Read WILDER: A Rockstar Romance Online
Authors: Vivian Lux
The offices of
now) were echoingly silent when I returned. The layoffs had been quick, brutal, and as a ruthless as the band whose singer I had just interviewed. It was hard to believe that the merger had only been announced two days ago.
I stared at Zoe's empty desk across from me, refusing to believe that my best friend wasn't here for me to unload on.
In fact, the whole floor was empty, the few of us left in the building rattling around like seeds in the husk of a late autumn milkweed pod. I took a moment to stand at my desk like a little lost rabbit alone in her warren, surveying the strange emptiness.
"Looking for someone, Scar-Scar?"
I didn't jump. I didn't gasp, or whirl around, or give him any of the reactions that he was hoping for. I stared straight ahead, knowing that the thing that bothered Kevin most of all was being ignored.
"They're all gone," Kevin said, almost musingly. There was a cubicle wall between us, but I could still feel the heat of his mockery coming through the walls. "I'm on my way out too. But you're still here, huh?"
I tucked my hair behind my ear and sat down at my desk. I fired up my email, clicking randomly while chanting,
"go away, go away, go away,"
inside of my skull.
"You should tell me your secret, you know," he went on jovially. I don't know if it was a phantom pain or just his nearness, but the place under my ribs felt tender again. My breath came in short, shallow gasps as fear took hold of me. "How you, of all people, managed to keep your job. Who did you convince? Or maybe I should be asking how exactly you convinced them?" His voice took on an air of menace. "Was it while we were together?"
I pulled out my notebook. Just a short half-hour ago, I had been sitting and laughing with Keir like we were old friends again. I had almost forgotten… Almost forgotten the danger I was in.
One interesting side effect of living with my parents, and then with Kevin, was that I could feel anger with just the shift of air currents. Kevin's irritation with me for ignoring him was reaching dangerous heights. The swirling currents were cold around me, like a sudden barometer shift.
Abuse has its own climate.
He leaned over the cubicle. He must've been standing on a fucking chair, he was that desperate to get into my space, to intimidate me. "And where are you living these days, Scarlett? I'm worried about you. How will I know you are safe?"
I stood back up again, ready to make a break for the ladies' room, when I spied my salvation in the form of Marcia from HR.
"Mr. Cunningham, I'm calling security in five minutes. You were supposed to be out of the building by noon."
Kevin moved away from me, and the air around me was suddenly warmer, sweeter. I still refused to look at him, but I knew exactly what he was doing—smiling charmingly at Marcia, batting away her brusqueness with his boyish excuses. He was "just saying his goodbyes." He was "going to miss it here." Lies, lies, lies.
I stood up and smoothed my hands over the skirt I had chosen for Keir's interview. I walked away, hoping that Kevin would pay me no mind, that this was done. We no longer worked together, he didn't know where I lived...
I was safe.
Once in the ladies room, I splashed some cold water on my face. My eyes looked a little red-rimmed, a little spongy around the edges, but otherwise I could pass for normal. All I had to do now was go back to my desk and begin work on the piece that would save my career.
I had done it. I had seen Keir after five long years, and dare I say I had actually enjoyed it?
I really must be a fucking masochist.
But after the initial drama and panic, Keir and I had settled into something almost like our old comfort. An uneasy but friendly truce. I sat back down at my desk and flipped through my notes, startled at how much of what I had gotten was just small talk, catching up on the past that haunted us both.
He asked me questions, and I answered them, then asked him some in return. That's all that happened, and yet there was something hanging in the air the whole time. It was something real, something tangible that I could reach out and grab if I wanted to...but I wasn't sure I wanted to.
It frightened me how much I wanted to have...whatever it was.
Have it once again.
"How are your brothers?" he asked. Small talk. The easy stuff. It was so fucking easy to talk to him.
"Clark is good. Lives in Kenmore with Dayna."
"Didn't he have a baby on the way?"
He remembered. Of course he did. I nodded. "Hailey is five. They have a little boy too, Clark Junior."
"I know, she started kindergarten in the fall."
"And your other brothers? Michael? Matthew?"
I grimaced. "I...don't know. I haven't talked to them."
His eyes went wide. "Really."
I felt my chin jut out a little. "It's better that way."
"And your parents?"
I swallowed. "Haven't talked to them either."
"Really? For how long?"
I bit my lip. It was like he was shining a spotlight right on the wounded spot. "For five years," I exhaled.
He sat back heavily. "I wasn't expecting that."
I felt a sudden flash of anger. "Could we talk about something else?"
