Romantic, wordy, and a tad goofy.

The Groupie Part 20

We were in the taxi, the driver quiet and professional as I've noticed these certified drivers tend to be. It was quiet for a moment, us sitting a standard amount apart but his hand was on my knee; I placed mine just above his, basking in the comfort of the moment. "Going to fall asleep on me this time?" His voice is so quiet and low pitched I doubted the cabbie could hear us, but as always it causes a seismic shift in my stomach.

"No... I'm not quite that tired yet." I was puzzled. "Do I seem..."    He was smiling, and now I understood what he was referencing. That first night we had met. "Oh, mmm, no." I smiled back. "I haven't exactly been working all day, which was the case then. Although - I still wonder what I missed, falling asleep on you. God, that was embarrassing. I must have seemed such an idiot."

"It was...." He stopped, furrowed his brow. Somehow, this seemed hard for him to say, but he did continue. "It was oddly... sexy."

"Sexy?" I said in disbelief, and laughed. "Really? Did my drooling on your shoulder turn you on?" He must have been working to make me feel better, because I really wasn't buying it.

"No." he shifted so he was looking at me, and suddenly his arm was around my shoulders, and his left hand was on my leg where his right had been. Beautiful, sexy, big hand. I remembered when I first noticed how masculine, how perfect his fingers were. It was easier to stare at them than return that piercing, feral gaze. "It made you seem... real. It made it clear you really didn't know what you were doing. And you're gorgeous when you're asleep."

"Too bad about when I'm awake, hu-" It really was just a dumb joke, but I didn't even have a chance to finish it before he was kissing me in a way that I could only call savage, and damn crazy hot.

"Shut the fuck up, Ethan." He growled, and I swear there was a touch of real anger there.

 "MMmmm..." My arms snaked around his neck and it was on, tongues dueling, fingers digging into my back as I clutched at his neck and his soft dark hair. Goddamn those lips. I kept nipping and licking them, feeling like a puppy, but he didn't seem to mind.

The driver cleared his throat tastefully but clearly, and we let each other go, maximizing the time we were touching each other. We both were well on the way to hard, and how easy would it be to slip a hand on to his cock, free it from his pants, rub my fingers -

Either Zane knew what I was thinking or was thinking the same thing, because his hand slipped around mine, and squeezed. I sighed, but squeezed back. We were stuck in downtown traffic, and I had no idea how far away we were from the hotel. About thirty seconds passed before he spoke.

"You know, I never thought the same boy could do that." His voice was thoughtful.

"Do what?"

"Make-out with me, then fall asleep on me, apologize like mad - it was so - innocent."

I made a noise. I mean, I guess I was, innocent in a lot of ways. Still, like with Mike, I didn't like feeling like some sort of baby animal. No nineteen year old guy wanted to be a cute little critter, especially since the more I did as an adult – in terms of travel,  or sexually - the more I liked not feeling like a kid any longer.

"But then you seduce me," he breathed, and there was a note of awe in his voice. That made me feel better. "And reverse everything I said about sex, about fucking."

Was that a bad thing? Did he feel manipulated? "That's because everything you said about fucking didn't make much sense, honestly." my tone was light, but I'd be lying if I wasn't hoping for some cathartic clarification on why I had to work so hard.

Sadly, Zane didn't actually say anything in response to that comment, just briefly knit his eyebrows together and fell into silence. I was relieved; I had some regret about saying it in the first place. Maybe there were some things we'd never work out, before I left.

Whenever that was. Still, I'd fucked him! Victory! And it didn't destroy something, it really obviously wasn't as big a deal as he made it seem. So. What did I have to worry about?

Sensing he was just thinking, I moved against him, put my head on his shoulder, and closed my eyes. It felt good.

He chuckled. "Goddamn it, Ethan..."

"What'd I do?"

I could feel the movement of his head shaking, although it was a small motion. "Nothing at all. Or maybe a lot, I don't know."

And his hand slipped around my upper arm.

Wasn't really sure why, but this little interaction made my heart pound, and something in my head make happy purring sounds. Maybe this was sort of better than making out in a taxi.

Although I still really wanted to make out with him, don't get me wrong. A hell of a lot more than make out.

"So are you going to ever call your father back?"

I didn't open my eyes, and I didn't move. But that sense of comfort flew away, despite the blatantly casual and conversational tone of the question.

"Don't know. Maybe, but I haven't thought about it, really." Lies - it'd been simmering in the back of my head most of the day, with the exception being when everything else in my head was drowned out by the proximity of Zane.

"Why are you avoiding it?" Zane's fingers were kneading my skin, relaxing me, trying to diffuse some of the tension that had filled my muscles. I sighed, tried to follow his lead.

I opened my eyes, but didn't move my head. "Because..." I had to think about it. "Because talking to him is never good. He asks questions that show he knows nothing about me. He asks questions about my mother that are condescending, and he treats her like an invalid." Only I could see her like that, thank you very much. I pushed that voice down. "Because he took a very long time to give a shit about me, and us, and it wasn't until he got tired of his latest toy. And when he's fixated again... I don't hear from him for months.

I laughed, closing my eyes again. "He must be single right now, I guess; that would explain why he has the time and desire to speak to me. It might be because he wrote a goddamn book about us. But I don't know him very well."

"And you're not sure if you like him?"

"No." That made me so sad, somehow. "I guess I don’t know if I like him."

