Chapter Eleven: Riley

I'd just noticed that Ryan always tapped his fingers against his knee when he was bored.

It was an endearing quality, to be honest, even if it was slightly annoying. Which sort of proved how far gone I was—I even liked his stupid knee-tapping habits. He was cute, actually, once you got past the Grinch-y part of him.

When I set foot in the studio at ten-twelve in the morning, the first thing that Brody did was look up and say all casually, "Tour's starting up in a week. Better get packed," like it wasn't a complete source of panic for everyone.

Well, I supposed that it wasn't really a source of panic for him, since he'd already gone on tour at least once with Ryan and Tristan. But then again, he didn't exactly lead the same life and have the same problems as me.


Crap. My life was so over.

My expression probably resembled one of hyperventilation at that moment, because Brody looked slightly concerned when he looked up from the edition of People magazine that he was so busy reading. "Hey, um, you okay there, Riley?"

"We're going on tour?" I managed, my voice coming out as a not-so-masculine squeak. I cleared my throat after an awkward moment. "I mean, what's with the short notice? I figured there would be more warning or something," I corrected myself in a more guy-like voice.

Tristan, who was across the room and sprawled across a beanbag, said to me, "Well, we haven't exactly had the time to give further warning, what with Ryan's dramatics and Lacey barging in. Parker did give you a one-month notice, though, so that's something."

"Yeah, but I didn't think—never mind. So are we leaving in, like, exactly a week?" I asked, glancing at the calendar. It was a Wednesday; possibly my second-least favorite day of the week, after Monday.

Tristan shrugged his shoulders and glanced at the studio's doors as Ryan walked in, Corey not far behind him. "Nah. We get onto the tour bus on Monday, then get dropped off at a hotel, then hit the bus again."

Great. My least favorite day of the week. These guys really could pick good dates.

"Okay, I'll pack," I sighed, running a hand through my short hair. "But don't you guys find it a little weird, all living together in hotels and stuff for months and stuff? Aren't you . . ." I fiddled with the hem of my too-big graphic tee. "I dunno, aren't you uncomfortable with it?"

Ryan settled himself into an empty beanbag chair. "Why would we be? It's not like we're gay or anything." His voice exuded pure confidence, but his eyes never reached mine. "We start the tour in San Jose, and we end the American section back here in Frisco. Then we move to the UK and some other European countries. Then comes Asia and South America, and we get back home." He shrugged. "No biggie."

Eyebrows shooting up, I frowned slightly at the casualness of his tone. My stomach churned uncomfortably. "Oh. Um, you know, I've never been further than Hawaii, so it won't be—I'm not used to traveling." Or living in hotel rooms with four attractive boys, for that matter.

"You'll get used to it." Tristan rose to his feet and dusted his lean figure off. "I'm going to go over some last-minute stuff with Parker. Riley, come with?" He flashed me a hopeful look: I'd become something of a good luck charm for the boys when it came to Parker. For some reason, Parker seemed less inclined to blow a gasket when I was present. I had pointed out multiple times that it simply had to do with acting normal, but the boys had brushed that off.

God forbid that any of them actually behave normally. Gasp.

I nodded and followed Tristan to Parker's office, where our manager was sitting and poring over several stacks of paper. He looked up when the two of us entered, then sighed with relief.

"Oh, phew, I thought it was all five of you," said Parker, pushing back in his chair. "Thankfully, it seems that only the sanest of you are here. You two want to go over tour details, am I right?"

We both nodded.

"Okay." He threw us each a stack of paper, and my eyes widened at the thickness of it. That had to be at least two hundred pages. "If you really want to, then start reading and highlighting. If not, get the hell out of my office and leave it to me." He said it with a smile, but I could tell that he wasn't joking about the papers.

Tristan and I all but fled.

A week later, all five of us were boarding the tour bus. I definitely had my doubts and misgivings, but it would have seemed too suspicious to back out now. Sometimes, I really hated my lack of judgement. The cross-dresser idea was one of the stupidest I'd carried out.

Cracker had gifted me with a towering pile of guy stuff (her brother's) to fill up my trunk. All the clothes were at least a size too big, but I would take what I got.

"I'll miss you, Riles," Cracker said sadly, then grinned and hugged me before I got into the limousine. "Don't forget to snap photos of all the hot guys you meet and text them to me. I don't care if they think it's weird, I want all their numbers."

Corey and Brody, the only others within earshot of our conversation, burst into laughter. I reddened slightly and smiled back at Cracker. "I'll see what I can do, Crack. Even if they think I'm gay."

