Read American love songs Online

Authors: Ashlyn Kane

American love songs

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Published byDreamspinner Press4760 Preston RoadSuite 244-149Frisco, TX 75034http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

American Love SongsCopyright © 2010 by Ashlyn KaneCover Art by Anne Cain [email protected] Cover Design by Mara McKennen

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Dreamspinner Press, 4760 Preston Road, Suite 244-149, Frisco, TX 75034http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/

ISBN: 978-1-61581-695-8

Printed in the United States of America First EditionDecember, 2010

eBook edition availableeBook ISBN: 978-1-61581-696-5Dedication

 

To all the worlds wayward sons: play on.

 

Thanks

 

With many thanks to Laura, my alpha reader, for the suggestions, encouragement, and slave-driving.PreludePRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Friday, February 18, 2011 Author: Jake

 

Public Service Announcement (Well, Not Really)—TL; DR1

Hi, guys. Weve had a lot of requests in the last couple of days, weeks, whatever, and theyre all kind of along the same vein. Everyone wants to know the story of how we went from denying everything to the kind of PDA that gets broadcast to millions of people. Myself included, actually.

The truth is, I was the last person to know I was in love with Parker McAvoy. Well, no, thats not strictly true. Actually, I think Parker was the last person to know. But I couldnt keep that kind of a secret from him for long. Apparently I couldnt even keep it a secret from the rest of the world even when I didnt know myself! According to Chriss wife, people in China knew I was in love with Parker before I did, which is pretty pathetic. Hell,Jimmyknew I was in love with Parker before I did. Believe me, thats pretty humbling. Then again, as were all learning, Jimmys a lot smarter than he looks.

Anyway, as the following will illustrate, I was pretty dumb for an extended period of time, but eventually I did get a clue. I know what you guys are thinking, but I promise you this has nothing to do with the ideas yall tried to put in my head over the years. Youre not even close to the first ones whove made that assumption. No, the first person to assume Parker was my boyfriend was my mom, and Parker didnt even know I was gay yet. Talk about awkward….

1Thats blogger for “too long; didnt read” for those of you reading this in hard copy.—JBFirst Movement: Count Me In

JAKE met Chris on the first day of school in fourth grade. He was eight years old, and he didnt know anybody. He didnt know why his parents and his teachers had decided he needed to be in this classroom when hed rather have been with his friends in Miss Finnertys thirdgrade class on the other side of the school. With the way his fellow students cold stares made him feel, Miss Finnerty and his friends might as well have been on the other side of the country.

He was scared and alone and several inches shorter than most of his new peers.

The teacher, Mr. Vanderbilt, made him stand in front of the class and introduce himself. Jake was as brave as an eight-year-old could be, smiled as widely as he could, and told everyone his name and that his favorite color was green and that he wanted to be an astronaut, even though last week he had wanted to be a ballet dancer.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was aware that the other boys might laugh at him if they knew that.

The boy Mr. Vanderbilt made him sit beside leaned over when Jake was done. “Green is a stupid color,” he said, and he seemed to take great pleasure when Jake bit his lip and stared down at the top of his desk.

“Your face is a stupid color,” said the boy across the aisle from him. He stuck his hand across the gap between the desks. It took Jake a few seconds to realize he meant for Jake to shake it. “Im Chris.”

“Hi,” Jake said, and just like that, they were best friends.IT WASanother week before he met Chriss other best friend. His name was Jimmy, and his face was pockmarked with fresh scars from chicken pox. “Whore you?” he asked the first day Jake saw him sitting in the once-empty desk next to Chriss. It was only a few minutes until the bell would ring to signal the beginning of classes, and Jake was afraid of getting into trouble. Mr. Vanderbilt seemed not to like him very much.

“Jake Brenner,” he said shyly. Maybe Chris wouldnt want to hang around with him now that his seatmate was back. Then Billy, the mean boy he had to sit next to, would start calling him names again2.

The boy gave him an assessing look. “You dont look old enough to be in fourth grade.”

Jake felt his cheeks heat up. A lot of the other kids make fun of him for being short, though his mom said they were just jealous because he was smart. “I skipped a grade,” he admitted. It wasnt like he wouldnt find out anyway.

“Oh.” Then he shrugged. “You must be really smart. Hey, can you help me with the spelling I missed?”

 

Jake could and did, and two days later, when Jimmy got a B on his spelling test, their friendship was cemented for life.

 

It would be another twelve years before he met Parker.

 

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Saturday, January 24, 2009 Author: Jake

 

2Billy is now a psychotherapist. Never let it be said that God doesnt have a sense of humor.—JB

 

Wayward Sons Inaugural Post

Wow, okay, this page has eight fans now and only four of them are us, so I guess I should put something up to introduce ourselves or something. Anyway, heres a picture.

On the left is Jimmy, our drummer. You can just see him under all the hair. Jimmys a great guy. Dumber than a sack of hammers, but damn, he can count.

Next up is Chris, the lead singer and rhythm guitarist. Chris can hit the high notes like a Viennese choirboy. Also, dont let his pretty face fool you. Hes a douchebag.

The slammin redhead rocking the pixie cut and licking the guitar is Kylie, lead guitarist. Yes, those are her real boobs. No, you cant touch them. Sorry, guys. Jimmy will break you, and were too poor to get lawyers.

Oh, hey, and the hot guy on his knees is me, Jake. Please, no blowjob jokes. People should never joke about blowjobs. I play bass. Nice to meet you.

Together, were the Wayward Sons, an up-and-coming (is that pretentious? To call oneself up-and-coming? Who am I kidding; nobodys reading this, so who cares?) rock band based in Independence, Kansas. We play every Thursday and Friday night at Rock Lobster (38 Erie Street) and Saturdays at P. T. Morts (corner of Lawrence and Riverside). Hope to see you guys there!

