Romantic, wordy, and a tad goofy.

The Groupie Part 22

"Damn." I let my head hit the bar, feeling the cold comfort of the wooden top against my skin. I was probably pretty lucky that it was clean, as I didn't check beforehand.

"You alright?" the bartender asked, hovering near my elbow. "Are you a guest here?" She sounded kind, but I could tell that if I answered 'no' my ass was out on the now rainy London street. I was damn close to very drunk, and it was obvious.

"I am, sorry." I gave her my room number. "Can I just get, uh, a tall glass of water? Maybe some juice?"

She nodded and moved down the dark bar. After a night of questionable decisions I was proud of myself for choosing the non-alcoholic option.

I looked around at the decor for the first time, noticing the well-designed mix between older-style wooden pub and a newer, modern edge, maybe even Japanese-influenced. It was one in the morning, and thus blissfully quiet. There were a couple of lone drinkers, two couples, and an older woman on the other end of the bar.

Quiet was good, because my brain was chaos.

This was somewhat because I was exhausted, yes. But I was buzzing and too full of messed-up thoughts. Full of energy, full of confusion, full of oh god I had no idea.  I'd just made out with two other men in semi-public and then got told by the guy I would have followed to the ends of the earth I was a delusional idiot. Via song.

"What the HELL," I said out loud again. The water and juice landed next to me, and I smiled at the bartender gratefully. I was still a bit drunk, of course, but sobering up.

I carefully sipped the water and finally started to let myself think about Zane again, in specific, less reactionary terms.

Was that really necessary? I mean, really? To sing to me like that, to throw how I felt and what it'd been like being with him in my face? Is that how he felt?

Maybe I was reading too much in to it, but at that moment I didn't care. After days of convincing myself of the best of Zane I was completely ready to believe the worst. The worst/best thing was my anger was kind of freeing, it felt GOOD.

Emotionally I was a big messy clusterfuck.

What a night.

I couldn't have said how long I just sat there, drinking water and juice and sketching furiously. The bartender had lifted an eyebrow when I'd asked for a pen, but had provided one. Then, as I started to go through her cocktail napkins at an alarming rate she disappeared for a moment in the back and slipped a hotel pad at me with a smile. "This might be a little easier. Less shredding."

"Thanks." It was most definitely a superior medium, and it allowed me to spend a little more on each picture, pour some more of my concentration in to each sketch. It wasn't conscious or thoughtful art - it was just me venting, even when it was a scribble of a line of booze bottles, or a caricature of the woman I'd talked to at the gentleman's club.

"Scotch, whatever's your most expensive."

Oh, god. Had I really been here long enough for the concert to finish, and the band to get back?

"My most expensive's 500 pounds," the bartender answered with a lifted eyebrow.

"Sure, whatever." Rick gave his sly, feline smile. "Looks like I'm a big ol' rock star now, at least for a little while. Gotta live the life, right?" It was a rhetorical question, and the bartender wisely didn't answer and simply disappeared in the back again.

As his drink was being prepared Rick finally deigned to glance at me, although he'd obviously known I was there from the beginning. "You look worn down, kid. Long night?"

I slugged my orange juice, and then continued sketching. I didn't really feel like looking at him and his smug face. "Weird night."

"Nice hickey," he noted, poking at my neck and causing me to yelp. "Looks pretty fresh. 'Weird', huh? Knew you were a slut."

I shot him a death glance and self-consciously clamped a hand over it. "It wasn't like that; a friend just got carried away." I felt comfortable with that statement, or at least as comfortable as I could; it was the truth, if perhaps an edited one.

He turned his seat so he was facing me, and took a swig of his superbly expensive drink, making an appreciative noise before putting it down. "Do tell."

"No." I went back to drawing. I couldn't have explained what the creature was that I was creating on my latest sheet of paper, but it certainly wasn't pleasant.

There, that was all I was giving him. I'd had my catharsis of the night; I didn't really feel like another one. Surprisingly, Rick didn't push it. He simply started to sift through my scribbles, sipping slowly at his ridiculously expensive drink as he did so, and placing them in neat stacks. He'd been hanging around Zane for too long.

It pissed me off that I couldn't handle it, but I broke down first. I was actually so uncomfortable with the silence that I finally turned to him. "How was the concert? Did it go well?"

His browslifted. "You were there, weren't you? I saw you, standing in front for a while."

"I left early."

"I like this one." He held up a napkin sketch of - I guess I shouldn't be surprised - himself, head down over his guitar. He put it down. "So why you'd jet?"

I shrugged. "I was tired. Wasn't having a great time."

"Gettin' sick of seeing us live, huh, brat?"

"No!" I was surprised at the vehemence of my response, but it was honest. I looked at him fiercely. "You're still incredible. I just -" I met his now singular raised eyebrow, and was embarrassed, and dropped to a mumble. "It wasn't comfortable."

"'Silly Thing', right?" He took a final sip of his drink. "I was wondering how you'd react to that. It was a dick move, singing it to you."

