $500.” “But are we going to include the ones she eats at the venues and hotels, or just the bus?” Inky asked in disbelief. “Tour bus only,” Greer suggested. “If we keep all of them, we’ll get cited for excessive trash or some shit.” “I can hear you assholes,” Chloe snarked, never lifting her eyes from her notebook. Reid laughed. “Sorry, Chloe.”She rolled her eyes and grinned. “Yeah, yeah.” After closing her notebook, she pulled out her earbuds and turned her attention to Reid. “Are we ready to roll out?” “Yup. I’d say we should be on the road in about ten minutes.” Reid straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat to make sure he had everyone’s attention. It was time to make sure they knew the rules. It was time to remind himself of the rules. “There are a couple of things I’d like to go over before we head out. Now, unless you’ve been under a rock, everyone knows the last year has been pretty rough for me. Some of you obviously know more than others, but the point is, because of the last twelve months, there are certain things I can’t tolerate. Drinking is fine. While I’d prefer no one smoke weed on the bus, I’ll let it slide. However, if any of you are caught with something stronger than an over-the-counter stimulant on this bus, you’re done. What you do during off-days and in your hotel rooms is your business, but don’t come around me. I consider all of you friends; I’d like to keep it that way, so don’t test me on this. Got it?” Murmurs of agreement echoed around the space. Reid couldn’t force himself to look at Chloe. She’d never asked questions about what happened, which was odd, but also a relief. However, he had no doubt she was at least aware of the media’s version of his life falling apart less than a year ago. His stomach churned as the familiar feeling of shame crawled across his skin. The air felt heavy and hot. Suffocating. He licked his lips and pulled the brim of his hat lower to shield his face. The longer the silence stretched out, the more awkward the moment became and the harder it was for Reid to pull himself together. “I have something I’d like to say.” Reid startled at the sound of Chloe’s voice. When he looked in her direction, his brows pulled together in confusion at the mischief written all over her face. Still unsure of his voice, he cleared his throat and motioned for her to speak. “Since we’re discussing the tour bus dos and don’ts, I’d like to remind everyone of the number two rule.” Reid chuckled along with the others as the tension leaked from his shoulders. He knew what Chloe was doing, and he could kiss her for it. Finding his voice, he stood a little straighter and finally met her gaze. While her expression was still playful, he noticed a softness in her eyes. It was compassion. Understanding. It was everything he needed without saying a word. “And what’s that?” he asked. Chloe rolled her eyes and let out a dramatic sigh. “Under no circumstances is anyone allowed to shit on the bus. It’s a sacred rule that, if broken, is punishable by those affected, however they deem appropriate.”“Here, here,” Inky laughed. “Wait a minute,” Greer said, eyeing Chloe. “What kind of punishment are we talking about here?” Chloe wrinkled her nose. “Greer, you better not shit on this bus. But if you do, whatever the worst punishment we can come up with will be the one you get. You might even get more than one if you cause any of us to gag. I suggest you make sure your pipes are clear before you step on this bus.” “Damn,” Greer laughed. “It’s a good thing none of the cities on this side of the pond allows buses to run their generators all night. Those hotels we booked look even more appealing now.” “Speaking of,” Tom said, shifting the conversation. “We only have a short ride to Belfast. Around two hours. After the show, we’ll do the usual fan pictures and autographs then we need to get our asses back on the bus. The trip to Manchester is going to be a pain. I had to charter a private ferry to get this damn bus across the water, but we should arrive sometime early tomorrow morning. Once everyone has checked in to the hotel, you’ll have the rest of the day to do as you please. Like Dublin, we’ll have two shows before we move on. The scheduling of this tour leaves a lot to be desired travel-wise, but it’s sold out, and that trumps long travel days. Everyone has the itinerary, but I also posted one by the door. If anyone has questions, let me know.”“You know,” Drew said as Reid slid into the seat next to Chloe and the bus began to move. “I drew our tour circuit on a map before we left LA. It looks like a drunk person staggering all over the place. We’re doubling back a lot.” Tom shrugged. “Then I guess you better enjoy these short bus trips while you can. It’s all part of life on the road.” Once the bus hit the interstate, everyone settled in. Randy, Jeff, and Chad started a card game while Inky and Lincoln disappeared to their beds on the upper deck. Tom, Drew, and Greer swapped stories about previous tours, leaving Reid and Chloe to themselves. Reid shifted so he faced Chloe, his leg bent at the knee and resting on the bench between them. He leaned forward and looked at her under the brim of his hat. When he spoke, his voice was low, sincere. “Thanks for what you did. You didn’t have to, but I appreciate it nonetheless.” Chloe kept her body facing forward, her eyes focused on the notebook on the table. “It was no big deal. Believe me, it was as much for my benefit as yours.” “That’s not what I’m talking about,” Reid whispered. “Everyone knows the no shitting on the bus rule. You didn’t need to remind anyone, but you did it to pull the attention away from me. It doesn’t matter that we all