Chapter 7.29

Jack

After I got over the shock of seeing Cheyenne on a marquee and then a huge billboard smack in front of my trendy neighborhood, I decided I’d better take a look at what everyone obviously knew that I didn’t.

I jetted out to San Myshuno to her latest concert, incognito of course. Didn’t want my fans to recognize me at her concert.

Beyond the drop dead gorgeous woman she’d turned out to be, Cheyenne was incredibly talented. Chills rippled through me when she belted out the most explosive high notes.

My God, I thought. Her voice had really matured since the old days of our youth at that performing arts camp.

I drifted back to those simpler times. Times I relished. Even though I was already a superstar, there, I was just Jake, having a little crush on a beautiful girl.

Honest. Pure. Real.

What amazed me most was Cheyenne learned to dance as well.

The little girl with two left feet had arrived to the applause of all who saw her.

******

Cheyenne

I gotta say, the San Myshuno crowds were the best! Their cheers buoyed me and I sang my heart out. Better than I’d ever hoped to before!

Marching through my routines, it was like an unnatural confidence swept through me and I owned the stage.

This was what I was meant to do all along. Every concert, I would gaze out over all the screaming fans and I knew. I was home. Right here.

At the end of the night, with emotion rising through me, I threw a good-bye kiss to all my fans.

I shouted, “You all are so amazing! I’ll see you next time!”

They screamed, hurting my eardrums.

Jack

After Cheyenne’s fantastic concert was over, I knew I had to see her. My bodyguards ushered me through the back doors into the place where Cheyenne’s dressing room would be. Of course being who I was, we got through security easily.

Cheyenne’s concert logo seemed to vibrate out of the walls. I was so proud of her.

How far she’d come since the days when she couldn’t step anywhere but on people’s toes.

A curt voice broke me out of my revery. “Sir! You’re not allowed down here. Go back or I’ll call security.”

I couldn’t believe this was all that was between me and seeing the biggest star here. What was Cheyenne’s security team thinking?

The girl eyed me up and down. Did she recognize me even through the disguise?

Knitting her eyebrows, she said, “I mean it. I’m about to have you arrested. Leave. Now.”

Giving my glasses and hat to one of my body guards, I then strode up to her, eyebrow arching. “I’m an old friend of Cheyenne Day.”

Instantly, her eyes bugged out as she lost her breath.

Shocking people never got old.

I cocked my head. “Now…can you take me to Miss Day’s room or will I have to text her about your negligence?”

She wilted underneath my gaze. “Oh please don’t say anything to Miss Day. She’s already told me that if I mess up one more time, she’ll have to find me another job. I love working with her so much. You won’t tell on me will you?”

The silly thing didn’t even give me a chance to answer. She just muttered to herself. “Oh God how stupid could I be? You just mouth vomited at THE Jack Rackham, idiot.”

Then she waved her arm. “Follow me, Mr. Rackham.”

That’s one thing fame always got you.

Anywhere you wanted.

*******

She knocked but no one answered, so she gingerly tiptoed in, finding no one around. I could hear the shhhhh of a shower streaming in the distance.

“So, like, Miss Day is getting ready. If you want, just make yourself comfortable on the couch.”

The girl pointed to her right. “There’s goodies and stuff on the table over there. Thanks so much for the autograph, Mr. Rackham. You’re a doll.”

Then she closed the door and I found myself in Cheyenne Day’s dressing room. I knew carrying a few pictures for fans would come in handy. A little bribery always helped.

She took the longest shower and I was growing perplexed. After all, we hadn’t seen each other in years. Fifteen to be exact. Would she be upset by my forwardness?

Nerves got the better of me when I heard her come out of the bathroom. What if she wasn’t clothed? That wouldn’t be a good scene, so I scuttled to her closet, hoping she wouldn’t find me crouching there. If she did, well, maybe seeing me would be enough for her to forget the intrusion and she’d just wrap her arms around her old friend. I was sure she’d be okay with it, so I tamped down my anxiety.

Then I heard her chatting to herself and couldn’t make myself come out to greet her.

Cheyenne

“Mateo always loves me when I’m dressed down,” I said, glancing at one of my selfies. God, I couldn’t wait to fly home and dive into his arms. It’d been six months of a whirlwind tour and I needed some R n R. Thankfully, we were still talking even though on the books we were broken up. He was my best friend in the whole world and I never wanted to be with anyone else.

I glanced at one of his texts after I sent it.

He was so cute. And predictable. I missed him so much, I couldn’t stand it. So I struck a pose just for him.

But then he ignored it after I sent it. “What’s going on?”

Instantly, he called.

“What the hell, boyfriend? You don’t like my pics?”

His low voice sent shivers through me. “I just want the real deal is all. I miss you.”

“I’ll be in Del Sol Valley by morning. Meet me at my place, okay?”

When I hung up, warm feelings swept through me. Mateo still loved me and it seemed nothing had changed between us. Maybe…just maybe…things could work out with us?

I had to block that out of my mind. Attachments only meant hurt in the end. But I could dream…right?

A few minutes later, a man’s deep voice reverberated through the room, sending knives through my back. “Hello, Red.”

Oh my God. Only one person ever called me Red.

“Jack?”

Chapter 7.28

Mateo

If you would have told me I’d be here, getting my hair shaved off, with my band split up, and my life in total chaos, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I was so golden a few years back. Cheyenne and I were solid. Happy. In love.

During the peak of our relationship, we’d have to find new places to be together since our first album went platinum just like Dusty Blair said we would. Our renovated warehouse had this cool laundry room with keycoded locks so no paparazzi could invade our privacy.

Worked for us.

Even our bandmates wouldn’t hear a thing.

I was in heaven.

But even back then I felt it wouldn’t last.

Cheyenne would ask me what’s wrong, but I couldn’t put a finger on it.

So I played it off. I mean…nothing WAS wrong. Right?

When first our drummer Angelo quit to get married to his longtime girlfriend then Hunter got asked by the legendary Tyler Stephen to be his new lead guitarist in Stereosmith, news hit that Edge of Eden was breaking up and paps hounded us relentlessly.

We couldn’t even go shopping for a new car anymore without guards.

I shouted at them but that only made it worse.

I thought we’d get through it though. Find a new drummer and lead guitar. I had tons of contacts of awesome talent who I knew would give their left nut to join us. We needed dudes only since Cheyenne could be the only flower in Edge of Eden.

But before I could start the interview process, our producer called me into her office and changed everything.

*****

Jack

“No, dammit. That screenplay isn’t worth the space on my computer hard drive, Crenshaw. Get me another one that’s worth a damn and I’ll remember not to fire you.”

This was the last straw with my newest agent. I’d fired six in the last three years. They all didn’t understand that I wasn’t an object to toss around to any heartthrob romance movie. I honestly rue the day when I signed onto those stupid teen flicks. Moonlight type casted me so badly that I didn’t think I’d ever dig myself out of those sappy, awfully written teen thrillers. Sure they made me cold hard cash but I was an actor. A damned good one. I deserved better.

Backpedaling, Seth Crenshaw cooed, “No problem, Jacky baby. I’ll do some shaking and baking and get you the script of your dreams. No sweat.”

I growled into my phone, “It better not be all talk, Crenshaw. This is your last chance.”

Seth’s voice raised a notch. “Don’t worry! I’m going to talk to Larry Spugberg right now. I heard he has a new psychological thriller that will blow your mind. I’m sure I could talk him into allowing you a read.”

I shook my head. “You’ve got it all wrong, Crenshaw. I’ll allow him a read. He’d be damned lucky that I’d even consider a script from his production company. Didn’t he produce those ridiculous dinosaur dramas?” I glanced at my watch. Fuck. I was late for my dinner date with Dawn Martin, my co-star in Moonlight. According to our contracts, we had to “pretend” to date for the remainder of the movies. We had one more. I hated her guts. But she didn’t like me either so it was fair. I was lucky she was as good an actor as I was.

My guard, Benny, opened my car door for me. Because of my glory days as a young music artist, I still had teens throw themselves at me so I had to have guards with me 24-7. And doing all those Moonlight movies didn’t help. I needed a REAL movie. One that would dust off the cliche memes and catapult me into movie history. I wanted a Simacadamy award. I knew I could earn it. But that wouldn’t be in my future with the crap I was doing right now.