"Yeah." Why lie, I thought, it was the truth. And Rick was being, well, nice. For him. The fact that I was used to be calling 'brat', of course, said something about how successfully he'd worn me down with his particular brand of asshole-dom.

 Later I worked that this is the point that he moved closer to me, but I was too busy drawing to notice that his chair was suddenly almost right up against mine.

"You know," he breathed practically in my ear, which I stupidly also didn't consciously notice, "you really deserve better. You're not as vapid as I thought you were. You really care about him, don't you?"

"Wish I didn't." I violently scribbled out whatever I had been drawing. "Isn't going to mean anything anyways, really." God, I was such an ungrateful fucker, wasn't I? I felt so bad, thinking of hotel rooms and computers and phones and incredible opportunities and...

"Why does it have to?"


"Mean anything." He wasn't smiling. "It doesn't have to, kid. Sometimes two people have a good time, and that good time comes to an end. There's nothing really wrong with that... and it's often simply the way things go." He turned and indicated for another drink from the bartender.

"Yeah, I guess so." I was quiet for a moment, and then looked up at Rick, smiling a little bit. "So how do you make it feel so simple, huh? I think that's my problem. Or -" I laughed, not feeling amused at all. "Maybe just one of my problems, I guess."

He was staring at me, his usual smile gone; I don't know what I had said, but he'd gone stock still.

I opened my mouth to ask if he was okay or if I'd said anything - I'd never seen that expression on his face before - and then Rick kissed me.

He was fast like a snake, and it took me a moment to recognize his hand was on the back of my head and his lips were on mine - and that I was automatically kissing him back. He kissed like he talked, sharp and hard and not very nice.... and yet oddly extremely sexy.

Then after who knows how long I woke up to what the hell was happening, and managed to pull myself away, practically falling off my stool. I wish I had said something witty, but all I could do was gawk at him; I was trying to pull my brain together. It didn't help that the kiss was hot, that I was drunk, that people in my life kept upping the hormone stakes on my already extremely confused body. The bartender with Rick's second drink in hand was watching us, looking as surprised as I felt.

And Rick grinned, the bastard. "Sorry about that."

I started to open my mouth to say god-knows-what, probably something in the vein of "What the fuck was THAT?" when someone leaned against the bar next to me.

It was the mix of smirk/surprise/cat-with-canary on Rick's face that told me what I was going to find behind me. I turned.

"Zane?" It was a question because I needed someone to clue me in what was going on.  My own brain cells certainly weren't helping on that score. This ridiculousness was all happening so fast.  Rick had just kissed me. Zane had seen it. Back up and Zane had rejected me. Back up more and I'd hooked up with two other guys. Back up and...

Zane was just looking at me, his eyes hooded, his expression completely and totally still.

"Would you like a drink?" The bartender asked politely. He ignored her, and she moved away, shaking her head.

"Hey, Zane." Rick picked up his 2nd ridiculously expensive scotch and took a drink, then made leisurely gestures in the air with it as he spoke. And there was that smirk he'd always had when I'd first met him, the one that was pure asshole and proud of it. "He's a damn good kisser for a kid, isn't he?"

I don't know if I'd ever been so angry at someone so fast in my life. I don't know what Zane's face looked like at that moment, since I wasn't staring at him, but I knew I was glaring something fierce.

Rick looked at us both, and killed the rest of his drink in a gulp, putting it down on the table with a clink. "You two need to loosen the fuck up."

And he strode out of the bar, leaving me alone with Zane.

NOW I looked at him. I didn't want to, but I knew I had to. He was still expressionless, but his cheekbones were drawn in to an extreme extent, and there was tenseness to the muscles on his neck that made me want to touch him. I wanted to help him, take the edge off his stress.

But as the cause of his stress, this was most likely not the best idea.

"Sorry to interrupt," ouch, so polite and cold, "but can I talk to you?" his voice was smooth, as emotionless as his face. Someone who didn't know him would call it pleasant.

That actually bothered me more than anything else. The anger that I'd been feeling, the one chased away by shock and guilt at being caught being kissed by Rick, started to rumble around my stomach again. This was going to be bad, I could tell. Still, guilt and fear and the desire to just hug the man were the dominant ingredients in the mix at that exact moment. And I was so tired. Nothing made sense.

 I just nodded, no longer looking at him. Looking at him just caused me more confusion. Why was he so damn hot?


I gave an apologetic smile to the bartender and followed Zane to the elevators, where we were silent. I was too tired and emotionally exhausted to overthink anything any longer. That didn't mean I wasn't thinking, or my mind wasn't churning, but I didn't concentrate on any one aspect.

We walked down the empty hall, and he opened the door to his room. After we were inside, and the door closed, there was a moment of silence.

The part of me that was freaking out, the 'oh, fuck, it's over', had frozen my brain. There was no way I was talking first, because I had nothing to say that was coherent. I wanted to cry, which just made me feel like a pitiful brat. A brat. Maybe Rick had been playing a joke on me, kissing me like that, and fucking with me as always...