Zane made a noise of understanding, and his fingers moved through my hair. "That happens sometime, with the people we love." There was a question there, one I had to answer to myself. "It's never easy. But -" He tapped my temple with his fingers in a little rhythm, a change in technique that made me start. "I've never known a problem that was solved by ignoring it. Not many, anyways."

"Yeah yeah..." I said, channeling Scott. "Some things work themselves out."

"Some things." His voice sounded doubtful, but he dropped it as we pulled in to the hotel. Still, I think he had made his point - and I was oddly unsettled.

The hotel was buzzing, the trendy lights behind the reception glowing, beautiful people moving in and out, the staff looking busy, even harried. It felt alive. It brought the knowledge that Zane was continuing his night onwards and upwards just as I was about to turn in in stark relief. He was moving on, going to a place I couldn't. Damn metaphors for bigger things.

When we got in to my room, I figured he was leaving instantly. Instead he sat on my bed, and lay back, and motioned for me to sit next to him.

"You ever learn how to do computer art?" He asked as soon as we settled.

This question was so absolutely out of the blue and apropos of nothing I didn't answer. My brain cells first had to process that he was talking to me, and he was talking about my art.

"Um... yes. My school had a dedicated lab and class, which was pretty lucky. I hear they might be closing it down, they can't keep up with the costs, so... yeah?" I put my 'why?' into that 'yeah'.

But he didn't really answer. "Huh. Will you be doing any computer stuff next year?"

"Oh, tons... I mean, yeah, unless you're a pure fine artist you're going to need to know how to translate your stuff to computer, and sometimes it's easier to just do it there in the first place. I actually sort of like working on a tablet, it's more forgiving than paper. I’ve heard it’s a lot of the New School curriculum." And a big reason it's so damn expensive, I thought wryly.

Zane was silent again, and I couldn't take it any longer. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no reason." with a squeeze of my forearm, he was on his feet. I reluctantly followed and pretty much instantly forgot the conversation, figuring it was just one of his random questions about me. Really, I figured he only had so much mental time to spare to ponder anything regarding Ethan, so it didn't surprise me that what he did think about was totally random.

I was now prepared to say goodbye, but first he wrapped himself around me, long arms running their hands up my legs, gripping around my waist, slipping up my shirt.

I placed my hands behind his neck we kissed, and reveled in the feeling of his mouth, his taste, his warm delicious smell. He was best after a concert, I decided, nothing masked the masculine musk that made him incredibly edible.

God I wanted him to fuck me again and fuck me now, on that soft, awesome bed...

Somehow, as it did with us, my desire transmitted through my body, and he groaned, clutching at my shoulders.

"Stop that," he growled, frustration heavy in his tone. "You're making me really, really not want to go to this party..."

"That bed looks really comfy..." I answered while running my lips down his neck, even as my hands went to the front of his jeans; I didn't grab, just lightly teased.

"Come here." Zane pulled me down on top of him, and I yelped in surprise. "Stay there." He placed his head on my stomach, and let out something that almost sounded like a purr, and that was awfully happy sounding.

And we lay there, my fingers running through his dark, warm hair. It wasn't for too long... couldn't have been any longer than 10 minutes or so. But goddamn I was content. He was so relaxed; I'd never seen him quite like that before.

"I should go..." He said, his voice full of regret.

"Should you really?" I couldn't resist, and ran my hand down the side of his body and to his hip, leaning over to start kissing down his forehead.

Truthfully, I didn't have much hope; Zane was nothing if not disciplined. But I was going to get what I could, when I could.

"Ethan..." It had a tinge of moan to it, and I had to smile. "Why are you so good at doing this to me?"

"No idea," I answered. Our lips found each other again, soft and sexy and playful. "But I'm very glad you're not angry at me for taking advantage of it."

He laughed. "Are you sure I'm not?" the air left my body as he suddenly pushed me down in to the bed, pressed against me in a way that could easily be called savage, and devoured my mouth in such a way that had me gasping when he finally let me go to roll his legs off the bed and stand.

I looked at him, startled. "So fucking sexy when you're surprised, Ethan." He smiled, in a predatory, fucking sexy way, and was gone with a firm click of the door.

I fell backwards with a "Holy fuck," and a very deep breath. My fingers found my cock so easily it was as if they had a mind of their own, and I masturbated quickly and with the same savagery Zane had just shown, my eyes closed and yelling his name as I came, arching in to the mattress.

I then stripped down and took a shower like a zombie, standing there too long and only leaving the comfortable stream of hot water when I noticed my skin was taking on a definite raisin quality.

I then fell naked in to bed, and laid there. The only light I had on was one of the bedside lamps, so almost everything was shadows except a pool of warm light behind me. My mind swirled and swooped around the same repetitive thoughts, picking at things I couldn't completely put into words, a dissatisfaction I couldn't touch and a strange dull ache somewhere in my chest.

Okay, so here I was, trying to concentrate on the good:

Damn, I had had sex for the first time. And I'd had it with Zane, which is all I'd ever wanted since I’d met him. It'd been wonderful, and hot, and I really did like that it was in a dressing room. It totally fit.

But I'd been sure he'd enjoyed it, that maybe he'd actually been HAPPY that's how it went down. His attitude afterwards and at the party supported that, right? He'd been affectionate, fun.  We'd had a conversation of some substance in the taxi, although I sort of wished we had time for more of those, also, that they lasted longer.

And yet - "How do you know that I'm not?"

