Authors: Elizabeth Nelson
New Adult Romance
by Elizabeth Nelson
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Copyright © 2013 Elizabeth Nelson
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I woke in the dead of the night. Silvery shadows from the moon lit my room with an ethereal glow and I blinked up at my ceiling, eyes wide and mind racing. This was the third time running I’d snapped awake. Like my body was trying to tell me something.
You’re missing out,
it whispered to me.
Your life is passing you by.
The now familiar numbness cloaked me like a blanket. If I’d been able to feel anything, I’d have laughed at the ridiculousness of my desolate anxiety. I pulled my bed covers up to my chin and flipped to lie on my side. On my nightstand, the red LED on my clock shone 2:32, as if to taunt me. I picked up my phone that was lying beside it, more out of habit than genuine curiosity. No messages. No missed calls. No life. No excitement. I threw it behind me where it landed with a thud on the other side of my singly occupied double bed and I sighed as I sat up.
I needed to do something. There was no way that I could deal with another night staring at my wall. On impulse, I threw the covers back and threw on jogging bottoms and a hoody, not bothering to turn on the lamp. I just wanted to get out, I felt suffocated inside my own body. Scooping my chestnut hair into a scruffy bun on the top of my head, I quietly opened my door and tiptoed down the apartment hallway, being careful not to wake Becky. She was my best friend and we’d lived together for over two years now, but she was a light sleeper and cranky if she was woken. Plus, I wanted to indulge in this solitude. I hoped it would still me.
Picking up my keys, I winced as I softly closed the front door, headed down the glaringly bright hallway and out of the apartment block. Once out on the street, I inhaled deeply. The air was crisp, and my exhale came out in a cloud of white smoke.
What the hell are you doing Anna?
I asked myself, but I didn’t know the answer, so I just started to walk.
My mind was gloriously empty as my trainers echoed off the sidewalk, the sound bouncing into the silent street. It was as though I were the only person in existence as I carved a random path. Town was close, but I chose to circle blocks of houses, not wanting to run the risk of bumping into anyone—or putting myself in danger. The neighborhood was safe enough, darkened houses almost in silhouette against the lurid orange streetlamps. I didn’t have a destination. I was letting my legs lead, hoping that the exercise would help to shake this restlessness that was choking me.
Three blocks in, I started to feel a little lifted. Alone, the streets were sort of surreal. It was like I was in a post apocalyptic movie and I almost began to enjoy myself in the dramatic fantasy. It started to drizzle lightly, and I pulled my hood up against the fine drops, undeterred.
A dark figure ahead of me caused my heart to stop for a beat, then race against my chest as I realized the figure was walking on my side of the road and heading right for me. I slowed my pace but panic had already set in. It was definitely a male. I could tell by his gait. He was very slender, but tall. He, too, had his hood up, hands shoved inside coat pockets. I ran through a thousand potential scenarios in my head. Surely I wouldn’t be attacked or—I admitted the thought—killed? It was a built up area, houses on both sides of the road with families inside. If I screamed, I’d surely be heard.
Thinking that I would look idiotic if I turned and ran in the other direction, despite the fizz of adrenalin making my muscles scream at me to use the flight option they were preparing me for, I carried on walking. Keeping my head down, I watched my feet as the stranger and I moved closer toward each other. Shifting my eyes, I attempted to peek subtle glances at him while trying to keep my breath steady. I was scared. It was the most alive I had felt in a long time and, perversely, I almost relished it.
He was very close now, I looked sideways quickly as we were about to pass each other, and surprise shot through me—I recognized him.
“Nate?” I said uncertainly. He stopped alongside me but did not turn his head. My fear dissipated, his profile was distinctive and I was sure it was him—the curve of his nose and prominence of his full lips were unmistakable beneath the dark hood.
“Nate? It’s me, Anna.” I was baffled by his static pause. As soon as I’d spoken, he spun to face me with a tiny hint of a smile.
“Anna!” Nate placed his hands on my shoulders and looked me over as if to check. “I’m so relieved, I thought you were some crazy fan.” He pulled me in for a brief hug. I could smell an expensive aftershave beneath the scent of fresh rain that lay on his coat, and I was strangely comforted. He kept his hands on my shoulders and raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“What the hell are you doing out here at this time of night?” he asked. Even in the dim light, his eyes were as mesmerizing as I remembered—a swirl of greeny-blue, intense and beautiful. I never did get used to the magnetism of those eyes, and I lowered my gaze to avoid them. Nate had always made me feel like he could see right to the center of my soul, and I did not want it exposed right now.
