Romantic, wordy, and a tad goofy.

The Groupie Part 21

Looking out the window as the taxi took me to the party, I was again overawed and impressed by London. God, it was huge. I loved looking at all those buildings, modern and reaching and beautiful next to the older spires of churches and factories.

I walked in to the apartment building, a bit overawed. It was one of those old factories, one that had been converted into a stunning collection of modern apartments. I was greeted by a receptionist and a security guy. When I gave the apartment number the charming but steely-eyed young woman lifted an eyebrow, said, 'of course, go on up. It's well underway', and gave me the distinct feeling she'd been saying that to many people.

After a ride in what felt like a space-age pod and not an elevator, I found myself on the second highest floor in the building. There weren't many doors in the brick hallway... how big were these apartments? I thought London was known for the smallness of its flats.

All of this caused me some serious nerves as I stared at the steel door with its lovely, wrought iron knocker. What was I doing here? Why had I come, despite Zane making it clear he was uncomfortable with it, giving me a chance to spend time with him? Why had I turned that chance down? He had things to do, I guess, and I didn't want to be in the way; didn't want to somehow cause drama. For a bit there I'd felt wanted, I’d felt desired, and then it'd slipped away again.

I didn't want to be rejected again. At least Thom had made it clear he WANTED me here.

But time was winding down with Zane. What had I done?

"Come in." At some point in these musings I had actually lifted my hand to knock on the door and now a pretty woman stood on the other side of the door giving me a welcoming smile. The lights glinted off her blue-black hair; it was so shiny I was blinded. I already felt intimidated, she was so beautiful.

"Ethan! You came, good on you, mate." Thom swooped down on me with a huge grin. "Have any trouble getting here?"

I shook my head with a smile; hopefully it was a convincing one, as I didn’t feel quite comfortable in my skin yet. He looked fantastic; he was in jeans and a torn shirt, hair askew and wild. Samuel stepped out of the crowd, also in jeans and a button-up shirt yetstill impeccably and beautifully dressed. They made an interesting pair. Just friends, I thought, although I was unclear of their sexuality. Cultural differences hindered my ability to read them easily.

They asked me how I was, I smiled again, and said okay. They told me to mingle, squeezed me on the shoulder and disappeared.

"We'll be back!" Thom promised, with a wicked grin. I clamped down on my panic and nodded. Large group of beautiful hipster British strangers in a beautiful apartment in a city I didn't know, staying with a group of people that I wasn't actually sure gave a crap about me. Panic panic panic. I needed a drink.

There was actually a professional bartender; I could tell he was professional because he was far too old for this crowd, and moved with the brusque friendliness and efficiency of someone who was paid to do what he did. The floor was hardwood and very expensive looking. It was all very expensive looking. There was an incredible view of the river, the lights of the city across the way gleaming. I wondered who the owner was - the girl at the door, perhaps.

At first I did as Thom and Samuel told me to do, I mingled. On the surface it was very easy. You can actually do it for quite a while without interacting with anyone; at some point recently I'd picked this up. A vague smile like you knew people, don't stay in one spot for too long - viola, mingling. Maybe if I did this long enough I could leave? I didn’t actually believe that Thom and Samuel were coming back for me; they probably had far more fabulous friends to be with. People they actually knew.

"Hello, sweetie, you one of Nicki's friends?" A thin man who came across as a slimy, young John Waters asked me. And I actually liked John Waters.

"No, sorry." I smiled. "Just know Thom and Samuel."

"Oh, a model!" He lifted an eyebrow. "That would explain the pretty."

"Oh, be nice, Travis," a young woman scolded him, smoothly handing him a drink. It shut him up successfully. Her short silver metallic dress gleamed, matched only by the shine off her long, lovely chestnut hair. I was starting to theorize that money = great hair. Great hair and nice shoes. Sleek and perfect, she spoke of privilege. On close inspection she was not actually much older than I was, but there was something about her sophistication that translated as maturity.

"Nicki." She said smoothly. Not British, but I had no idea where she was from. I introduced myself, we kissed cheeks - I was finally getting the hang of it, it felt so awkward! - we chatted about inconsequential things, me being an artist, her career as a successful woman's model; I asked questions, lots of them. That always seemed to keep them talking, and I was genuinely interested in the alien world people like her dwelled in.

"Oh, I must go," she said, turning to the sound of yelling on the other side of the room, "But I'm sure I'll see you again, Ethan, you are a lovely creature." She touched me lightly with a nice smile, and was off. She most likely said that to everyone, but I still blushed.

It was flattering, and yet, there was something so chilly to it all, and there was a strange sense of feeling like a commodity, that being 'lovely' was what to aspire for. And that Travis person was grinning at me again. This spurred me to movement.