Well, put it that way - I guess I had absolutely no idea how angry he was. I still was without a clue as to why he was resistant to fucking in the first place. Zane was just as much a mystery to me as he was when this all started, except for perhaps a growing familiarity with how mercurial he was. Beautiful, charming, quicksilver.

Crawling under the covers, my last thoughts were not comforting; I thought about how I should talk to Erica about getting my ticket out, as much as I didn't want to.

The band might have been too busy, but I could see it coming - At some point soon they would be too booked up to deal with me at all, and then they would notice I was still there, trailing after them. This was something I truly wanted to avoid.... Also, I needed to get back home, needed to get back to making money, planning for my school year, living in the real world. This is what I HAD to do. There wasn't much reasoning against it, and I doubt Erica would try, the woman was starting to look like she wasn't getting any sleep at all.

Logic was helping me fight that ache, that growing pulsing hurt every time I thought about leaving, about no longer being near Zane, about no longer reveling in my brief but always exciting encounters with him. It hurt. I didn't like to linger on why that was; it was obvious, and it was definitely bad news.

Comforting myself allowed me to finally drift off; I also briefly considered that it was surprisingly easy in light of how much I had drunk - did this mean my body was getting used to it? Great.

But at least I escaped the cycle of fret... soon I would be in New York, and while I might not see Zane for months, maybe, just maybe I would see him when the madness was over.

A boy could hope, right?



8 hours later, my heaviest thought was waking up alone... Man, I wish I was waking up curled around Zane, lips on his neck, pressed against him; I could sneak my hands around his body, find his cock...

But no. Alone. "Damn it." I sighed. At some point in my dreams I must have convinced myself I WASN'T alone, because this was a serious let-down to feel nothing but emptiness in the bed. There wasn't much sunlight coming in, and it took a glance through the curtains to see that was because it was raining, quite heavily.

There was a knock at my door; without thinking I stumbled towards it and yanked it open.

"OH," said the nice woman in the hotel uniform.

This was most likely because I was naked. "Oh crap I'm so sorry..." I let the door close - oh, that was nice, asshole, slam the door in her face - grabbed a towel from the bathroom and opened the door again. "Hi," I said sheepishly. "I am so sorry to -"

"That's all right." The middle-aged woman now looked very amused, and not at all offended. "I've seen it all before. And seen much worse." With that and a playful eyebrow she handed me a box. "Delivery for you."

And then she was gone, leaving me red faced and wondering what I was holding.

I brought it in to the room, let my towel fall again and opened the box - it was, oh, god, it had an Apple logo on it.

And inside was a MacBook. I knew what it was instantly, of course, that gleaming lid with the white logo staring at me. On top was a piece of paper, folded, and inside:

For your art, and for your emails. 

His writing was slanted, hurried, but oddly artistic. Not a surprise.

 My hands shook as I took the computer out, my mind a stunned brick; I'd shut down. Underneath was a Wacom 4 medium sized tablet... god, it was beautiful. And a messenger bag, black, with a computer pocket. There was also an envelope - full of more money.

I stared at all of this, dumbstruck. What the - I mean, sure, we'd had casual conversations about my going to internet cafes, and last night there were those very random questions about computer art. But - What was this? Why was this?

My phone, by the side of the bed, dinged and I reached for it.

From him: Promise me you'll use it

Me: But why?

It didn't hit me until after it was sent that perhaps that was incredibly rude, I should have led with 'thank you', but I was still too deeply in shock for such an articulate and mature response.

Him: You need it. Don't say no, just use it. Got to go

Me: Thank you

I hoped that didn't seem like too little, too late.

But here I was. With a brand new, absolutely stunning computer, gifted to me by my rock star - lover? Boyfriend? Dude I was fucking? (Does once count as 'fucking'? The word does suggest regular activity on that front.) Was this a weird thank you for fucking him? Was that a good, bad, or neutral thing?

That I wasn't at all sure how to react to all this - especially the inclusion of the money - demonstrated itself most clearly in how long I just sat there, staring at it. Gleaming at me.

And then I stopped staring, because I couldn't take it any longer. Damn, I was weak, but I wanted to TOUCH it. That squished, but definitely present, material part of my brain reared its ugly, covetous head, and ate all the rest of my brain cells in one fell chomp. As if my hands had a mind of their own and before I knew what had happened it was all laid out before me, charging and whirring and stunningly lovely in that way that only new high-end electronics can be.

The beauty of the gift overrided my general unease, and it managed to do so successfully for a good long time.


I was way too happy for the next several hours. Or, way too happy in light of how confused I was.

The happiness was at the beauty of what I'd just been given. How had he gotten it together so quickly?! It had Painter, the latest Adobe CS, the MS office suite, the Wacom drivers were already installed... it was brand new and yet also totally perfect and customized. It was a rainy day, but it didn't matter; that gave me all the more excuse for curling up on the bed in my boxers and playing around.

First thing I did was email: Scott, Mina, & my mom, of course. Not that I told them about the computer - I think their reactions would cover the range of my feelings a bit too perfectly. (Scott: "Seriously, dude, that's so baller. You must be a great lay lol" Mina: "That's really great! He must really care for you!" Mom: "Oh, Ethan, should you really have accepted such a big gift from someone like him?") - Yet somehow communication with them as one of my first acts was very important. I'd never had a laptop before, pitiful, I know. I was so many years behind everybody and everything. But the sense that I could write them at any time from any place was so cool. I even checked Facebook, which I usually couldn't stand in more than small doses.