“I couldn’t sleep so I went for a walk. But, erm, I live like four blocks away, unlike you—aren’t you supposed to be on tour? Why are you wandering the streets of my neighborhood?” Once the words were out, a startling realization struck me. I met his eyes again to see if my assumption was correct. He stared right into me, but there was a gleam of sheepishness, embarrassment.
“Nate, were you on your way to our place? Have you come to see Becky?” I gasped.
Last year, my best friend and Nate had been in love. They’d had an intense relationship—Nate would fly from all over the world to hole up in Becky’s room inside our apartment. He was lead singer in the band Chance, and we’d travelled all over the country so they could be together while he toured. It was thrilling and complicated—avoiding paparazzi and groupies and hiding in backstage areas to avoid any limelight. I’d loved every second as Becky’s wingman during that time. Eventually, she made the journeys alone. But the thrill started to fade for her. It was hard work, dating someone as famous as the front man of Chance, and the stress and unpredictability started to wear her down. Their break up was as explosive as the relationship had been, and a year on—even though Becky’s circumstances were wildly different now—I was still cautious about bringing it up. She’d shattered into pieces when they had split.
Nate dropped his hands, his large eyes, sad.
“I just wanted to be close. I don’t feel like myself anymore, Anna. I miss her.” His final comment came out in a whisper and I felt desperate for him. “Our next gig is a couple hundred miles away. I insisted on getting a hotel near here. But I couldn’t sleep. I hardly ever sleep these days.”
“Oh, Nate. It will get easier, I promise.” It was cliché, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I was used to a confident, self-assured man. Full of energy and vitality, mischievous, a little cocky even. This broken shadow was not the guy I had spent time with a year ago. He took a deep breath and seemed to shake himself.
“What’s the deal with you, anyway?” Nate wanted the subject changed. “Often walk the streets at 3am do you?”
I couldn’t muster the smile that his statement had been designed to invoke. Instead, I shuffled my feet and shrugged.
“I dunno. I just feel—lost at the moment. Bored. I can’t explain it. I’m fed up with the path I’ve chosen, I want more. I want—I don’t really know what I want. And that’s the main problem.” I hadn’t meant to blurt so much, to be so honest, but there was something raw about standing in a ghostly quiet street in darkness. It felt like the right time to spill inner thoughts, somehow.
“What a pair. Both out searching for things we know we can’t find.” Nate’s laughter had a bitter edge. “You still got the same cell number?” he asked. I nodded yes. “Look, come and see me after a show. It’ll be good to catch up. We should go and try to sleep. Want me to walk you back?”
Although it was nice to see him, I still craved solitude and declined his offer, wanting to use the walk back to try and empty my thoughts. He opened his arms and I allowed him to squeeze me tightly. The unexpected human contact was a pleasant warmth in the cold, damp night. We smiled at each other as we turned to walk in opposite directions.
I knew that Nate just wanted to see me because I was a connection to Becky, but I didn’t care. I guess I was using him equally, wanting to go to his gig in order to feel some of that spontaneity Becky and I used to know. I needed something to look forward to, needed a moment where I could escape from my life.
As I snuck back into the apartment, I decided I wouldn’t tell Becky about my encounter with her ex. It had taken her a long time to get the light back in her eyes, she was happy now, and I didn’t want to be the one responsible for setting her back. Guilt already built inside me, but I was sure that this was the best tactic. It would just be one show, she’d never find out. Plus, I had to admit to feeling a little abandoned by her recently. It wasn’t her fault, not really. I’d been getting increasingly lower, just as she was getting increasingly happier. She’d spent so long being down, I didn’t think it was right to reveal my growing listlessness—I didn’t want to drag her back down. But this meant that I’d been suffering internally all alone, and tiny pinpricks of resentment had formed. I was angry a lot, and poor Becky often tolerated the brunt of it. It was about time I gave her a break.
Sighing, I checked the clock as I lay down. I needed to be up for work in four hours. I worked in a giant call center for a telecommunication company, and the thought of sitting for nine hours, listening to complaint after complaint over my phone’s headset filled me with a sickening dread. I wanted a way out of the ordinary. I had managed to overcome what I had hoped would be one of the biggest obstacles in my life—I had found the strength for that, from somewhere. Now, I wanted to discover the self that had nearly been lost completely during that time. I would find a way to get myself back to me, to shake off the hangover of the past.
As my eyelids grew heavy, a solid resolve began to grow in the pit of my stomach and even though the start of my night had been hollow and dead, the new spark of hope enabled me to drift into a dreamless slumber.