I set my jaw. “I want that script in my inbox tomorrow morning or you’re history.”

“I’ll have it there before midnight,” Seth answered.

I smiled. I liked it when people quaked around me. “Good. And if it’s as stellar as you’re boasting, I’ll make sure your bonus is doubled.”

I glanced at a sign next to my car and my stomach plunged.

Could that rosy beauty really be…Cheyenne?

MY Cheyenne?

I ripped off my shades to get a better look then nearly dropped my phone as my hands shook.

No fucking way. How did I not know she was a singer? And if she coined signage in this trendy location, she must have a huge production company backing her.

Mateo

“Look, Mateo, it’s nothing personal. Cheyenne needs wings to fly. You’re dragging her down.”

I was stunned. Shocked. Mortally wounded. You name it. “What the fuck are you talking about, Dusty?” She lead with that sentence without a hi or hello. But that was Dusty Blair. Straight business.

She arched an eyebrow. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m sending out a new contract that will supplant the ones with Edge of Eden. You should have seen this coming. Do I need to spell it out?”

Okay fine. She was right. Edge of Eden’s first album went platinum but the next two might as well be dumpster fire fodder. Total duds. But still…we could rise up with the next one. I countered, “We’ve been working hard on our newest album. You mean you want us to split up?”

“I don’t care what you do, Mateo, but we want Cheyenne to go out alone with a new pop sound. A black metal band might break out like with your first album, but fans are fickle. Pop music always stands out and Cheyenne has the talent to be a huge star.”

My heart twisted. “Did Cheyenne say yes to this?”

“No, actually. So it’s your job to convince her. You know I’m right. You’re dead weight. Cut her off, and she’ll fly. Otherwise…” She stopped then grimaced. “You both will end up in hasbeen hell.”

Dusty was right. I knew this. And my Cheyenne, my beautiful girlfriend whom I loved more than the world itself was so loyal to me, she’d die at the bottom of the sea rather than go for the stars.

I couldn’t let that happen.

I had to speak to her in private, so I ushered her to our bathroom. Once I laid out that I wanted her to go solo, she lost it.

“Do you realize what you’re saying, Mateo? No. Absolutely not. Edge of Eden has fans. Hundreds of thousands of fans. Dusty Blair doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

Hating what I was about to do, I took her beautiful, soft hands. “Baby, please…just listen.”

I couldn’t look at her because I’d back out. “Dusty has offered me a chance to form my own band as leader. I can name it what I want. Dress how I want. Even call it BLITZED. She’s giving me a two album contract, so…”

She wouldn’t argue with me if it was about my career. I wasn’t lying. I forced the deal with Dusty in order to convince Cheyenne. I felt like shit. But it was for her own good. I was just dragging her down.

Cheyenne rubbed my face. “Do you know what that means?”

Raising her hands to my lips, I kissed them. I couldn’t say anything more to her or I might have lost it.

Curling her around me, I held her as if maybe I could stop the train that already thundered out of the station. I knew it would be the end of us. And so did she.

Fast forward six months, my tour schedule was set with tons of fans ready for my black death rock somber tunes. My heartache from our break up was actually good for me creatively.

And we still talked. In fact, we’d hook up whenever our schedules allowed.

But it wasn’t enough for me.

I felt empty inside.

Chapter 7.27

Cheyenne

After I’d said good bye to Kristie, I walked in a daze not really knowing where I was.

What Kristie had said about Zachary played over and over in my mind like a horrible nightmare.

“I saw Zachary kissing a girl at a party last week and then I heard he slept with her…”

How could Zachary have been cheating on me this whole time? I was such a naive loser.

Tears threatened to clog my throat and pinch the corners of my eyes. “No, dammit!” I screeched. “I don’t care! It wasn’t going to work out with him anyway!” But he told you he loved you!

And I loved him. I had never felt like that about anyone before.

Then the torrent of tears came. There wasn’t anything I could do about it.

Mateo

I heard crying from my room and thought it was Cheyenne. Why would she be sad?

Once I found her, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Tears streaming down her face, she was sobbing uncontrollably.

“Chey…what’s the matter?” I reached out to her.

When she wouldn’t respond, I patted her knee. “Come on…it’ll help if you talk about it.”

Rising up, she said, “I’m okay, Mateo…it’ll be….” But she couldn’t finish her sentence.

My mind went instantly to that asshole dickhead boyfriend. “Did Jockstrap do this to you?”

Shaking her head, she said, “I was so stupid…to…trust…” She trailed off then hiccuped. “Why, Mateo? Why am I such a loser? Am I ugly? He should have gone out with someone pretty like Kristie…instead of…”

Shit. He broke up with her. “Listen, if that asshole can’t see what a gorgeous, talented goddess you are then it’s his loss. Good riddance.”

“B-But he…slept with another girl…Kristie said…she saw….him…”

Fucking jerk cheated on her. Didn’t surprise me. Guys like him were all the same.

I wiped her warm tears. “It’s not your fault. He’s the loser. He doesn’t know a gift when he has it. Can’t you see that?”

But she wasn’t listening to me. All I could do was hold her and let her cry.

Zachary

It was like I found myself in a nightmare I couldn’t escape.

Cheyenne had blocked me. And I knew why.

Somehow my drunk self got out of control and the news traveled to her.

Shit. How was I going to get her back?

I knew when it was happening it was wrong.

My drunk self told me over and over not to.

But I’d been lonely for so long…I just…

Caved.

Can’t lie. I enjoyed it. Having a woman wrap her arms around me after some great sex. Well…

But in the morning, I fell out of that bed and reality hit like a cold slap.

The girl wasn’t Cheyenne. I knew that. But right then I realized I’d cheated. And that made me feel like shit.

If I could go back and do it over, I would. I wouldn’t have gotten drunk. I wouldn’t have even talked to Samara.

Damn.

How was I going to get out of this one?

Looking again at my phone, I checked all of my social media for the hundreth time.

She didn’t leave one open to me.

I was blocked out of her life.

*****

Cheyenne

Mateo was so sweet. Just like the great friend he’d been since I met him. He’d grown up in the hood of Del Sol Valley being raised only by his brothers. His mother was a drug addict and he had no idea who his father was. He got along by his wits, his love for music and his awesome personality. I’d known from the first time I met him, he was someone special.

After he listened to me drone on about what had happened with Zachary, he suggested we get some fresh air.

“You realize guys like that aren’t good for you, right?” he asked. “And although I hadn’t said anything to you earlier, it’s kind of apparent. He doesn’t have anything in common with you.”

I gave him a look. “We might not listen to the same music but we do have some things in common.”

“Like what, Cheyenne? You both have been going in two different directions at light speed. In my opinion, this is a good thing. Like ripping off a bandaid. It might sting when it’s happening but it’ll be over quickly and you’ll feel better in no time.”

Every word out of Mateo’s mouth made sense. He always had a way about him that’d make me feel better. Whether it was finding our way through music or laughing at a meme or just being ourselves out on the patio, he knew how to center me. To make me feel okay.

“I…guess you’re right,” I breathed, like a storm suddenly lifted.

He caressed my cheek. “Of course I’m right.”

And I didn’t know how it all happened, but it was like the sun shone down on him, lighting him up in my eyes.

I couldn’t help myself. Pulling him toward me, I kissed him.

Passionately.

It was the craziest, most thrilling thing I’d ever done in my life.

And I didn’t regret it.

Not for one second.

Mateo

What the crazy…fuck?

One minute I was talking sense to Cheyenne and the next minute she was kissing me.

God.

I’d thought about doing that with her so many times it hurt. But…

Once we took it to my room, the shit got real.

Did I really want to be her rebound hook up?

But what could I do?

I wouldn’t turn her away. So I just went with it and hoped I’d be the one who’d be good to her. Turn our friendship into something real.

With our band lighting up, making a go at a relationship seemed like the best thing. Jockstrap was an inconvenient roadblock that just got swept away.

At least I’d hoped so.