JAKE swayed up the steps to his second-floor apartment mostly by virtue of the fact that Jimmy was shouldering most of his weight. “Jimmy,” he said philosophically, “you are the best. I mean, you. Its your birthday. Happy birthday, man.” He tried for a back pat, but his arm was already around Jimmys shoulders, so it was more of an arm pat. He leaned his head into Jimmys other shoulder and inhaled deeply. “And your dreads smell nice.”

Jimmy grunted at him. “Wheres your keys?”

 

“Mmm.” Jake thought about it for a minute. He knew hed put them somewhere. “Jeans pocket?” he guessed.

 

“Left or right?”

“Umm.” Jake couldnt remember, and he was too drunk to be able to tell. “Right?” he guessed. He needed to work on his alcohol tolerance. Getting kicked out of the bar at twelve sucked. Of course, hed fared better than Kylie, whod been thrown out for being too drunk an hour earlier and had had to be escorted back to the apartment by Chris, who was in only marginally better shape.

Jimmy grunted again and shoved Jake into licking distance of the nearest wall. Not that Jake was going to lick it. It was dirty. His apartment building wasnt that nice. “Here,” Jimmy said. “Hold this.”

“How come youre the one taking care of me on your birthday?” Jake wondered. In some corner of his mind, he registered Jimmy digging in his pocket for his keys. Jake was so drunk that the fact that another man had his hand in his pocket didnt even register, and Jake was twenty and gay and got an erection when the wind blew the right way, so that was pretty drunk.

“Cause you cant hold your liquor,” Jimmy told him, rummaging in his other pocket before coming up with the keys.

 

“Youre a good friend,” Jake said happily. “I really need to throw up a lot.”

 

“Dont puke on me,” Jimmy warned, keying open the lock and getting his arm back around Jakes shoulders.

 

Jake said, “Nope,” and swayed into Jimmys shoulder again. “Cause I dont puke on my friends. Puking is for toilets.”

Jimmy removed his arm from around Jakes shoulders so abruptly that Jake nearly went crashing into the wall. Or the floor. It was hard to tell. “Hey!” He struggled to focus. “Hey, whats going on?”

If he squinted, he could just barely keep the images his eyes were sending his brain from swimming indistinctly. Jimmy was standing a few feet to his right. In front of him, on the couch, were—he squinted harder—two pale blobs of pinky beige. They seemed to be moving. Then Jake got his ears in on the action and realized the two blobs were having sex.

Jake was drunk, not idiotic, and he eventually put two and two together. “Oh my God, you guys suck.”

 

There was an indignant yelp from the couch, and one of the pinky blobs fell to the floor. “Dont you people knock?”

The thing was, Chris really was a good friend. He was the kind of friend who bailed you out of jail when you were too fucking scared to call your parents, the kind of friend who would stick up for you no matter what, even if you were currently not speaking. He was the kind of friend who came over with a six-pack and half of Wal-Marts snack aisle when your first boyfriend broke up with you. He was the guy who helped you pick out a tux for senior prom and the guy you freaked out to when the clinic called about some abnormalities on your blood test, the guy who smacked you on the back of the head when it turned out your iron was just low and told you to “use a fucking condom next time, Jesus.”

Unfortunately, he was also the guy who broke your moms favorite vase when you were playing catch in the living room, the guy who convinced you streaking down Main Street was a good idea, and the guy who got really drunk and slept with your girlfriend.

Jake would know Chriss voice anywhere. He would also normally appreciate this chance to see him naked, but right now he had other things on his mind, namely the state of his digestive system. Beyond drawing the obvious conclusion that there was going to be a screaming match, he was way too drunk to deal with the fact that he and Jimmy had just walked in on Chris and Kylie having sex. “Fuck all yall, I gotta barf.” If he got really lucky, maybe he wouldnt hear the worst of the insults over the sound of his own retching.

No such luck. The screaming match was still going when he stumbled back out of the bathroom a few minutes later, and the hangover that was just starting to set in didnt appreciate it. Jakes inner mediator prompted him to act.

As near as he could tell, the shouting was about Chris sleeping with Jimmys girlfriend, which was a pretty dick move, Jake had to admit, but it wasnt like they hadnt shared a girl before. Besides— “Alright, everybody shut their whore mouth,” Jake slurred. Somehow, that was effective. Or maybe it had something to do with the incessant pounding from the apartment next door. “First of all, you all broke Rule Number Two.” He attempted a glare, but it was difficult when he wasnt a hundred percent clear on where everyone was. “You forgot to put the band first.”


Page 2

Rule Number Two was no fucking other members of the band. It had been instituted at the bands inception. Just because he and ChrisknewJimmy and Kylie had been breaking the rule didnt make it okay. Obviously, it had screwed up their dynamic. Secondly—“Secondly,you’rea slut”—he pointed at Kylie—“you’rea dick”—Chris—“andyouhave really fucking shitty taste in girls, dude.”

He was pretty sure Kylie was glaring at him. “Fuck you.” But she wasnt as loud or defensive as she had been, so that was something.

“Oh, why not?” Jake said. “Everyone else is getting laid. Why leave me out just because Im gay?” That shut her up. He was usually more sensitive about this, but his head was spinning, and he was in a hurry to get the words out before he threw up again. “Finally, Kylies leaving in September anyway, and neither one of you assholes was invited to go with, so get over it.”

That bought him blessed silence. Then he realized it was an uncomfortable one. “Oh, youre kidding me,” he groaned. Now his head was spinningandpounding. “You promised me youd tell them, Kylie.”

A few weeks previously, hed accidentally opened an envelope intended for Kylie. By the time he realized his mistake, it was too late—hed already read that she had been accepted to an international relations program on the other side of the country.