There were several encounters that were similar to the one I had with Nicki, lovely, smooth, and facile. These people talked clothes, and fashion, and the quality of the alcohol at the bar. They were intelligent and not at all void of depth, but I knew I was only scratching the surface. More than anything I wish I had my sketchbook, because they were an exotic bunch - there was the blond girl whose hair was an elaborate creation of twists and curls, something that must use wire. Her outfit was simply black, to call attention to the hair and the bright red makeup. The young middle eastern man in an ascot. His friend who demonstrated quite clearly that the 80s were back, including unattractive off-shoulder shirts in pastels and fuzzy sweatbands. The chunky man in a catsuit. Outrageous, but always within oddly fashionable bounds.

"You okay, Ethan?" Samuel appeared beside me, handing me a fresh cocktail. I took it gratefully.

"Great." I looked around. "Interesting people here."

"You're a poor liar." But he smiled.

"No, no! I mean it. They're wonderful to watch, and they've been very nice to me."

"Ah, visually interesting." He nodded. "I suppose they have their moments. But your sincerity is more interesting." He squeezed my shoulder as he moved away. "Someone I must talk to, but I'll be back."

 I liked him; he was intelligent, and obviously watchful. The sincerity comment came off as genuine, not mockery. I generally enjoyed the British I had met so far, but I was starting to learn that they were the masters of the subtle dig. It wasn't malicious, it was just... what they did, especially the moneyed. (Except for bastards like Callum, of course. That was pure old-fashioned malice.) It could be disquieting, however, and not very conducive to comfort.

My distraction ended when the alcohol hit, and I didn't want to talk to strangers any longer. Suddenly, the strange day with Zane came rushing back, and I found myself looking out the window at the Southbank and the city beyond.

It brought me back to another beautiful apartment many miles away, overlooking Lake Michigan. Another night where I had drunk quite a bit, another night of not knowing what it was going to bring. So similar, in some ways.

And yet so different. At the time I had thought the situation was complicated, that what was going on was complex, that what I felt was a muddle. Ha!

Was it wrong of me to miss that, hmmm, innocence, that feeling of pure lust and anticipation? What did it mean that I sort of wanted to go back?

But - no. I wouldn't give up getting to know Zane better for anything, even if it was driving me crazy. I was so fucked.

 I started as an arm was flung around my shoulders. It was Thom, smiling and wild-eyed. He gave me a squeeze. Part of me wanted to continue my morose spiral, fall into isolation.

But another part of my brain welcomed his touch, pointing out he felt good. Comforting. Touch was nice.

"You okay?"

"I'm just tired," I admitted. "It's been a long week."

"Shouldn't you have been having fun?" He asked with a comedic lecherous leer+. "With your rock band, hanging in London, modeling and living the high life? That's what rock bands do here, you know. All debauched, sex, drugs, rock & roll."

"I have had a good time!" I protested, very worried I was being ungrateful again. "I mean... well, there hasn't been much debauchery."

"THAT'S too bad," He grinned. 

For some reason, I kept talking, the words tumbling out. "It's been confusing. I don't know what he wants from me. I mean -" Fuck. Shut up, Ethan; you barely know these guys. Wow, I'd had too much to drink. Damn this was becoming a theme. "Just. It's been weird." I took a very big swig of my drink. My brain wasn't working fast enough to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, this was counter productive. 

"Weird?" Now Samuel was there, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Under their thoughtful gleam I felt naked, like he was reading the text of my soul. "What's weird?"

Thom had now slipped his arm around my midriff, and gave it a friendly/flirtatious/perhaps somewhat patronizing squeeze. "Ethan's having a hard time of it, Sam. Isn't sure what's going on with his man."

"The musician?"

I nodded. I was thinking how lame and whiny it would be if I told them everything. I wasn't going to tell them everything, nope. I'd kept off telling anyone the details of the up and downs of the last few days, the tender times, the mind-fuck times, the gifts, Rick, sex, etc, quite well. Even my mom and my best friends barely knew anything.

I mean. Really. They didn't want to hear it from me. I'd work it out. I wasn't going to say a word.

"It'll be fine," I said brightly, taking another drink. Huh. It was gone. How'd that happen? "I'm just whining."

"Tell us about it," Thom encouraged.

"No, that's okay," I said, but I sounded half-hearted even to myself. No! Resist! "It's pretty boring; there's nothing to say, really." Oh, god, I sounded so incredibly emo despite my best efforts.

Samuel was suddenly on the opposite side of me as Thom, hand on my arm. Then he guided the three of us to two couches facing each other in a corner, and somehow managed to look serious enough to cause the flirting couple who occupied them to get up and leave. We sat down, and I couldn't help but notice I felt distinctly - commandeered.

"Come on, Ethan." Samuel smiled. "Go for it." Thom nodded encouragingly.

Was it the intimate setting? The fact I liked them, and needed someone, anyone to talk to? Was it the booze? Definitely, at least partially, the booze.