"Like anything at all. I cut them out of my life, Keir. And I'm happier for it."
He nodded. He didn't say anything, but then again, he didn't have to.
There was no one in my life now who knew about my past. About the house I grew up in, the toll it took. No one in my life knew me back then—a scared, mousey girl who never spoke up for fear of the price she'd pay.
But Keir knew. I’d never told him, but I suspected he’d known everything that went on anyway. He paid attention. He knew.
And the look on his face told me it still bothered him.
I walked away from the interview feeling wrung out and hollow. I staggered back to the rental car and sat in the driver's seat for a long, long time, my mind blank.
Whether I had run out of thoughts or was consciously trying not to think, I couldn't tell the difference.
This had been a mistake...but it was a mistake I'd gladly, eagerly make again.
He was taller, broader, sadder than the boy I remembered, and his eyes no longer danced with the manic glee of the boy who had danced wildly around in my driveway serenading me with old Billy Joel songs. "Come out, come out, Virginia, don't make me wait…"
I couldn't imagine
Keir ever doing such a thing.
And yet, somehow, they were one and the same. The boy of my past was the man in my presence. I struggled to force the two of them to unite into one person in my mind as I wrote my initial outline.
I felt my cheeks flushing as I described him, slouched back on the couch, his arm flung out, long fingers absentmindedly stroking the fabric, occasionally gripping it tightly. I took my notes by touch, absorbed as I was with watching him. He slouched to the side, propping his head up with his hand, his fingers raking through his dark hair, and when he did, the side of his T-shirt hitched up.
Keir notices me noticing him,
But he doesn't call me out.
He doesn't lower his shirt, either.
I had been at it for about an hour, steadily absorbed by the words on the page, letting the real world fall away as I brought color and depth to the story that was gradually taking shape underneath my fingertips.
The keen-eyed young journalist flips through her notes, searching for the nugget of rare truth that will hook her readers at the very beginning.
The lure and madness of a blank page was something that every writer understood. And once the story took hold of you, it was very hard to stop.
Which was why I almost fell out of my chair when my desk phone rang.
"Scarlett, it's Kelly Lynch." The second she said her name, I knew that it could be no one else. But instead of her icy, above-it-all demeanor, she sounded almost breathless.
"Kelly," I said, unsure if I should be addressing her by her first name or not. "How can I help you?"
"Drop what you're doing." She said it, and like the good little Catholic schoolgirl that I was, I immediately pulled back from my keyboard and dropped my hands into my lap. "We have a new assignment for you."
"You do?" I said, hoping I didn't sound too surprised. "But I haven't submitted…"
"It doesn't matter. Clear your schedule. And I hope you have suitcases."
After Scarlett left, I drank until I fell asleep. When I woke up, it was dark, I had a headache, and for a second I forgot the giant mess I had just made.
As much as my brother and I were the main attraction, Ruthless was a democracy through and through. Rane did much of the talking for us, but it was never without consulting all five members first. This was true even for such mundane matters as what bar we were going to hit up or what shade of red filter to throw in the lights at our rehearsal gigs.
Something as big as what I had just done should have been put to a vote.
They were going to be pissed.
Rane would most likely slug me. That, I could handle. That, I was used to. But the rest of them…
Ruthless was born in my father's garage, the product of two motherless teenage boys looking for some kind of outlet.
The first member we recruited was Billy "Balzac" Balanztian. We'd known him since junior high, when he’d hit puberty before all of the rest of us, standing a full head taller than the rest of the boys by age twelve. By age thirteen, he'd cleared six feet tall and was working on tipping the scales at two hundred fifty pounds. His hair was wild, his eyebrows were formidable and, as I had personally seen while touring with him, the guy needed to shave every four hours lest his beard completely overtake him. Eventually he just gave up and let the wizard thing happen.
Everyone was terrified of him back then, a fact that seemed to bother him more than a guy of his size should ever be bothered by anything. Balzac was a giant teddy bear back then, and still was today, a gentle giant of a man who liked to cuddle baby animals in his huge hands and grew tulips in his spare time. Kids loved him on sight, often mistaking him for Santa Claus, ignoring the fact that he looked like an escaped convict to crawl up in his lap and yank on his ear.
Sensitive enough to realize that his presence was freaking people out, he had retreated from the halls of the high school into the music room, picking up instrument after instrument before finally settling on an upright bass as big as he was. As the only member of the youth orchestra large enough to handle this unwieldy instrument, he soon found his calling.
He was cool, he was patient, he was good at his instrument…and he had the added bonus of being the only bassist we'd ever met. From that moment on, Balzac's position in Ruthless was secure.