“I was going to,” Kylie protested. “I was just waiting for the right time. Jake—”

 

“Whatever it is,” Jake said, “I dont care. You can all fuck off, and well sort it out in the morning.”

 

“Im leaving at the end of the month,” Kylie said.

Of course she fucking was. “Im going to bed,” Jake announced. Apparently he needed a new roommate as well as a new lead guitarist and a boatload of aspirin. “Goodnight.”PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

Thursday, February 26, 2009 Author: Jake

 

State of the Union Address

I know I promised an update of the prospective release of our first CD, and were working on it, but I have some important news that cant wait. As some of you may already know, our lead guitarist, Kylie Sayers, has left the band to pursue a degree in International Relations. The band would like to wish Kylie all the best of luck in her quest to keep the world from blowing itself the hell up.

In the meantime, well be keeping all of our usual appearances, but sans the lovely Ms. Sayers and the girls. Anyone interested in auditioning for her spot in the band is encouraged to contact us at the address listed on the home page.

JAKEwas sitting on the front steps of Chris and Jimmys townhouse, cradling a longneck between his second and third fingers and staring off into the distance, trying to block out the sounds of Chris and Jimmy snarking at each other in the basement. It was March, and the windows were closed, but he still wasnt having any luck. Not to mention the fact that his ass was getting cold.

He took another melancholy swig of his beer. It wasnt that he didnt think Jimmy had a right to be pissed off. Of course he was pissed off. Chris had been an asshat. A drunken asshat, yes, but Kylie had made him listen to the whole story the morning after, and as much as Jake found it hard to believe that people could accidentally have drunken sex with their best friends girlfriend, if anyone could, it was Chris.

So Jimmy was pissed off at Chris and Kylie, and then Kylie left several months earlier than planned. It wasnt that Jake felt sorry for her—as much as he liked to tell himself he was over his stupid crush on Chris, he knew he wasnt, and he knew Kylie knew it too. Plus, shed left him in the lurch without a roommate, and that was a lousy thing to do. But Jake couldnt really blame her for leaving. The band wasnt so much functioning right now, anyway. Everyone was too angry.

Right now, though, Chris was mostly seething because theyd had a whole lot of fucking talentless losers audition for Kylies spot, and he was frustrated and grouchy and probably, Jake thought, tired of March. Chriss brother had died in March. Jake was normally the peacemaker of the group, but even he was at his wits end, here. Inside the house, in their practice space, the atmosphere was toxic, which was why he was on the front steps giving himself hemorrhoids instead of inside in the warm. He just needed to get outside.

He was just slugging back the last of his beer3when a shadow fell across the step he was perched on, and he looked up. There was a guy standing there with a guitar case, backlit by the sun. Jake couldnt really see him clearly, but his place on the lowest step made the guy seem ridiculously tall, even though Jake was pretty sure he was taller. He usually was.

“Um, excuse me,” the guy said, in a voice that was soft and kind of rough at the same time, like he had gone on an all-night bender and had to speak quietly to avoid aggravating his own headache.4

Squinting up at him, Jake stood, brushing the moisture from his beer bottle off on his jeans. He was right—he was taller by three inches or so. He held out his hand for the guy to shake. “You here for the audition?” he asked, nodding at the guitar case.

The guy shook his hand, his grip firm and dry, the fingers tough. Jake guessed he must be left-handed, the way the tips of his fingers were callused. “Sure,” he said. Now that he wasnt squinting into the sun, Jake could see that the guy was kind of average-looking, maybe a little on the geeky side, with thick plastic frames dominating his face. He wasnt wearing a coat, which was a little unusual at that time of year, especially since he didnt seem like the kind of guy who thought he was too macho for comfort. Whatever he sounded like, he didntlookanything like a rock star, with his too-pale skin and almost military haircut, but that didnt mean he couldnt rock. “Im Parker.”

3And making a face—it was pretty shit beer.4In other words, a rock-star voice.

“Jake Brenner. I play bass. You got a last name, Parker?” Jake asked, not unfriendly, just curious. He sat back down on the steps and motioned for the guy to join him. No sense bothering Chris and Jimmy if the guy was no good, and if hewasany good, he could bring him straight in and end their stupid argument. He had a good feeling.

“McAvoy,” he said, sitting one step up past Jake in order to make room for the guitar. It was an acoustic, which was a little odd for an audition for a rock band, but Jake didnt say anything just then because it was a gorgeous instrument, definitely a few years old at least, but well-cared for and obviously well-loved.

“Nice piece,” Jake told him sincerely, not surprised when the sound that came out as Parker checked the tuning was full and warm despite the chill in the air. “Whered you get it?”

“It was my brothers,” Parker said. He didnt elaborate, but Jake got the idea that there was a story there. “You got any requests?”

While he was interviewing, he might as well test the guys personality. “Play me your favorite song,” he said lightly, turning on the step so he could watch him work.

“To play or to listen to?”

“You might as well play them both,” Jake told him. He wanted to get an accurate picture of the guys skills. “Orders up to you. Do you need a tuner?”

He knew by the time the question was out of his mouth that Parker didnt. “Nah, I got it. Alright, here goes.” He tested a couple of chords to double-check the tuning, and then his fingers started flying confidently over the frets, his left hand keeping up on the strings as he knocked out “Dont Fear the Reaper” in perfect time and with plenty of energy. Oddly, Jake thought, he didnt sing; everyone hed ever met who played the guitar sang, even if sometimes not very well. Still, Jake knew the song well enough to know Parker didnt miss a beat, and he played the solo with so much verve that Jake would never have thought about the fact that he wasnt using an electric if it hadnt occurred to him earlier.

“Good taste,” he said when Parker finished.

 

Parker flicked a look up at him from under the green-and-brown plastic rims of his glasses and smiled a little, shyly. “Thanks.” Jake waved a hand at him. “Play on.”