Whatever it was, I started talking, and while I tried to edit myself I don't believe I did a very good job. Details about his mood swings, being wonderful and then not so wonderful. Suggesting he cared about me and then not talking about us at all, avoiding it, even. Me having to seduce him, his push and pull, his jealousy at me being at this party. Even a bit about Rick. They were off to France in two days. One and a half now, wasn't it? And then there was the computer.

I spoke at a breakneck pace, not wanting to bore them, lighting on details and moving on because it wasn't worth getting in to. I must have sounded crazy. I mean, I don't think I usually spoke that much in a WEEK.



Dustin was flipping the leather coasters off the table in to the air, and was now successfully on 3-at-a-time. Jarod was watching him in blitzed awe, now on his 4th beer. Rick and Zane had just come back to the table from a good long while of mingling and serious schmoozing. It seemed to make the host happy, and Zane had pointed out they were being paid more than enough to talk to some college student friends of the birthday boy and the less rock-concert-attendee-attired business associates of his family.

Dustin had countered with the fact that they only really cared about Zane and Rick, and that the drummer and the bassist were unlikely to be missed. The singer hadn't argued the point, and the two lesser lights of the band (Dustin wasn't complaining, he'd learned it was harder to get in trouble if you stayed away from other people as much as possible) had sat in their little 'off-limits VIP zone' of a single booth and drank and discussed their recent concerts and the increased craziness of fame.

Poor Jarod was startled by their newfound position as viable rock stars, and Dustin felt sorry for him. The guy was a mess, and both less and more complicated than he appeared. Sure, he could be a drunken/high party boy who liked to be inappropriate with fans, but the truth behind his behavior was that he had to be REALLY drunk or high to be that social. He was pretty shy at heart, and the substance crutch was the only thing he'd ever known to do about it.

But Zane and Erica had put the smack down on their bass player earlier in the evening, making it clear that more success couldn't mean more excess. Zane refused to roll like that, and Dustin was personally relieved. All it took was one over-the-top member to kill the golden goose, and in the drummer’s view Snowborne was successful because of the balance that had beens struck between them as musicians and as people.

The unfortunate side effect of that ultimatum, however, was that Jarod was feeling morose, correctly recognizing that they'd replace him if they believed they had to. "Fucking assholes," he'd grumped to Dustin a bit earlier. "What's the point of being rich and famous if you can't enjoy it?"

"I think the point is to stay rich and famous long enough to accumulate security, and thus be able to REALLY enjoy it," Dustin had suggested mildly, trying not to smile. "You know, when you're an oldie and enjoyment gets a lot more expensive. That's just a guess, tho'."

Jarod had grunted and ordered another beer. He was now well on his way to toasted, but he seemed unlikely to do anything stupid.

"Meet anyone interesting?" Dustin asked.

"No," Rick answered dryly, just as Zane said, "a few people."

The looked at each other from the corner of their eyes, then nonechalantly looked away. Dustin tried not to laugh; too alike by half, those two, but yet oh so different. A waiter came up to take their drink orders; Zane got sparking water, Rick a scotch. Jarod started to order another beer, but a pointed look from the rest of the band had him cancelling and muttering unhappily.

"I'm looking forward to us getting big enough that we never have to do stupid shit like this again," Rick lifted his drink to indicate the whole of the room, "it's not exactly much of a step up from playing at a little kid's birthday party. Instead it's a very rich, older kid."

"I don't mind it so much," Dustin said with a failed flip of 3 coasters. "It's nicely low-key compared to the regular nights, and it pays a lot better, doesn't it?"

"Much better," Zane said with an eyebrow and understated emphasis, "we'd only have to do one of these a month, maybe every two months, to equal what we make with concerts 3 - 5 nights a week."

"But we're only invited to these things because we've built up enough of a reputation through our regular concerts to be worth the money," Rick challenged, "and if a certain segment of our fans knew we did these our cred would be fucked."

Zane shrugged with one elbow, drinking his sparkling water. "I don't care much either way, but almost everyone does it. It's a ridiculous amount of legitimate money for very little work."

"We're still someone else's bitches, tho'," this was mumbled from Jarod, his voice petulant.

"We'll always kinda be someone's bitches, I think," Dustin noted thoughtfully, "unless we crawl up to Stones/Pearl Jam levels, which, while it would be nice..."

"Why not?" Rick shrugged. "We've got the talent."

"Yeah, we do," Zane's deep voice was quiet, but full of intensity. Thiswas one of the points where they were alike - a burning ambition for Snowborne to blow up incredibly big.

There was a pause, and Dustin shifted his gaze to Zane. The man was looking blankly at the crowd, his mind obviously elsewhere. He'd been like that a lot lately, Dustin thought, and he suspected it had to do with Ethan. He also knew Rick had the same thought, and a subconscious tone of misgivings went off in his brain when he saw the calculating gleam in his blond bandmate's eyes.

"So, talking about kids..."

"Were we?" Dustin asked with faux innocence.

"A while ago." Rick waved his hand, dismissing the obviously stilted subject change. "What are you going to do about the brat? You know, Ethan?"