"Aww, then I'll have a straight gay BFF," Cracker cooed, making me wince and Corey and Brody to laugh harder. "Promise you'll text me some hot guys' numbers?" She clasped her hands and put her puppydog eyes to full effect, and I rolled my eyes. I knew I shouldn't have taught her how to do them. "Pleeeaase, Riley?"

I groaned and buried my face in my hands. "No, Cracker, I can't. Everyone will think I'm homo, and then Teen Weekly will tell everyone that I swing the other way, and teenage girls will all murder me for—for—"

"For breaking their hearts, you being the sexy beast that you are?" Brody put in sarcastically between laughs. I scowled as he and Corey burst into another fit of laughter. "Aw, man, that's priceless."

Patting me on the cheek, Cracker hugged me one last time and whispered in my ear, "But seriously, if you find any hotties, text me. And don't blow your cover while you're away. Who knows what would happen; maybe they'll even throw you into jail for identity theft."

"I won't," I whispered back. "And, for your information, Cracker, it's not technically identity theft if I kept my identity and changed my gender. There's a difference, best friend of mine."

"Oh, shush," Cracker admonished me in her regular voice. "Okay, get out of my sight before I start to drag you back to your apartment to watch bad reruns of Friends. Bye!" she called, waving as I rolled my eyes and boarded the limousine.

"She's weird," Brody told me as he got on after me, "but she's entertaining. You have good taste in friends. Sure you're not dating her?" He waggled his eyes suggestively, and I groaned again.

"Don't even bother, Brody. I wouldn't date her if she was the last available person on earth." For so many reasons that you have no idea about, I added silently to myself. "Hurry up, Corey," I called to my stalling friend as the engine started.

Corey made a face. "Did I ever tell you that I get carsick on long road trips?" he shouted back at me. "I think this classifies as a long road trip."

Everyone except the driver in the bus groaned, but I pulled Corey up anyway. "If you barf on me, I'm never talking to you again," I warned him, then pointed at a seat next to the window. "Hurl out there, not in here."

"Aye, aye, Cap'n," he said dryly, immediately migrating to the spot next to the window. "I wasn't planning on vomiting on you, anyway, although the option doesn't seem all that bad now." Corey raised his eyebrows and smirked suggestively.

"Oh, hell no, man," I said, taking a seat that was two seats ahead of him, which was (coincidentally, of course) next to Ryan McKinley. I nearly got a heart attack when he actually smiled at me. "Uh—um, hi." I couldn't stop blinking in surprise. Ryan didn't smile at me; it was against all laws of nature.

But then again, I thought to myself as I settled back into my seat, I'd never really liked laws of nature that much, anyway.

The drive to San Jose took about forty minutes, give or take. On the drive there, Ryan pulled out a tour schedule and showed it to me. He'd memorized it already, apparently, having gotten it about two months ago. And lucky me, I hadn't been in the band two months ago, so I never got a schedule.

Well, at least Corey hadn't gotten one, either. Plus, he got carsick on road trips (i.e., the one we were on right now), so he was really worse off than me.

But then again, he wasn't a cross-dressing girl who had a crush on one of the most famous guys in the world, either.

. . . Yeah, I was pretty sure that I won this round of "whose life sucks more."

We got dropped off at a hotel, and the five of us all got off the limo. Ryan pushed the doors open, slipping on his shades and pulling his hood over his oh-so-conspicuous blue hair. Tristan and Brody didn't bother pulling their hoods up, but they threw their sunglasses on, too, even though it wasn't that bright in the hotel.

I paused, then remembered that celebrities did that when they didn't want to attract attention. Which was kind of weird, because it usually attracted attention when you noticed someone with sunglasses when it wasn't sunny out.

Maybe someone had made that rule up because they'd wanted to look cool. But whoever had started the trend, it was dumb for celebrities to wear shades because they wanted to avoid attention. I turned to say something to Corey about this, but he still looked slightly green from the car ride, so I left him alone with a wince.

When we opened the double doors—crystal and see-through, with the hotel's crest embossed on it in golden lettering—I couldn't help but let out a loud wolf-whistle as my eyes glanced over the interior. They had a fountain inside the place, and a chandelier with real candles (good thing the hotel wasn't made of wood). "I might not be taking pics of hot guys for Cracker, but I can make her jealous by snapping a shot of this," I said, biting back a grin. Corey and Brody got the joke and snickered, but Ryan and Tristan just stared at me oddly.


"Uh, inside joke," I said hastily, reddening and hurrying toward the hotel counter. The rest followed, Ryan catching up to walk beside me. "Oh, um, hi." I smiled nervously at him, and he nodded cordially. Back to the old, non-smiling Ryan. Ah, well, it was only to be expected; maybe he'd been on a caffeine high when he'd smiled at me.