We had a vocalist, guitarist, bassist...but lacked a drummer to finish the band. Once again, we scoured the neighborhood, auditioning a bunch of talented drummers, but each once seemed to lack the necessary combination of chops and patience that two hotheads like my brother and I required.
We came up with Twitch as kind of a last resort.
Lowell and Piper Stowe were a pair of musically gifted twins who attended one of the magnet schools downtown. We poached Lowell on the advice of a friend of ours, but when he showed up to audition, it was with his sister in tow. "Sorry guys," he said, his whole body twitching and jerking to the incessant inner rhythm that seemed to come on him like a plague. "Mom says I gotta bring her along."
Piper—Pepper once you knew better—was the quiet twin, tall and whip-thin with technicolor hair that seemed to change weekly. She rarely opened her mouth unless it was to cut someone down to size and mainly communicated in eye rolls and raised middle fingers. But she played keyboards like a goddamn genius and even idiots like us could see she was exactly what our sound needed.
Lowell really wanted us to call him Neo after he watched the Matrix and decided he was "The One", but on the day I called him Twitch, the name just stuck. He just wanted to be your friend, whether you wanted a friend or not. The exact opposite of his twin, he was a goofy jokester who, if he wasn't making you laugh with his stupidity, was making you double over with his clumsiness. It was like all of his reflexes were used up on the drum kit and he had nothing left over to keep him from tripping over his too big feet. The guy was six-foot-five, one hundred and thirty-five pounds soaking wet, and had a size fifteen shoe. He was built like a capital L.
Together, we went from a group of bored teenagers terrorizing our suburban Buffalo neighborhood to the biggest rock band of the decade (or so they said), and all that time we had made decisions as a band.
Now, in the clutches of my drunken, obsessive desire, I had gone against that.
I was still in the hotel penthouse, somehow unable to leave the place where she spent time with me. I looked at the clock beside the vast hotel room bed, surprised to see that it was only eight in the evening. I had slept most of the day away and now had a long, dark, lonely night ahead of me to think about what I had done.
Regret made me angry, and anger made me reckless.
I picked up my phone, ready to call Scarlett's editors, ready to renege on the whole thing.
But instead, I dialed Rane's number.
"Everything okay?" It was Maddie, and she sounded sleepy and more than a little bit sex-drunk.
I rolled my eyes. "Let me talk to my brother," I said, hoping I didn't sound as defensive as I felt.
"You have impeccable timing. Or maybe I do." Rane laughed, and I heard Maddie giggling and hitting him on the other end of the line.
"So, I had that thing today…" I said.
There was no way to fix this other than just saying it.
"What thing was that?" Rane was still caught up in his Maddie-haze. I wasn't getting through.
"That Scarlett thing." I tapped my fingers against the polished wood of the headboard. "I might have fucked up here."
Rane murmured something to Maddie, still distracted.
Time to rip off the Band-Aid.
"Rane, she's coming. She's coming on tour with us."
I made it all the way home, pulling into an empty space across from my building.
Then I took out my phone.
My hand was shaking so badly with suppressed rage that it took me three tries before I angrily stabbed his contact.
He picked up on the second ring, wary. And obviously really fucking drunk.
"Hey, Scar," Keir slurred. He at least had the good grace to sound sheepish.
"You. I can't believe you… Just like that…" I realized I wasn't making any sense, my anger was choking out my truly rational objection. Finally, I spat, "You summoned me!"
I heard his harsh breathing on the other line, that sharp exhale he always did in lieu of saying something he might regret. "I didn't fucking summon you, Scarlett," he said blurrily. "I'm trying to do you a fucking favor."
"The fuck you say?" I seethed. I could see myself in the rearview mirror. My knuckles were white around the phone. My eyes were wild, darting everywhere like a crazy person. "You just made your phone call, and now I have to come running. You couldn't just let me walk away from you like that, getting the last word in, could you? You had to show that you had power over me, didn't you?"
If you’d backed me into a corner and insisted I tell you the truth, I wouldn't have been able to say why this assignment made me so angry. I might have just spit out some garbled nonsense about Kevin, my parents, independence, and how I thought I was free of my past, but none of those thoughts could really be fully articulated. All I could say for certain was that I felt powerless, a pawn in someone else's game…
And nothing made me crazier.
It had happened to me too many times before.