Reading about how Mina thought Scott and she were making real inroads in their relationship, and then Scott saying that he thought Mina might be getting sick of him from the privacy of the hotel room? Priceless. (Without betraying what she told me I assured him I didn't think that was the case. I knew him well enough to recognize simple insecurity.)

My mood was so good I even wrote an email to my dad, a minor miracle in itself. Okay, maybe that was also a bit because of the conversation the night before with Zane; he'd made me think about some things. Not enough that I was downright warm, but enough that I put effort into not being too dismissive, and apologizing for not getting back to him. It wasn't as solid as a return phone call, which I knew is what I really owed him, but it was something, right? All my angers and resentments weren't going to go away in one night, but I could be pleasant.

Then I drew, and sketched, and played, and toyed. It was a blast. I did a smudge-y skyscape of London as I could see it from my window, greys and blues and blurry little people. Painter was so amazing. There were many faces and studies of people, and some uncharacteristic things for me like flowers and crowd scenes.

At some point I texted Zane the thank you that probably should have come earlier, a 'This is amazing, thank you'.

His response: 'good'.

A bit later: 'Will be back midafternoon - maybe you can join us for a late lunch.’ There was no response to that but 'Ok'.

Warm and fuzzy it wasn't. But he was like that sometimes, right? And I could hang with the band! What had once made me nervous had become increasingly enjoyable as Jarod and Rick had defrosted towards me, and if I could observe Zane, well...

Now, the problem with drawing casually for me was that my mind certainly did not shut off, quite the opposite, especially as I got into a certain rhythm. As one part of my brain focused absolutely, another wandered off to linger in the garden of something else that was lurking up there.

That was, of course, what this, 'this' being the computer, MEANT. 'Good'. This was more than a 'good' present, this was an astounding present. But why? Why did he get me it, why now?

The most obvious answer was he, like me, knew I was leaving soon, and that this was his gift. Not that it was necessary, as the whole trip was a gift to an untraveled dork such as me. No, it was something to remember him by. It was so thoughtful, so tailor-made for me, it was hard to concentrate on how there was probably a coded meaning underneath. Were we ever going to talk about it? Maybe being someone's traveling, uh, companion didn't really need more than a "Come with me!" in the beginning, and an "Okay, bye now." as a dismissal at the end.

A beautiful computer certainly wasn't a necessity.

An equally disturbing possibility: it was his response to us having sex last night, like it was tied in to some sort of guilt. This wasn't something I liked to think about, because I wasn't at all sure what he'd thought about the experience and was trying to will myself to believe he saw it as a net positive. But there hadn't been a repeat performance, and how DID I know he wasn't angry?

But do guys send you several thousand dollars worth of electronics when they're angry? And... It included more money, which was still so confusing to me. What was I supposed to do with it? Buy more clothes? Food, I guess. That did remind me that I was actually really hungry...

FUCK what did it Mean!?!

I was getting increasingly agitated, which was causing my artistic output to take on a definite dark and wild streak; my lines were out of control, the expressions on my figures were not happy. Luckily or un-, Rick chose that moment to knock.

I didn't know it was Rick, but the encounter with the hotel employee made me pull on a pair of pants and throw on a T-shirt before opening the door. Maybe I don't even need to add that I'd really hoped it was Zane, but after his earlier text about being busy I shouldn't have been surprised.

"Hey, brat."

His icy eyes swept up and down my body, and he smiled languidly. It made me a bit twitchy.

"Hey, Rick." Oddly, seeing him didn't include the usual rush of fearful loathing - our interaction last night must have mellowed me out on that score. Still, I was instinctively waiting for the blow to come.

"It's almost 2, so Erica sent me to get you. Zane wants you to come with us grabsome food at some fancy place. Wouldn't want you to starve," he leered. "You're looking a bit skinny, actually, Zane not slipping treats through the bars often enough?"

"Oh." I ignored the skinny comment, and concentrated on the dinner invite, looking down at myself. Fancy? Did I look okay?

Rick read my mind, and gave me a sharp smile. "Don't worry about it, none of us look like fashion plates, either. Except for Zane." This wasn't completely true, Rick's getup was a blue T-shirt with a green open shirt over it, and accessorized by a silver necklace with a moon on it I'd seen him wear several times. It was all tight, so it wasn't exactly slob-like by nature. His hair was perfect. When you looked like he and Zane did, you didn't need 'fancy'.

"Whatever, I don't have your style. Just let me do my hair and grab a jacket-"

"Kid." Rick's hand reached out and grabbed my shoulder before I could whirl and turn into the room, and held it tight. Startled, I turned to look at him. "You look fine."

Then he smiled, sharp and yet discomfortingly friendly, and used his other hand to take my chin and tap me on the cheekbone with a long, calloused finger. "More than fine, really." A thoughtful tone of voice, almost as if he was talking to himself.

Fission. I'm still not sure if it's because of the unexpected touch of Rick's hand, or the random intimacy between two people who weren't completely sure what they thought of each other; to figure all that out I'd have to talk to Rick, and that sounded uncomfortable. All I was aware of at the moment was a searing realization that this man wanted me. And right behind that, a sly devil's question of how, exactly, Rick would make that clear. I knew instinctively he wouldn't hesitate, unlike a certain other musician I had fucking with my head...

I stepped back, getting myself out of reach of both his touch and that really dangerous thought. I could feel my cheeks burn, and my voice was full of false cheer.

