I didn't see it coming.
Stepping into that tour-bus, late as usual, I looked around warily and saw that everyone was sitting in two's. Well, almost everyone. Alan sat in the front with the driver, talking on a cell phone, looking irritated. He barely glanced my way as I passed him, muttering my apologies for being late. Dan and Holly were next, snuggled together near the front of the bus. Turns out they'd solved the problem of spending the holidays together after all.
"Hey, man," Dan greeted, bumping his fist into mine briefly. He then proceeded by burying his face in Holly's neck, while she giggled. Ugh.
"Hey, Mike," Holly said breathlessly, catching my eye over Dan's shoulder, a sly look on her face. She nudged her head briefly towards the back of the bus. "Go to him."
I nodded nervously, continuing my way towards the back of the bus. I wasn't in the mood to see their sickly sweet PDAs anyway. I paused briefly to greet Luke and his girlfriend, Michelle, and only nodded at Angel and the groupie sitting on his lap – who, by the way, gave me a definitely lustful gaze. I smirked to myself as I passed them, hearing Angel tell her that I was a 'lost cause'. My smirk faded soon, however, when I reached my destination: Paul.
He was sitting all alone on a bunk-bed in the back of our tour-bus, his nose buried in a book. He looked up when he heard me approach. Without a word, he looked back down, apparently very concentrated in his book. I noticed that his eyes weren't moving, though.
"Hi," I said. My voice cracked, and I paused to clear my throat. "Mind if I sit here?"
"It's your bus," he said, not taking his eyes off his book.
Not the answer I'd been hoping for, but no more than I'd expected. I took a seat right next to him on the bunk, wondering if maybe I was being too forward. "Thanks," I muttered, then continued to stare at him.
Memories flooded my mind. It hadn't been love at first sight for me and Paul. I'd practically paid no attention to him when we'd first met. He was just another tour manager, one that was particularly good at arranging drugs for me. I still wasn't quite sure how it had happened, but as we'd spent more and more time together, I'd began to admire him. Physically. Then I'd gradually began to realize that he was admiring me, too. I had noticed him looking at me, staring and then quickly looking away. I'd noticed that he was good-looking, too, with his traditionally handsome face and brown hair that never quite seemed to fall into place like he'd want it to.
Then, one night after a gig, we'd found ourselves alone together. I remembered noticing that he was blushing, and that I found it adorable. I'd been drunk, naturally, but somehow I remembered our first kiss with such clarity, it might as well have happened yesterday. The way it had felt to have him hold me, the way his lips had felt against mine – rough, yet soft, like no girl I'd ever kissed. In that instance, I'd been gone.
I jolted back to reality as the bus lurched under me, coming to a halt at a traffic-light. I realized that I was still staring at Paul, who was now looking at me, his eyebrows raised in question.
"What?" I asked sheepishly.
"You're staring," he replied, irritated and...something else. "Is there something you want?"
Yes, there is. You.
I looked away from his piercing gaze. "No – I mean, yes." Why was I stumbling over my words? I had this all planned out. I took a deep breath, looked into his eyes again, and stared over. "I wanted to say I'm sorry. For... what happened."
Paul was the one to avert his eyes now. "Yeah?"
I could practically see the thoughts whirling behind his eyes. Slowly, he put his book away and looked up at me again. His expression was only curious. "And what exactly did happen, Mike?"
Well, that caught me off guard. "Um, I – I came on to you?"
A small smile grazed his lips. "That's one way to put it."
"How would you put it?" I asked, slightly agitated now. He could at least accept my apology like a decent human being.
He looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he nodded his head at me. "Okay," he said. "You're forgiven."
I watched, puzzled, as he returned to his book. There was a smile playing at the corners of his lips, but he didn't look at me again. I bit my lip, waiting for him to say something else. Cautiously, I shifted closer to him on the bed, watching for his reaction: His smile seemed to grow slightly, but that was all.