The second song, he didnt recognize. Or, he did—it triggered some kind of bell somewhere in the back of his head—but if there were any lyrics, he didnt know them. The melody was familiar enough that he could anticipate the next few notes, but it was complicated, not what he expected from an audition for a lead guitarist spot. It was more classical, if anything. Still, it was beautiful, and Parkers skill was not in any question as his fingers plucked out quick, complicated harmonies on six strings that sounded more like thirty-six.

He finished, and Jake nodded decisively. “Okay,” he said, picking up his beer bottle in one hand and the guitar case in the other. “Come on inside. You need to meet Chris and Jimmy.”

“This was just the pre-test, huh?” Parker asked, slinging his guitar onto his back like a troubadour.

“Something like that,” Jake agreed, hooking his third finger around the front door and yanking it open. It never closed properly unless someone remembered to lock it. “Down the stairs. Dont mind the noise. Theyll shut up once they hear you play.”

There was no point being embarrassed over Chris and Jimmys bad behavior. For one thing, Jake was already pretty sure Parker was going to be sticking around, so he might as well get used to this sooner rather than later. The two of them were thick as thieves most of the time, but every once in a while things between them came to a head of some kind. They always got over it. Jake hardly even noticed when they started going at it anymore.

“Guys!” he practically shouted when he got to the bottom of the stairs. Parker stopped awkwardly in front of him, holding his guitar across his chest again. Jimmy stood behind the drum kit, holding a set of broken sticks, which was not immediately a cause for alarm. Chriss face was set, and his chest was heaving like hed been belting REO Speedwagon songs or something5. His cheeks were pink, and there was a small dent in the plaster of the wall beside him. He was holding his hand funny. Jake thought darkly that it damn well better not be broken, because they had two gigs this weekend. “Oh, great first impression, assholes.”

Jimmy calmed as soon as he noticed the newcomer, though he was not exactly welcoming. “Another one?” he said. “I thought we were done for the day.”

“You do not want to pass on this,” Jake told him, though he was looking at Chris.

It took a minute, but eventually Chris just grimaced. “Fuck. Ow.” He shook out his hand and seemed to shake off his foul mood at the same time. Chris might have a temper at times, but he usually cooled off just as quickly. “Hi. Im Chris.”

“Hes kind of a douche,” Jake explained, and the corner of Parkers mouth twitched in recognition.

 

“Fucker,” Chris said without denying anything. There was no heat in his voice. “Well, alright, kid, lets hear it.”

Parker shot Jake a quick look, and Jake nodded at him to reinforce the command. He didnt bother sitting down this time, just curled his fingers around the neck of the guitar and started right in with “All Along the Watchtower.” He played the intro and chords when there was no lead part, and he wasnt even get halfway through the second solo before Chris exchanged a look with Jimmy, then held up his hand, a wide grin on his face. “Alright, alright,” he laughed, shaking his head. “Youve got tasteandtalent, which is more than I can say for anyone else whos shown up today. The gigs yours if you want it.”

Parker looked at him blankly, then smiled. “Thats great. Thanks.”

“Jake, get this man a demo CD and some tablature—you do read tabs, dont you?—and a copy of this weeks set lists. Gigs are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, nine until one. My boy Jake will fill you in on the details—Jimmy and I gotta run, we have work to do.”

5Jake was never going to let him live down the time hed caught him singing “I Cant Fight This Feeling Anymore” in the shower.

Jake realized with a start that it was pushing five oclock, and Chris and Jimmy started their shift at the bar at five thirty. He shrugged. “Sure. You doing anything right now? Ill have to burn you a new CD; Chris gave away my stockpile.”

Parker shrugged; he looked a little shell-shocked. Jake didnt really blame him. Though he wasnt exactly surprised at how quickly this patched up Chris and Jimmys little love tiff—hed seen similar fights resolved more easily—their sometimes mercurial relationship tended to throw people. “I got no plans.”

Jake noticed the hint of an accent for the first time, but he didnt comment on it, just waved goodbye to the guys and ushered their new lead guitarist up the stairs. He was kind of pumped. Parker was leagues better than Kylie ever was; even if the male part of their miniscule fan base would miss her boobs, they had definitely traded up. They were going to beawesome.

“So where are you from?” he asked once they were back out in the cold, leading the way back to his apartment.

“That obvious Im not a local, huh?” Parker said a little sheepishly, and the accent was a little thicker this time. “South Dakota. If I start pulling out the „golly gees, feel free to smack me one.”

Jake could totally see Parker saying “golly gee,” and it was equal parts hilarious and adorable6. Yeah, the girls were gonna eat him alive—he had that aw-shucks personality people seemed to find irresistible. He grinned. “I dont see that being much of a problem. So what brings you out here?”

The tense shrug Parker gave him let him know he wasnt entirely comfortable with the question. “Couldnt go home, had to go somewhere.” He shrugged again. “I made my way down from New York, just kind of ended up here.”

“How long you been in town for?”

 

Parker looked at his watch. “Bout eighteen hours,” he said sheepishly.

 

6Unfortunately, I have still never heard Parker say this.—JB

Jake was so surprised he almost stopped walking, but he figured it would be more awkward to make a big deal out of it, so he smiled instead. “Huh.” He couldnt imagine what itd be like to wander the country until he found a reason to stay somewhere, but he didnt think it sounded like much fun. Not by himself, anyway. “You had no idea we were doing auditions today, did you?”


Page 3

Parkers blush took up all the space on his face and overflowed to his ears and neck. “Man, I dont even know the name of the band!” This kept getting better and better. Jake turned left down a side street, Parker following. “So when you came up to me on the street….” “I was going to ask you for directions,” Parker admitted.