"D'you have your driver's license with you?" Ryan asked me shortly, several yards in front of the check-in desk. I blinked in surprise and nodded, fishing my old, worn-out duct tape wallet out of my jeans pocket and handing it to him. "Thanks."

A sudden fit of panic flitted through me as I remembered that I was still a girl in that driver's license picture, and I quickly grabbed it back from Ryan's hands and smiled quickly at him. He stared. "Yeah, uh, I'll just check in myself. It's fine, I don't need—uh, never mind, I'll just. You know." I hurried towards the counter and said politely to the woman, "Hi, I'm checking in with my friends." I pointed to the guys behind me and smiled nervously. "Uh, Riley Kim?"

The woman, seeming to be in her late twenties, blinked in surprise and got a closer look at me. "Riley Kim, the one from the boy band? Really?" she said in surprise, frowning at me and squinting slightly. "Wow, I can't—er, can I have ID, please?" She turned slightly red, trying to go back to professional.

"Oh, um, yeah," I said, quickly flipping my wallet open and pulling my license out, covering most of my picture with my thumb. Phew. The clerk looked closely at my ID, then nodded and handed me a key card. "You'll be in room 347, on the third floor. Have a nice stay." She smiled hesitantly at me, still looking slightly stunned that she'd actually met me. Gasp.

That was when Ryan and the others came up to her. She looked ready to faint.

Once they'd all gotten their key cards (we were all in rooms beside each other; I was sandwiched between Brody and Tristan), we got into the elevator and started up to floor three. Nobody else came with us, and I couldn't help but feel relieved. The last thing I needed was more publicity, what with all the secrets I was trying to keep a hold on. Not that I'd ever been a fan of the paparazzi, anyway.

Ryan sighed and leaned against the elevator wall. "Back on tour at last," he commented dryly, glancing at Tristan and Brody with a dry smile. "Hotel food sucks, but tour bus food sucks even more. Remember last time, in Anaheim?"

"Shut up, Ryan," groaned Tristan, running a hand through his dark blond hair. "I don't even want to think about it. Anyway, this is a five-star hotel; we had three- and four-star hotels in the last tour. Their room service has to be okay, at least, since we're paying as much as we are."

The bell dinged, and the elevator doors slid open. I whistled when I saw the hallway; beige-painted walls with expensive-looking paintings hung on them every few feet, plush maroon carpet with golden embroidery, and crystal chandeliers on the ceiling. "Not too shabby, huh?"

"Not too shabby," agreed Ryan, glancing at the room numbers as we passed the doors. "Three thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five—oh, I think we're at the end of the hallway." He turned to frown at us, which seemed to be a customary look for him. "You know, you'd think that we'd be located a little closer to the elevator and all, seeing as we're VIP guests and all that. Apparently it doesn't mean dope, though."

I looked at the paintings as we passed, shrugging my shoulders. "As long as we have good breakfast food, I'm okay. At the last hotel I stayed in, the scrambled eggs weren't fully cooked; they were all runny and watery. It was pretty bad." I smiled ruefully. "I still ate it all, though."

Brody snorted from behind his hand.

My face twisted into a grimace as I tried to keep a neutral expression, trying to ignore the sourness of the strawberry I'd eaten. Maybe the scrambled eggs weren't soggy, but the strawberries could've been used to kill a person. I glared at my fellow bandmates, who were all exchanging faint smirks, and went straight for the apple juice.

"Your face, man," said Corey, grinning from behind a forkful of bacon. "You looked like you were going to die." He prodded one of his uneaten strawberries with a knife and looked up, frowning slightly. "Hey . . . They're not that bad, are they?"

I shot him a dry look, wiping my mouth with a napkin and pushing my plate aside. It was a waste of food, but it'd also be a waste of my life if I decided to finish said strawberries. "No, Corey, I just pulled that face because they tasted so good. Why did you think I was doing that?"

Corey poked at his strawberry again, looking indecisive. Brody and Tristan began to snicker, and Ryan allowed a faint smile to flicker across his handsome face. "I dunno, man," he said, making a face at the offending fruit. "Maybe you're just a wuss, Riley. It can't be that bad, can it?"

This got Tristan, Brody, and Ryan to burst into laughter (yes, even the infamous I-Hate-Smiling Ryan). Corey glared good-naturedly at them, then sighed and stabbed the strawberry with his fork, picking it up. "Ah, well, YOLO. I'll just eat it, hell." He popped it in his mouth and chewed it with a blank expression, and I stared at him in surprise. Had he really just eaten that without—

"Oh. My. Freaking. God," gasped Corey, choking and blindly grabbing for his orange juice. The rest of us jumped in surprise, then started laughing even harder as the realization set in. At least if I was a wuss, then Corey was right alongside me in Wussdom.