"Let me just get my bag, then." I winced as the door accidentally slammed in his face behind me, but I swear I heard a laugh on the other side.

Fucking rock boys; I was starting to get sick of them. And by that I mean if getting sick of them meant obviously not being able to get enough of them, of course. But Rick was just Rick; if he couldn't fuck with my head in one way he'd just aim to fuck with it in another. That's all there was to it.

So why was my mind even open to the fucking? I still didn't even like the guy.

Goddamn it all.


I looked thoughtfully at the roast potato that had just landed on my plate with a 'splat', mixing with my pureed veggies. It had actually just rebounded off my cheek and then my t-shirt, leaving two nice greasy splotches with a fine smear of ketchup in its wake. The life of this new grey top had just been cut cruelly short.

The table was quiet; everyone was looking at me. Jarod started talking first.

"Shit, Ethan, Sorry, if Dustin hadn't -"

I picked the offending spud up, and threw it in my mouth. "Hmmm," I said thoughtfully. "I really should have ordered the potatoes."

Everyone started laughing, and Erica motioned to the waiter to bring me something to clean myself up with. I wiped the grease off my face, and was told sternly by the manager not to touch the one on my shirt. She was soon dabbling at it like my mother, despite my protests.

If you couldn't tell, it was an oddly raucous lunch. The surroundings were lovely and old-fashioned, the food Anglo-Indian with a French spin. Our waiter was a fan, and our meal started with a cavalcade of free appetizers.

This was then followed by a collection of drinks. I'd somehow had three while Dustin, Rick, and Jarod downed several, and even Zane indulged. The band was riding high on their success, talking about chart heights (#4 in the States! Set to hit number one that weekend in 5 countries!) and gig possibilities. Offers were coming in from all over the world to join tours and festivals, and while this had been happening all week, the whole thing was hitting fever pitch and decisions had to be made before it all got away from them.

The mood was infectious, and while I wasn't usually successfully pithy, at that moment I was feeling it. Zane was giving me the most particular smile, and it made my head hurt. Also my heart. I didn't know, but SOMETHING was aching. Ever since last night, when he had rested on my torso, I'd been having trouble thinking straight, and the gifts had muddled things even further.

I really did hope to get a chance to tell him how incredible the computer was, how much I was loving it, but the right opportunity never seemed to arise. From the moment I hit the lobby everyone was there. 

But now he was smiling at me, and I felt great. Something just burst.

"Nicely done," he said, and his voice rolled through me.

What happened right then, I can't exactly say. All I know is that it was sudden, and it was a complete reversal of his mood.

"Thanks," was all I said, and smiled back at him. God, I was happy. My face felt like it was going to split open.

And in response his face shuttered. It just... went stone cold, instantly, that particular emptiness I’d seen when he was basically ignoring me took over the real estate where that great smile had been, and it stayed there.

"Mmmmmm," he answered, and went back to his food.

I felt a chill, although I had no idea what had just happened. I looked over my shoulder - was there someone there? I couldn't see anyone; I was actually mostly in the corner. My emotions went to stone.

Dustin and Jarod had been quibbling again, and Erica was ordering something from the waiter. Thank god, they hadn't seen anything, or noticed the moment of tension.

Except Rick. He was looking at me, those narrowed blue eyes laser sharp.

Didn't mean anything, right? Maybe Zane had just thought of something that had made him unhappy, that was probably it.

Nothing to do with me. I just wished Rick would stop looking at me like that.

Over dessert I was talking to Dustin about art and influence when I noticed Erica and Zane whispering to one another - it was too loud in the restaurant to hear, but he was being quiet and firm, and she looked confused, and a little upset.

As we stood up, Erica smiled at me. "Ethan, we have several things to do today, but I think Zane will be able to get back for abit?" She gave him a look, an opening for him to agree, and he pursed his lips.

Wait, I wasn't spending the day with them? What? I tried not to show my disappointment, but I was deeply confused.

"I'm not sure." He looked down and wasn't looking at either of us as he spoke, carefully putting his chair back under the table, placing his napkin on top. "I have some writing I'd like to do, some songs that have been in my head. Before the private concert tonight is really the only time I have to sit down, since we leave for France in two days."

France? No one had mentioned France to me. Was I going to France? Was I a horrible person to even think that, since I was already lucky to have gotten as far as England?

France had nothing to do with it, of course - I just wanted to be with Zane as long as I could. But had Zane told Erica he didn't want me along today? What had I done? What was happening?

As we left the restaurant, walking out the front door into the crowds and the sunlight, I touched his arm. I was trying to telegraph that I'd like him to stand back for a bit. He turned, but not wholly. "Yes?"

"Did-" Where i was going was "Did something happen back there?" and "I thought I could spend the day with you? What did I do?" but I wimped out, as nothing about his body language was receptive to these direct and possibly controversial questions. I could just tell he wasn't going to answer me directly. "I. Um. Thank you so much for the computer. It's..." I faltered, but made myself continue. "How did you a know what to get?"

"I just had the store do it for me. Glad you like it." A small smile at the end there, sure, but that was all. He made it sound like it was very little thought or work on his part procuring it.

The return of the chill, and he was out the door. I followed him, thoroughly confused.

"You okay, brat?" Rick's hand was on my arm, and he was standing a bit too close again.

"Sure. Why do you ask?" I smiled.

"SUCH a shit liar." He shook his head, and his grip tightened.