Jake cackled.If there is a God, he thought,the guy has one hell of a sense of humor. “How serendipitous. You need a job, we need a guitarist. Its fate.” Parker gave him a surprised look. “Oh, shut up, my moms an English teacher.”

Parker finally smiled at that, though the expression wasnt entirely convincing. “So are you going to tell me the name of the band Ive just joined, or what?”

“Right, obviously.” Back to business, then. Jake led them down the street that would take them to his apartment. “So were the Wayward Sons. Which was kind of awkward with our last guitarist, who was a chick, actually.”

“A Kansas tribute band?” Parker asked with his eyebrows raised. He didnt seem to disapprove, exactly; he just wasnt entirely onboard yet.

“Nah, we just called it that cause were boysfromKansas,” Jake told him. He could see his building in the distance, so he dug in his pocket for the key. He needed some new boots; his feet were freezing. “And yeah, were pretty small-time, and most of what we play is covers—not just Kansas ones,” he amended when Parkers face squished up a little. “We have a bunch of our own songs, and we always play a few every gig just to get our sound out there, but people want to hear what they know.”

“Makes sense.”“That said, I better lay down the ground rules,” Jake said. “Chris wouldve done this himself—actually, healwaysdoes this himself— but he and Jimmy were gonna be late for work.”

“Ground rules? Did I just join a cult or something?”

Jake wasnt entirely sure if the guy was joking, so he put on his best reassuring face. “Relax, its not that bad. Theres two main rules. The first one is no drugs. Jimmy breaks that one all the time, but just with grass. Anything stronger and Chris will toss you out on your ass, metaphorically speaking. Actually, maybe literally speaking. I dont know; nobodys broken it before.” Chris was kind of scary when he was mad.

Parker looked half surprised, half offended. “Thats not going to be a problem.”

 

Yeah, Jake didnt think so, either. Parker had definite “good boy” vibes. Theyd have to work on that before Thursday7.

He opened the door to his apartment building and let Parker in ahead of him, then pushed the button for the elevator. He usually took the stairs, but that was because the elevator was usually broken.

The elevator opened and let them in; Jake hit the button for the second floor. “Whats the second rule?” Parker asked when the doors opened again.

“No sleeping with anyone in the band,” Jake said, unlocking the door to his apartment. That rule was also probably unnecessary now that Kylie was gone. “Jimmy broke that one too.”8

Parkers face looked kind of pinched. “Yeah, I… guessed.”

“So did Chris, actually, which was probably another part of the problem. Break the rule, I mean, not guess. Kylie was kind of… well, anyway.” The door to the apartment always stuck, even in the winter, though it was worse in the humidity of summer, and Jake nudged it with his hip until it shuddered open. “Sorry about the mess.”

He really did need to get around to cleaning up once in a while, Jake reflected. With the late afternoon sun slanting in the window the way it was, he could see all the little dust motes floating around in the air. Some of that was not his fault—Kylie had stirred up a lot of dust when she was packing up her shit—but still. It was kind of embarrassing. There was an empty pizza box on his tiny coffee table, the couch cushions were crooked, there were three odd socks and a pair of boxers scattered across the floor of his living room-slash-kitchen, and the pile of dishes in the sink was poised so precariously he was actually afraid to start washing them lest they come crashing down.

7Later, the only person who would be more surprised than Jake that this actually worked was Parker.8The rules were really more like guidelines. Vague ones.

Parker said, “Dude.” He gingerly walked into the apartment, elbows tucked in like he was afraid to touch anything9.

“Yeah, I know. Im not used to cleaning up after myself yet.” He gestured at the couch. “Have a seat, I just have to go dig out my laptop and a blank CD. You want a drink?”

“Do you have any clean dishes?” Parker asked. His tone wasnt bitchy, just curious and a little teasing.

“Thats what plastic cups are for,” Jake told him. “And beer bottles, but I dont have any of those.” His twenty-first birthday wasnt until August. Hed swiped that beer from earlier in the day from Chris and Jimmys fridge, not that they would care. “Cups on the fridge, drinks in it if youre interested. Ill be right back.” Maybe he was being a shitty host, but if Parker was going to be around, he needed to learn to make himself at home. Jake didnt serve Chris or Jimmy, either, his theory being that they were grown men and could help themselves.

Parker was perched precariously on the couch when he got back, like he was afraid it was going to give him cooties or herpes or something. Not that the herpes thing was out of the question, Jake thought with an internal grimace, thinking of Chris and Kylie. He put his laptop on the table and popped in a blank CD to burn. “So practices are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at four at Chris and Jimmys. Which reminds me—do you have an electric guitar?”

Parker flushed, which Jake took as a “no.” “I used to,” he said. “Ive kind of been on the road for a while. I dont take that much with me.”

There was definitely a story there, between Parkers lack of material possessions and his claim that he couldnt go back home, but they had just met, like, five minutes ago. Jake was not going to give him the third degree yet, and only partly because he wasnt sure hed be comfortable with all of the answers. “Its no big. Kylie left hers as her last months rent when she moved out. She was even left-handed.”

9Because I was! The place was a dump!—PM

 

“Serendipity strikes again, huh?”

“Yeah,” Jake said. “About that.” This was probably a really stupid idea, especially since he didnt really know Parker, and for all he knew, they were going to end up hating each other and breaking up the band. And hey, Parker could be an asshole, or a thief, or an axe murderer10, but Jake didnt think so.

Besides, the door to his room locked.

Still, he had some experience dealing with guys who were used to not having very much, and he was pretty sure hed pegged Parkers pride right on the money. He treaded very, very carefully. “I kind of need a roommate.”

Parker met his gaze evenly. If he was surprised or offended, he didnt show it, but the look he gave Jake was pretty calculating. “Yeah? I kind of need a place to live.”

Jake said, “Imagine that.”