"He's not a brat," Zane answered, his expression not changing but his tone tight.

"Really? You wouldn't know that from how you treat him." The subconscious warning bells in Dustin's brain were quickly breaking through to the conscious level, but Rick's tone was mild, and Zane's suddenly furrowed brow seemed less from his usual flash of Rick-directed annoyance than from another, deeper emotion. "He can't go with us to France and Germany, you know. Our schedule is shit. You'd never fucking see his ass."

"I know that."

"Do you really?" Rick asked sardonically. "Then have you told him?"

"No!" There it was, real anger. He turned his intense gaze on Rick; the lines of his face drawn in in the way you could tell showed he was upset. And then he looked down at his hand holding his glass, that faraway look returning. "I don't know what to do. I have been thinking about it." There was a silent "nonstop" at the end there that both Rick and Dustin heard loud and clear.

"Huh. That's a problem. The kid's starting to feel like shit."

"I know that too." The planes of Zane's face contracted even further, his eyes hooded.

Dustin relaxed a bit; against all his expectations, this was actually turning in to a constructive conversation. Rick was being helpful, and using his obnoxious attitude to draw Zane out.

A moment later, his optimism was trashed.

"You know, I've been around a little more than you have, had a little more time to watch him, and it's really not fair to do this to the bra - kid. He's getting restless, you know. He can tell you don't have time for him, and I think, hmmmm..." Rick's body language was all casual, and his mien suggested he wasn't at all invested in anything he was saying. Dustin sensed otherwise. "I mean, he is only 19. It's hard not to comfort someone that young, you know, he's so naive."

Dustin almost threw his coasters straight at Rick's face he was so pissed off at the connotation behind those words. 'I've been around..... hard not to comfort him.' Fuck. "Rick -" he couldn't stop himself from saying, with mild warning. He was ignored.

The expression that flashed across Zane's face was gone in a split second, but it was impossible for Dustin to place. Whatever it was, it was strong.  The drummer kinda hoped that their leader would get pissed off, openly so, and him and Rick could have it out; anything would be better than this insidious poison.

But Zane was silent, and Rick relentless. "Where's he tonight, hanging out with some male models? Lucky boy. Bet you they're pretty fucking hot." he laughed. "I'd rather be there than here; you know how those partyies fucking get. Lucky little shit."

Dustin was a mild man. He was also aware that this was his fatal flaw. He hated conflict, and most of the many things he'd done in his life that he regretted were because he found his ability to push back against stronger forces lacking. He couldn't speak up, and his usual wit disappeared. He'd learned to accept this about himself, and put effort in to avoiding situations where it was an issue.

But at that moment he really despised his inability to verbally kick Rick's ass.

Dustin opened his mouth to at least tell Zane not to listen to the bastard, but there was a round of cheers from the crowd, and the floor lights dimmed as the stage lights flared. There were a couple of hours of intermittent opening acts before Snowborne was supposed to go on, and the blaring opening music that came through the speakers killed all conversation. Zane, without warning, stood up and stalked quickly away.

Rick took another sip of his scotch and turned his attention to the stage.

Bloody pain in the asses, both of you, Dustin thought unhappily. He desperately wanted to call his wife.



I was being starred at now. It was like I was back with the family counselor when my parents got divorced, or back at that diner, coming out to Mina. The connection made me uneasy. They exchanged a glance, and there was a whole novel there. I felt like I was about to get a talking to. I was right.

Thom started. "Ethan, mate, we barely know you, but we're worried."

"Concerned." Samuel agreed.

"Concerned?" I was puzzled. "I - we haven't known each other long Why are you concerned about me?" I looked down at my drink. Did they KNOW I'd probably been drinking too much, that I've found myself getting in to some very bad habits. "Am I drunk?" I didn't FEEL quite drunk; tipsy, yes. Maybe even *close* to drunk. But I'd not been knocking them back THAT fast... "Sorry to rant, I guess I needed to get that off my chest. I'm being ridiculous.'

Thom laughed. "Look at you, like a babe in the woods. You're like a kitten, Ethan. We're talking about what's going on with your bloke. We've been talking about it ever since you told us the story back at the shoot."

"Excuse me?" I blinked. A kitten? What? I think I was insulted. More goddamn baby animal comparisons. And I'd not told them THAT much as we chatted. I mean. Did I? It was such a confusing blur.

"Look, Ethan," Samuel leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and looked at me very intently. "Rockers, successful actors, celebrities, politicians - you know what they have in common? They key trait that makes them interchangeable?"


"Egos." He leaned back, and opened his hands gracefully, widened his eyes. "Huge, massive, mind-boggling egos. Even no self-esteem doesn't mean they aren't arrogant cunts." Swearing from him was dirty and sexy, I had to admit. It sounded so urbane. "And ergo, that means they care what other people think of them, they care about that more than anything else. Because the world IS them."