Some people were trying to get out of the restaurant, being on a busy high street, and we shifted to the side of the door. That caused Rick and I to suddenly be closer, but his hand was still on my arm. The stones of the next building jutted out further than the storefront of the restaurant, so I was cornered. Maybe this was a theme....

"Zane did that thing again, didn't he? Shut the hell down on you." He practically hissed it, and he looked almost angry.

"I- I guess." There was no point pretending I didn't know what he was talking about; of course I knew, and he knew I knew. "It's just what he does. I'm getting used to it, he's just distracted sometimes."

"Doesn’t it piss you off?"

"Piss me off?" I was puzzled. "No, I just wish I knew why he does it." It hurts, is what it does, but I wasn't going to admit that at that moment; I did have my pride. I also was uncomfortable, and overly aware of him. He smelled good, good in a way against all logic. A bit like cigarettes and some sort of spicy cologne and a Rick-ness that was very different than Zane-ness, but no less noticeable. 

"Huh." Rick narrowed his eyes. "Well, it pisses me off. He's an arrogant, shuttered asshole."

He finally let me go, thank god. What was with him today? "He needs to treat people better, especially you."

"And you?" I ventured.

Rick laughed a short sharp sound. "Yeah, and me, too." And with a smile that was full of asshole confidence and an unhealthy amount of sexiness, he stalked off towards the hotel.

As I followed him, I discovered 3 things:

 1. I was a bit tipsy, although less so after three cocktails than I used to be... my alcohol tolerance was obviously going up.

2. That I was confused, and drinking meant I couldn't ignore the fact Rick was appearing disturbingly hot to me at the moment; my ability to dissemble my own emotions was hindered.

3: Maybe it was time for me to go home. Just accept that they were going to France, I was going back to the Midwest, and that was that for now. Oh fuck that hurt, I mean just thinking about it. However, lunch had been more than just fun. Snowborne was about to get insanely busy, in a way that was a fulfillment of all their dreams and desires. They were higher headliners now for a couple of festivals. They were going to Japan for a longer time in two months. They were about to meet with several lawyers, at Erica's behest, to make sure they retained control of several important aspects of their music. (And to protect them from the bastards of the record label.) Security was getting to be a problem at gigs, more bodyguards were needed. The fans were getting rabid, younger, and more mainstream.

All these things were happening that I hadn't really noticed - all these things that had nothing to do with me, as I stood now. And who was to say if my position would ever change? Oh, wait, it could change, to the extent I wouldn't even have one with Zane any longer.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit what I wanted: I wanted to be Zane's boyfriend. Of course I did. That was, in its own way, what I had always wanted. I wanted to be there in New York for him when he got back. And when I felt close to him, when everything was going well, it seemed possible. It seemed like more than a pipe dream.

But when I lost him, when he was distant and dismissive and not all there - it seemed as if I was, really, just another groupie. And it was that thought, that concern nipping at my brain that kept me from thinking about the boyfriend thing too often. The fatalist in me that understood how damn unlikely it was, that pointed to all the evidence that while Zane was obviously not a roving ass man like Mike, he was also not in the habit of keeping lovers of any significant connection around. Charisse was a friend and Callum was a who-the-hell-knows-what. Certainly nothing of emotional weight, though, that was obvious.

It all just hurt hurt hurt.

"I need out of here." I actually said it out loud, but I hadn't even known I was thinking it. At the time I figured I was just getting cranky from alcohol and uncertainty. In hindsight, I was probably getting pretty significantly affected by everything going on, and keeping my good mood was getting more and more difficult. But I didn't really want to leave Zane... I wanted to make things okay between us. And yet it'd be a lie if I didn't note that I was, perhaps, actually indeed kinda pissed. France... Did that mean I only had two days to sort this out, figure out what this was?

Rick's words had stirred the thought that maybe, regardless of gifts, regardless of him flying me out there, that maybe I didn't want all this conflict, that maybe it was wearing at me.

I wanted to fuck him again, have I mentioned that? He made me unbelievably happy and I'd never been so miserable in my 19 years.

Two Days. Fuck.

"I Don't KNOW what I want!" The Indian woman in the insanely high heels next to me gave me a look that suggested she knew what I needed, and it was someone with a medical degree. I smiled apologetically, but she had already moved on; I was just another nutter in a stained T-shirt in a very big city, a place where I felt increasingly small and alone. 

And then my phone rang, with a forward from the hotel - Erica had given them my phone number. It was Thom, inviting me to a party. He was enthusiastic, charming, fun, and seemed to truly want me there. It was impossible to say no.



"Oh, baby, maybe you need to come home," my mom said, worry plain in her voice. "It sounds like maybe they're too busy for you now. How's Zane treating you?"

"He's fine," I equivocated. It wasn't a lie, he was often fantastic to me, and he'd given me big gifts I was too uncomfortable to mention to her. I'd just told her an abbreviated and edited version of my worries and that maybe I was becoming a burden. She noted that even she had heard their big song; it was getting inescapable on TV in previews for "Miracle Row". "

"They show the band; they're playing in some perfect white space, or something like that - Zane is the lead singer, yes, the one with the dark hair?"


She was quiet for a moment. "Well, I can't deny that you like them good-looking," she said wryly.

When I was younger something like that would have bothered me - a lot, actually, as it was definitely a double-edged sword of a statement. What COULD she deny?

Letting it go was the better plan... she was just worried about me.

"Yeah. He's... really attractive. You should hear his speaking voice." I laughed. "It's ridiculous."