The CD finished burning, and the drive popped out, whirring cheerfully as the disc spun. Jake got a couple of Cokes out of the fridge and put them on the table. Parker flinched. God, he was totally the kind of guy whod use a glass and coaster. This was going to take some getting used to. “Rents three hundred a month each, inclusive,” Jake told him, popping the top of his Coke and taking a long sip. “Pays fifty bucks each a night for gigs, drinks not included, so you might want to look into something else in your spare time. At least, if you dont want to be sleeping on Kylies pink sheets for the rest of your life.”

He didnt miss the completely uncomfortable look on Parkers face at that. Okay, so he was in a worse situation than Jake thought. He took a deep breath. “Tell you what, though. You clean up the apartment, and well call the first month even.”

Parker protested, “I dont want—”“To live in this slovenly hellhole?” Jake let him splutter for a moment, then took pity on him. “You think I could find someone to clean this place for less than that? Youre nuts. You can owe me one.”

10Or, as it turned out, a closet homosexual.

Parker tilted his head to one side like he was considering. He wanted to say yes, Jake could tell. “Youre not a serial killer or anything, are you? Because I honestly dont think Im this lucky.”

Jake leaned back on the couch with a smile, though that didnt last for long when he got a whiff of it. He definitely needed to buy some Febreeze. “Something tells me our luck is about to change for the better.” His stomach growled. That reminded him—”So, are you hungry?”

“MAMA, Im home!” Jake announced his presence in the house the same way he had since he was six years old. He was neater when he took off his shoes now, though, careful not to track mud on his mothers hardwood floors after the time she made him wash them on his hands and knees. “I brought a friend,” he added, looking over his shoulder at Parker.

Parker closed the door behind him quietly, actually bent to take off his shoes, and placed them neatly on the rack. Jakes mama was going to love him. “Are you sure your mom wont mind—”

“Jacob!” his mom said, practically sprinting into the room. It was hideously embarrassing, but she was his mom, so Jake submitted to his full name and having both cheeks kissed affectionately. Then she mercifully turned her attention to Parker.

Or, you know, not so mercifully, because the next words out of her mouth were, “And whos this? Jake didnt tell me he was seeing anyone!” She then proceeded tohug Parker, full on mashing him into her body. Jake could actually hear the breath whooshing out of his lungs. Hed known Parker for all of two minutes, and already Parker knew he was a) a total spaz, and b) gay, which, okay, it wasnt like Jake was in the closet or anything, but there was such a thing as tact when it came to broaching the topic of sexuality with your coworkers. And roommates. This was so not fair. Jake liked to ease people into his complete dorkiness gradually. Although, okay, yes, he maybe should have come out to Parker before theyd decided to live together.

“Hes not my boyfriend, mama,” Jake protested when he finally found his tongue. He could see Parkers eyes over his mamas shoulder; they were bugging out like he couldnt breathe11. “Hes our new Kylie.”

If anything, Mama Brenner just hugged Parker harder. “Another starving artist!” she exclaimed when she finally released him. Parkers face was a study in blues and purples. “I had better start dinner. Jacob, baby, get your guest something to drink.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Jake had a pretty awkward childhood—he never knew when to keep his mouth shut, for one thing—but he couldnt ever remember feeling quitethisawkward. Well, maybe that time hed “accidentally” walked in on Chris jerking off. He rolled his eyes a little. “Sorry. Total spastitude runs in the family.”

Parker just smiled wryly. “So I noticed.”

 

It sucked, but Jake had to ask, anyway. “You dont… mind, do you?” Because itd suck to lose another lead guitarist so soon.

“What, that youre a total spaz?” Parkers expression said that that was not what he was talking about at all. “Please. You thinkyou’reawkward? You havent seen me do anything but play guitar yet.”

Jake mustered a smile, relieved. That was one less thing to worry about, anyway. “My mom thinks I need a boyfriend,” he confided, leading Parker down to the basement where the beverages lived.

“Having seen your apartment, I cant imagine why,” Parker drawled, sprawling on the sofa.

Jake tossed him a beer and grabbed a Dr. Pepper for himself. “Its your apartment now too, bitch. Take some responsibility.” He grinned and dropped onto the battered armchair by the television. “I keep telling her Im too young and have too much promise to ruin my life by falling in love with anybody, but she doesnt listen.”

11Think Kermit the Frog.—JB

 

“She sounds pretty awesome.” He didnt sound like he was being sarcastic.

Jake grinned wider, stoked that Parker actuallygotit. “The best. Well, except for the meatloaf. Dont ever let me invite you over on meatloaf night. I need to stay on your good side.”12

Parker smiled back and cracked open his beer. “Noted.”

It wasnt long before Jakes mom called them up for dinner, and there was a noise like a stampede of wildebeest going by overhead, racing in the direction of the kitchen. “Looks like Beccas got friends over,” Jake said drily, offering Parker a hand up. “Brace yourself.”

“Younger sib?”

 

“Shes the baby,” Jake confirmed, pausing at the top of the stairs to shut off the light. “Not done high school yet.”

“You didnt mention anything about having to deal with teenagers.” Parker wrinkled his nose, but his eyes were twinkling behind the plastic frames. “I may have to rethink being friends with you.”

Jake rolled his eyes and closed the door to the basement. “Save your judgment of my family until after dinner, okay?”

 

“Hmm, deal.”

 

Leading the way into the kitchen, Jake sneaked up behind Becca and covered her eyes. “Guess who!”

 

Becca squirmed, laughing and trying to pry his hands from her face. Then she gave up and stepped on his foot, hard. “Oof!”

“Jerk,” she laughed as he released her, turning around for a hug. For such a little girl, she had a grip of iron. “How come you never call me, huh?”

“What, your fingers dont work all of a sudden? I dont think Sara and Carrie would back you up on that.”

 

Beccas two best friends waved at him from the table, where they were already seated, giggling.