I decided to take that as a good sign. I leaned my back against the wall, making myself comfortable on the bed by folding my legs underneath me. With nothing else to do, I picked up my acoustic and began to play softly, knowing he would like it. He didn't disappoint; I felt his body tense as the first soft melodies filled the air around us, and as I glanced sideways at him, his eyes were on me, darker than before. Something squeezed at my chest. I stopped playing.
"Sorry," I said softly, "am I bothering you?"
I saw his throat move as he swallowed, hard. "You know you are," he said, his voice a rough whisper. "Don't stop, though."
I almost smiled at that, my heart literally skipping a beat. He'd always loved to hear me play, and I'd always loved to abuse that fact. And so I kept playing, through the whole ride, while he pretended to read, I pretended I didn't know he was pretending, and we both pretended not to notice the way my knee kept brushing up against his thigh.
When we reached the venue of the benefit concert my fingers were sore and there wasn't a song left to play – except one, but that I was saving for the concert. Yet I felt happier than I'd felt in years. Paul and I got up from the bunk at the same time, scrambling to our feet as we noticed that everyone else was already off the bus. I looked at Paul, suddenly standing too close to me in that small space. My breath caught in my throat as our eyes met, and we both hesitated. I didn't want this moment to end. The way I'd felt during the ride was so easy, so familiar; I'd almost forgotten that we weren't a couple anymore.
He looked down then, and stepped away. He cleared his throat. "Um, we should go," he said. "You'll be late for sound check."
"Right," I muttered, picking up my guitar. Damn. Paul was already walking away. "Sound check."
I didn't see much of Paul before the concert. Whenever I did see him, he was on the phone, or I was busy with band stuff. We didn't have time to even take our luggage to the hotel before the concert started; after sound check we just hung out in the back, listening to the other bands' music blaring through the thin walls.
Paul wasn't even there.
Then, finally, it was time for us to go on. I'd never felt this nervous before a show before. I'd also never been this sober before a show before. And all this because of a guy; it was like I didn't even recognize myself.
"I must be out of my mind," I muttered at Holly from the corner of my mouth. We were making our way towards the stage in a group, and she had come to walk beside me, the only one who knew about my plan.
Holly laughed, dodging around a spare amp someone had left on the corridor. "It'll be fine," she said. She squeezed my shoulder lightly. "He'll fall right back in love with you."
I nodded, unable to speak. Then we were on stage, saying hello to a crowd of about ten thousand people. For just a moment, all thought of Paul flew out of my head. This right here is what I lived for – the only thing that could always make me happy.
"How ya doing out there?" I said into the microphone, smirking at my audience. The cheering I got as a response was more than enough to make me lose my nervous jitters.
There was only time for us to play three songs. That's how benefit concerts work: every band plays a few songs, all for free. And, you know, for a good cause. We played two of our biggest hits -- which, admittedly, weren't that big -- and the crowd loved us. The third song, however, was a new song, one I'd perfected just a mere week ago. We hadn't really had sufficient time to practice it, but I'd insisted we play it. The band had no idea why, though.
"Okay," I started. "Now it's time to slow it down a bit." Someone in the front yelled something at me, but I couldn't really make out the words. Not that I was terribly curious. "That's right," I said. "Dig out those lighters. This is a new song. Hope you guys like it."
A roadie produced a stool for me, and I sat down, trading my electric guitar for an acoustic. I swallowed hard against the lump in throat. This was it. I looked to my left, at Paul and Holly, who were standing there together, watching us just offstage. Holly gave me a small supportive smile, and it almost seemed like she was just as nervous as I was. Paul, however, looked like he had no idea what was going on.
I looked straight at Paul, and his face gave me strength to do what I needed. "Paul," I said into the microphone, watching his expression morph into that of shock. I played the first few chords. "This is for you."
Heart hammering, I started singing. Soon, though, there was nothing but the music, the melody and the words, all of which was my own creation. The band backed me up perfectly.
