"You okay, Ethan?" Scott set a fresh, open can of coke down next to my elbow with a clink. I grabbed it with something akin to a grunt and took a swig. Due to the hardcore organic tendencies of my mother I usually stayed away from pop and other such caloric drinks of doom, but I was too stressed out at that moment to care overly much about the many things that were going to kill me. Stress was looking like a far more likely mortality-heightening candidate.
Scott was still looking at me expectantly. I nodded at my tuition bill for next semester. "I am completely fucked."
He leaned over to look at the total amount, and winced. "Yeah, that's pretty bad; even with your scholarship it's ridiculous. Isn't that more than it was this semester? Even NYU didn't go up THAT much."
"It's the classes I'm taking." I pushed it away. "More tech fees, more material fees.This one," I pointed at one of the courses listed, and he diligently leaned forward and whistled when he saw the cost, "is a synergistic on-site-with-working-artists honors seminar that costs about twice as much as usual."
"You're also taking one more class, right? Shit, dude." He flopped down in the kitchen chair next to me. "How you gonna make enough money to afford to still go to school if you go to school so fuckin' much?"
"Because if you look at the numbers," I smiled and he grinned back, because he'd recently told me about the econ teacher that said 'If you Look at the Numbers' in an incredibly pompous way every other sentence or so, "living in this city is so stupid expensive that the faster I get out of it, or am at least able to work a full-time job, the better off I am. School is such a time and money sink -"
"That's an art student thing," Scott interrupted, "how long your projects take is, like, ridiculous."
"-that getting it done faster is the only way to start paying off the debt in any reasonable way," I finished.
He took a thoughtful sip of his coke. "I thought the modeling was really helping though, right? I mean, you make a lot more money in a couple of hours than I do at the restaurant in a 6 hour shift. Seems like you do, anyway."
"Yeah, but Request can only do so much with my schedule, and Tony is really working it, I can tell." Request was the small but well respected male modeling agency that Katherine had set me up with and Tony was my agent. "He says they like my work, and how professional I am, but he can't push me as much as he wants to because I'm a student. Not being able to leave the city is also kinda a major issue." I sighed. "Maybe I should just get a job with you again. At least the money's steady."
"You kidding me? You don't want to wait tables in New York, boy; we're a couple of dumbfucks for thinking that the scene was at all competitive back home compared to here." He widened his eyes dramatically and leaned forward. "I sometimes think the other waiters are going to cut me for a particularly good table, and that's only even a possibility if you make it out alive after entering the snarling uptight hell that is the kitchen. And the customers, holy fuck... no." He shook his headleaned back again. "I'd keep the sweet gig you have, even if it's a little wacky."
I knew Scott was right. I didn't necessarily like modeling itself, but I didn't exactly hate it, either. It was easy to impress the clients by being professional and timely, and I'd met some undeniably interesting characters on different shoots.
It would never be like working with Scott, however, or even with a new team of waiters and staff. At least you saw many of the same people every day in a restaurant; I almost never saw the same faces twice while modeling. And it came with its own costs; high ones. I had to keep my hair cut and stylish, and had to drag my tired butt down to the YMCA to swim regularly to stay in shape. Nights where I had both a project due the next day and also an assignment? They were complete hell. Trying to balance the insomniac insanity of art school and the need to be a functioning (and attractive) human for work was not easy. Skipping class at the New School was not an option - for all its laid back attitudes, they were damn strict about work and attendance.
"You're right, I know. I'm just whining." I was, too; modeling was often the one bright spot for me in the nightmare of my finances. The decisions I'd made in Europe - to not take any of Zane's money and pay for everything myself, to pay for my own last minute plane ride home - had been exceedingly bad ones in terms of my beginning cash flow in NY. The deposit on our tiny East Village apartment, which we shared with 3 other people, went up at the last minute unexpectedly. Just... everything was more expensive than planned. There was also the money my father had offered, but I still refused to accept it.
For now. Man, I hated myself for even considering it. We were talking on a regular basis, and my resentment had faded considerably, but I also enjoyed the lack of any sense of obligation on my part aside from him being my father. It was important to me, although I was aware enough of how stupid my own pride was. I’d never told my mother about the offer, or even my best friends.
The important issue was: as of this moment, I had no idea how I was going to pull next semester off. But Scott didn't need to know that, and I really didn't want to worry him.