"How was the party?"

"Huh?" I blinked at Zane, taken completely off-guard by this totally mundane question. "Oh, it was... okay, I guess. Kinda weird." really weird. "I wasn't very comfortable."

"Sorry." He was near the desk, leaning on the back of the chair. The buildings across the way sparkled beyond the window. He was staring at the wall, still cloaked in that maddening stillness.

"Why did you want to talk to me?" I asked. I sat on the bed, looking at my hands. What a stupid question.

"How long have you and Rick been hooking up?"

"WHAT?" My head snapped up. I looked at him incredulously.

"It's not a big deal." He shrugged. "I was just wondering. I know he's been around more than I have." He sounded almost bored.

It was hard not to just sputter, but I focused and got the words out. "Rick... I'm pretty sure he hated me until, oh, two days ago. And he kissed ME, and that's the first time, and... what?" I asked again. "Why would you think we were hooking up?"

Zane shrugged again, a motion I was starting to hate. "You seemed to know what you were doing last night, so when I saw you and him at the bar, I figured maybe he had taught you a few things. And that. On your neck." Oh, fuck, the hickey. But my logic engines were not exactly firing on all cylinders.

"You think RICK gave me this? I got it at the party!" I said incredulously. "You think I'd let RICK fuck me? He's treated me like crap since I got here! You think I'd sleep with him after THAT?"

"I've treated you like crap sometimes."

I stopped, at a loss for words. Yeah, sure, true.  Wow. "Not... always." My voice had gotten a lot quieter. "You've also been really good to me." But he was right. I hadn't been quite ready to acknowledge it out loud yet, and here I was being forced to.

He didn't continue down that road. "It's not really a big deal. I know how Rick is, and I've been too busy. You obviously didn't mind the kiss." He looked at me, and smiled in a way that was so patently false I wanted to throw a lamp at his beautiful face. "It's not a thing. You obviously had a very good time with your friends

You know how a dog growls sometimes, real low in his belly? And you don't notice it building? For a good long while it's just background noise, until suddenly it's audible. And before you know what's happening that dog is barking, barking loud and angrily, and the situation has hit code red and you don't know how you got there but somewhere in your brain you knew it was coming. You just weren't paying attention.

Well, that growl was my rage.

"Not a thing? Of course it's not a thing, NOTHING HAPPENED. I don't even think I like him as a person!" I was talking louder, my face getting warm. "Why would you even think that? I'm tired, and a little drunk, but that's not a sign I WANTED to kiss him. And this was just... just..." How did I explain it? "It was NOTHING. Nothing serious; it was just some kissing. I was a little drunk. I was a lot turned on, but if it wasn't you it didn't really matter who was doing the kissing. Because it wasn't you!"

Zane started to open his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. "It's not like you're spending all this time kissing me, though, not at all. SO is that why it's 'not a thing'? Is anything that happens to me a thing at all?" I knew I sounded bitter, and maybe a lot childish. I ignored that knowledge. "If you don't care so much, why are you even bringing it up? If you don't care who kisses me, why are you throwing it in my face?" I looked away, running my eyes around the beautiful hotel room, all soothing and wood and modern and fucking sterile. "Why am I even still HERE?"

He looked down at the desk, face blank. "I don't really know, Ethan."

I wanted to scream, but clamped it down. Finally he uses my damn name, and he says it like I'm a patient, someone he has to sooth. Goddamn it. I ran my hand through my hair, gritting my teeth.

"Then why did you ask me to stay? Why did you BEG me to stay? I could have gone! It would have been so easy!" A muscle in Zane's cheek twitched, and I saw his jaw tighten. The minute quality of his reactions caused my ire to rise even more.  A reaction, just one little goddamn reaction that was more than a muscle spasm... "Why are you always lying to me about what you want when you always make it clear to me you don't really want me here?! You don't want to fuck me, you don't want to spend time with me, you give me gifts to keep me out of your hair... what the fuck's the POINT of all this?!"

I stopped, hoping he would say something, wanting him to talk.

He didn't. So there was my answer, I guess.

"There is no point, is there? This is just you being bored, isn't it? Something you decided to do, isn't it fun, isn't he just the cutest little Midwestern puppy." My voice dripped sarcasm. "A distraction, but not distracting enough."

Zane's head snapped up, and his mobile face was ablaze with emotion, eyes intense and his mouth curled up in an angry snarl. "Bored? You call me bored? As you wander around the city sketching, spending days in your hotel room, following us around - and I'm the one who's bored? I got you the computer because you're obviously fucking miserable, and I was hoping it would give you something to DO with yourself. I couldn't stand watching you drift around, for fuck's sake, starting to hang out with models and assholes."

That got me in the gut. I already felt so guilty about everything he'd given me, about accepting his offer, about maybe not making the right decisions with my time.