I only ever wanted you
It's too late to realize just how I feel
See me falling now
Lonely and alone
I don't know the man laying
He's not you
He's not you
I gazed calmly at the see of faces in front of me, strumming the guitar a little louder now, as I went into the chorus:
The way we once were
If I could take it all back, I would
But I don't think I can
The way I didn't find the words
I would find them now if I could
But don't think I can, yeah!
They loved it. The crowd – they fucking loved it. The dark stadium looked incredibly beautiful in front of my eyes; people in the audience had their hands up, the lights of a thousand cell phones and digital cameras lighting up the dark, swaying to the rhythm of my music.
Now if only Paul would love it, too. I didn't dare to even look at him, however, as I played, tearing myself apart with the lyrics.
I recall it all, everything
It's too late to make up my mind
See me crawling now
Only for you
Begging for you to come lay down
I sang louder and louder now, even though the song was more of a ballad. It felt like I needed to scream this from the mountaintops to get him to hear me.
The way we once were
If I could take it all back, I would
But I don't think I can
The way I didn't find the words
I would find them now if I could
But don't think I can
Just for the hell of it, I repeated the chorus once more than we'd agreed on, before fading out the end of the song. Luckily the band was quick to catch on, as always. The crowd cheered, loud as hell, as the last notes from my guitar ended the song.
"Thank you!" I yelled, exhilarated. I grinned at Angel, who was already throwing guitar picks at the girls in the front row. Dan patted me on the shoulder as he came to stand at the front of the stage, too, bowing at our audience. I was flying high, and for once there were now drugs involved.
Still grinning like an idiot, I finally looked to my left – and my smile fell. Paul wasn't there. Only Holly stood by the stage, leaning against an amp now. I frowned at her. Where the hell is Paul? She only spread her arms in response, a sympathetic look on her face.
My mind was reeling. Where the hell was Paul? I'd just serenaded him for fuck's sakes. And he just left?
Everything else – the fans' screaming, my bandmates' congratulatory grins, the successful debut of a new song – it all kind of lost it's meaning then. Walking off stage in a group, my mind could only make room for one thing, and that was Paul. Everything around me was just noise in my ears. Noise I wanted to get away from.
We reached our dressing room. I pushed away the can of beer someone shoved in my hands, not really in the mood to party. I looked around for Holly, having lost her in the crowd, and finally found her, locked in an embrace with Dan. Determined and irritated, I pushed my way through the rather loud group of musicians, road crew and other hangers-on now inhabiting our 'private' space, and made my way towards them.
"Hols!" I yelled over some raucous laughter, coming to a halt a few steps away from the happy couple.
"Huh?" She lifted her head from the drummer's shoulder to look at me sheepishly. "Oh. Hey Mike."
I gave her a fierce look. "Can I talk to you? Now."
She looked almost guilty. Dan, on the other hand, looked less than pleased. "Come on, man," he scowled at me. "Get your own."
"I'm trying," I muttered, as Holly dislodged herself from Dan and made her way to where I was standing.
Her expression was sympathetic. "Sorry, Mike," she said. "I wanted to talk to you right away but...you know..."
I knew. But I also needed answers. Now. "Never mind," I said quickly. I dipped my head down to hiss in her ear. "Where the fuck is he?"
She looked up at me. "He said he needed to get out of here. He's at the hotel, I think." There was definitely some pity in her voice. "He did listen to most of the song, though. He left in the middle of the last chorus. Sorry, Mikey."
"Don't be sorry yet," I said, louder than I'd intended. I only gave it a fraction of a second's thought. Then I yelled at Dan, "Daniel! I need to leave. Can you handle everything?"
He frowned. There wasn't much to handle; the road crew was already moving the equipment, and the tour bus was just waiting for everyone and everything to get on. "Yeah, man," he said. He had an almost knowing look in his eyes. "Do what you gotta do."
I nodded at my best friend briefly. We'd never been big on talking about my love life – I realized now that that was mostly because I thought he couldn't handle that. Turns out he knew more than he'd let on. "Thanks, man."