Also, thinking about Zane and Europe had brought up feelings that I'd learned was best to avoid as much as possible. I'd gotten pretty good at that avoidance over the last 4 months, but I definitely wasn't perfect.
"It's all good," I said with a small smile, and turned the bill over. "So did you talk to Mina? Is she looking forward to coming?"
His boyish face lit up. "Yeah! She sounds like she can't wait. We talked for hours last night. It was awesome." His face fell, and he looked at the can in his hand. "I hope it goes okay."
"I think it will." I said encouragingly, giving him a big smile. "It'll be great."
In his usual Scott-like way, he caught the mood and blew it up. His grin was adorable. "It will, won't it? Yeah, I think you're right."
"But don't forget to clean your room," I noted with careful casualness. I didn't want to sound scold-y. "It's kinda disgusting."
"Sure sure," he said, not really paying attention. "Whatever."
I rolled my eyes at him, but wasn't really annoyed. Mina wasn't the tidiest person in the world, either, and it was one of the ways that they worked together.
Scott wasn't the only one looking forward to her visit; it would be wonderful to see her again. I owed her a good time in New York, big time. During my last month at home I'd felt like a disastrously bad friend, and she'd been an incredibly good one, putting up with me through the biggest funk I'd ever been through.
I'd whined, gone through periods where I'd not wanted to leave the house and her and Scott forced me to, I'd sat for hours with her in coffee shops asking her the question 'will I ever love again' in fifty million different ways... and she'd been lovely through it all. Telling me that I would feel better eventually, that I was going to leave the house and she didn't care if it killed me, and that yes, indeed, I would find someone to love again.
Scott was invaluable also, of course. Not so much with emotional stuff - not exactly his forte - but his blithe ability to be around, ignore my moping and make sure I had a good time was the other half of the healing equation.
It's embarrassing to admit, but I (briefly, thank god) told them I wasn't going to go to New York, and that I couldn't handle being in the same city that I knew Zane was often in.
They of course told me to shut the fuck up and keep my misery within reasonable limits. It worked.
So now, a week before Thanksgiving, we were all going to be together again. Neither Scott nor I were going home for Christmas. Scott because of Mina's visit, and because in his big family he wasn't overly concerned he'd be too missed. Me because my mom wasn't home in any case; she was going to be in Italy. The relationship with the divorced dad had taken a serious turn, and they'd hit it off. Phil hung out at our place several times during that last month, and I couldn't dislike the guy. He was smart, a little geeky, and mad about my mom.
And he was good for her. They would be sarcastic together, but his brighter edge lightened her darker one, and let her be herself while letting her be happier.
Of course, after years of watching her mostly cursory dating experiences I'd been startled at her sudden jump into significant-other-dom. It'd once again been Mina who had convinced me it was a subconscious acknowledgement that I couldn't be her raison de ete any longer now that I was heading off to college, and it was time for my mother to move on with her own life.
Pretty wise for a 19 year old, Mina was.
"I need pizza," Scott announced suddenly, and without another word he was up and out the door to get himself just that. I blinked, and shrugged. It was how he was. Living with him had underscored that he was a well-meaning bro who still needed some training when co-habitating with other people he wasn't related to in a very small space.
And it was because of personality traits such as those that made my best friend the one major blind spot in Mina's wisdom; she'd been a basketcase at the end of time at home about whether he'd be even passingly faithful to her. Understandably. Although I'd told her otherwise, I’d had my own concerns about his fidelity. New York was famously a sexual buffet, most notably for men, and Scott was a big fan of both sex and buffets.
But he'd surprised me - there'd been flirtations, yeah, but he'd been strong enough to resist the teasing advances of our decidedly cute California roommate, Lucy, to the point where she didn't talk to him for almost a month before getting herself a boyfriend. Maybe the crazy kids would be alright.
There was a knock at the door, and I got up to open it.
"Hey, Ethan," Areli gave me one of his blinding smiles. "I was hoping to find you home."
I smiled back and moved aside to let him in; it was impossible not to smile at Areli. Speaking of New York and its temptations...
I indicated for him to sit, and he did so, taking Scott's old chair. "How are you?" I asked. "How was your family?"