I texted Anna as soon as I got back to my room. Remembering she had an office-type job, I told her to come along to the second show I was doing in the town nearby, that upcoming Friday. At least then she’d be able to hang out after. I was desperate to ask about Becky, to glean any tidbits of information that I could. I felt bad for using her, but I wasn’t entirely—I’d spent a long time with Anna in the time I was with Becks, and I liked her. I wanted the comfort of a familiar face outside of the band, too.
My hotel room was generic. I’d seen thousands and they failed now to give me the buzz of joy they had when the band had first made it. I used to open the mini bar, fling myself onto pristine Egyptian cotton sheets, grin at huge walk-in showers and sunken tubs. Now I barely noticed any of the details. They were rooms without character or life, somewhere to drink in, as I hardly slept, or to bring back impressed, faceless girls, who walked around touching the plush curtains and exclaiming at the bed size while I waited for their attention to focus back on me. Even the girls had become generic, like the hotel rooms. Everything had lost its sparkle for me.
I slumped into goose down pillows, their luxury wasted on me, and flicked on the TV for company rather than entertainment. A bottle of whiskey sat on the nightstand and I poured myself a generous glass, attempting to achieve enough sedation to pull me into sleep.
The sweet tang of the smoke machine filled my nostrils as I closed my eyes, threw my arms in the air and allowed the screams from the audience to engulf me. The guitar was a heavy comfort dangling from its strap across my shoulders and it rocked slightly at the expansion of my lungs. The exertion of the final track had left me panting hard. Not wanting to escape this feeling—the thrill of vibration from the cheers and foot stomping in the crowd, the tingle of adrenalin in my veins—I kept my eyes shut just a moment longer. Holding on. Wishing I could stay there forever.
The lights went down as the pyrotechnics fizzed ahead of me, and only then did I look. I saw hundreds of mouths chanting my name.
“Nate. Nate. Nate.”
Hands clapping in the air beyond the sulphuric black cloud of the now-spent indoor fireworks. The smile that spread across my lips was genuine as I paraded for the final time up and down the width of the stage. My drummer, Mikey, came forward and tossed a few of his spare drum sticks into the pit of hysterical woman. I stood back slightly to allow him to enjoy his moment of adulation and took the time to cast my gaze on the few faces I could make out from the front row.
Of course, most of our fans were girls, and while the majority were currently wrestling each other over Mikey’s sticks, a large number still kept their yells focused toward me. I loved this feeling.
. Knowing I could pick any single one of those woman—more than one if I wanted—and they’d do anything. I could say this confidently due to very personal experience. A gorgeous brunette caught my eye. She was standing stock still, her gaze fixed on me. I spun the guitar around so it hung on my back and I raised a hand at her. She just smiled, her full lips parting, revealing her teeth. My face was blazoned on the tight t-shirt she wore, stretching against the fullness of her large breasts. I licked my lips before leaving the stage, having made my decision for the night.
“Hey. Good show, man. You had some energy out there tonight.” Mikey slapped me on the back as we made our way down the stairs toward the dressing rooms. The venue had a surprisingly nice backstage area and we each had our own rooms as well as a large space where we could all hang out. On the last tour I’d spent most of my time in communal areas, hanging out with the roadies, technicians and groupies. And Becky. Laughing, joking and partying. The rush of performing didn’t last so long these days; as soon as the lights had dimmed, as soon as I’d left the stage, reality started to descend. As the now familiar block of ice began to form in the pit of my stomach, I flashed Mikey a forced smile and winked at him, turning to rush back to the wings, holding the neck of my Fender to stop it bouncing. I heard his deep chuckle, he knew exactly what I was doing. If only I did.
I located one of the security guards and pointed the brunette out to him, being careful not to expose myself from the side of the stage. He nodded and made his way toward the crowd while I headed back to the solitude of my dressing room, managing to keep my smile fixed as I passed a blur of faces.
“Good show, Nate.”
“You rocked tonight, Nate.”
Grinning thanks at each one, I lifted my guitar off and closed the door. Leaning against it, I felt a brief relief in the solitude as the buzz faded. As memories threatened to tap into the forefront of my mind, I walked a few steps across the small room and spun the lid off a bottle of Jack. Not bothering with the glass—needing an instant buzz—I swigged a burning mouthful and winced as I allowed it to hit my bloodstream. The room was brightly lit, it stung my eyes more than the stage spot had, and was badly painted an off white. A large mirror framed with those tacky but compulsory bulbs sat above a counter that housed my towel, aftershave and bourbon and I briefly met my own eyes in the reflection. All I saw were sadness and grief, and I took another gulp from the bottle as I looked away. A loud knock on the door made me jump slightly. Taking a deep breath, I ran my fingers though my hair and opened it.