"You'll be riding on the bus with the band!" Kelly Lynch had trilled in the beige conference room as I opened my mouth and shut it like a tiny baby bird. I swear to God, she looked at me jealously. "He's never allowed an interview like this before, never let any journalist into the backstage workings of the band for this long." She looked me dead in the eye. "He said it had to be you. Only you—otherwise it wouldn't happen." She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "This will be a huge get for us, especially with everyone wary about the merger. I don't think I need to tell you how much is riding on this story…"
Only me. It had to be me.
I heard Keir suck in his breath at my accusation. I knew exactly what he was doing right now, rolling his head from side to side, flexing his fingers. I wondered if he had hit something earlier today. I sure as fuck wanted to hit something now. "Scarlett, slow your goddamn roll," he drawled. "You're not making any sense."
"No?" I spat. "That's because you're drunk."
"I'm not drunk and I'm not trying to show my power over you or whatever fucking slight you've got your panties in a bunch about."
Am I ever going to be able to live my life on my own terms?
I felt my eyes fill with tears, which only made me angrier.
I was alone in the car in a dark parking lot, but I still held out my hands to ward off his excuses. "Save it," I ordered him. "I'm not seventeen anymore. I'm not the same girl I was, all naïve and trusting. God, I was such a fool. You must have had so much fun making fun of me behind my back." He protested, but I drowned him out, shouting, "You probably still do, don't you, Keir? You laugh about how you can just snap your fingers and force me to come back to you after all these years!"
"Yes," he snarled. "That's exactly right, Scarlett. Your keen journalistic mind always gets down right to the truth, doesn't it? You think you've got me all figured out."
And if you're going to make me go on this tour with you, you should know that the only reason I'd do it is because I need this job." I was about to hit below the belt, but I couldn't seem to stop myself. "You should know as well as anyone why I can't go home again."
He grunted, and I knew my words had found their mark. "I know," he said grimly. "Believe me, I know." Then his voice grew louder. "I'm trying to do you a fucking favor here. "
"Favor? You sure about that?"
"Yeah, a favor. Helping out a friend."
"Friend?" I scoffed. "More like concubine. You are trying to get me under your thumb again, Keir!"
Too far, too far.
I heard his sharp inhale on the other line and instantly regretted what I had said. "I don't want you under my thumb, Scar." His voice was tight.
He was right, that wasn't fair. It wasn't his fault back then.
But that didn't mean he was allowed to be an asshole now.
Apologies sprang to my lips, but I pushed them back. There was absolutely no way I was going to accept this assignment. If it meant my job, well, then it meant my job.
"Good luck on the tour," I said. My voice sounded strong, sure and formal. Just like how I wanted it to sound.
The hard-nosed journalist lifts her chin, unwilling to be beaten down by her source.
Keir grunted something, but I hung up before he could start to pull me back with sweet words. Because that's what he would do; he'd want to try to fix this. He could never just let anything go, not until it was done right, to his liking.
He always wanted to fix things. He always wanted to save things.
He always wanted to save…me.
I crossed the lot and took the stairs down to my basement floor two at a time, anger heating my blood and filling me with restless energy. I didn't know the neighborhood around here very well, but that was nothing a quick run couldn't help. I slipped my key into the lock, resolving to shed my work clothes and go for an immediate run, use this energy for something good.
I stepped inside and nearly slipped and fell on my ass.
Catching myself against the door frame at the last moment, I glared down at the white envelope that stuck to the heel of my shoe.
Then my heart stopped.
Those thick pen strokes, the kind that left dents in the paper and marks on any surface below, made my heart stop.
He knew where I lived; he’d found this place.
How did he find this place?
Did he go to HR? Did he sweet talk Marcia right before security came to throw him out on his ass? Did he question somebody? Did somebody rat me out? Did he call my mother? Did they track me down together?
No matter how it had happened, Kevin had found me.
I picked up the letter, hands trembling. I didn't want to open it. I wanted to throw it in a fire, run away. He didn't seal the envelope, no need to, really. The message he was leaving me had no need for privacy.
This neighborhood is a dump. I don't feel safe having you here. I'll be back to check up on you.
I let the paper fall to the floor, heart hammering even louder.
He would be back. He knew where I lived, and he would be back again.
My heart raced as rapidly as my thoughts
. I can't get a new apartment. Not yet. I don't have money for the security deposit. I just paid all of the hookups for utilities. I have a year's lease on this place.
Okay, let's think of what we can do.
I could go crash on Myra's couch. Kevin doesn't know her.
For a second, I latched on to that thought so tightly that Kevin's letter crumpled in my closed, desperate fist. But I didn't know her well enough for that, and she was too peripheral of a friend to drag into my drama.
Jason, Zoe... Kevin knows them,
he knows knew where they live. And he'd have no issues with bringing them down.