And with me, 99 percent of the time that guilt shut me down. It usually closed down the anger, leaving me backing up and apologizing for being an asshole.

Not this time. It'd happened to me twice before in my life, once with my father, back in my early teens, and once with my mother, when she was drowning so deep in drunken self-pity the only thing I had left to do was get completely unbelievably enraged at her.

I was really, truly angry at Zane at that moment, in a way that echoed the two most difficult times of my life.

"Assholes? Models and assholes? You think I -" I stopped myself from saying what I wanted to, which was that I was only hanging out with them because I'd rather be with him. That just sounded all sorts of sad and pitiful, I already felt bad for whining about him not kissing me. No more kitten, no more puppy. No more brat. Being that Ethan had gotten me nowhere, and I was pretty damn sure by that point that emotions, and what I felt, meant absolutely nothing to him. "I thought I was here with you, but I wasn't at all! What else was I supposed to do?! These people wanted to hang with me, and they were fun and nice to me, unlike you. They WANTED to kiss me." I pointed at the door angrily. "Even your band is more consistent to me than you are! Once Jarod stopped being a dick to me, he stopped!"

His lips pursed. "And I'm still a dick, huh?"

"Sometimes... You treat me like an annoying bug and then when I least expect it, you... you..." The air went out of my anger as I thought about everything I had wanted, even if I hadn't admitted them to myself.  "I thought it would be different." I looked at my hands. "I thought it would be really different."

"What did you think it would be?" He sounded bored again.

I would have taken the conversation in a different direction if I hadn't been angry. If I hadn't been scared that getting emotional was going to have him laughing at me for being a stupid little fool, maybe I would have told him how much he meant to me. Maybe I would have told him I had wanted an emotional connection. If he hadn't sung Silly Thing to me, I would have said this: I thought we'd connect, which we did, but I thought the connection would hold. I mean both mentally and physically. I thought we'd be together, and you wanted to be together with me.

I thought you'd let me in.

But I WAS angry, and I was scared and tired of being needy, so that's not where I took it at all. I said the first thing that hit my brain as a response. "I thought we'd at least hook up regularly! I thought you wanted me, I thought that's why you asked me to stay. Begged me to stay!" His face pulled inwards, I could tell 'begged' did not go over well. "I have to seduce you to get closer, and then you push me away when I try more than just making out... and it's not like you treat me like a friend! I thought being here would make sense. But it doesn't." I threw my hands up in the air. "It doesn't make any sense at all. You want me to keep busy but you get pissed if I find things to do, like hang with other people. You know why I took a moment to stop kissing Rick? Because I wanted you, and for a brief second, I felt like it was!" And the same with earlier at the party, actually. I wanted Zane, but it was very hard for me to say no to cheap substitutes.  But there I was, whining again. I couldn't keep my emotions straight. "How can you not give a crap about me and still get upset?"

"I'm not upset." the slight snarl in his voice made that a lie, but he was obviously trying to keep his emotions under control. So damn sick of it. I knew he was angry, I knew he was now REALLY angry.

"WHY do you do that?" I whirled at him, pretty much yelling now.


"Pretend to be emotionless!" His eyes widened. "I know you're not fucking emotionless, I know you're not, if you were you wouldn't, you wouldn't... you'd be how you are when you feel things!" Oh, god, I wasn't making sense. I meant how he was when he was tender, when he'd wanted me to stay, when he was stressed about success, when he was laughing and relaxed. But at that time I couldn't articulate, it was just an angry SENSE he was doing something wrong, something that wasn't him. "It's so damn fake, why are you so fake? Rick is a bastard, but he's at least an honest bastard.

"You're just full of contradictions, and, and inconsistencies, and you don't want me here anyways." Now I was just sad, and tiredness started to settle in. "Me being here is just a mistake." I shouldn't have come. That's all I knew.

"Yes." The last thing I wanted to hear, but something I needed to hear. "I never should have hooked up with you. Erica was right, and so was Rick - you're too young." Wait, maybe that, right there ,was the last thing I wanted to hear.

"Too young? Too young for what?" He didn't seem to mean physically. He was looking out the window, and I could only see part of his face; it was still, reflected in the shimmering city half-darkness outside.

"All of it. Too young to hang with us. You being here has been wrong, and I should have known that."

And there it was. What else could I say?

So I said something that made me 6 years old, and was the opposite of the truth.

"I hate you," I said quietly. "I really do. I wish I hadn't come."  I didn't look at him; I couldn't stand to see his reaction, no matter what it was.

I wasn't wanted, and I wasn't wanted here. I obviously wasn't wanted by him.

I opened the door and slipped out - and there was Rick, leaning against the wall, as if waiting. Damn him.

"You okay?" He asked, coming close and putting a hand on my arm. "Is he still being a fucking prick?"

"I just need to go to bed," I mumbled, turning away from him. "I just... I need to get away." From you, from him, from all this.