He shrugged his wide shoulders, and his brown eyes rolled without malice. His dark brown curls shook when he moved. "The usual; crazy, meddling, sometimes disturbing. I met my brother's new wife for the first time, and she was overwhelmed. I told her to get used to it. Because they eloped everyone was merciless. She made it through, so I think he gets to keep her."
I had to grin in appreciation. I loved Areli's family. He was half Jewish and half Puerto Rican, and the couple of dinners I'd had with them had been a blast. It was impossible to be shy around them for more than a second.
They were pleased to meet another student from the New School, disappointed I wasn't dating their son, and told me it was my job as his friend to make sure he actually did his work. I learned all of this in about 2 minutes of sitting down.
"I'm so glad they didn't make me live with them, every time I go to see them I'm reminded what a madhouse I grew up in." He lived down the street from me; his mother was a surgeon, and his parents could afford to let him live alone in NY.
"But like all madhouses, you have to admit at least some of it is fun."
"I have to admit nothing," He sniffed, turning his profile to me in a pose of mock-arrogance. Mostly mock. "Aside from the fact that they are complete pains in the asses."
I laughed, and tried not to admire my friend too much. Tall, lean, great shoulders and a face that moved constantly. He wasn't traditionally handsome, and yet in certain lights he was gorgeous. We'd been paired off in computer illustration to do a project together, and I'd been blown away by his use of color and shadow in even the simplest of pictures. He, in turn, wouldn't stop praising my ability to draw things after seeing them once, and said I had an amazing skill for pulling out details.
And a friendship was born. And THEN we briefly stumbled into more. It might be too obvious to note that the 'briefly' part was because of me.
"Anything wrong, Ethan?" Areli leaned forward, eyes sharp. He put his hand on my arm. "You looked stressed."
As subtly as I could I put my free hand on my tuition bill, and pulled it towards me and on to my lap. "Nah, nothing serious. I'm just really glad we've got a week off. I seriously need the sleep, so that's exactly what I'm going to do." I didn't shake his touch; I'd gotten used to his tendency to have a hand on me continuously. He didn't do it to me exclusively, although maybe I was one of his favorite targets.
"Yeah, you do." He shook his head. "You shouldn't work that hard while going to school, it's kinda nuts."
"I know." There wasn't much use explaining to him again why I needed to work so hard. Like many of my classmates he didn't have much to worry about, and I discovered fairly quickly that dwelling on or talking about that fact too much wasn't good for my psychology, or for making friends.
"I know you know," he said charmingly, and then his other hand was on my arm, fingers playfully tap dancing up my forearm. "So what are we doing tonight?"
I had to laugh. "I told you: me, I'm sleeping. I'm sleeping a lot."
"Alone?" Uh oh. It was a joke, of course, but his gaze had sharpened, and underneath the humor was a whole conversation about why we weren't, at the very least, sleeping together on a regular basis and, in an ideal world, even getting a little attached. Areli was, I'd found out, rather a romantic, and definitely territorial. It was a big reason I hadn't kept up with the (yeah, truly enjoyable) fooling around; it'd been obvious that our friendship wouldn't survive if I let us get entangled. I could never match his intensity, and I don’t believe he would forgive me for that.
But he was still trying. I wasn't completely sure why - he was screwing around with at least one of our classmates, and all he had to do was walk down the street with a smile on his face to pull. But he was loyal and fun and a great local guide. I figured I'd wait it out. Whether it was the resolution of my issues or the fading of his fixation I was waiting for was admittedly unclear.
"I don't know, there's a couple of roaches in the bathroom that get kinda cold sometimes, never know if they'll decide to join me," I answered dryly.
"You're a weirdo, Ethan," his fingers, of course, hadn't left my skin, "and I wish you weren't. You can't carry a flame for that guy forever." He gave me a sharp little squeeze.
"Four months isn't forever," I pulled away to put my can in the recycling bin and gave his ear a little flick as I passed by. He winced and huffed in faux offense. "You know I'm not gonna fuck with you, I'm not over him. It's less a flame, it's... I don't feel right."
Areli nodded, an expression of 'yeah yeah' on his face. "You will soon, I can tell." I sat down again, and shrugged. The wary gesture was more for me than him. He was right, of course. I was already starting to find myself thinking about Zane less. As school picked up and both work and my social life built upon themselves the echoing voids of my brain were filled with other people and other concerns.