The security guard stood before me, his frame bulky and solid.
“The girl is waiting in the main room, Nate,” he said, expressionless.
“Great. Thanks.” I waited for him to turn around and leave but he just hovered. Knowing exactly what the answer would be, I asked the question anyway.
For the first time, the meaty bulk of a man smiled, almost shy.
“It’s just. . .well. . .I’m sorry to do this. . .but my daughter is a huge fan of your band. When I told her I was working at a Chance gig tonight she was beside herself.” He trailed off, chuckling softly. “I just wondered if you’d mind signing this for her? She’d be thrilled.”
He held out our latest album and tapped himself for a pen. I almost laughed – everybody wants an autograph but no one ever has a damn pen with them. Of course, I took the album and located a pen amongst my stuff in the corner of the room with a patient smile. I loved this part of being famous, really—the constant affirmation and adoration—I needed it to feel whole, especially now.
As the security guard left me, Mikey’s silhouette appeared down the dim corridor.
“Hey. There’s a smoking hot girl down there waiting for you. . .” He trailed off as he clocked the bottle dangling from my hand. “Are you okay, Nate? You’ve been hitting that stuff pretty hard this tour. Don’t want you burning out on us.”
I toyed with the idea of spilling my head to Mikey. He’d been great to me when I’d split with Becky—all the guys had been. But here, a year on, I knew he’d just tell me to get a grip. Enough time had passed, I should have moved on by now. Instead, I chuckled dismissively and hit him on the arm.
“We’re rock-stars Mikey.” I waggled the bottle in front of him. “Just livin’ the dream.” Choosing to ignore the concern on his face, I shut the door to my dressing room and walked the narrow corridor to a large, buzzing space full of chattering bodies, flight cases and wires.
The atmosphere intensified as I walked in. The crew were all unfazed by me, of course, but occasionally they’d invite friends and family. They’d all be cool, but I had to do the usual posing for photos and signing of shirts before I could locate my chosen distraction for the evening.
She stood nervously in the corner and I adopted a swagger I did not feel as I approached her.
“Hey. I’m Nate.” I held out my hand to her and quickly did a scan of her face. Definitely in her twenties, I noticed with relief. As she clasped my palm in hers, I pulled her forward to kiss her cheek. She immediately dissolved.
“Oh my God, I’m so stoked to meet you. Like, your music has changed my life. I love you guys,” she gushed. “I’m Alice, by the way.”
“Well that’s nice to hear Alice, thank you.” I leaned provocatively against the wall and was about to invite her to my hotel when something stopped me. Before and after Becky, this was a common post-gig activity for me, and most of the guys in the band. At first it was fun, and after the break-up, necessary—anything to take my mind off the hurt. But today? I just didn’t want to. I didn’t have energy to give to a complete stranger. I didn’t feel worthy of the constant worship or willingness to please. Instead, I signed some merchandise for her, posed for a couple of photos she snapped on her cell, and escorted her to security who could lead her back to the auditorium.
“Bit of a crazy was she?” the bass player, Jon said in my ear. I had known Jon the longest out of all the guys. We had jammed together as teenagers in my mom’s garage, and I didn’t have to put up as much of a front with him as I did others. I couldn’t—he’d see right through it.
“Just not feeling it. What are you up to now?” I suddenly wanted my friend to stick around.
“I gotta hit the hay. Marissa and the kids are flying out tomorrow. Can’t wait. Are you okay?” I felt a surge of admiration for Jon and his loyalty, his ability to combine two such different worlds. He had married Marissa ten years ago, when they were both twenty one. He had two adorable kids and even though he bounced around on tour, got screamed at and plagued by fans everywhere he went, he still managed to maintain a perfect and loving family life.
“I’m fine. Can’t wait to see Marissa and the beans. Oh, Anna’s coming to the show tomorrow, too. She’ll be glad to hear she’s got some company.”
“Becky’s friend Anna? That a good idea?” Jon queried.
“Sure, why not?” I frowned. “It’s not like she’s coming with Becky. And she’s pretty cool. I thought it’d be good to catch up with her.”
“Just as long as it doesn’t bring back too many memories. Seems you’ve been struggling with those enough lately.” He gestured toward the drink in my hand. I was shocked by how many people had noticed—I thought I had been doing a good job of covering my abject misery, but perhaps not. It was tough shit though, I needed it right now, I had nothing else. Unexpectedly, I felt a flash of anger toward my friend. How dare he judge me? No one had the faintest clue what I was going through, no one had even fucking bothered to ask properly. I stared him in the eye as I lifted the bottle and took a large swallow, and carried on glaring at him as he walked away.