The door opened next to us, and Zane was there. "What are you doing, Rick?" If I thought his voice was chilly before, I had no idea.

"What the fuck are YOU doing?" Rick snarled, stepping away from me to whirl on the singer. "What the fuck are you thinking, bringing him here and then ignoring him? What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Wait, now Rick was all Team Ethan, All the Time? Huh?

"It has nothing to do with you, and you know it. Stay out of this."

"No! I'm sick of how you fucking treat people; we're not your goddamn peons, Butler."

Of all the things I wanted, Rick defending me was not one of them. "Please stop, Rick." I tried to grab his arm, but he shook it off.

The door next to us opened, and Jarod and Dustin peered out. "What's going on out here, guys?" Dustin asked in that reasonable way of his. "You're getting kind of loud, and it's pretty late?"

"Fuck you, Dustin; you let him get away with murder." Dustin didn't even bother to reply to that one, just gave Rick a look of tired annoyance.

"You guys fucked up, or somethin'?" Jarod asked, sounding a bit excited by the prospect.

"I've got to go," I mumbled, and stumbled towards the stairs.


When I got back to my room the first thing I did was fire up the laptop - last time I was going to use it, but it was for a good cause - and did what had to be done, and had to be done before I changed my mind. Oh, ouch that hurt - last minute decisions were expensive. Really, really expensive.

Then I fell dead asleep, which surprised me, but shouldn't have; All that alcohol, all that running around. I was insanely exhausted.

Yet no level of exhaustion could keep my churning brain quiet forever, and about 3 hours later I woke up. Looking at the clock, I groaned, and tried to sleep again.

Instead I thought, and I thought about Zane. I thought about last night, and the things I had said to him. I don't know if it was no longer being drunk, or just generally feeling miserable, but I now regretted all of it. Later, telling the story to my friends and after being told I had said and done the right things, that it had been time to stick up for myself, would I feel some pride. At the time it was pure hell.

I lovedhim!  I must, because that was the only justification for this hell I was now going through. Last night I'd barely let him talk, I'd called him a fake and been ungrateful and caused problems between him and his bandmate, just when they were at their busiest.

But most importantly, I'd gotten proof he didn't want me. I knew now how little I mattered. I groaned, burying my face into the bed, and covering my head with a pillow. I was only crying because i was so tired, I told myself.

I had called him a liar about his emotions, but I was just as bad. I'd let all my anger build and let it explode, and now I was left with nothing.

"You were left with nothing because you never had anything,"  I admonished myself.

Goddamn I hated the truth.

But I wasn't exactly ready to let Zane go. I really didn't want to leave it like that. It just wasn't that simple. It might have been needy of me, it might have been sad, but I was starting to regret yelling at him last night.

What I regretted most was not telling him what I felt, trying to be all tough and not telling him that I cared, that it wasn't about sex. I knew, at least subconsciously, that had not gone over well. That's when I'd sensed real emotion from him, a real sense of anger that he'd suppressed. Maybe if I'd told him how I really felt, it would make a difference?

I wasn't ready to give up, even if it was now mostly out of my hands. Sure, I wasn't even sure what I was trying to do, since I wasn't going to see him for a very, very long time, if ever. But I didn't want to be filled with regret; I already had enough.

"Fuck." Smacking the bed and wiping my face off on the sheets, I stumbled towards my stuff. I only had a couple of hours; I think I knew what I was going to do, and all I could do was hope that it mattered.


Not too long afterwards I went down to the lobby, stopping briefly at the concierge's desk to give him something.

"Ethan." Turning, I saw Dustin sitting in the lobby, drinking something out of a Styrofoam cup and with a magazine open in his lap.

I tried to smile. "Hey. Aren't you up sort of early?"

He shrugged. "Sometimes I can't sleep, so I just give up. Rick, Zane and Erica went to some sort of super-early interview with The Guardian; it's the only time they had to do it. I bowed out. Jarod's sleeping, per usual. You went to bed just as late as I did, why are you up?" His look was kind, but thoughtful.

It was a hard question to answer, because I'm not sure I knew how to explain myself. "Uh... just, well. Stuff to do. I couldn't sleep either." I stood there, feeling I should probably just say goodbye but wasn't sure how to say it.

He indicated I should sit down and I did, if a bit nervously.

"You okay?" He asked kindly.

"Oh, I'm fine. How are you?" I gave him a big, wide, fake smile.

"No, you're not okay. And we're not talking about me." It was said very matter-of-fact, less a disagreement than a complete strike down of my statement. "Things are pretty fucked up right now, aren't they?"

This opened the floodgates; I wasn't able to keep up my facade any longer.

"What went wrong, Dustin?" I took a deep breath. It was so disappointing - Zane was gone. I hadn't planned to see him anyways, but knowing that he wasn't even physically in the building was depressing. I felt like an idiot, a heart sore idiot. "I'm so worried I'm hurting the band; you guys are so hot right now, and if Zane and Rick hate each other you're not going to be able to function. It's just so stupid."