Zachary

I booked it to Del Sol Valley as soon as I could.

But once I got there, I wasn’t surprised by what I saw.

Her and Mateo were all cuddled up like they’d been together for years.

How long had this been going on?

And I was the cheater?

Crossing my arms, I yelled, “What the hell, Cheyenne?”

They pulled apart like the guilty people they were.

Blood boiling, I shouted, “Get the fuck away from my girlfriend, you bastard.”

Cheyenne’s eyes watered as she looked away.

“She’s not your girlfriend. You ruined that for yourself when you fucked that whore.”

Pulling her away from me, he muttered, “Come on, Cheyenne.”

If he thought he could erase everything we had by moving in when it was convenient, he didn’t know who he was dealing with.

I grabbed Cheyenne’s hand. “Not so fast.”

“Baby, please.” I looked her in the eyes. “Can we talk?”

Mateo thrust his body between us. “Not unless you want me to pound you, asshole. Now leave.”

Cheyenne

I couldn’t believe Zachary had the nerve to come here. And now both Zachary and Mateo were about to get into a fist fight. I couldn’t let that happen.

Even though I didn’t want to talk to him (I didn’t even want to look at him), I couldn’t let Mateo get hurt. Although Zachary was smaller in height than Mateo, he was a professional athlete and would probably kick Mateo’s ass in a second.

I nudged his shoulder. “Please, Mateo. It’s alright.”

I felt like a zombie. Like I was witnessing someone else’s life on the sidelines. Sour bile flooded the back of my throat when I glanced at him as we sat on the couch.

“I’m…sorry,” he said with the worst look of guilt I’d ever seen.

I turned away. “I…just…can’t do this.”

He added, trying to touch my shoulder but I jerked away, “For what it’s worth, I…was drunk out of my mind. I didn’t know what I was doing. If I could…”

His excuses sounded so stupid. “Just stop, Zachary. It’s…over.”

He didn’t say anything for a while, then whispered, “Yeah. I guess…you’re right.”

Chapter 7.26

Zachary

The party wore on like a bad dream. All I could think about was how Cheyenne and I could never work out no matter how hard we tried. I missed her so much. Why did that asshole Mateo have to ask her to join their fucking band in the first place? If he hadn’t done that, she’d be here with me now.

“Screw it,” I mumbled and downed the whole bottle. I’d drown her memory out tonight.

Beer empty, I wandered over to the bar and ordered another one. My head was spinning. How long had I been here?

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Come on, Zachary. I think you’ve had enough.”

Kristie

I was really going to quit smoking but whenever I had a few drinks, the nicotine cravings knawed at me. Unfortunately, I caved when Malik offered his pack.

“So…the Del Sol Valley Llamas actually drafted you? Are they that hard up?” I teased Malik. He was a top wide receiver and a big reason the Lobsters did so well this year. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he had Zachary throwing to him.

He blew out his drag. “Yeah. Moving to Del Sol Valley as soon as the semester’s over. And you? Going to that snooty ivy league law school?”

I smirked. “You know it. Slandford Law School isn’t too far from Del Sol Valley, you know.” Was I being too obvious?

He chuckled and winked at me.

Oh who was I kidding? I didn’t need an overly handsome, overly smug boy to chase after while I was taking the hardest classes of my life. The future stress of the following year needled me, and I inhaled the soothing smoke.

Just then, I heard Zachary’s slurred voice, breaking me out of my thoughts.

“I don’ wanna sleep it off. I’m okay. Honessst…” he mumbled, clutching his face.

Oh, God. Zachary was plowed. And it was only 6:30 in the evening. The night was young.

He took this girl by the hand and said, “Stay with me, baby. I’m tired of being alone all the time.”

And before I could blink, Zachary was sucking this girl’s face right in front of everyone.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I breathed.

Poor Cheyenne. Zachary Hawthorne was a first class loser.

Cheyenne

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed my girlfriends until they all came this weekend.

We had such a blast!

We enjoyed dinner and drinks at my favorite wine bar.

Then played a ton of video games.

And to top off the night, we took goofy pictures so I would remember it forever.

I couldn’t believe how my life was working out so well right now. I had the best besties and the best boyfriend plus my career seemed to be in full jet mode. It was such a rush!

“Say cheese,” Akia said as we tried to mimic goofy K-pop poses.

Earlier, we’d gotten into a pillow fight! I hadn’t had this much fun since highschool.

Sometimes it was okay to act like you were young again.

Because when would we be able to meet like this in the future? I didn’t know. We kind of were at a crossroads. Kristie was going off to law school. Akia was already doing her student teaching and moving away. Phoebe had an internship in Evergreen Harbor and my brother got a job with a design studio there as well. He and Pheebs were going to officially move in together. We just…were going our separate ways.

The biggest thrill was having my very best friend with me though.

Kristie and I connected unlike any other friend I’d ever had.

We just “got” each other. I was happy she’d be only a city away from my home base here in Del Sol Valley and I’d hoped the law firm that hired her would be local. But one thing was for sure…we’d always be friends. And that felt comforting after what had happened last fall.

So after I’d said goodbye to Phoebe and Akia, Kristie told me she needed to talk with me. Alone. That put jitters in my stomach.

After we both poured ourselves some much needed coffee, I asked, “So, Kristie…what’s up?”

She sighed then said, “I know I haven’t been a good friend to you this year and I’m so sorry for it. You know that don’t you?”

I nodded, not liking the tone of her voice.

She twirled her hands over the table nervously and sighed, not looking at me. “I…wasn’t going to do this but I’ve been thinking about it all week and well…if I were in your shoes, I’d want you to tell me…so that’s where I am with things.”

My mind was spinning. What kind of horrific thing was she going to tell me? “God, Kristie, what is it? Did I do something wrong again? If I did, honest, I didn’t mean to.”

She shook her head. “No, Cheyenne. Of course YOU didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that…” She waved her arm. “I saw Zachary kissing a girl at a party last week and then I heard he slept with her. I’m so sorry.”

That news slammed me. I covered my mouth thinking about Zachary with someone else.

Blinking back tears, I countered, “But are you sure, Kristie? I mean…he’s been so normal with me all week. Maybe you confused him with someone else.”

She winced. “He was two feet away from me on a couch making out with a girl. And they went off together up to her dorm. You know the rest, Cheyenne.”

Oh God. Oh God. Yes, I knew the rest because I’d experienced the rest.

How many girls had he slept with since we got together?

I was so stupid.

I knew who he was when I’d slept with him the first time. Why did I trust him?

Kristie added, “Cheyenne, if it makes you feel any better, he was drunk off his ass, so maybe he didn’t realize what he was doing?”

I shook my head. “That only makes it worse, Kristie. Don’t you get it? He probably had been cheating on me the whole time. I’ve been such an idiot.”

Chapter 7.25

Kristie

“Oh my GOD, Kristie! Like the whole Dragon football team is going to be at this party. I’m sooooo freaking hyper I can’t stand it!” My friend, Piper James, was almost jumping out of her boots. She was in my sorority and had become my closest friend.

But she wasn’t Cheyenne. Even though she was a pre-law major like me and came from a prominent family, she was such a bubble head that it got a bit monotonous. She liked to copy off me whenever we studied and I practically wrote her senior level philosophy research paper.

But because of her, I passed my LSAT and had my pick of law schools to go to.

I walked into the dorm where the party was going on. I sighed. I really missed Cheyenne.

I was so happy I decided to SpaceTime her the other day.

I was so nervous before I hit her number. I mean, would she forgive me? What I did was honestly so shallow and mean.

And selfish.

But if I didn’t apologize and beg her to forgive me, I’d never see her again. I couldn’t let that happen. Sure I’d been mad she basically stole Zachary away from me. And although I’d told her that wasn’t the reason for me wanting a break from our friendship, my jealousy got the best of me. It’d happened like that almost my whole life with Cheyenne. Back at the acting camp when we’d first met Jack Rackham, I had a super crush on him, too!

Even though both of us didn’t know he was the real deal, I kind of had an inkling and a crush on “Jake”.

But he always sought Cheyenne out no matter where we were. And it was like she was the only person in the room.