Tristan sighed when he was finished, chewing thoughtfully on a croissant. "I guess that's a lesson learned; hotels serve crappy breakfast food. Or maybe, you know, Riley's just unlucky; he's had the 4-D experience two times, right?" He turned his glance to me and smirked. "You're a bad luck charm, Riley."

I just smiled from behind a mouthful of potatoes while Corey got up to get another round of orange juice. "Guess so." Then I looked down at the plateful of strawberries staring me down, and I sighed. "I hate to waste the food, though—any of you up for some life-changingly sour strawberries?"

The boys exchanged looks, and it seemed like they were all about to deny, but Ryan surprised me by saying to Tristan and Brody, "Betcha that I'll be able to eat the most." He grinned sarcastically and grabbed a handful of strawberries from my plate. "Race you?"

I had to give it to him; he was smart. Brody and Tristan immediately leapt at the challenge, snatching their own strawberries up. They glared at Ryan, who smirked and glared right back, and the three said in unison, "Go." Then they started shoving strawberries down their gullets, fast enough that I was beginning to worry about their health—both mental and physical. If they were stupid enough to chomp on those war contraptions, then they could be my guest.

Corey came back with a glass filled with orange juice, but he nearly dropped it when he noticed the guys eating strawberries as fast as they could. He turned a wide-eyed gaze to me, pointing wordlessly at the three and looking confusedly at me. "A—are they doing what I think they're doing?"

"Committing suicide? Yes," I said promptly, crossing my arms and watching them. "Let's watch."

Opening his mouth and closing it, Corey looked from me to them and shrugged. He sat down next to me and kept me company as we stared at the three world-famous boys all attempting to murder themselves with fruit.

Well. How was that for a day in the life of Riley Kim?

I hummed to myself as we got back on the tour bus, having left the hotel. Time to give a concert to hundreds of screaming girls who thought that I was actually a guy . . . Great. My humming stopped as I remembered this unpleasant fact—not that I'd forgotten it in the first place—and I sat down silently next to Ryan. He looked up from under the flat brim of his hat, then nodded curtly when he saw it was me. We stayed silent for the rest of the bus ride.

Corey, Tristan, and Brody were laughing about something behind me, but I didn't turn around to ask about the commotion. It felt like that would be disrupting the hard-earned peace that had developed between Ryan and me. We had a sort of unspoken truce; he wouldn't shout at me if I let him be.

Things seemed to be getting increasingly uncomfortable, though, because I wasn't the kind of person who liked to stay quiet. Unfortunately, with Ryan, "letting things be" was basically letting everything be, which meant that conversation was next to nonexistent. He had his few good moments, but silence didn't sit well with me. At all.

I squirmed uneasily in my seat, and I could've sworn that Ryan's eyes flashed to me as I did. Was conversation really worth the possible blow-up on his part? I hated it when people got mad at me. "Um . . ." Ryan looked at me when I spoke, and since he didn't have too much of a menacing expression on his face, I decided to continue. "Is it . . . hard? Being on tour, I mean. Like, do you ever get homesick?"

Ryan didn't speak for a while, long enough to make me wonder if he intended on replying to my question at all. Just as I was about to give up on him, he spoke up. "No, not really. That's part of why I got into this business, anyway; all the new places, all the new people—it's a nice change. I like traveling."

"Oh." I waited a moment for him to ask how I felt about traveling, but when the question didn't come, I decided to answer it anyway. "I'm not very good at traveling; I don't really get homesick, but I usually like my house a lot better than, say, China or anything. Hell, I don't even like visiting my relatives in Korea." I grinned sheepishly and tugged at my short hair. "I don't think I'd like to visit my relatives if they were nearby either, though."

This made Ryan laugh, and he looked at me appreciatively. He said, "Trust me, Riley, nobody likes to see their relatives. I have a little sister, Isabella, and even though I love her—some of the time—the earth never knew a more annoying teenage girl. Honestly," he shook his head, smiling fondly, "she's crazy. Girls, right?"

I swallowed, feeling a sudden uncomfortable lump in my throat, and nodded. "Yeah. Girls."

AN: I said that this story was on hiatus, and I still stand by that statement. I'm updating now because I've finished the chapter (after more than five months, I know), but that doesn't mean I'll start updating quickly again. I'm betting that less than fifty percent of you will actually read this chapter, since I'm so bad at updating, but I'm still putting it up.

Thanks—and sorry,