Dustin laughed. "Can I tell you the truth? It's stupid, yeah, and you've sort of become that chick."

"That chick?" Baby animals, and now I was a 'chick'. I was getting really tired of this theme. "What chick?"

"Oh, the one that hangs around, that more than one band member wants, and it causes problems." I must have looked as aghast as I felt, because he held up a hand. "No no, it's not your fault, just like it's not usually the girl's fault. It just seems to happen, a lot. Actually, that's what makes it sort of funny, because you're not the type for this sort of thing at ALL."

"For one thing, I'm not a girl," I said dryly.

He lifted an eyebrow. "Does that make a difference?"

"I suppose not." I dropped my head in my hands. "It's just so ridiculous." Dustin laughed, if wryly. "What's so funny?"

"It is ridiculous, isn't it?" When I looked up he was looking at the wall, bemused. "How cliches keep coming up like they do, even when you least expect it. When it happened in my last band the bassist and the singer were both such manwhores it wasn't surprising when they fought over a groupie, but Snowborne - I always thought Rick and Zane were too cool for this sort of thing. And had too different tastes."

"It's really that common?" I asked, curious. Excellent. I was a cliche.

Dustin nodded. "It happens a lot. Sex and rock and roll, they're damn difficult to separate. So sometimes the sex, it gets in the way of the rock and roll. It gets in the way of a lot of things." An expression of deep pain and regret flickered on his features; I remembered everything Zane had told me about him, and I felt sorry he had to have this conversation with me. My problems weren't his, and I hated that I was making them so. "A band is a group of interlocking personalities, and part of our job is to be sexy and arouse attraction, musical and otherwise. Well, what causes more drama than sex and attraction? Not much." He chuckled. "I'm sorta just working this out on my own for the first time."

"It makes sense." It did, too much. I was just another meddling bimbo, a, a - Yoko Ono, for fuck's sake. It was sad, and embarrassing, and -

"It's so goddamn stupid." I said it quietly at first, frustrated. "SO STUPID!" It was louder this time, and a couple walking towards the hotel front doors and also a porter gave me a startled look. "God, I'm such an idiot!"

"Ethan," Dustin leaned forward with his elbows on his knees to meet my eyes, looking troubled. "That's not what I meant; I'm not trying to upset you. This isn't your fault."

"Uh huh, yeah. Like letting Rick kiss me wasn't my fault, right?" I said bitterly. Without anger, I'd started to take the blame for that one; I really should have pushed him away instantly, not several seconds later. And what about the hook up with Thom and Samuel? Zane might not know the details, but I certainly did. He'd had every right to be suspicious of me at that party. I'd proven that.

"That was a pretty stupid thing to do," he agreed. "But I've seen Rick in action many times - he's the definition of slick, and one of the most manipulative people I've ever met. You'd been drinking, right?" I nodded. "And Zane was being a jerk to you. He played on that, didn't he?"

That wasn't really something I could deny. "But what would have happened if Zane hadn't walked in? Would I have done more? I LET him kiss me!"

"You were drunk. And did Rick know Zane was about to come in?" Dustin countered craftily. "I'll bet you he did, that Zane had said he'd be there."

I groaned.

"You're missing my point, Ethan, by just beating yourself up." Dustin leaned in. "Besides the point that people make mistakes, and substances never help -" this was said with a tinge of self-deprecating regret. "But this is dramatic because of them. Rick, and Zane, I mean. This drama isn't your drama, just like the reason my last band broke up wasn't just because some random girl they both decided they wanted to fuck was hanging around. It's because these two, Rick and Zane, are playing games. What those games are, I don't know. I wish I did, the crazy bastards. Or, well, Zane, at least.

"But Rick - this is what Rick does, really; he's always trying to undermine Zane in little ways. Jealousy. Attraction. A form of control. I've never figured it out. But he pushes Zane's buttons, and Zane lets them be pushed. The problem'sbetween the two of them, you're only the most recent catalyst. Does that make sense?"

I nodded, numbly. This was continuing to make me feel bad. It explained a lot, of course. But it was just widening the massive hole in my stomach even wider. I was just another blip in their strange relationship. And it didn't void everything Thom and Samuel had told me, by any means.

Dustin went on; perhaps he thought my silence meant he was helping. "Snowborne WORKS because of this particular tension, but it also means that these two are pains in the asses, and will always be pains in the asses. And Rick is an asshole. You can't take it personally."

Nope. Couldn't take it personally, and I also couldn't believe I was more than inconsequential. This is what I always suspected. No, KNEW, now, after the last day of Zane's behavior. It was why I was absolutely certain I wasn't worth allowing any conflict to fester.

And it didn't matter to me that I was just another in a long line of 'catalysts',

"Dustin," I smiled at him, grateful he'd been there, but suddenly feeling very guilty for the amount of leaning on him I'd just done. "Thanks. You've been awesome. I'm really sorry to pout at you, and act like a brat. Snowborne doesn't deserve...." Another deep breath. I needed to stop whining. "This is so stupid."