He had an audience beyond me now, his charisma drawing them in. Thom was listening, of course, and a pretty girl with a bone structure I could only called deer-like had sidled up to listen, sitting next to Samuel   after hovering over us during his intro.

"What about models?" She asked with an eyebrow lift.

"Mixed bunch, fucking uneven," Thom answered with a wicked smile at her; they obviously knew each other. "Some are famewhoring fucks, some are little more than walking mannequins looking for coke funding and nice clothing. Some couldn't care less beyond their paycheck and the sense they've got something, you know, like... They're YOUNG, and-"

"-they're eying the time limit on the successful monetization of their genetic gifts."  He was a bit annoyed at being interrupted. So was I, I was curious where this was going, completely transfixed. I don't think he would have much of a problem in life when his personal genetic gift clock started ticking.


"yeah! That. Something like." Thom settled down, taking a swig of his drink and winking at me.

"So -" Samuel continued. "They care what people think of them, and they care what they look like. Sound like your sexy lead singer, Ethan?"

"Yes," I had to smile a little. "Yeah, he cares what he looks like, and he cares what people think of him." This didn't bother me, telling them this. Zane DID look damn good, and hadn't that fixation help get him this far, let him separate from the pack of talented indie bands?

"A lot?"

"A lot, I guess."

He nodded, satisfied. "Models don't actually sit on that side of the equation here, Elsa; they have a different place. I'm getting there." She shrugged, and I was confused. For this first time it hit me he might be on to something. He was so directed, so INTENSE, too intense to be drunk - but at this party, should I be surprised? At one point I was pretty sure I had seen the hostess and 2 guys communing with a white powder on the coffee table. "So, to continue - in order to look as good as possible, these huge egos tend to surround themselves with people who compliment them. These are people who are significantly less attractive but talented, or, more commonly, people who are equally or more attractive but, in their eyes, less valuable over all."

"Often models!" Thom said gaily. "We've been publically accepted as hot. Stamped and sealed. But we're still just models."

"Often Models. Or people who are attractive enough to be models. OR simply exceedingly attractive people."

Okay, I was starting to not like where this was going.

"That's not always true!" Elsa said, a bit belligerently. "Aren't attractive and smart people even more valuable?"

"Said the attractive and smart girl," Samuel narrowed his eyes at her. "But how easy DO you find it to hook quality men?"

"Not particularly hard."

"I Underline QUALITY, Elsa. I'm not questioning your ability to get a shag mate. I'm talking someone who isn't a complete sack once the drugs wear off."

She gave him a gesture that was obviously obscene, which he ignored.

"My point is, they date pretty things that make them look good, that show them off. Things that prove they can get beautiful things, and things that get them even more attention. And they are so confident they are worthy of these pretty things they WILL do anything to get them, move heaven and hell, follow you and ship you all over the world."

I shifted. Did he have to switch to the personal pronoun? To a personal pronoun directed at me?

"They want something wonderful and worthwhile. Until..." He clapped his hands together. "Until it's not shiny and new any longer."

Thom raised his glass. "Until they get bored." His gaiety had died a bit.

"Then they get bored." Samuel nodded, and his expression softened. "It's just - when you're as attractive as we are that attractiveness is the first thing they see. Did you talk a lot when you first met Mr. Snowborne?"

"I... no." No. There had been very little talking. He had seen me, he had wanted me, he had sent Erica to fetch me. Simple as that. He had wanted, he had gotten. He's been the predator; I'd been the very willing prey.

"He probably made you feel SO sexy, right, like the only sexy thing in the world," Thom said animatedly, flinging his empty beer can to the side. A 'HEY!' came from wherever it landed, which he ignored. There was anger in his voice. "Made you feel like the prettiest fucking toy, so tasty he could eat you."

"Tastiest ever," Samuel said sadly. "And then they get tired of the taste, and the ego demands something new. Some new enhancement, something else that makes them feel beautiful and makes others think they must be special. Ethan," he put his hand on my arm, and his face was full of true concern, "you seem like a good bloke, more than good. It's worrisome."

"Like a kitten," I said dryly.

"Only somewhat. Kittens aren't fuckable, are they?" Dear god I hoped not, but before I could answer he was moving on. "And you don't look like you have much experience with egos, do you?"

Not completely true, I thought, there was always my father.  That acknowledgement didn't help.

"Fuck, this is depressing," Elsa sighed. "Don't take these boys too seriously, Ethan." As she got up and left, I wanted desperately to go with her, and I was too far under their spell to even begin to be able to heed her advice.

Because holy crap this was hitting a nerve. A raw bleeding nerve that I'd been rubbing raw myself all day and I couldn't ignore it any longer. Now it throbbed up my side and to my brain, highlighting the parts of Zane's and my relationship that matched everything they said. Everything now took on a bruise-colored hue. But these are the explanations for Zane's behavior I didn't want to hear. These are the avenues of reasoning I'd refused to turn down.

I tried to fight back.