It wasn’t lost on me so I gravitated toward his best friend, Hudson.

I knew Cheyenne was jealous of me spending so much time with him. But I couldn’t help myself. She always got the most popular guy and I got the sidekick.

In the end, everyone knew Jack Rackham was in love with her. Even though she couldn’t see it.

When Hudson filled me in that Jake really was THE Jack Rackham, it just stoked my jealousy even more. But I decided to not think about it.

Except it kept happening over and over.

Cheyenne would get all the lead parts in high school so I gave up my dream of acting and dancing. Cheyenne would turn the head of a guy I was too shy to even talk to. I hadn’t even told her I liked him so it was okay back then.

But with Zachary, I’d gushed about him all semester and I’d finally gotten to meet him at that party. He was flirting with me and I thought I was in heaven!

I knew I’d lost him to her once we started singing and then after I’d gone to the bathroom, I found them kissing in the cafeteria.

That was it! I was spitting nails. So tired of it. How could my best friend STEAL my crush? She knew I’d liked him.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed a break. Had to get away. When I couldn’t concentrate on my studies anymore I knew I had to split with her even though I sounded like a bitch.

And…I’d seen them on campus last semester. They looked so in love and by now, it was just stupid to stay away. I was over him and actually hoped the best for them.

I just wanted my best friend back.

Bracing myself for her to hit the end button, I was shocked when I saw her face. “Hello, Cheyenne. It’s me. Kristie.”

Instead of me seeing an angry face, Cheyenne actually smiled and waved. “Kristie! I’m so glad to see you. What’s going on? I hope everything is okay.”

“Everything’s fine…it’s just…I missed you. I wanted to…say I’m sorry. For everything.” I swallowed a lump that started to form in my throat.

My arms got tired and I flipped on my side. When she didn’t say anything, I added, “I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Oh, Kristie…” She looked around, biting her lip. “I’m…not mad at you anymore. I just hoped I’d hear from you again. I mean, I’m hurt but…I knew you had your reasons. I honestly would have stayed away from Zachary if we still would have been friends. I feel so awful for what happened.”

Typical Cheyenne. She was sometimes too nice. I wanted her to shout at me. “But it wasn’t okay and I promise I’ll never do that again. If you steal my next crush, I won’t care. Chicks before dicks. Okay?”

She laughed then changed the subject. “Listen, Kristie! Some amazing things have been happening around here. My band just got a label and we’re going on a real tour. Can you believe that?”

Then she caught me up on her whirlwind life. I knew she’d left college to join BLITZED–Phoebe had told me but this was big news. I was so shocked, amazed and really happy for her!

“So, you and Pheebs need to come out before I go on tour, okay? God, I miss you both so much it hurts. It’s been hard being cooped up with a bunch of guys all the time. I gotta have some girl time.”

I giggled. It was just like we hadn’t had a falling out. And I missed her so much, I hadn’t realized it until we talked for hours, I hardly got any sleep that night.

But it was worth it.

I decided I’d stay for an hour at this party. I was so over college and couldn’t wait for law school. Then my life could really start.

I was crazy amazed at Cheyenne and what she was doing with hers. It seemed things always went her way. And that was okay. I’d grown a lot since last semester and looked at things differently. I was forging my own life, separate from hers. And just because it seemed like she was a firework that could drown out the lights of the stars in the sky, that didn’t mean I couldn’t be a sun in my own solar system apart from hers. That thought became so clear after we’d talked. I didn’t need to be jealous of her anymore. And that felt freeing.

I couldn’t wait until next weekend when Phoebe and I would visit her in Del Sol Valley.

*****

Zachary

“Come on, dude,” I said to one of my friends, Ryder Kirkland. “I really don’t want to be here. Why did you make me come?”

Ryder answered, “Because. This is a cool party and we’re seniors. Not ever going to get hot babes served up to you like this.”

“I don’t need ‘hot babes’. I already got one,” I countered.

He nudged me. “You’re not married yet. And besides, you need to let loose once in a while.”

“I see one girl who’s turning my head already,” one of my football friends, Malik Foley, added. He whistled. “See you, bros!”

I reluctantly followed Vance, Malik, and Ryder on the dance floor. Already, my friend, Dax was girating like he was on Dancing With the Sims. I shook my head. When I glanced up, I saw a girl winking at me. Oh God. People were already shitfaced.

Then I heard some black rock song erupt out of the speakers. It reminded me of Cheyenne’s band. BLITZED had driven a wedge between us so much that I wasn’t sure if we could survive it.

I walked up to the dj and she yelled over the loud noise, “I’m taking requests. Just put it on a piece of paper for me. Okay?”

I knew her–Samara Jenkins from my business administration class last year. “Hey, Samara, how’re you doing? Can you stop this toxic noise coming out of these speakers?”

She waved her arms. “Sorry, Zachary. I only play what’s requested. What would you like me to put on? I’ll play yours next. Okay?”

*****

Kristie

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Malik Foley was here. We’d kind of had a thing going several months ago, but neither of us wanted anything serious. And so we kind of drifted apart. But I’d love to talk to him again and catch up.

He looked a little lonely sitting next to a couple who were fighting.

He was one of the most handsome guys I’d ever seen. And funny.

Zachary

I pumped the keg for more beer. I’d downed two cups and was already feeling a nice buzz. Wouldn’t hurt to have more. I hadn’t thought about Cheyenne for the past half hour. That felt good.

A girl who’d been fighting with her boyfriend came up to me and started flirting. Although flattered, I didn’t need any temptations. Sure, me and Cheyenne were long distance and things weren’t rosy but we were still together, hanging on.

I gave her a quick answer and left.

Samara played a cool song and I was vibing, swaying to the music.

I noticed Samara for the first time. Maybe it was the booze getting to me but…she was so freaking beautiful. I’d never saw her that way before.

She kind of reminded me of Cheyenne in a way. Okay, so she wasn’t a goddess like Cheyenne. No one could hold a candle to her.

I shook my head. I was such a dumbass going over the same shit in my head. This wasn’t going to be a night where I was mooning over Cheyenne. She was my girlfriend who I’d see in a few months. Tonight, I was going to let loose and have fun.

I danced to one of my favorite songs that Samara played for me.

Kristie

Malik and I were playfully talking when one of his girlfriends came up to him all in a huff. He’d just asked me out and I was so over being just another number on his calendar. I didn’t want him as a serious boyfriend, but playing games like this wasn’t my style. Not anymore.

“Malik,” I said. “So…you’re taken. Is that it?”

He breathed out angrily. “Rosaly is NOT my girlfriend.”

She put her hands on her hips. “Then why’d you dance with me, huh?”

She stormed away.

Malik moved over and I sat next to him.

He said, “I’m serious. She’s just a girl I danced with when I got here. I didn’t even know her beforehand. I promise. S-She’s kind of crazy if you ask me.”

He looked so cute stammering like that.

Zachary

“What do you mean we’re leaving? We just got here,” I cried. My buzz was at all time amazing and I didn’t want to go just yet.

Ryder knitted his eyebrows. “We’ve got another party to go to, dude. You know that.”

“Well, I don’t want to go. You dragged me to this one and it’s not even dark yet. Let’s stay a few more hours.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Who’re you hitting on? Anyone I know?”

“Why do I have to be hitting on someone just because I want to chill at this party? There’s some rocking tunes and good beer. That’s all.”

He shook his head and left. I was glad I’d convinced him.

Next, I noticed Cheyenne’s former friend, Kristie Barnes tickling Malik. God, I’d have to warn him about her. She was like this psycho girlfriend who’d attach and never let go. I only looked at her at that party so many months ago and she thought she could lay claim to me. What a nut job.

But he looked like he was swilling her koolaid. Nothing I could do about that, I guess. It was his own funeral.

Damn. I was all out of beer. And I wanted something a bit stronger. If Kristie was here, I’d never get rid of the Cheyenne thoughts. Liquor might drive them away.

As I made my way to the bar, I saw Vance’s judgemental face. I knew he wanted to jet out of this party. He needed to chill. I told him that with my face. He rolled his eyes.

And then I saw Samara, toiling away in that dj booth.