"You're not exactly a-"

I didn't let him continue. "Don't tell Zane, but I'm leaving in about an hour."

His eyes widened. "You're, what? Ethan -"

"The plane's already booked - it's time for me to go."

HIs expression had shifted, and he just looked frustrated and sympathetic, which made me feel even guiltier. He made a noise, and shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea. And you've totally missed my point - Shit, I don't think I made it very well. It's too early. I was talking about the dynamics between Zane and Rick and why the drama isn't your fault. That's a distinction from what the hell is up with Zane, and what the hell HIS reasoning is throughout all this. You and Zane are a whole different thing."

"But does it matter? He -" It was so hard for me to say. It just hurt so much. I was such a pussy! "He doesn't want me around. I'm just a fucking groupie, and I've outlived my usefulness, haven't I?" Wow, there was that unexpected bitterness again. "There's nothing good that can come from me staying here, Dustin."

He just looked perturbed, and didn't answer. I could feel myself falling apart under his calm, honest gaze. What an embarrassing joke the last 12 hours had been. It was so time to go.

"You sure you want to do this?" he finally asked.

I stood up, and tried to keep my expression neutral. Judging by the increase of worried sympathy on his features I was failing. "I do. No stupid kid from the Midwest that your singer picked up on a lark is worth risking more conflict. You're right, they're dramatic, and I have to be the one who isn't."

"If you think this isn't dramatic..." he shook his head, and ran a hand over his bald pate with a smile. Standing also, he shook my hand, but then, unexpectedly, didn't let go. "How old are you again, Ethan?"

"19." I wondered why it was relevant.

"Fucking Zane," he almost snarled, with more passion than I'd seen him talk about damn near anything. It was a bit startling. "Fucking, stupid and anything but Rick and just totally stupid as shit Zane." He gave my hand a squeeze, and took my forearm with his other hand. "I wish you'd reconsider this, but it's not my job to stop you. Hell, you might be right. But be good, Ethan." He let my hand go. "You're a really great kid, and you sell yourself, your talent, and your pretty face too short."

I couldn't help but try to turn that into a joke. "Isn't it my pretty face that got me in trouble in the first place?"

Dustin released me and gave another one of his patented rueful head shakes. "See, that's it - always putting yourself down, even when someone's complimenting you. If you didn't do that, I think you'd see what was going on."

The conversation had gotten embarrassing and I could feel my cheeks flaming. "Um, thanks again, Dustin," I started to walk backwards, to the elevator. "You were often the one who made this whole week bearable." Then I started to beat myself up, because then I felt guilty for seeming ungrateful again. "I mean, not that-"

"Goodbye, Ethan." He smiled, cutting off my recriminations.  "Be good to yourself, better than these asshole rock peacocks were."

I nodded, tried to return the smile, and failed. I turned to run to the elevators.

Behind me, I was pretty sure he muttered "You stupid fuck, Zane." If I'd turned around while I was at the elevators, I would have also seen him on his phone, and tried to have stopped him.

But I didn't know that he was calling Zane, and all I felt at that moment was chagrin that I may have just caused even more conflict. I didn't want Dustin angry at Zane also.

Maybe he was right, what I was doing, and what I was leaving behind, was dramatic in its own right. But there was some drama that I couldn't avoid, not if I wanted to feel like there was some closure. My heart needed it.

Or what was left of my heart - there wasn't much left in that space; it just seemed to be full of little itty-bitty shards and a light glass dust, tearing aside my insides with little microscopic cuts as each second passed.


Rick wondered what Zane's hurry was. He'd taken a phone call from Dustin, and his expression had shifted, his eyes widening, his face draining of all color. He surprised the flirtatious lady journalist by saying he had to go, claiming an emergency, but that Rick would stay and talk to her.

The guitarist was not pleased about that - the woman was a rumor-mongering twit, not very attractive in his mind, and most importantly he wanted to know what Zane was up.

Rick put up with a few minutes more of her insipid, uninspired questions - she'd never even really heard their music, had she? Interviews like that were so mind-numbingly boring - and then finally made his own escape, snagging a black cab and telling the driver to step on it. He wanted to see what had caused Zane to move so quickly. If Rick wasn't wrong - and he doubted he was, he so rarely was - Zane had been upset since last night.

Not to say the singer wasn't the consummate professional, of course. During the interview he'd lobbed several things at Rick, joking and making it seem like they were the best of friends, artistic partners, and buddy collaborators. Rick knew differently. The singer's eyes had been cold, dark and mirthless.

Rick now understood from this current behavior that Zane had never been truly angry at him before, only annoyed. When he'd successfully annoyed him, Rick felt that he'd rattled the man, made him drop his facade a bit. But anger?

Anger fell around Zane like an icy wall, making him impenetrable and inscrutable. It was starting to piss Rick off. It was all stupid. More than anything, it pissed him off that Zane being angry affected him.