With that, I rushed out the backdoor, already dialing my phone to call a taxi. I was not letting him go without a fight.
It didn't take me long to get to the hotel. It wasn't the fanciest one in town, but it was quite expensive and I thought it was nice. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that Paul had picked the perfect place, as usual – as a tour manager, he literally managed the tour, which included everything from flights to buses to accommodation.
I didn't have the time to dwell on this for very long, however, but rushed to the lobby and straight to the girl standing behind the reception desk. I got the key to my room, and after some persuasion, the number and location of Paul's room. After thanking the girl, I was on my way upstairs to the sixth floor. Again, Paul's room was the one next to mine. I wondered if maybe he did that on purpose – the thought made my chest feel warm.
I knocked on his door.
And I got no answer. I waited for what felt like forever, and I knocked again. And again. Finally, after knocking at least ten times, I decided that he simply wasn't there. "Fuck," I swore out loud, completely defeated.
With nothing left to do, I went to my own door, exhausted. I didn't feel like going back to the venue – an after-gig party was like the last thing I needed. I felt very close to giving up my sobriety for a line of cocaine just then, and the thought scared me. Keeping myself away from temptation was probably the wise thing to do just now. I sighed heavily as I pushed open the door to my room, rubbing my eyes. What a night. I seriously doubted I'd be able to fall asleep, but I still intended to go to bed and–
In mid-thought, my mind and my feet came to a stop. Slowly, I dropped my hands to my sides and took in my surroundings. Candles. Everywhere.
The air smelled like candles and fire and something that made my heart beat faster in my chest. It was dark, only the light from a couple of dozen white candles illuminating the hotel room. I stepped further into the room. I passed the door to what I assumed was the bathroom, and came into a relatively large space. The windows to my left were covered with light, white curtains; there was a small table and three chairs, a mirror... and a bed.
In front of that bed, his eyes glimmering in the light from those candles, stood Paul.
I know it sounds corny – but I swear my breath caught. He was dressed in a familiar pair of jeans I knew did wonders to his butt, and a red t-shirt that not only showed off his toned chest, but also brought out the red tinge in his brown hair. To say that he looked good would be the understatement of the century. I really loved those jeans. And he knew it.
"Paul?" I croaked out.
He smiled, slightly nervous. "Hey, Michael."
I met his gaze, and for the longest time we just stared at each other. Then – and I wasn't even aware that I was moving until I was very close to him – I stood in front of him, my mind reeling with question after question I knew I needed to ask but didn't know how. Or in what order.
"What is this?" I finally asked, looking around the beautiful room.
When I looked at Paul again, his expression was soft. "This is my way of saying that I loved that song." He took a step forward, and I felt my skin tingle with anticipation. How did it come to this? Wasn't I the one who was supposed to seduce him? "Was it really for me?"
"It was," I said solemnly. "I thought...when you left..." I suddenly felt like hitting myself in the head with something. "Um, you listened?"
He nodded. "I did."
"Every word was true."
His breath hitched. "I wanted to ask about the lyrics. There were some contradictions."
"I know," I sighed. I was aware of them. The song had two messages: Yes, it begged him to take me back. On the other hand it also said that if I could take it all back I would, but I can't. It must have confused him. I chuckled at myself. "I mean, I wrote it, and I don't exactly understand it. It's just the way I feel. It doesn't always make sense. I don't always make sense."
"You do remember why I broke up with you?" Paul asked quietly.
I remembered. So well. But suddenly, I found I was unable to speak. I was playing it all in my head – the terrible fight we'd had, the reason he'd finally given up on me. But I was a better person now. I had grown. I knew now that I loved him.
Paul seemed to take my silence as a 'no'; he sighed loudly, taking a step away from me. "We'd been going out for a month when I first told you I loved you, Michael," he said. He wasn't yelling; his voice was just as soft and calm as before. "And it wasn't like I expected you to say it back right away. But after five months, I kind of wanted to hear you say–"
"I love you," I interrupted.