She looked so cool just bobbing to the beat of the music. She was in the zone. I could tell she really got into music.

Vance waved at me. “Come on, Zachary. It’s time to go. Party’s getting lame.” That was code that no girls wanted anything to do with him. Poor guy. He just came on too strong.

I laughed at him. “Alright, dude, keep your pants on. Just two more songs and we’ll go.”

Dax pulled out a bottle from under the cabinet and came over to me. “How about we drink a little from this baby before we go. We’ll take a suber to the next party.”

Sounded like a plan to me. I grabbed the bottle and took a huge swallow. The satisfying liquid burned all the way down.

Chapter 7.24

Cheyenne

It was nearly 2 am. We’d just finished with our last set but I wasn’t tired. Zachary was so sweet to walk with me back to my place instead of taking a cab. My insides were like whizzing butterflies. I was DYING to know what that producer thought about our band but Grandpa had left with her early and texted me that we’d know more later. That wasn’t a good sign.

I sighed.

“What’s wrong?” Zachary’s low voice rumbled in the quiet morning.

I shook my head and covered my mouth. “What if she hated us, Zachary? We’ll be doomed. This is our only shot at getting a label. If Dusty Blair says we’re no good, who would want her leftovers?”

He stopped and held me close, kissing my forehead. “It’s not something you should worry about, Chey. Come on. I’ll give you a nice back rub when we get to your room.”

I snuggled into his chest. I loved having him with me. He knew just how to settle my nerves.

My mind raced through the night, waking me. But then having Zachary there would help me get back to sleep.

Why couldn’t I just pack him in my suitcase and take him with me wherever I went? I clung to times like this with him by my side. It was pure heaven.

The following morning, my nerves were fresh and fried. I paced around like a caged animal. Zachary went out and got us some coffee with tons of whipped cream. My favorite. He thought of everything.

He looked a bit nervous, hesitating.

I cocked my head. “What’s wrong?”

Swallowing, he said, “I…I was thinking, Chey. If this producer thing doesn’t work out, would you consider leaving the band and coming with me to Bridgeport? You know that city has the best theaters in the country. You could work as an actress. And in time, it could lead to what you’ve always dreamed of–maybe even a movie deal.”

I sipped the delicious carmel coffee. My heart wanted to instantly say yes but…I mean…I just started with the band and I loved it. It was a part of who I was now. Of course, he was right. My dream of becoming an actress still loomed over me. I DID want to do that but theater acting and commercial acting were two different things. And the odds of getting a movie break working in Bridgeport were basically zero. Zachary didn’t understand.

“Zachary…” I started. “I…”

He stopped me. “Look, I’m not saying you need to give me an answer right now but let’s give it until I start football in the fall. Okay? If things aren’t going as well as you thought, would you consider it? For me?”

If I was serious about us, I had to consider quitting the band. I knew that deep down but pushed those thoughts out simply because I wanted everything. Couldn’t I be a part of the band for a few years and have a long distance relationship? Many couples did that for years.

But it was obvious Zachary didn’t think the same way I did. I guessed I didn’t have to promise anything now. And he was right. Maybe in a few months I’d feel differently. “Okay…I’ll think about it.”

He smiled breathing out. “I know you won’t regret it.”

Just then, Mateo and the others burst into the room.

“Where’s my favorite singer?” Mateo cried.

My stomach dropped. “What’s going on?”

Angelo grinned. “Dusty Blair called. She wants to make a deal.”

Whooping, Mateo yelled, “Yeah, baby!”

I couldn’t believe it! Racing up to my band mates, we all gave each other a group hug.

This was it! Our dream was coming true!

I couldn’t believe it!

Zachary

I should have been happy for her. Hell, Mateo wasted no time in acting as if I didn’t exist, monoplizing Cheyenne. But I guessed I couldn’t blame him. I’d probably do the same thing in his position.

She was so giddy at what the news meant for the band.

It wasn’t lost on Angelo. He hated me since I’d tried to hit on his girlfriend earlier in the year. Heck, how was I supposed to know she was attached? And that was way before Cheyenne.

Being the dutiful boyfriend, I snapped some pictures of the band celebrating.

And before I knew it, the weekend was gone and it was time for me to go. I had meetings with my team and finals were coming up. I couldn’t believe I’d be graduating soon then off to Bridgeport for training.

I gathered her hands in mine. “Let me know what happens with that producer.”

She nodded, not saying anything. I saw tears in her eyes. We both knew we wouldn’t see each other for months. Would our relationship just fade away?

“I don’t want you to go,” she whispered.

“I’ll call you when I get home.” This sucked.

Cheyenne

I hated saying goodbye to Zachary. We’d have the most amazing time together whenever he visited. It was like time was on fast forward when he was here. It wasn’t fair!

And then poof. He was gone.

But my love life had to take a backseat to my job.

Before I knew what was happening, the guys and I were in an uber going to the famous Simy Fire building. It was shaped like a guitar. I thought that was so cool!

I had a knot in my throat and my whole body was shaking just being in front of Dusty Blair. She exuded fame. She’d produced some of the all time greatest rock legends!

“Well, look at what the cat drug in.” She tutted. “I expect you’ve already signed your contracts then?”

We nodded looking at each other awkwardly not knowing what her words meant. Cat drug in? Like…was she dissing us or did she want to produce our music?

She dropped her hands on her desk dramatically. “Listen, I’ll give it to you kids straight. My PA will take you to hair and makeup then you’ll do a modeling session for all the PR we’re going to give you. Everything’s gotta change. All your hair has to match. And good God, we’re going to give you a hair weave, Mateo, ridding us of that god awful mohawk. I mean what is this? The 90’s?”

Mateo’s eyes widen then he scowled. I honestly had to stifle a laugh. She did have a point. It did look a bit on the nose for a black rock band.

Then her eyes locked on me. “Because you have a beautiful goddess in your midst, we’ll be highlighting her and changing your group’s name to Edge of Eden–a play on the sexuality of this goddess. You’re quite lucky to have her, boys. Most rock bands are men only. That will help the hype.”

“What’s wrong with BLITZED?” Mateo grumbled.

He was so cute. He’d come up with the name himself and with her attacking his hair, I could tell his pride was a little hurt.

She plopped her boots on her desk. “It sucks. We’re elevating you, dear boy. If you don’t like it, the door is always available for you to leave. Do you wish to leave?”

Of course, Mateo backed down. And before we could say DREAMS! YES! we were in front of a green screen, all primped up and trying to look right for the camera.

It was hardest for Mateo.

He was always goofing off, doing the opposite of what the frustrated photographer asked of us. At one point Angelo couldn’t help it but he laughed.

Mateo was being ridiculous.

After about four hours and four thousand pictures later, we finally got a few pictures that worked.

Chapter 7.23

Cheyenne

Zachary just texted that’d he’d be here any minute. It’d been nearly two months since we’d seen each other and honestly, it was like a stone dumped in my stomach. I was so conflicted. A part of me couldn’t wait to see him but another part felt trapped.

Was I being stupid by keeping our relationship like this? My life just didn’t have time for him. He’d wanted me to join him at the SFL draft night. But I had a high paying gig and fought with my bandmates over it. Our first band fight. Mateo got so angry, he almost flipped a table and stormed out.

Zachary was so sweet about it when I let him know about our argument. But I felt like such an awful girlfriend. He deserved better. Draft night was the biggest night of Zachary’s life. I should have been there. His girlfriend SHOULD have attended and cheered him on but…I couldn’t. He didn’t get the team he’d wanted. Since he was taken in the first round, the awful, lowest ranked Bridgeport Bears snagged him. Bridgeport was on the other side of the country from Del Sol Valley.

I shook my head. A dozen times, I’d gone over and over about breaking up. But how could I? I loved him.

When I thought about it, I belonged with these guys. My bandmates. We were already so close. And I’d forget about Zachary until he’d call me. It was like Zachary and I were marching toward the end of a cliff. But he was at the other end without a bridge.

Rubbing my elbow, I sighed, steeling myself for what I was about to say to him. I was going to do it. Break up. I had to.