"How do you know?" I challenged. "You've never seen us together. You don't know what we're like. I'm no fucking kitten."

"So he's shown he cares about you? He's told you?" Samuel sounded truly hopeful, and I couldn't lie.

"He's really nice to me." Lame, Ethan, lame. "And... he bought me a really nice computer. And gives me money, although I..." My voice trailed off at the end, and I couldn't finish it. Why had I mentioned it? Fuck.

The money, the damn money. Thom and Samuel were just looking at me sadly. I had planned to also tell them about that awesome feeling last night, up in his hotel room. And yet, somehow, that seemed so pitiful. That was the best I had, a story of us cuddling for a few minutes? That was supposed to be my proof?

"Do you know what we mean, Ethan? Why we're saying this?"

Yeah. I knew overwhelmingly what they meant. It was also strange how what they had said mirrored something Zane had said the night before, about toys, people as toys, and my father.

Had that been a hint? Had he been talking about himself? I mean, they were right, he obviously had an ego. He knew what he was worth. But did that have to mean everyone else was worthless? Did it mean I was worthless?

"It's not all bad!" Thom was trying to sound cheerful, now; it must have been the despair creeping from my heart to my expression. "These guys, or sometimes birds... they take care of you, they'll give you things you can never afford on your own. They'll take you places. Enjoy it, don't let it get you down. They don't really mean any harm, most of the time."

"It's just what they do," Samuel said with finality.

Just as they finished talking, as if some sort of fuck you from the gods, my phone vibrated. I pulled it out and saw a text from Erica. 'We got you into the concert - would love for you to come. Should be on around 12:30.' then an address.

And there you were, I was invited to the concert. But not by Zane, no, but by Erica. Was this more of her feeling sorry for me, the trinket about to be thrown away? Zane certainly hadn't mentioned the possibility of me going when I'd mentioned this party to him earlier.

After everything that I'd just had to listen to, that was the crushing blow.

"Need another drink," I said, my voice hoarse, and stumbled off.

"Ethan!" One of them said, but I ignored it.

Instead of the drink table I actually just found a corner, one surrounded by people conversing in the opposite direction. I collapsed like a rag doll, using their legs like protective columns that would hide me if my 'counselors' decided to hunt me down. 

At first I felt sorry myself, rolling in a sense of being ganged up on, having opinion pushed upon me by people I barely knew. There was a voice in my head telling me that what they said made perfect sense, and that I should really listen, I should listen hard.

But I ignored that voice. I countered with how nice he was to me, how he gave me gifts, how he went from treating me quite badly on this trip to acting like I was one of the crew. What he had said several nights before, when I almost left him - would he have worked so hard to keep someone who was just a toy around? No, no he wouldn't. I had to believe he wouldn't.

Because I didn't want to believe it. It was counter to everything left that was hopeful - that maybe Zane and I had a future. That maybe I would see Zane again. That maybe Zane would come to Earth again after his current meteoric rise to fame.

God, I was so fucking naive. This was tragic.

I mean, really. I'd only slept with him once - Once! - and everything in my body, my cock especially, howled at how damn unfair that was. If he cared about me, wouldn't he have slept with me multiple times? Maybe sex was too close to him. Maybe he didn't want to let me get that close. Then what the fuck was Callum, then? He'd fuck that and not me?

How much was I to believe that night he told me he didn't want to go, he was sorry about how he had treated me? I kept trying to hold on to that moment, keep it as my salvation, but I couldn't, it kept slipping away. Maybe he just wanted me around, thought I was pretty. Maybe I was just a trinket, a toy.

Something for his ego. That big, undeniable, charismatic, looming ego.

My face fell into my hands. Oh, fuck, I was crying. How did I get so drunk? Did I even care?

I just wanted it all to go away.

Arms came around my shoulders, warm and strong. I wasn't alone in my corner any longer. "I'm sorry, Ethan," Samuel sounded sincere, and truly sad. "We didn't mean to upset you so much."

"We're sorry." Thom's arms were around my waist. I could feel his chest, smell beer and aftershave. It was hot and heady.

Samuel moved his shoulder and I found my head fit perfectly there. Oh, wow, if Thom smelled good, he smelled amazing. His cologne had a touch of leather and yet was also a bit floral, and whatever lay underneath was nutty and sexy. Masculine.

My unfiltered brain noted I wanted to lick him, and somehow I couldn't stop my nose burying in his neck. He had the most beautiful skin.

"Thank you," Samuel said, his voice husky. "So do you."

Damn it, I was talking out loud again.

"You both have beautiful skin, how about that?" Thom whispered in my ear before playfully licking it, and he was kissing my neck now, his hands on my chest and leg.

Samuel's lips were on mine, softly, playfully; it was sexy and hot and I wasn't exactly resisting. I clutched at his arm, feeling the muscles, my arms around him as Thom was moving down my chest. I made a noise as his lips played around, undoing the buttons of my shirt.