The things I'd gone over and over again with Mina, and in my own mind, were simplifying down to the conclusions we'd come to, leaving me inching towards acceptance. I'd been totally in love with him, of course. Zane'd liked me, we'd decided, he really had. But there was only so much he could like someone - he was caged emotionally, and I'd tricked myself into believing that when he was a nice guy that meant he had deeper feelings. Musical success had been his goal his whole career, and he'd finally gotten it. There was no way anyone could compete with that, especially for someone like that who didn't have a tendency for lasting romantic or sexual relationships. And on that note, the sex paradox? Well, he was a control freak, and keeping it from me kept him in control of us both.
Case closed. In clear, well-slept and busy moments, it was as simple as that. I needed to concentrate on the positive, and how much the whole situation let me grow up in a short period of time. Done.
Sure, I was embarrassed about leaving him the note I did; I must have come across as a desperate kid. Especially writing down my email address. Hell, I knew he already had it. Why'd I feel a need to write it down again? And I wished I hadn't left him those pictures. It would have been nice to have had them, you know, to remember him by, a visual journal of my time with the band. Also, they must have made me totally look like a complete stalker-psycho. I always winced when I thought of those pictures, and the last thing I'd written. It was just sad, in the pitiful sort of way.
But, yeah. Aside from that.
Well, okay, a Snowborne song could still stop me dead in my tracks. I would often find myself surfing over to the Snowborne website in a zombie daze, checking to see where they were and reading the news updates.
Sometimes, when I was on a shoot and holding a pose, I would hear his voice and feel his skin. Every day since I'd gotten back from England, when I was in front of my email, I had to keep myself from writing him, reminding myself that was desperate. I had to stop myself from following men who looked even vaguely like him down the street. Areli's lanky brunette sexiness had serious echoes of Zane, which is one of the reasons I knew getting in too deep would be all sorts of fucked up.
So I really wasn't quite there. It was simply getting better. I really did know that four months wasn't forever, even if that was only intellectually. I was still kinda angry, too, running through, in my head, the things I SHOULD have yelled at him before leaving. But I didn't see the point of lingering on that.
Areli sighed, obviously seeing the look on my face and knowing what it meant. "Fine, fine, nothing tonight - how about this week?"
I thought about it. "Mina will be here in two days - why don't we go dancing on Tuesday? Or maybe Wednesday? I think she'd like to go out the night before Thanksgiving in the city."
"How about Tuesday AND Wednesday?" He countered with a grin.
"Sure, maybe." I smiled back. This was a bit of a lie, that 'maybe' - no way I could afford both. But it was better to put off the rejection of going out Tuesday until right before, or he'd pester me/guilt me/charm me into saying yes. Areli liked to stay out late, and he had expensive tastes.
At that moment Lucy came out of her room. She'd been napping, it looked like; speaking of party animals, girl was the most nocturnal person I'd ever met. "Hey, guys." She gave a tired, half-awake wave. "What's going on?"
"Want to go dancing with us next week?" Areli asked, directing the full strength of his charm at her. "We need some sexy ladies with us."
"Because you're so in to the ladies," she mock-rolled her eyes, but smiled. "Of course, sounds like fun. Isn't Scott's girlfriend coming next week?" she asked me. Her expression was briefly strained, but only briefly, and I appreciated her blatant attempt to be casual.
"Yes; she'll be here Monday."
"Great, can't wait to meet her." You know, she sounded like she truly did, and not in a stealth-bitchy way. Good, that might mean low awkwardness.
"Excellent," Areli stood up, and before I could stop him he'd given my ear a kiss/lick that had me yelping. "And THAT was revenge," he noted smugly.
"Your revenge is WET," I said with a faux snarl, rubbing my lobe dry.
"Yeah. You liked it, didn't you?"
His face got semi-serious, and rather intense. "Yeah, I do. But I'll just keep licking you, and licking you more, until you finally do like it." And then the smile was back, full of his usual cockiness and casual charm. "I'll text tomorrow, gotta go find some people who aren't going to be sleeping all night!"
I gave a wave, and he was gone.
Until I finally do like it, huh? 'Liking' it wasn't at all the problem... Areli was more experienced sexually than I was, and fooling around with him had been fun, indeed. It wasn't anything like it was with Zane, though. There was something missing.