Suddenly, I heard a deep voice, “Hey, sexy.”

His handsome face enveloped me and I gasped, startled. “Zachary!”

“Is it okay if I come in?” It was as if he could feel my inner turmoil. But looking at his face made my heart melt. He was like coming home. I’d never break free from his spell.

Giddy feelings swept through me and I jumped into his arms. “Oh, God, babe. I’ve missed you so much!”

“I missed you, too.”

Our eyes locked and I wanted to take him to my bedroom right there!

Zachary

Cheyenne was so excited about her new living arrangements. I hated the fuck out of it. Living with four guys 24-7? My friends thought I was crazy for even considering sticking with this relationship. I knew I was nuts, too, but when you’re a man addicted, there’s no logic. You have to have your fix. Cheyenne Day was my drug habit I would not give up.

But was I happy? Where was our relationship leading?

Since she didn’t attend my draft, I saw the writing on the wall. We were sunk. Unless somehow her band would break up in the next year. That was what I was giving myself on us. One year of these once every two month meet ups. And if things didn’t change, we’d have to go our separate ways.

“What do you think?” she said, her voice bringing me to the present. I had to stop thinking about our future or I was going to mess up any good times we would have this weekend. She went on, glancing around. “It’s still a little rough but we got this furniture at an old vintage shop and I just fell in love with the vibe.”

I didn’t give a shit about what the place looked like. I just wanted to be with her.

Cradling her body, we just blended together like usual. I couldn’t get enough. “You wanna show me your bedroom?” my voice rumbled. I wanted those clothes off. Now.

Mateo

Fuck. Damned boyfriend ruined everything.

Just when I was beginning to think I was out of the friendzone, Mr. SFL had to come around and rip her heart away from me.

I’d been attracted to Cheyenne Day from the first time I’d seen her play at that party.

And now, we had a routine with each other. Like an old married couple.

We liked the same things–writing music, practicing, cutting up, being lazy if we wanted and just kicking back, talking.

She was the one for me.

But hell. She didn’t know it.

And now the guy who was all wrong for her was visiting.

I marched in unannounced, not ashamed for breaking them apart. “Hey, guys! How’s it going?”

Got a kick at seeing Jockstrap’s glare. He was onto me.

Cheyenne beamed at me. “Hi, Mateo. Are we all loaded up for tonight?”

I nodded. She was always thinking ahead. Ever since Cheyenne joined our band, we were more organized and flowed better once we got to our gig. “Yep. PA’s and mics are in the van. Just need to bring our instruments. Hunter’s going over our checklist now.” Yeah, I’m ignoring you, Jockstrap.

Cheyenne

Getting ready for our gig, butterflies hit per usual. This was a huge venue for us. Not big in the way of size, but big in future. Grandpa was going to bring a producer to watch us and if all went well, we might get a label. That’s HUGE for an indie band. It meant contracts, bigger tour schedules and social music support like Simify might pick us up.

I just couldn’t screw it up.

Glancing at Zachary in my big warehouse bedroom, he looked small and lonely in that corner of my room. Like he didn’t belong.

I shook my head. I couldn’t think like that. Didn’t we have an amazing time christening my Murphy bed?

And it was nice to know he’d be in the audience, supporting me.

I was praying for this break. It would be life changing.

Zachary

Mateo made it clear I wasn’t wanted in their band bus. Said there wasn’t room with the equiptment and all. The guy wanted Cheyenne. Might as well have tattooed her name on one of his pecs. And if I was going to be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if I got a call one day with Cheyenne telling me they finally hooked up.

But here I was running around Del Sol Valley, taking in the sights until I got to the dive bar they were playing at. Like an unwanted fifth wheel.

The place kind of reminded me of their home–an old abandoned warehouse with a dirty street vibe.

When I walked inside, I was immediately hit with the musky scent of weed. I hoped I wouldn’t get tagged with that shit in my bloodstream. Second hand smoke was no joke and I couldn’t test positive for crap like that. Would ruin me.

I could hear the reverberating bass and fans screaming. Guessed BLITZED got started already. I thought they said they’d begin at 6 pm. Walking toward the back, I noticed a bodyguard narrowing his eyes.

Who did he belong to? Was there a mega star around here?

Then I heard a familiar voice. James Sanderson was here with some person who looked special. Didn’t know who she was. But they were in a heated discussion.

When James noticed me, he smiled and gripped my hand in a strong hello. “So glad to see you here, Zachary! Congratulations on your draft. First round. That’s amazing! I know Cheyenne is proud of you.”

I smiled, taking in the compliment. That meant a lot coming from a huge star like him. Although things were happening so fast with my career, it still was all surreal. “Thanks, sir. But that’s just the first hurtle. Gotta play my best and get the Bears from worst to first. Am I right?”

He patted my arm. “I’ve got no doubt you’ll do well. Hey, I want to introduce Dusty Blair to you. She’s the producer for one of the biggest labels in metal rock.”

He waved his arm at Ms. Blair. “Dusty, meet THE Zachary Hawthorne. Just got drafted in the SFL first round. He’s Cheyenne’s boyfriend.”

She took my hand and said, “I know exactly who you are, Hawthorne. I’m sad the Bears got you. Maybe you can work a trade and come to the Del Sol Valley Llamas, huh?”

“I will whenever I get the chance.” But I didn’t tell her that if I did well, I wouldn’t be going anywhere. Trades early in a career killed careers. “So…you’re here for Cheyenne’s band?” I wondered why Cheyenne didn’t tell me about this. If she was a producer, the band might get a label. That would change everything.

She scratched her cheek. “Like I said to Grandpa over here, the sound is right but the band members themselves are like a mish mosh of delapidated parts. Not sure if we can make a Smarley Savidson motorcycle out of them.”

James put his hand on his hip. “Bah! That’s all window dressing, Dusty! You could work your magic on them. It’s the sound that counts.”

The two argued for ten minutes and I grew tired. The stress of what could happen hit me like a laser slashing my flesh.

When I saw the fans screaming and heard the amped up beat of the metal music, my heart pounded.

My Cheyenne looked like a goddess in a garbage dump. She didn’t belong there. I knew that.

Maybe I could convince her to drop the band once and for all and pursue acting. That was her first love. Bridgeport had the top theaters in the country. Getting to work in some of them could catapult her acting career that would eventually translate to film.

The elation of the crowd buoyed her. She was such a natural performer.

If only she hadn’t said yes to this. Unfortunately, she was in the band deep. But I’d do my best to convince her.

I had to or we were finished.

Chapter 7.22

Cheyenne

Months had passed and I was a little dizzy on how things were going with the band. I had to confess, it was such a rush to be in a band like this that had its own following (albeit small in the grand scheme of things), groupies, people who knew who we were (when we entered small dive bars), etc.

Honestly, I was HOOKED!

And between rehearsals, creating new music, and our gig tour, I really hadn’t had time to miss Zachary. I didn’t tell him that though. But I was working! Doing REAL work! Not stuck in a dorm room, pouring over scripts or memorizing bogus stuff I’d never use again.

One thing we as a band had decided was we needed our own place to record music, rehearse, and lay our head down whenever we weren’t on the road. Doing that together would save us money. And believe me, money was tight. We weren’t rich. And honestly, the odds of us ever breaking out were low, but I liked how we were little by little gaining more followers. In ten years, who knew?

We were meeting with a realtor this morning who really thought she had the perfect place. She’d taken us to about five dumps that didn’t have enough space. But she promised this would be different.

“What do you think, guys? Isn’t it amazing?” she gushed.

It was a broken down, abandoned warehouse that in its heyday used to be an office building, manufacturing air compressors. I had to hand it to her–the place was super huge.

Mateo arched an eyebrow. “It’s rough alright. It’ll take years to remove all the rubble.”

“Can we afford this?” I asked.

Hunter gazed up and down the sides of the place. “Right on.”

Angelo shot a look. “Dude, don’t get happy with it yet. We haven’t seen inside. I’m not optimistic. It looks like it could crumble under our feet.”

Without going inside, the realtor took us out back to the enormous patio. She waved her arm over the surroundings. “Picture all your instruments here. Synthesizers, anything you want. Isn’t this a great place to practice? Of course, you could remove a lot of the garbage, but I know a company who will do it for free if you donate the junk to them.”