knew what you were doing, it is the fact that you did it. So, thank you.” Chloe dropped her chin to her chest, her thick blond and purple hair falling over her shoulder and framing her face. Turning her head, she locked her gaze with Reid’s, her violet-blue eyes earnest, inviting. Mesmerizing. “If you ever need to talk, I’m here. I know what the papers printed and heard gossip on the street, but I know how unreliable that stuff is. Being friends with Josie showed me firsthand that things are never as they seem. No judgment, okay?” Gratitude tightened Reid’s chest. “Thanks, Chloe. Right now, though, I’d rather talk about something else.” He lifted his chin in the direction of her notebook. “What are you working on?” Chloe shrugged. “It’s nothing. Just lyrics and random thoughts that might eventually make a song one day. Maybe.” “I didn’t know you wrote.” “There are a lot of things you don’t know about me,” Chloe said with a smile. Reid nodded in agreement, his eyes back on the notebook. The cover appeared worn, the pages curled at the edges from extensive use. He used his thumb to fan the corner of the pages, noticing that nearly every sheet was covered with markings. “That’s a lot of random thoughts.” Chloe grinned and cut her eyes to Reid as she opened the notebook. She flipped through the pages until she found the page she wanted and handed it to him. “This is what most of the pages look like.” The once blank page had been transformed into sheet music. Across the paper, music notes floated atop the darkened lines. Reid hummed the melody, the sound strangely familiar, yet not. “What is this? Why does it sound familiar?” “If it didn’t sound familiar, I’d question your Southern roots and possibly rethink this entire tour thing,” Chloe joked, grabbing her phone. She moved her fingers over the screen for a few moments before setting it on the table and turning it to face Reid. Reid peeked at the screen and grinned before setting the notebook beside the phone. “Sheet music for ‘Ring of Fire.’ I knew it sounded familiar.” He looked between the paper and the screen, his brows pulling together in confusion. “Wait. These aren’t the same.” “Exactly. You can find sheet music of any song for any instrument. But it’s usually a carbon copy of the original. I like to take that music and add another layer. A violin cover.” Chloe shrugged again and put away her phone and notebook. “I enjoy composing and writing, but it can be really frustrating too. Enhancing music that’s already written is a nice way of letting off steam without the stress.”“I’ve never really thought about covers that way.” “Of course you haven’t,” Chloe said, interrupting Reid’s train of thought. “You’ll be writing songs when the rest of us are drawing social security checks. I bet you have a lifetime of hits in that head of yours.” Reid averted his gaze so Chloe wouldn’t see the doubt in his eyes. “If you only knew,” he mumbled before his lips parted as he realized something. “The intro to ‘Aftermath,’ the one you fixed, that’s what you did. You used your enhancing voodoo on my intro.” Chloe didn’t miss a beat. “I don’t need voodoo. I have Jedi powers, remember?” Reid’s head fell back, his loud laughter drawing the others’ attention. “Clearly, we’re missing all the fun,” Drew commented. “Yeah, what are you two up to?” Greer asked with a grin. Reid smirked and shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, guys. No can do. Top secret.” When Greer opened his mouth to argue, Reid’s phone rang. He looked at the display and stood. “Gotta take this. Sorry.” “Is that Jess? Isn’t it like four a.m. in Memphis? I’d counted on time differences being on our side! How can we harass you without interruption if she’s up all hours?” Drew laughed.Reid’s smile faltered and something akin to guilt caused his muscles to tense when Drew mentioned Jess. He glanced at Chloe, but she wasn’t looking at him. She was laughing right along with everyone else. Like she already knew about Jess. Maybe she did. The feeling of guilt increased. Reid wasn’t sure if it was due to someone else telling Chloe about Jess, or the fact that he hadn’t once mentioned his girlfriend in Chloe’s presence. It had to be because he hadn’t talked about Jess more, not because he hadn’t told Chloe. Letting out a little laugh, he straightened his shoulders and looked at Drew. “Jess is a veterinarian; her hours are all over the place. I wouldn’t rely too much on the time differences working in your favor.” Before Drew had a chance to respond, Reid walked into the tiny bedroom at the back of the bus and answered his phone.Reid didn’t rejoin the group until the bus was just outside the city limits of Belfast. He cast a fleeting look in Chloe’s direction before falling into the seat next to Tom. Chloe wasn’t surprised, and if she was honest, she was a little relieved. She’d seen his reaction when Drew mentioned Jess, and while she’d quickly averted her gaze, she caught him turn in her direction. While their second show in Dublin two days ago had gone exactly like the first, the day that had followed was a different story. It was a free day, and after a short rehearsal, the group decided to do a bit of sight-seeing. Reid spent a lot of time texting, and from the smile on his face, Chloe could only assume it was Jess. She wasn’t bothered in a jealous sense, but she hated that, for whatever reason, he still hadn’t mentioned his girlfriend. Chloe felt like an outsider. It was an unwelcome feeling. When he excused himself from dinner to make a call, it became obvious Chloe would have to find a way to bring it up without sounding like a jealous twat. Thanks to Drew, however, it was no longer an issue. For the remainder of the trip, Chloe thought about the number of times Reid alluded to having trouble with his music. At first, she thought he might have been fishing for compliments, but now she wasn’t so sure. She considered asking Tom for news about Reid’s next album, but if there really was trouble, she didn’t want to put him on the spot, and definitely not with so many people around. “So what are you going to wear to torture everyone tonight?” Inky asked, having returned from her nap. Chloe’s skin heated and an embarrassed smile spread across her face. “I’m not torturing anyone,” she scoffed. “Bullshit,” Greer coughed into his hand, causing everyone to laugh.