"Good looking men are dangerous, aren't they?"

"Yeah. He can be - kinda irresistible." Even when I want to boot him, I thought with an inner sigh.

"I can imagine. So, Ethan, I have to ask...." Her question trailed off, but she picked it up again. "Are you in love with him?"

POW, right in the kisser. I was sitting in the lobby, in a corner chair. I didn't want to go up to my room yet, look at the computer, or feel that strange sense of isolation being up there gave me. Obviously I was going to have to keep myself busy, but I'd not even begun to think about what I wanted to do.

I was glad it wasn't a central location, because I could feel my face go bright red, and my free hand clutched at the chair arm.

How the hell to answer that one?

"Um, what do you mean?" I stalled.

"Do you think you love him? Is this more than just a fling to you?"

"Uh...." I looked down at my knees. "I don't know. I haven't thought about it?"

"Really?" Uh oh, she was in persistence mode, which could be very hard to escape. I so didn't want to talk to her about this.

"Really," I said as firmly as I could.

"So you think of him just as a lover?" Lover! What a word. I’d thought it earlier, but not with any depth. But ‘lover’ would suggest we were on some sort of regular 'loving' schedule, and that really wasn't the case. I was out and out squirming.

"Mom! Please. I don't know. I don't want to talk about it."

Silence. "Okay." More silence. "So when are you coming home?"

"Soon, I think. Maybe this weekend?"

"Good, I miss you...."

"Miss you too," I said, honestly.

"...And I haven't seen you enough this summer, you know, since you're leaving me. Your dad is probably seeing you more than I do. “

"What?!" Deep breath. "I haven't dad at all, mom. I mean, not for more than two seconds at a bookstore. And you know I'll never completely leave you."

"Why haven't you seen him?" her tone shifted, and now I was in trouble for not talking to the man she was just upset at me for possibly talking to. "That's not polite, baby."

It wouldn't really be a good idea for me to scream in public, would it? A woman who had been walking up to the registration desk was now looking at me, as was an employee walking through with luggage.

"Oh look gotta go! I'll call you later, mom!"

"ETHAN -" And I hung up on her. I really did hate doing that, it was truly rude, but I didn't know what else to say. Things had been going great, she told me about the new class she was teaching, the divorced dad who’d started flirting with her, the weather, an old friend that had gotten in touch, etc. I told her some stuff about London, before I’d let myself get maudlin. I'd had a good day, distracting myself by checking out an impressive range of cheesy tourist traps, sketching people and random places. Londoners didn’t seem to mind rain, and that attitude was infectious. Telling her about that had been great.

Sadly, that had naturally segued into Zane.

Oh, god. Love, huh? I put my phone down on my lap and closed my eyes.

I wasn't even ready to go there. My heart was beating uncomfortably fast, and I knew I had to move and get out of there before something in my brain snapped. I knew I wanted to see him. I knew I wanted to show him the pictures I had drawn that day. Not that I knew he'd want to see them, but somehow I just cared what he thought of them. Some were pretty good, and I guess I wanted to hear him praise them. When he praised me it meant everything.

But - Love? Can you love someone you barely know? Was that this bizarre lost feeling? Damn. Wasn't sure I liked it much.

I looked at the clock on my phone. 7:30. I wonder what the band was up to, how they were doing, if they were coming back. With how Zane had been earlier I was a bit nervous about that, actually. I tried to think about the night I'd almost left, and he'd convinced me to stay, told me it was him, not me. Yet that felt like a world ago, not just three nights.

I needed dinner. Maybe I should just wander out...


My brain scrambled, per usual. I clamped down on it. "Hey," I said as neutrally as I could as I stood up to meet him. Somehow I sensed that the more sincere I was, the more open, the more he seemed to shut down. So I needed to be cooler. I could do that, right? I shoved my hands into my front jean pockets. "How were the interviews?"

He looked good, as always; it was hot outside, and he was just wearing a purple T-shirt and jeans. And my favorite boots. Love those boots. His hair was getting a bit long, falling in his face. In my opinion he looked best when he was casual like this. There was no artifice, just a very good looking man in simple clothing. A good looking man with beautiful bone structure. And lickable skin, and...Lust, right? Not love. For some reason I hoped desperately it wasn't that.

Zane furrowed his brow. "Long, boring. They kept trying to ask us these 'gotcha' questions. It was pretty ridiculous - music journalism isn't much about music any more, it seems. It's all questions about other artists and what actresses we want to sleep with and equally idiotic crap that really means nothing." He sounded so severe and serious and older than his age I couldn't help but grin at him. 

"Not like the good ol' days, huh?" I grinned.

He narrowed his eyes at me, and I was worried he was angry. Then he smiled. "I'm whining, aren't I?"

I thought about it. "Not whining, exactly. You just sounded kinda old there, for a second. Older than you are, I mean. Not that you're at all old. Because you're not." Aaaaand suddenly I was rambling. How did I always manage to make an idiot of myself?

He laughed, and his whole body relaxed. I could curl up in that laugh and fall asleep. "You know, you're funnier than you think you are."

"Uh huh." I seriously doubted it.

"No, really. You have this quiet, deadpan way of saying things that makes it hard to know if you're kidding or not, and it makes me think about it. It works."

"Really?" It felt great to have him say something nice to me. That freeze from earlier seemed to have thawed, although I still felt a distance. As if he was being nice to me, warm, but was not getting too close. Hopefully that was just my imagination.