Gazing at all the weird contraptions, old cars, beautiful graffiti’d walls on the street behind us, my heart skipped a beat. This was PERFECT!

“How many bedrooms?” Mateo asked.

The realtor answered, “There’s a ton of space on the second floor that you could use for extra bedrooms. It’s some old offices. There are actually two formal bedrooms that have vintage furniture in them that you may like. Let’s go up and see. Shall we?”

I already knew this was our place. Sure it was filthy but the bones were stellar. And the price was just right. How could we pass it up?

Mateo wasn’t sure.

“God, I’d hate to know the size of the rats who’ve been living here for the past half century. The place stinks.”

After entering what used to be the cafeteria, a disgusting decomposing smell overpoured me. I almost wretched.

But I was determined. So what if we had to hire some exterminators? The guys had to listen to reason.

I sat down, sliding the metal, decrepit chair. “Look, we’re not rich so we definitely aren’t going to get a cozy pristine warehouse that would cost a million simoleons. But guys! Can’t you see through the dirt and grime? This is an amazing deal!”

Mateo clicked his tongue. “Are you going to clean it up?”

I laughed. “I’ll do whatever it takes to make this place shine. Think about how much fun that’ll be!”

In the end, Mateo caved. I already had Hunter on my side and it only took a little convincing for Angelo and Devontae to climb aboard.

And just like that, before we knew it, we were jamming in our own backyard with loads of room and a cool backdrop to go with our industrial tinged metal rock.

I waved my arms. “What do you think, guys? This couldn’t fit us more!”

Devontae plinked on his bass. “As long as the neighbors don’t call the police.”

“What are you talking about?” Hunter countered. “I think the neighbors are gonna be our biggest fans.”

Angelo crashed a symbol. “I give it one day and we’ll have to move inside.”

I shrugged. “Then we move inside. The top floor can be converted into a soundproof studio in time. Stop worrying!”

Mateo shook his head and fiddled with his controls.

We ripped rock riffs all afternoon and no one called the cops.

*****

“Do you like it?” Mom asked as we entered my room. She’d hired some movers to place things in my bedroom since I was basically broke. She brought in my old vanity and bought some rugs and a Murphy bed to save space.

It wasn’t perfect but it would do for now. The walls were still draped in that awful office drab brown and we still hadn’t removed most of the office furniture, but I’d do that in time. Grabbing her in a hug, I whispered, “Thanks, Mom. You rock.”

“Don’t forget your father was in on it, too. He wanted to be here, but couldn’t get away.”

I guessed Dad’s heart melted a little from the time I’d first told him about me joining BLITZED. I was relieved.

“How is it living with four guys?” she asked. “Is it strange for you?”

“We’re all best buddies. They might fart and smell a lot more than women, but all in all, it’s been fun.”

Mom got a weird smile on her face. “Well…be careful. Guys are not girls and I bet one or more of them might be attracted to you and then everything will change.”

I thought about how much fun I’d had hanging out with them. I could safely say that Hunter and Mateo were becoming one of my closest friends. They didn’t show that either one had any attraction even though I knew they didn’t have girlfriends. The drummer, Angelo, did have a girlfriend and Devontae was gay.

I loved joking around with them. They were so laid back and we just “got” each other. Mom had nothing to worry about.

“You don’t have to worry, Mom. Me and Zachary are doing fine long distance and…” I lifted the side of my mouth. “I’m just not attracted to them at all. They’re like having four extra brothers. Honest.”

“Well, if you’re happy, I’m happy, sweetie.”

Aww…I loved my mom. She was like having cold vanilla ice cream on a hot summer day.

Life couldn’t get more perfect. A few months ago, I’d never predicted that I’d be living in the heart of Del Sol Valley in an old abandoned warehouse with a rising indie band who were becoming my very best friends.

Pinch me now!

Chapter 7.21

Slight sexual situations ahead! 😉

Cheyenne

So much was happening at light speed, my life literally felt out of control. It was like I was on this 3 D rollercoaster, cranking to the tip top point, knowing there was a thrill about to happen but also totally knowing it was going to make me beyond uncomfortable.

Thinking about my future would envelop me sometimes, forcing me to hide out from everything–my parents, my bandmates, my friends…even Zachary.

Zachary…

I sighed and chewed my pencil. My therapist told me to write down my thoughts whenever I felt stressed. Zachary was the biggest stress in my life when he should have been the most peaceful.

But our lives were going in two different directions and I just couldn’t fathom how we were ever going to get to the same path.

As soon as he came back in town from the game, we couldn’t wait to drink each other up. My body vibrated as his warm touch sent shivers through me. It was pure ecstasy.

But the mood entirely changed afterwards once I unloaded what had happened with Mateo and Hunter and the band, BLITZED.

“You’re mad, aren’t you?” I asked. I could feel the tension between us like there was this hidden minefield and one of us was about to step on a bomb.

Not looking up from his phone, he said, “No, I’m not mad.” But he still didn’t look up and he didn’t look at me. He was mad. I could feel the frost coiling around us. Winter had arrived and not just outside.

Zachary

Okay so I was mad. How did she expect me to feel?

I’d finally found the girl of my dreams. Seriously. Me saying that was so out of character that it had been hard for me to wrap my head around it. I’d always dated around. Never had a serious girlfriend. But with Cheyenne it was different.

God, just being with her felt so amazing. Like we were one. I knew I had it bad when after the game, all I could think about was coming home to her, not celebrating with the guys or scanning for random girls.

I honestly had been thinking about shopping for rings, getting engaged once I hit the pros. In about six months. We’d even talked about it. She had actually told me she was going to look into acting gigs wherever I ended up and now she pulled this shit on me?

I didn’t want to get into it with her at that moment. I was still processing. But she wouldn’t let it go. “Zachary…come on. I know you. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

I glanced over at her. Damn. Why did she have to be so fucking beautiful? And why did she have to also be well…who she was? “What do you think I’m thinking?”

She flipped her hand. “Oh, I don’t know. Like it’s a stupid idea and I shouldn’t be so impulsive and this all could blow up in my face and I should slow down.”

Staring at her was like watching a butterfly molt from a cocoon. I knew I couldn’t contain her. People like her HAD to fly. And I was being this stupid selfish bastard wanting to have her to myself. But was that fair?

I wanted to say yes, dammit. It was fair to me.

But I just couldn’t.

I folded her hand into mine. “Babe, if your gut is telling you to do this–quit school and join this band then who am I to say a thing about it?”

“Really?” she asked, beaming.

Right then I knew I was going to lose her. I just clung to the notion that fate would somehow allow a miracle and we would end up together.

Cheyenne

Zachary was so sweet about everything but he couldn’t fool me.

He was worried.

And so was I but…I just went with it, trying to push out reality for as long as I could.

He made a joke about me having to dye my hair black and get a ton of nose rings and ghoulish tattoos.

I loved how fun he was. He could always make me laugh no matter the circumstances.

We cuddled there on the bed, legs like noodles, playing footsie.

Then he pulled me close to him, stroking my cheek. “I love you, Cheyenne Day. I always will.”

The way he said it was like he was saying good bye. Tears welled in my eyes. “I love you, too,” I whispered.

He leaned in, giving me a soft, tender kiss. I never wanted to let go of him.

I decided I’d do everything I could to keep us together. He was my soul mate.

Wasn’t he?

*****

Winter break was upon us and Kian and I along with Phoebe made the long journey to Oasis Springs. (Phoebe didn’t get along with her mom so she usually ended up with my fam most holidays).

Both of them changed into their swimsuits right away. One thing about the desert–it never got below 60 degrees on cold days. I thought it was too chilly for swimming but Dad heated up the pool for us.

I steeled myself a bit, walking around my dear old house.

I had tons of special memories here.

Mom and Dad never changed. They both were still focused on their research and archaelogical field work. I was happy to know they’d be home this winter break.

And I had something to unload on them that I’d been putting off.

I smelled something delicious smoldering on the grill. “Grandpa!” I blurted, so surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?”