"I'm going to find that damn little twink and tell him to make up with Zane, and then tell them to both go fuck themselves," Rick thought with a mental snarl. He stared out the window and wished he could have a cigarette. The weather was wet and warm, something of a miserable day. He pulled his coat closer around him, a roomy leather affair that he'd been told made him look just a little bit menacing.

That description had pleased him.

Rick threw his money at the driver and slammed out of the car, striding into the hotel and resisting the urge for some soothing, wonderful nicotine. It said a lot about how curious he was that he'd even consider skipping a cigarette despite not having one in over 3 hours.

No Zane in the lobby, well, of course not. 'Where could he be, hmmm?' Rick pondered.  'His room. Ethan's Room. MAYBE Erica's room.'

He was setting off towards the elevators, ready to begin his hunt, when a polite and posh voice stopped him.

"Excuse me, sir?" He turned to see the attractive concierge approaching him. "I'm sorry, are you Zane Butler?" He had something in his hand, a hotel-branded shopping-style bag with a pile of things inside, neatly stacked. Rick looked down. It appeared as if there was a computer, a stack of papers, with a cell phone balanced on top.

The correct answer, of course, was 'no'. However, Rick was not feeling correct, and did not give the honest answer. "Hell, I'm the next best thing, aren't I?" was his semi-ironic thought, and he nodded.

"Excellent." The man put the pile into Rick's hands. "A young man left this for you about half an hour ago, was very insistent you get it. I apologize for the unceremonial presentation, but," he sighed, somewhat dramatically. "I've got several errands I must run before tonight, it's a bit of a madhouse around here, but I'd feel horrible if I didn't do what he'd asked me to. It seemed very important."

Rick took all that to mean Ethan had tipped him well. Excellent; that meant he didn't have to. "Thank you. How did you know it was me?"

"Oh." The man chuckled. "He was in quite the rush, spoke quickly, butwhat I remembered most clearly was tall, skinny 'you can tell he's in a rock band.'"

"Ah." Rick smiled insincerely. How lucky for him 'dark hair' had most likely gotten lost in the shuffle.

The concierge hesitated momentarily but professionally, giving Rick a time to compensate him for the favor; the guitarist slipped him 30 pounds, and he left with a big grin.

Rick looked down at the pile thoughtfully. Moving towards one of the lounge banks he sat, and rummaged through quickly.

'How very interesting,' He was about to dig deeper, open the envelope he found nestled next to the stack, when the elevator dinged.

Rick wasn't sure where the psychic flash came from that told him Zane was about to come out of that elevator. Maybe his eyes had subconsciously seen the figure before his conscious recognized him. Whatever it was, it caused Rick to work quickly.

In truth, Rick couldn't even say he'd had a coherent thought process when he'd stuffed the pile of papers into his jacket. It'd just happened, as if his hands had a mind of their own. In one smooth motion they were gone.

And once it'd been done, he was well aware it couldn't really be undone.

Zane saw him, and strode forward. His cheekbones were drawn in, and his lips pursed tight.

"Didn't find him?" Rick asked blandly.

"No." Zane said tightly. "He's gone." It surprised Rick that the answer hadn't been more along the lines of 'I don't know what you're talking about', or 'fuck off', since Zane hadn't directly told him it had anything to do with Ethan. 'He really is very upset.' Fascinating. The last 48 hours had been very educational about Zane.

Somewhere in the back of Rick's mind there was a little voice, suggesting that he had several things to feel guilty about. He pushed the voices back.

Zane looked down, and saw the bag. As it was open, the phone and computer were clearly in view. "What's that?"

"Oh. The concierge just gave it to me to give to you. It's from Ethan."

Zane took a deep breath, sudden and sharp. Sitting down heavily, he pulled out the items.

Ethan's cell phone.

The computer Zane had gotten for him. Rick had heard him say to Ethan it was also for him to use at school; it was quite a statement to give it back.

And an envelope, stuffed in that particular way that made it clear what was in it. Zane opened it, quickly assessed how much money was in there, pulling out one small bundle that still had the bank ribbon attached around it, and threw it back in the bag with a 'Fuck!'

It was actually a bit embarrassing to Rick to be there. Zane's color had changed, his eyes were clouded. "Money?" He had to ask.

"It's all the money I ever gave him. Literally the same money, I'm pretty sure. He didn't use any of it. Ethan, you idiot!" He ran a hand through his hair, messing it up to hell, and stood up.

"Zane-" Rick didn't know what he was going to say, wasn't sure if it was going to be an attempt to help or further damage the situation, but he didn't have time to finish.

Without acknowledgement Zane took the bag, swiftly stood up, and walked away.

"Well, screw you, bastard," Rick thought angrily. "You reap what you fucking sow." It hit him how desperately he needed a cigarette, and he angrily stalked outside to smoke one, swearing under his breath . He held the papers close to his chest, making sure they didn't drop out.





To Part 23