"So why aren't you sleeping with him, again?" Lucy asked, as if reading my mind. She was making herself coffee; putzing around the mish mash of communal equipment and quirky decoration we called our kitchen.
"Issues." I sighed as I folded up my ridiculous bill. Maybe I'd spend the rest of the day working on one of my projects - I had 3 and a half due as soon as classes were back on, and I didn't want to be cooped up while Mina was here. Even with the time she spent alone with Scott I'd still be pressed. "I've got issues."
"No shit. Boy is hot; you two look good together." she smiled dreamily. "I wish my boyfriend looked like that."
"Hey, your boyfriend is pretty cute," I pointed out.
"Mmmm, but not up to your and that guy's standards."
I laughed. "Flattery will get you everywhere."
"Sadly, no, it won't," she answered with a sly smile, raising her coffee mug at me.
I stuck out my tongue at her and left to go in to my room and start sketching out ideas for my assignments. My mood was good.
Yeah, my finances were a nightmare, and my love life nothing less than confused. But I had good friends, and, despite my simmering emotional angst, I was generally pretty happy in NY. Zane Butler had been an important experience, the person we all have that we are more crazy for than they are about us, and how many can say that person was a beautiful celebrity? Not many. It could have been worse.
And some of the time I actually believed that. The good thing was it was slowly becoming most of the time.
Dustin settled in to the metal seat next to Zane, briefly thinking about how beautiful design does not an ideal ass holder make. The Tokyo hotel they were staying at was a thing of modern industrial beauty, but not necessarily of comfort.
He pointed at the beer the lead singer was holding to indicate he'd like one also, and the bartender nodded.
"You okay?" It was a rhetorical question; it was very clear Zane wasn't okay, and hadn't been for a while. But he of course wasn't going to admit that.
"Lies." Rick slipped in on the other side. "You've been a prick for months." He ordered a whiskey.
Dustin tried not to sigh; it would not have been his tact of choice. Of course, it's not like he had power over what Rick would say, and he knew he wasn't confrontational enough to take on Zane alone.
"Aren't I always a prick?" Zane said with an eyebrow.
"Surprisingly, no," Dustin noted, "on average you're actually pretty cool. But not lately; you've been snapping at us, and when we're not forced together we never see you. You seem pissed off, and it's affecting the group."
"Why does it matter if I'm pissed?" Zane took a pull of his Sapporo and leaned back, letting his legs stretch and his boots hit the underside of the metal bar. He wasn't looking at either of the men. As usual, he looked impeccable, but there was an edge to his 'neutral' face that Dustin didn't think used to be there before. "The tour is going well, our singles are on the chart, I'm not getting in your faces. I'll try to snap less, how's that." He was obviously trying to dismiss them.
Rick snorted. "Yeah, whatever; it's not just about touch-feely shit like how you treat us. You've been completely phoning it in, Butler. Maybe not everyone can see it, but we can."
"Zane..." Dustin waited until the singer looked at him so he could stare him straight in the eyes to see how sincere he was. "We're not trying to be assholes here, but we're worried."
There was a miniscule unwinding in Zane’s face, and he turned his head with a small, honest smile. It was the first real smile they'd seen for weeks. "Seriously, thanks for worrying about me, Dustin, but I'm fine. I'm just tired. It's been crazy all around in here, and it looks like it's just going to get crazier." He turned his eyes to the Rothko painting behind the bar. "No time to rest, really. But we'll keep it up. And if I look more tired than you think I should, I haven't been sleeping well. I've been staying up late writing new music most evenings."
He gave something that was almost a grin this time, although it didn't necessarily reach his eyes. "I'm fine, thanks for checking in."
Dustin figured that was the point at which they should go; there was probably nothing else to be said. When Zane went polite and distant it was usually over.
Letting other people decide when a conversation was closed was not, however, Rick's style.
"My fucking ass you're fine." He put his whiskey down with a clink. Dustin noticed he liked to do that. "We're losing our goddamn energy, and if we lose that we're screwed. There's a reason this is the point where most bands turn into bastard party bitches or totally fall apart; it's kinda shit touring like this. And since we're not getting in to the drugs -"
"So you've stopped with the blow?" Zane gave Rick an eyebrow.