“Stop, I do not.” The attention made Chloe uncomfortable, even though she knew that wasn’t anyone’s intention. She didn’t want people to notice her because of her outfit, although she was smart enough to know she wouldn’t receive half the applause she got had she worn the equivalent of a potato sack. “As a man,” Greer said, his voice even, solemn, “I can attest that you do, in fact, torture every guy who sees you on stage. And for the really unfortunate bastards, the ones trapped in close quarters with you for extended periods of time . . . their suffering never ends.” Chloe threw her pen at Greer and giggled. “Oh my God, you’re completely ridiculous.” “Ridiculously serious,” Greer retorted with a wink. “Oh boy,” Inky sighed. “You two are going to be trouble.” “How about we concentrate more on the show we have tonight and less on what outfit Chloe’s going to wear?” All eyes turned in Reid’s direction, the sharp bite of his voice a stark contrast to the lighthearted conversation seconds before. “Of course,” Chloe said, shooting Reid an apologetic smile. However, Reid wasn’t looking at her. His gaze was locked on Greer, his expression a stony mask. He was angry, annoyed, and if Chloe wasn’t mistaken, maybe a little bit jealous.As they exited the bus, the air around the group remained thick with tension. The crew set about removing their equipment from under the bus and hauling it inside. Chloe sorted through her things, making sure to put what she needed for the show in a second bag. Inky appeared by her side and peeked over her shoulder. “That’s a badass shirt.” “Thanks. Although, maybe I should pick a different one so I don’t torture all those helpless men.” The sarcasm in Chloe’s voice was clear, but a small part of her wondered if maybe she should tone down her outfits. “Whatever. Don’t let them get to you. Men are like packs of wild dogs, constantly asserting themselves as the alpha and fighting over every bone they see. Even though some of them already have a bone and, therefore, have no business fighting over a bone they can’t have anyway.” “Why do I get the feeling I’m the bone in this metaphor?” Inky grinned and moved into the open area of the bus. “Because bones are smart.” “Well, this bone thinks you’re crazy. But for the record, I’m not interested in being a chew toy for anyone.” Chloe grabbed her things and turned to follow Inky, but she stopped when she noticed Inky hadn’t moved. Pulling in a deep breath, she moved into the open area, unsurprised to find Reid leaning against the counter, his eyes on Inky. Chloe had no doubt he overheard their conversation. “Hey,” Chloe said, breaking the silence. “Were you looking for me?” Reid hesitated a moment before answering. “Actually, Tom’s looking for Inky. He had a couple of questions about the merchandise inventory.” “He inside?” Inky asked, moving to the door. “Yup.” Inky left without another word, leaving Chloe and Reid alone in the bus. “Everything okay?” she asked. Reid nodded and pushed his hands into his pockets. The movement caused the muscles in his arms to strain under his colorfully inked skin. The sight distracted Chloe, but only for a moment before she adjusted the shoulder strap of her bag and shifted her weight. “Did you need to talk, or are you here for some last-minute Jedi schooling? I feel like our training time has been sorely lacking.” Reid pushed away from the counter, his smile easy, his stance less rigid. “I blame the lack of homemade pastries.” After a moment, he exhaled and dropped his chin. “Listen,” he said, looking toward the floor. “I wanted to apologize for earlier. I wasn’t angry with you.” “You sure seemed angry with someone.” “I guess I’m still stressed about the show, the changes we still need to make and . . .” Reid groaned and pushed his hair back. His jaw ticked and his eyes darted from place to place. “And, what? You seemed fine before your phone call. Is everything okay?” She didn’t mention Jess by name. She didn’t have to. “No. I . . . it’s just hard being on the road again. Jess and I—” Reid paused again, his fingers tapping in rapid movements against his thighs. “We haven’t been back together very long. I worry what this tour might do to us. You know how fans are with social media now. Everything is uncensored and in your face.” “Ah. I see. You can’t control what others say, though. Trying would be pointless.” Chloe assumed Jess read or saw something she didn’t like. The way Reid reacted to the conversation between her and Greer, Chloe figured it had something to do with her. “I know.” “Everything will be fine. One day at a time and all that.” Reid smiled and moved to the front of the bus. “Thanks. I’m going to head inside and start setting up for rehearsal.” “Okay, I just need to run to the back and drop off some things and I’ll meet you there.” Chloe waited until Reid was gone before falling onto the seat behind her and letting out a heavy breath. They weren’t even a week into the tour and already there was drama. If this kept up, it was going to be a really long year.