"Exactly. And when you couldn't say the words–"
"No, Paul," I said, louder. "I'm saying it now." He stopped his blabbering, and stared. "I loved you then. And I love you now."
It was surprisingly easy to say, I decided. Just three little words. And I meant them.
I took a step forward, closing the distance he'd just created between us. The backs of his legs were already touching the edge of the bed; he had nowhere left to run. "I love you," I repeated, reveling in the words now. How had it been so hard to say before?
His eyes were wide; he looked surprised, yet...something else. "For real?"
"For real," I whispered. I took one more step, bringing our faces inches apart.
Suddenly, I was surprised to see tears in Paul's eyes. I almost stepped back. I almost asked what was wrong. But then he spoke, his voice rough and filled with emotion. "Promise me, Michael. Promise me that we'll never fall apart again."
I knew it was too much to promise. I had no way to control the future. But at that moment, all I wanted was to be with him forever. "I promise." I touched his face, tracing the shape of his cheekbone lightly with my fingertips. I felt him shiver under my touch. "I wanna be with you."
"Forever," I muttered, leaning forward.
Our lips met, and fire spread through my entire body. I lost control of my thoughts, my better judgment, everything, as my body took charge. Paul gasped into my mouth softly and the butterflies in my stomach fluttered happily. Gently at first, I held his face between my hands. Then I slipped them down to his neck and across his wide shoulders, finally wrapping my arms around him and pulling him close as my tongue entered his mouth.
His hands seemed to come alive at this, tracing patterns into my back, going down down down, until reaching the back of my jeans. Grabbing my butt, he pulled me closer and ground his hips against mine. I couldn't help but moan at the feeling, so familiar, so very exciting.
I pulled back from his mouth, needing air, and started placing breathless kisses on his face, down to his jaw... his neck... "Oh god," I groaned suddenly against his skin; his hand, which had somehow found it's way under my shirt, was busy working on my nipples. "You remembered," I purred, loving the way he knew my body so well.
"Just wait," Paul said breathlessly. He pulled my face up to look into my eyes. Slowly – agonizingly slowly – both his hands crept under my shirt again, sliding across bare skin, until finally lifting my shirt off. He studied my chest with nothing but desire in his eyes. "I remember everything."
Shuddering with anticipation, I attacked his lips again. I pushed my body against him and we fell down on the bed, me on top of him. Just the way I liked it. Even though every part of me wanted to hurry, I made myself take it slow. We kissed and kissed and kissed, until we were both breathless and aching with need. Our clothes were disappearing fast, and soon neither of us could wait anymore. The feeling of skin on skin was no longer enough; we needed more. Much more.
And whatever had been wrong about our relationship before – my commitment-phobia, his job, bad timing, and everything else – it had never been sex. We were like two pieces of one, coming together. He hadn't been wrong; he remembered exactly how to touch me to make me go crazy, and I knew exactly where and how to touch him to make him scream for more.
Afterward, as we lay there, our limbs wrapped together, I felt I still couldn't get close enough to him. I raised my head from his chest to look into his eyes. Suddenly, I was having a hard time believing this was all real.
He seemed to share my thoughts. "Is this a dream?" he asked sleepily.
I leaned down to kiss him on the lips. It was a gentle, languid kiss. "Nope," I said, staring into those eyes. "Not a dream."
"Will you be gone when I wake up?"
Something squeezed at my heart, and I grew serious. "No," I said, begging with my eyes for him to believe me. "I promised you. Forever."
Inwardly, I wondered if I'd ever be able to make it up to him. I only knew that I was going to have to try. And if that wasn't enough, then it just wasn't meant to be.
Apparently, Paul saw something in my face that reassured him; a smile spread on his lovely face. "Forever," he echoed, wrapping his arms tightly around me. I snuggled against his chest, sighing with content.
Forever of this? It sounded pretty damn good to me.
Thanks for reading! I hope you liked it. I know it's too long, but I couldn't bring myself to edit. Reviews would be nice.
Oh, and Happy New Year! :)