Rick snorted contemptuously. "I only do it sometimes, asshole, you know that. And it's better than Jarod or I doing heroin."
"True that," Dustin said thoughtfully. He knew Zane wasn't really worried about Rick's little habit - he'd had it since before the band had formed, and he didn't seem to be in any immediate danger of falling off the edge. But Jarod...
"But that's the problem," Rick continued, sounding genuinely worried, his snark-tone level dropping. Dustin was impressed. "Jarod's starting to get out of control, and I think he knows you don't give a fuck any longer. Shit, these days all the groupies seem to have fun things to sniff and shoot hiding up their panties." there was a small pause as they all considered that vaguely unsettling imagery.
Zane sat up straighter, and looked at Dustin. "It's gotten that bad?"
"No... Not quite yet. However, Rick's right, he's heading there. Jarod's kinda afraid of you, and he's like a wild kid when his parents aren't looking right now. But, look - that's not the big problem here." Rick shot him a dirty look for undermining his line of guilt, but Dustin ignored it. "We’re your friends. We're all getting kinda sick of each other, but that's pretty inevitable on tours like this. And you're starting to lose steam on the stage, and to withdraw further into yourself off of it. It's like..." he thought about it for a moment, "you're not COMMUNICATING with us any more, musically or anywhere else. It's freaking us out. And... "
"...And it's been ever since that fucking brat and his fucking pretty face left," Rick cut in, his voice hovering somewhere between frustration and anger. "We thought you might get the hell over it, since, you know, it was like a week, but no such luck. You just keep getting prickier. It seemed okay when you were picking up those guys in Europe for a bit, I actually thought you'd maybe finally gotten yourself a normal sex drive, but that's stopped. Do we need to find you some new ass to enjoy?"
Dustin sighed. "Goddamit, Rick." That sort of shit wasn't going to help.
And he was right, the effect on Zane was not positive. He was silent, his eyes glued to the painting, his face betraying nothing. His hand was tight around his beer bottle. He betrayed no other emotion. They'd lost him completely now.
Rick stared at him expectantly for a few seconds, waiting for a reaction. When it was obvious he wasn't going to get one, his face twisted, and he stood up suddenly. "Fuck you, Butler, you emo shit." He turned to Dustin with a snarl. "Don't let him go anywhere, I need to run up to my room for something."
"Seriously, this is really goddamn important, don't let him leave."
He was around the corner, muttering to himself angrily, before Dustin could finish the question.
Zane suddenly drained his beer and started to stand up.
"Where are you going?"
"Out. I need to walk."
"Um... maybe we should wait for Rick to get back." Dustin asked. "I think... he's not serious very often, and he seemed pretty serious right there." He gave a smile. "I'll buy you a drink."
Zane started to answer.
"Please." Dustin let the smile fall. "The only thing Rick tends to find important is Rick, so I believe him on this one."
Zane took a deep breath, and sat down again. The bartender, who had been watching them with a look of bemused confusion, came forward to take another order, but the singer shook his head. After a moment of silence he spoke.
He and Zane used to talk about his wife fairly regularly, but it'd been a while, and their last conversation on the subject had been nothing more than an exchange of pleasantries with little substance. The question did sound sincere this time, so Dustin answered honestly.
"She's bored. Since we could afford for her to quit that shitty job she has, but she hasn't find the perfect replacement yet. I'm trying to convince her to go to school."
“Information science; she’d be awesome at that, both in the library sense and on the tech side.”
They chatted for a few minutes, which Dustin enjoyed; it'd been a while since they'd exchanged more than a few professional words. It didn't make him relax, however. That wall of ice was still there, lurking as only a wall of ice could.
Rick came around the corner suddenly, and without preamble smacked a stack of papers in front of Zane and sat down next to him. "Whiskey," he ordered curtly.
Zane looked down. The papers were unlined and white, sketchbook type paper. "What's this?"
"Just turn it over."
Zane did, and Dustin leaned over to get a better look.