Samuel chuckled, pulling me in closer.

It was a blur of arms and legs and kissing - It was like it was happening through a barrier, some strange sort of wall between me and the reality of what was going on. All I knew right then was that it felt good, they felt very good, and nothing else really mattered. Not the people watching me, not the confusion I felt about Zane, not the complete weirdness of the situation. This was sexy and warm and wonderful, and I wasn't going to stop.


Later, on the way to my next destination, I still wasn't quite sure what had just happened. These cabs were adding up, I thought at one point with an inward sigh, using up my cash. But that was jetsetting, I supposed.

I think jetsetting made me nervous.

My mind was such a blur I didn't even notice where we were going. The oddity of what had just happened took over my brain, aided by alcohol.

What the hell was THAT? That strange, dreamy, crazy make-out session I just had with two near-strangers in the corner of a crowded party. Wow, that was embarrassing. I wanted to crawl onto the cab floor just thinking about it.

I mean, I knew it probably wasn't as bad as all that. Nothing had gotten exposed except some chestage. It had just been kissing, touching, laughing, tussling. I had been drunk, and later on I figured out that Thom and Samuel were probably rolling on E, but all I knew that night was they were very touch-feely and very easy to get lost in.

I'd been physically turned on - and mentally very turned on - but it was in a strange, non-aggressive way, brewing underneath the booze and the churning emotions about Zane. It had been FUN, and at the time, when, breathless, we'd broken apart, I hadn't even minded the obviously appreciative audience standing over us and giggling. I'm pretty sure the hostess had clapped.

"Give us a call, okay, Ethan?" Samuel had said kindly as Thom smoothed down my hair. (He didn't touch his own, of course. I think he cultivated that wild child image of his.) I'd mentioned I was exhausted, and they'd called downstairs to get me a cab. They'd each given me a warm hug, as had Nicki, and then I finally endured some sweet cheek kissing from people I'd mostly already forgotten before being allowed to leave.

I'd been within seconds of escaping over the threshold and into the hallway when Travis caught me with a rather too-knowing smile. "Ah, to be young and beautiful," he said, sounding wistful and amused. "Or, at the very least, beautiful. Fun, isn't it?"

Not sure if he was being sincere or simply making fun of me - or very possibly both - I just gave him a shrug and a confused smile and flew out the door.

I kinda wanted to tell Scott, I knew that after he got over his initial "Ewwww, DUDES" response he'd compliment me on pulling two models. He was predictable like that, and I'd give a major limb at that point for predictable.

But anyway, now I'd escaped... but to a situation I didn't even know if I was really welcome to.

Like a zombie I walked up to the front door, and gave my name to the door woman and the bouncer.

As I walked down the hallway it struck me what an unusual venue it was for Snowborne. There were wood panel walls and painted portraits of old men, some of them at least100 years old. I passed a few doors and rooms that looked like high-class parlors, the kind you found in nice houses. It smelled like smoke, smoke that was deeper and richer than the usual cigarette stink. The only thing that made it clear I was in the right place was the sounds of rock music and people down the hall from me.

Walking through the open door I was in an open venue, one that held about 200 people and also didn't seem at all right for this sort of concert. The wood theme continued, with paneling on the walls and beautiful hardwood floors.

"Would you like a drink?" a diffident young waiter had appeared at my elbow, wearing the French-style black and white waiter’s uniform I knew only too well from my own job back home.

"Uh, no, thank you." I wasn't too drunk to recognize I needed to slow down, or there was a very good chance that they were going to have to carry me out of there. I doubted that would improve my stock with Zane. If he even wanted anything to do with me beside see me go, of course.

Ugh. Perhaps I should have gotten that drink.

The crowd was largely young, and many of them were dressed in the same sort of carefully rumpled chic I'd seen at the party. Yet there was also a surprising number of people who looked a bit out of place, wearing very nice casual suits and evening dresses that were perhaps originally designed for well-heeled cocktail parties. I didn't see anyone I knew, and was still not completely sure this was actually where Snowborne was going to be playing. There was actually a stage with a curtain, blocking my ability to see if their kit was set up.

"Excuse me..." I directed that at a young Asian woman standing near me; she was dressed somewhere in-between the cocktail and the hipster crowds, in a sexy blue wrap dress with an awful lot of accessories and stilettos with metal studs on them. She looked up briefly from the cell phone that she was furiously texting on, gave me a once-over, and went back to it. I thought I was being ignored until she said "Yes?"

"Uh, sorry to interrupt, but what is this place? And is Snowborne playing here?"

"Yeah, of course they are. Why do you think I'm here? They should be on soon." Her multi-tasking skills were a thing of beauty; with how quickly her fingers worked she could have been completing a term paper on there. "'This place is an old gentleman's club, really old, like centuries. Used to be tops. Looks like they're a bit down on their luck, and are renting the place out for things like concerts. I think this is for some really rich Indian kid, serious Mumbai money or something." Her accent wasn't quite American but not really British; I wondered where she was from.