 

12I should have said, “Never let me eat here on meatloaf night.” Its not the meatloaf thats the problem.—JB

 

“Oh, whatever.” She released him and pushed at his chest. “Oh my God, who is that?”

Apparently she had noticed Parker. Jake glanced back at him and smiled. “This? This is the guy whos going to make me famous, Bec. Meet Parker McAvoy, guitarist extraordinaire.”


Page 4

“Nice to meet you,” she said, batting her eyelashes and shaking his hand. To Jake, she added out of the corner of her mouth, “Can we keep him?”13

“Not in the way that you mean, you little deviant.” Jake nudged her with his elbow. “Now get out of the way so we can sit down, yeah? Were starving.”

“Jake, get the milk, would you? Parker, would you prefer water?” Jakes mother interjected.

 

“Please,” Parker said, smiling shyly. His cheeks were flushed. Jake winced internally. Becca was going to eat him alive.

Somehow, Jake managed to wrangle Parker a seat between himself and his mom, where there was minimal elbowroom but also much less risk of overhearing awkward teenage girl whispers. Or being groped under the table—he and his sister had grown up in the same house, after all. They had all the same tricks. His mom did help by running interference when things got out of hand—”Rebecca Lee! You will either stop flashing those breasts around at the table or go put on a sweater, do you understand?”

Becca wasnt too much of a teenager not to be embarrassed, and she turned bright red at the admonition. So did Parker, which even Jake thought was kind of cute. “Yes, Mama.” She straightened her posture and adjusted her shirt.

“Thats better. Now eat your beans.”

Later that night, when they were finally back at the apartment and free of the giggles and stares of teenage girls, Parker slumped into the second-hand rocking chair and thunked his head back against the wooden rails. “Your family is nice,” he said. “Do I have to see them every week?”

13This would turn out to be the standard teenage girl reaction to meeting Parker for the first time.

Jake snorted and tossed a GameCube controller into his lap. “That depends on whether you can feed yourself. And you should meet my dad—hes in the city during the week, only comes home on weekends, but hes the black sheep.”

Parker stopped mid-yawn to turn and raise an eyebrow, something Jake considered an impressive feat.

 

“Dads kind of weird,” Jake explained, and Parker broke out of his frozen yawn face to cough incredulously.

 

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Friday, March 13, 2009 Author: Jake

 

News Unfit to Print

 

Hey guys, Jake again, checking in with some good news and some bad news and some other good news.

The bad news: still no update on when that CD will be ready. I promise you, were working as fast as we can (without sacrificing awesome sound).

The good news: as everyone who was at Rock Lobster last night can attest, we have a rockin new lead guitarist. This is Parker. Hes a Pisces.

The bad news: we were unable to find a replacement for Kylies 32Cs. The good news: ladies love the new guy. No panty-throwing yet, but Im hopeful.

 

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Friday, March 20, 2009 Author: Jake

 

APB on blue leopard

Uh, so anyone missing a pair of size XS blue leopard-print panties should e-mail Chris at the address listed on the contact page. I know you threw them at Parker, but hes shy. Anyway, Chris says e-mail him. (You should probably just cut your losses.)

JAKE plonked the bottle down in the middle of the living room table, distracting Parker from his place inBreakfast of Champions. Rubbing his eyes with one hand—hed been at it for hours—Parker lowered his glasses with the other. His eyebrows lifted as his gaze lighted on the bottle of amber liquid.

“Were going to play a game,” Jake said firmly, but he made sure to smile just in case Parker thought he was a psychopath14. “Is it the one you play on your knees in front of a toilet?” Parker asked. “Because I hate that game.”

 

With a flourish, Jake produced two shot glasses from behind his back.

“Oh,” Parker sighed. “Itisthat game.” But he folded the corner of his page over and set the book aside, so he obviously didnt hate itthatmuch.

“I had to bribe Jimmy to buy this for me,” Jake told him, which wasnt strictly true. Jimmy pretty much bought him booze all the time, but he was sure Jimmy would call in the favor someday. “I dont have to work tomorrow, and I know you dont, either, so….”

“So?” Parker gave him a tiny, knowing smile. “You know Im old enough to buy booze too, right?”

 

14In case you were wondering? It didnt help.—PM

 

Jake waved him off one-handed. “Yeah, but then it wouldnt have been a surprise.”

 

After a long moment of just staring, Parker leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “Alright, Ill bite. Whats the game?” “Tit for tat,” Jake said. “Roommate game. You ask me a question, I answer or do a shot if I dont want to. Then its my turn.”

“Why do I get a feeling theres not a lot of questions youre going to refuse to answer?” Parker asked. “Youre kind of an open book, whereas I am mysterious and unknowable.”

“Youve also been reading too much today, apparently,” Jake said, rolling his eyes. “Besides, I never said the game was fair. You in or not?”

He could almost see the internal debate, quick though it was, played out on the features of Parkers face. “No sneakily asking the same question a bunch of different ways to get me drunk?” he clarified.

“If you catch me doing it, its a two-drink penalty,” Jake agreed. He wondered what juicy secrets Parker might be hiding and why it was he didnt want Jake to know. “So?”

Parker gestured to the glasses. “Pour.”

 

Jake grinned and poured two perfect shots, setting one down in front of Parker. “Since youre the newbie, you can go first.”

“So generous,” Parker mocked, leaning back into the couch cushions and studying Jakes face. Finally the corner of his mouth quirked up in a little smirk like hed made up his mind about something. “How long have you had a crush on Chris?”