On top was a portrait picture of Zane, just his head and neck beautifully drawn and detailed in black pen in that preternaturally professional style that Ethan had demonstrated. Next to it was a note, scribbled in looping, artistic handwriting:
I don't hate you - couldn't hate you. Sorry I said I did. Sorry for everything I said, and for being a Silly Thing. I have to go, but will really miss you. Thank you for the trip, thank you for everything. You're the only one I want kissing me.
ethan.moeller @ gmail.com
The expression on the page was the exact opposite of Zane's real-time countenance. On paper he was smiling, and looked infinitely relaxed and a little bemused. In the flesh his face had heightened, with the lips drawn in tight and the cheekbones prominent as hell. His eyebrows were knit together severely, and his eyes were widened.
After a moment he gently placed the top sheet aside, and started to go through the stack beneath it.
They were more drawings, all of Zane. There were at least 12 or 15 there, and they were each different. Some of Zane performing, some of Zane walking, sitting, a study of his facial expressions. Zane lying in bed, Zane with the band, Zane in quick sketch studies. Some were finished and polished, some were speedily done, but they were all impressive. And the artist had obviously cared very deeply for the subject.
And on the last picture, one of simply walking down the street, in that handwriting again: Give me these back in person =)
Zane didn't look up. "Where did you get these?" His voice was hoarse and quiet.
Rick was staring into his Whiskey, his expression a little twisted. "They were in the bag Ethan had left in London. I'd taken them out before giving the rest over."
Dustin couldn't stop himself, although he recognized this was between the two of them. "What the hell, Rick?"
"I don't KNOW. It just seemed like... fuck. I don't know. I was sick of all the goddamn drama."
"My ass you were," Dustin shook his head angrily. "You selfish bastard. Zane..."
Zane still hadn't said anything since asking Rick where he'd gotten them; he was still looking at the last page, at that little request, and the smiley face. He was still as a statue.
"Look, Butler, I -" Rick started.
Dustin later wasn't completely sure how the next 5 seconds went, because Zane had moved so fast. It felt like he blinked, and when his eyes were open again the singer had hauled Rick off his stool and punched him in the stomach. Judging by Rick's reaction and groaning, it was not exactly a pulled punch.
Rick then straightened angrily and sprung forward with a snarl. It looked like Zane may have gotten him again in the face before they went down. It wasn't exactly easy to tell as they rolled angrily.
"Get the fuck off me!" Zane snarled as he pushed Rick away and scrambled up; from what Dustin could tell he'd gotten the guitarist in the nose. It didn't look broken, but it was certainly bleeding. "What is wrong with you?! Why? What the fuck did you want from this?"
Dustin was stunned by his facial expression; the pure rage in the lines of his eyes and his wide lips. He'd never seen so much expressed on that face before. Those naturally intense features were attractive in stillness, and almost frightening in anger.
Rick got up himself, slowly, holding his stomach. Blood was flowing freely from his nose, and his face was pale. There were several emotions there. Anger, triumph. Guilt. "You don't deserve it. You didn't earn how fucking nuts he was about you, you treated him like shit. He was just a goddamn game." He laughed bitterly in a way that turned in to a cough, and stood up unsteadily, putting a hand out for balance on the end of stool.
"You hated him, why the hell would you care now? Why care then?" Zane sounded truly confused. Now Dustin found his anger more equally balanced between the two of them. Goddamn stupid missing-the-obvious idiots....
"I hated him because I thought he was taking advantage of you, asshole. And then I saw who was taking advantage...much you just used him, used him for how much he liked you, used him to feel good and pushed him the fuck away, fed off his goddamn emotions and didn't give him SHIT back - I didn't think you deserved those pictures. I don't think you deserved HIM apologizing to YOU. That shit was fucked up, and I didn't want you to have it."
"I didn't use him to feel good," Zane said, his face having morphed to an expression of stunned hurt. "It..." He didn't seem to know what to say.
"You emotionally fucked up bastard," Rick killed his whiskey. Drinking it caused him to wince. "You don't make any fucking sense."
Zane grabbed the papers off the bar and strode towards the entrance that connected the bar to the hotel. Dustin started to follow him, but as he opened the door Zane looked at him, his expression clearly warning Dustin to back off. He then disappeared, leaving Dustin standing there at a loss for what he should do.
Rick moved forward, ordering another drink as if he hadn't just gotten punched in the gut. He coughed and adjusted his coat as he sat down, and pressed a cocktail napkin to his nostril. A couple of hotel employees had come in, men in suits that walked with authority followed by an upscale managerial-looking woman with concern writ large on her face, but the Bartender simply shrugged minutely at them and they evaporated again.