"Oh, okay. Thanks." Really? Snowborne had pimped itself out to some rich kid, like a regular party band? Huh. They must have booked it before they’d started to hit really big. I was moving away when her head suddenly snapped up again, and she fixed me with a piercing glare.

"Shouldn't you know that? It took me forever to get an invite. I had to ask ALL my friends if they knew anyone who could get me in. I'm here with some guy who disappeared in the bathroom with his friends when I told him no blow job, but it's completely worth it."

It was a question that turned into a statement, but she was still peering at me expectantly. Obviously an answer was expected. My mind whirled. Still drunk, still not thinking very fast. "I, um, I'm the guitarist's cousin, you know, Rick? So they got me in?" Oh hell why did I use THAT particular lie? Damn. That was NOT where I had wanted to go with that. But it was so much easier than just 'friend of the band'. She was too sharp to not ask questions about that one.

"Really?" Her eyes widened, and she started to smile at me. The aggression melted right off her, her phone was suddenly in her bag, and soon she was moving in my direction.

Somehow I just knew she was going to be my new best friend if I didn't get away from her, and quickly. 'You can introduce me to the band!' was practically flashing on her forehead.

I fled, although not very far. It was fantastic timing, because the lights suddenly went down, and the curtains covering the stage opened. Ah, there the familiar equipment was, closer together than usual, with two huge speakers on each side, hulking beasts that did not fit the setting. A young man in a red silk shirt moved to the front of the crowd; judging by the people trailing him and the eyes that followed his every move this was Mr. Mumbai Money. He looked genuinely happy and excited, saying something with a huge grin to the women next to him. Actually, he looked kind of like a nice guy. It was hard to think of someone as a money-wasting asshole when it looked like they thought it was money well spent.

The band walked out on to the stage with their usual confidence, and as Zane strode to the mic and the crowd cheered my stomach and my heart met each other in an uncomfortable collusion. God, I felt almost felt sick.

As they adjusted and grabbed their instruments and Zane took his cocky/casual stance at the microphone the sickness became a powerful sense of deja vu. More than any other concert, I felt like I had back home, the first time I had seen him. He was so beautiful. His hair was closer to how it was back then, as he'd not gotten it cut in a couple of weeks. The boots and the jeans were the same, I was pretty sure. And it was a sense of... low expectations and yet powerful anticipation, a paradoxical emotion that I seemed to feel when I didn't know what was coming but I had an odd premonition it was going to be significant.

Zane made me feel this. Zane made me feel really good in a really weird way. From the first time I met him, Zane had a power over me that was almost disturbing.

 And after everything tonight, after everything I'd been told about rock stars and egos, looking up at Zane also made me feel miserable. When I was explaining to me Mina and Scottwhat all these emotions felt like at the time I was tongue-tied and lost. I think this was because at that point, speaking it out loud, I asked myself - why wasn't I really miserable earlier? But all the confusion, the moodiness, the "should I stay or should I go now?", the feeling so desired and then like a pest, the sexual games, the gifts and isolation didn't mean anything if I thought I could get more of him.

But I was about to be forced to go cold turkey. I could just tell. If they were going to France, if Zane was getting tired of me.... if if if.  I didn't know if I 'loved' him, but I sure as hell was insane about him. And as my alcohol faded the injustice and bleak comedy of it all was really pissing me off.

As they started their set the well-dressed crowd started to sway, moving and getting in to it. Obviously, the drinks and other amusements had been on tap for a while, because the atmosphere was almost a little goofy.

Despite all this movement I found myself just standing there with my hands shoved in my back pockets, a statue. I starred at Zane so intently my eyes started to hurt, taking everything in down to the last detail. I wanted to eat him with my eyes. Maybe this would be the last time I'd see them live. It would be a long while, at the very least, if I could ever bring myself to see them again. 

I'm not sure at what point Zane noticed I was there; his eyes were on me and then they weren't several times, and no expression betrayed recognition.

I figured that was how it was going to go, and was somewhat grateful for it, until what felt like close to the end of their set, when they played their indie hit "Silly Thing".

And then he started to sing it to me. Looking right down at me, eyes intent.

And there was that boot to the head I was thinking about earlier.

Silly Silly thing, what is it you wanted? Silly silly thing, what the hell were you expecting from our little game?

Where we were going, we're already here....

It was a song written before I'd met him, and yet it fit so perfectly. There he was, singing his song about overreaching relationship expectations to me, right at me, in front of hundreds of eyes. Telling me everything he obviously didn't want to tell me in person. That I was a beautiful young toy that fed his ego, and now that he was moving up, and on, and he was done with me. Time for something new.

Silly silly thing.

He didn't only sing to me, of course, that would have been stupidly awkward. And at one point, when he looked away, I left.

Wait, that’s not completely true; I had a shot of vodka at the bar, and then I left.







To Part 22