"Yeah." He sat down on the couch facing the chair I had been sitting in, and I sunk back down myself. "So how was your day?"

I'm sure he didn't want to hear about it, so I abbreviated. "Oh, it was great, really. Got to the south side of the river, saw a couple of museums, and mingled with some other tourists..."

"What was your favorite part of the day?" It was a strange question, but I liked it. It made me think.

"I think sitting in front of the Tate Modern, drawing the area and the people and the bridge from all these different viewpoints." I lifted my hands, remembering being awed by the sense of perspective and how small I was compared to that towering old factory-turned-museum and the teeming city on the other side of the Thames. "I started talking to these art students from a London college, and it was really awesome. We agreed on a lot of stuff about the museum and some of the art, and it was just... great. The time passed really quickly, and I had to make myself move so I didn't spend all day there."

"That's really cool."

Then we talked, for longer than I expected. The hotel fell away around us, I saw him relax, the lines of stress fading. I had that feeling I got sometimes with him, that we were the only two people in the world. It was sorta like last night, before he’d left the hotel room. 

 I started to tell him again how much I liked the computer, but there was something unsaid there, and he dismissed it. I moved on to asking him questions. He didn't sound so tense any longer; now he was just talking. Erica was doing an amazing job with the record label, they didn't stand a chance. They'd been mobbed outside the studio where they'd had an interview by screaming fans. They were going to up the security detail, he was afraid that soon they'd have bodyguards around all the time. It scared him, he said, because it meant no more independence. No more escaping when he wanted to. 

"No more just sitting in hotels reading books and sipping tea, huh?" I teased, remembering the first time I saw him. "That's too bad."

He laughed out loud, sounding surprised. "Yeah, yeah it is."

And then he shut down again. The tension came back to his body as he shifted from the position deep in the couchwhere he'd been to more upright and 'proper'.

That strange chilly dread came back to me. "What's wrong?" I couldn't not ask. It was impossible for me not to ask.

"Wrong?" His smile didn't even come within a mile of his eyes. "Nothing." His glance shifted to his side, far away from my face. "Sorry, I'm just tired."

"Oh, sorry." There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment. I came very close to asking him if he wanted to take a nap with me, but that mischievous tone just didn't have a place at the moment. It would have 30 seconds ago.

"So," I tried to sound bright and cheerful, "looking forward to the concert tonight?" this was a lead in to me telling him about the invitation I'd gotten and accepted; I wanted to assure him I had something to do.

"It'll be interesting, I think, although weird. We were booked before the single came out." He still wasn't looking at me; he was looking at his phone now.

I started to talk. "So about tonight-"

"Mmmmm?" His fingers were still flying over the phone, but I appreciated that he did look up.

"I'm going to a party." his eyes narrowed. I rushed on. "Just with some guys I met at the advertising shoot. They're pretty cool. It's not too far from here. I know you're busy tonight. It sounded kinda fun."

"Yeah?" his voice was dry. His handsome face was expressionless, and I had no idea what he was thinking. "These guys models?"

I nodded. "But they're cool; they seem really normal." He was silent. "I mean, I'd have rather gone to the concert, but I totally understand that I can't, so I figured it was a good thing to do." Rambling again! I felt this weird need to explain it to him. "I don't usually like parties that much, especially when I don't really know everyone there, but I couldn’t think of a reason to say no and -"

"Huh." And then he stood up. I blinked up at him. "Sounds like fun."

He made it sound as fun as being booted in the head. That dry, mocking-by-emotional-exclusion tone of his was the worst. 

"I was actually going to see if you wanted to come tonight, but it sounds like you're busy," he continued.

I was so confused. "Wait, I thought you said I couldn't?"

"I still don't know if you can. It was just an idea."

"I'd still like to! I mean... how late are you on?"

"Not until past midnight, probably."

"I was told to be at the party at 10... Maybe I could do both?" God, I sounded so pitiful and hopeful.

"I'll ask Erica." he didn't sound like there was much hope. He looked down at his phone again. "I should probably go. I just wanted to see how you were doing."

He started to turn away, and completely without thinking I put my hand on his back, right in the small, where I could feel the muscles around that fine indent. He started, and stood stock still. I curled my fingers a bit.

"Sorry you couldn't stay longer," I said quietly. "It's been really busy."

"Yeah, yeah it has." Zane seemed to hesitate for a moment, and it gave me a second to enjoy that little bit of contact. The feeling of his body through his shirt, the clean sweaty smell of him from a summer's day spent running around, the shape of his ass in his jeans.  It was really hard not to step closer to him and bury my face in his neck. And then his hand snaked around his back, and took mine. He held it there for a moment, and my heart stopped.

Then he stepped away, and my hand dropped.

"Have fun tonight." it was said in a voice that was a lot frostier than a second ago. And he strode away.

The strangest thing hit me then - he'd not said my name once during the whole last conversation. It was stupid and vain, but there was nothing I liked more than hearing 'Ethan' rolled around in his velvet voice. It was heaven when he purred it.

And there was a little ball of anger forming at that moment, although I didn't know it at the time. It was not unlike the night I almost left, but it was more powerful, and much sneakier. Anger and a deep worry I was too attached to someone who I was being told by the cosmos I couldn't have. God, I wish I had known about it at the time, maybe I'd have done something differently, would have controlled myself better in the messed-up whirlwind that was the rest of that night.

Maybe, maybe.



To Part 21