Dustin took a moment to wrap his head around what had just happened before sitting down and picking up his beer again, looking thoughtfully through the glass bottle. "What the fuck, Rick?" he asked with a sigh. "What were you really thinking?"
"You two keep asking that."
"It's a valid question."
"Yeah," Rick answered wearily, "I guess it fuckin' is." Dustin waited for more, but that was all he got. He wasn't exactly surprised, and they drank together in silence.
Erica heard a knock at her suite door, and looked up from her computer. "Come in," she said, and put down the cell phone she'd just picked up. She hoped it wasn't anything serious, since she had about 20 calls to make to pull together a last minute concert in Malaysia that was shaping up to be a very big deal.
"Erica?" It was Zane, with a troubled look on his face. His hair was tousled, and there was blood on his shirt. Was that a bruise on his cheek? He was holding something in his hand; it looked like a stack of papers.
"Oh my god," she stood up from the desk, alarmed, "You okay?"
Her singer came in without answering, and sank down on one of the chairs in the mini 'lounge' area of the room. Her new assistant, who was typing up business emails in the chair opposite, looked startled. Erica found how he still got overawed in the presence of the band itself quite endearing, albeit something he needed to overcome.
"Rohan," she said gently, "Why don't you take a break for half an hour."
"Oh, okay." He practically ran out of there. Erica took his seat.
She wondered what was up, and cursed at herself for not having kept in touch with them the way she should have the last several weeks. It was just that because everything was going so quickly, everything blowing up so fast, she wasn't able to be around them all the time like she used to be.
About a month after the huge success of the movie single they'd released a small EP of already-recorded songs, really good ones that had been cut during their NA tour. Two of the songs instantly hit the charts, and climbed them quickly all over the world. With that Snowborne proved itself more than a one-hit-wonder, and long-term sustainability options were presenting themselves all over the place. They re-released the album to fantastic sales, especially online. It was everything she and Zane had wanted, and it was so sudden and so overwhelming Erica barely had time to breath. Between dealing with their business interests, the rising cost of security, and the constant re-sizing of the venues they were playing at she found herself on the phone more often than not. She'd had to turn over the ground operations to a team of carefully (if hastily) chosen handlers and three very large bouncers.
"What happened?" She asked quietly. Her guilt rose. It was very rare for Zane to look so... vulnerable. And very worrisome. Her initial concern was that something had happened with an overzealous fan, and she cursed herself for giving the security team their first night off because the band said it wasn't leaving the hotel.
"Rick and I got into a fight."
"You did?" Oh, shit. What had she been missing? "What happened?"
He held out the papers he'd been holding. "He'd been hiding these from me, since London."
She took them, and flipped through, pausing at the first and last page. Her heart was in her throat. "Oh." She wasn't sure how to react, so she simply handed them back to him. She then waited a moment before carefully asking, "How are you feeling about this?"
Zane was silent, his head down, and his elbows on his knees. Erica had never found out the details of Ethan's departure, and now she regretted not pestering Dustin for the whole story. All she'd been able to discern was it had been sudden (How much it must have cost the boy to pay for his own ticket!), that Zane was pissed off, and that Rick was at least tangentially involved. If only she hadn't been so caught up trying to keep the business aspects of everything together, and done more than simply dismiss the matter as a causal relationship that had run its course... she'd of course noticed Zane's flagging energy on stage, and his decreasing connection with the audience, as it'd been hard to miss. Yet she'd only chalked it up to understandable tour exhaustion, and not connected its beginning with the departure of his attractive guest.
"Zane - I'm guessing you haven't talked to Ethan since he left?"
"No." He lifted his eyes, and she was startled by the raw anguish there. "I thought I shouldn't; I thought he hated me. I thought all I'd done is fuck him up."
One is not always exclusive of the other, she thought sadly, but knew it wasn't an utterance that would help. "So - have you wanted to write him?"
"Every. Goddamn. Day." He said through gritted teeth. God, this Zane was a mystery to her, he was so upset, his face so ALIVE. He sounded so young, and so damn angry at himself. "I'm such an idiot, Erica." Those words were completely full of despair, and her heart broke.
She dismissed the many phone calls she had to make completely from her mind, and leaned forward to touch his knees gently. "Come on, let's talk."