“Can’t an old man visit his son and family?” he smiled, eyes crinkling.

I wrapped him up in a hug. “I love that you’re here. Hope you can stay for the whole time.”

Squeezing me, Grandpa answered, “I’ll be here for a few days, pumpkin.”

Oh right…it was Grandma’s turn to visit us for Christmas. That was a touchy subject with him. I was so glad my parents loved each other. Split families sucked.

With a twinkle in his eye, Grandpa said, “So…how’s the band coming along? Any new gigs I should know about? I want to see you perform, you know.”

Stomach jolting, I looked around for Mom and Dad. I hadn’t told them yet and I wanted to present it to them my way. “You didn’t tell them did you?” I whisper screeched.

“That’s a secret between you and me. Don’t worry.” He winked. “But you should tell them sooner rather than later. Remember. It’s your life. Hold your ground. Know I’m rooting for you.”

That little speech did nothing to calm my nerves. He knew as well as I did this was going to be a fight.

Just then, I saw Mom and Dad come up from behind him and my stomach jolted.

After they both gave me a hug, Dad said, “So…only one more semester until you graduate. I’m so proud of you, Cheyenne.”

“Eheheheh,” I fake laughed. “Yeah. So…um…I’ve got some news.”

“Really?” Dad’s eyebrows raised. “Spill, sweetheart. You dumped your boyfriend and got a new one?”

I shook my head. “Daaad…no. But can we go sit down to talk?”

Ugh. They both had these silly proud-parental looks on their faces. I didn’t want to disappoint them.

“So, what’s up?” Dad asked.

Like diving into an icy pool, I just had to muster up the courage and plunge in. “I got this really cool once in a lifetime opportunity. I was asked to join this indie band that totally have two hundred thousand followers on WooTube and thirty five thousand followers on Simstagram. Isn’t that amazing?” Oh dear God I was blowing it. Calm down, Cheyenne. You’ve got this.

It was like a wave of understanding hit both of my parents at the same time.

Dad gave me a look. “If they’re that popular then they must tour, right?”

“What about school?” Mom chimed in. She didn’t miss a beat. You couldn’t get anything past her.

“I’m…um…going to take a small break, you know. I mean…an opportunity like this doesn’t come around very often. Heh heh. It’s like winning the lottery.”

“What kind of band is it, honey?” Dad asked.

“Oh, well, you wouldn’t understand this kind of music. It’s sort of like rock and roll, ya know? Like throw back in the old days.” I seriously didn’t think they’d like me joining a black rock band…it was a bit edgy and my parents were anything BUT edgy.

Already I could see the tension filling Dad’s eyes. “If it’s oldies then why would you want to join it? That doesn’t sound like they’re going to be very popular.”

At that, Mom jumped up. “It’s her life, Liam. Let it be.”

“I’m just asking some questions, dear.”

“Okay, ask away, but whatever you do…be nice.” She threw all kinds of extra sentences at him with her eyes. Mom was always my biggest supporter of acting when Dad didn’t like it and now, I knew I could count on her to help me out except instead of staying and being on my side, she left.

My parents had a rule that if they didn’t agree, they wouldn’t argue in front of us kids. So she let Dad say whatever and then later, they’d talk. Sometimes she’d get through but other times, she’d side with him. I needed to stay strong. Just like Grandpa said.

“So…what kind of contract did you sign? You probably need an agent, honey.”

Agent? Wow. Contracts? They never mentioned anything. “I’m um…you know…going to get paid by the gig. We split everything five ways.”

“Do you know how much you’ll get per gig and how many gigs a week? These things are very important, Cheyenne. How are you going to support yourself?”

Omg…he was rattling off a bunch of nonsense! I mean…I guessed I didn’t think it through but those guys made it out okay. “I’m…in the process of figuring that out.”

Then his tone changed. “So you’re going to throw away everything you’ve worked for, toss out all that money we paid for all your schooling for the past three and a half years, to join a band you honestly know nothing about?”

“Dad…trust me. I know what I’m doing. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to school and finish. Okay?”

He shook his head. “No you won’t. Because once you stop, you’ll be out of the college mindset. You might do this for a few years, make a little money and for what? To barely make ends meet? What about acting, Cheyenne? That’s your passion. This band is just a flighty distraction.”

Ugh. He could be so unreasonable at times! Why couldn’t he support me for once in his life? He always had the delusion that I was going to end up like his dad or worse…his mother…who didn’t follow her real dreams and went on a whim with Grandpa to Del Sol Valley only to crush his whole family. “This is about Grandpa, isn’t it?” I almost yelled. “Well, I’m going to tell you once and for all I’m not HIM! I’m not THEM! I’m following MY path!” I flipped my hands. “Why can’t you just trust me for once?”

“I won’t support it.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Anger burst through me, making my eyes tear. “Fine. I don’t need it.”

Shaking, I bolted away from him. I couldn’t believe it was like I was a teenager, fighting with him over what I wanted to do in my life. Why wouldn’t he ever trust me?

Chapter 7.20

Mateo

The crowd was totally digging Cheyenne.

I was a little worried at first since I wasn’t sure if her style of singing would exactly match the band but I shouldn’t have doubted.

She threw her heart and soul into the music. It was amazing to watch. Iconic.

I could tell Hunter was really getting into the vibe with her, too. The music’s pace was heart pounding.

And her voice had this earth shattering range that I’d never heard before. God. She was miles ahead of that prick, Kade Phelps.

My next task would be to talk her into joining the band for good.

*****

Cheyenne

I learned something about myself when I got on stage. That it didn’t matter if it was in the theater or a dive bar, I loved performing.

Thankfully, the guys were cool with doing songs I knew. They put a heavy metal spin to some pop songs, and I honestly felt at home singing them.

The crowd cheered at some points when one of the songs crescendoed at the chorus. It surprised me but buoyed my energy and I sang even more passionately.

Glancing over to my left, I noticed my friends jumping and cheering, too. God, it was so surreal. What a rush!

After the night was over, the guys kind of just stared at each other. They didn’t tell me I did a good job or even thanked me. I felt kind of awkward and was just going to get my things and leave with Akia and Phoebe when Mateo finally spoke.

“What do you think, guys?” he said.

The drummer, Angelo gave him a look. “What do you think?”

The lead guitarist mumbled something to the bassist but I couldn’t hear him.

My stomach tied itself in knots thinking I must have sucked. I guessed the crowd just liked the music and the band must have felt my female voice was too different for them. After all, they’d been a heavy metal band with a deep male voiced lead.

I laughed trying to lighten up the atmosphere. “Well, it was fun, guys. Thanks for letting me sing with you. You’re all very talented and I’m definitely going to follow your band from now on.”

Angelo smiled and said, “Instead of following, how about joining us for good?”

That knocked my breath clean away. I stammered, glancing at Hunter then at Mateo. “Y-You mean…work on songs together and have me tour with you?” My mind whirred at the notion.

Hunter’s eyes held mine. My skin shivered at how serious he was. “Cheyenne, we’d be honored if you’d join our band.”

The bassist, Devontae added, “You fit us, dude. Please say yes.”

It was so strange. I hardly knew them and this was all so new to me and yet it was like I’d found my way home. Emotion welled up inside me and I wiped a tear as I simply nodded without even thinking through anything.

Once I got back to my dorm room, the thought of joining their band struck me.

“Oh my God. What have I done?” I whispered.

Peeking outside my window I could spy a few students chatting with each other as they worked on their homework.

I thought about my acting professor and how shocked she was going to be when I tell her I’m not coming back in the spring. Or finish out this semester for that matter.

And then another thought hit me. What were my parents going to say?

What about Zachary?

I knew my grandpa would support me. He’d been telling me not to waste my time at college. Acting classes were offered outside of universities, but I’d wanted to be with my friends. Kristie was a huge part of that decision and now she’d left me. What was really keeping me here? Grandpa said I should always grab any opportunity when it presented itself. Wasn’t this a golden opportunity?

Did I really want to be a singer in a band?

My mind went back to the exhilerating feeling I had singing with music I loved and hearing the shouts and adulation from the crowd and I could only answer one way.

YES!