Jake spluttered. “Jesus, you dont waste any time.” Part of him was embarrassed that he was so transparent—he really thought hed been doing a good job of keeping that little secret under wraps—but on the other hand, it was nice to know there was someone he could talk to about it who obviously wasnt going to judge him. Even if, by the sounds of things, Parker might rib him a bit. He sighed. He was nowhere near embarrassed enough to take the shot, though. “Tenth grade, I guess. Its not really a thing—I mean, Im over it.” He was, mostly, thank God, though it had sucked enormously for three or four years, and his mother would never forgive him for choosing Chris and the band over finishing school. “Man, why couldnt you have shown up years ago so I had someone to talk to about it?”

“My invitation mustve got lost in the mail,” Parker said, rolling his eyes. “Your turn, I guess.”

 

Jake thought for a second. “How come you always put the guitar away as soon as I get home?”

Scratching a hand through his hair, Parker looked from Jake to the shot glass on the table and back a few times before answering. “When I lived at home, I had to be careful not to get caught playing the wrong thing. It was easier not to play when there was someone else around.”

That was interesting. Jake nodded along, accepting the explanation, but then Parker reached forward and grabbed the shot glass, throwing back the spiced rum inside it and grimacing. “What was that for?”

“That wasnt the whole truth,” Parker admitted, which Jake kind of figured, but it wasnt like theyd made a rule for that. “Besides, Im going to need it if thats what kind of night this is going to be.”

“Fair enough.” Jakes curiosity was piqued, but he figured he had plenty of time to weasel Parkers secrets out of him if they were going to be living together. “Your turn.”

Now that he had some alcohol in him, Parker was beginning to slouch in his seat, his posture loosening out of its usual contained ball. “Hmm. Whats your worst nightmare?”

“Actual nightmare, or worst possible conceivable scenario?” “Hmm.” Parker ran a distracted finger around the edge of his shot glass. “Your choice.”

Jake thought about it. There were a lot of really bad scenarios out there—losing the use of his eyes or hands, for example, or a family member. Those were all equally horrifying in a remote, terrible way; none of them really stood out as the worst. “When I was a kid,” he began at last, suppressing a shudder, “my sister and I were playing hide-and-go-seek. It was her turn to count, and I went into the cellar to hide. It was one of those old cellars you cant get to from inside the house—dark, musty-smelling—and my sister was terrified of it. There was no way she was going to look for me in there.” The memory made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “Unfortunately, I didnt count on the fact that we didnt use the cellar, and the ladder was rotted through. I broke three rungs on the way down. Once I was inside, I wasnt tall enough to reach the doors. I was stuck down there for hours.” In the dark with only his imagination for company, Jake had startled at every unfamiliar sound. Every creak or breath of wind had been another horrifying, unimaginable creature come to take him away where he would never see his family again. “I had a panic attack. I havent had one since, but I had my share of nightmares about it. I used to dream I was back there, that I was standing on my tiptoes, banging on the doors and shouting, but no one came for me, and all I could hear was someone breathing in the dark, getting closer.”

When hed finished, Parker handed him his shot glass. “Go on, you look like you need it after that.”

 

Jake smiled weakly and gulped down the burning liquid, feeling it warm his belly. “This games not going exactly to plan, is it?” Parker spread his hands. “I guess that depends on the plan. You got somewhere to be tomorrow?”

 

“Fair point.” Stretching, Jake propped his feet up on the table and thought for a second. “Okay, I got one. Why cant you go home?”

Parker sighed so long it actually ruffled Jakes hair. He held out his glass to be refilled. Jake obliged wordlessly; he hadnt really expected Parker to answer that one, but now he wasreallycurious. Parker downed the shot without fanfare, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and said, “Okay, desert island. You get to bring one thing. What is it?”

“A boat,” Jake answered as though the answer were obvious. “Duh.”

 

Parker rolled his eyes. “Come on, thats cheating.”

“Okay, okay.” Jake considered for a second, shaking his head. He thought about it: sun, sand, and water as far as the eye could see. Something to distill the salt water would be nice, but he wouldnt last a day without someone to talk to. It had to rain sometime, right? “Man, Id have to bring somebody for company. I suck at being alone. Not, you know, in the romantic sense, but Id drive myself nuts, you know? Im too social. So I guess Id have to drag somebody else with me. Chris, maybe, or my sister, even you. Not that youre third string or anything, just that we kind of just met and I dont really know you that well—”

Parker laughed at him, and Jake shut up, aware the alcohol was hitting him already. “Oh, fuck you,” he said, laughing back. “Alright, I got one. How come you can play so many instruments?”

“Prodigy,” Parker grinned, then shook his head to show he was kidding. “Nah, I just—dont tell Chris, alright? I majored in music in New York.”

Holy crap. Jake whistled low, impressed. “Yeah, I mean, you couldve put that on your resume, asshole. You finished a degree?” “Longest four years of my life,” Parker smiled. “It was worth it, though. I learned a lot.”

“So Ive heard.” Logan, the owner of the local music store, had been impressed enough with Parker that he had hired him more or less on their first meeting, and every time Jake had been there since Parker started, hed made sure to mention Parkers encyclopedic knowledge. It was like he thought he was bragging to Parkers mom or whatever, which was kind of messed up, but it was cute anyway. “Thats awesome. I started college, but I never finished.”

“How come?”“That your official question?”Parker shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

Jake settled back against the couch to tell the tale. “I wasnt eighteen yet, and Mom said I had to go. I had a couple of ideas of things I wanted to study—philosophy, education—I was sort of just trying stuff out. I enrolled in some general courses, trying to get a feel for things. Chris and Jimmy got jobs instead and started a band. They needed a bassist and a guitar player a couple nights a week, and I had met Kylie in my residence, so we started hanging out with them more and more, especially once Kylie and Jimmy started seeing each other. Of course, the more gigs we played, the worse our grades got. I finished out the semester and told my mom I wanted to be a rock star.”

“Howd she take it?”

“She cried,” Jake recalled, wincing a little. “We made a deal; if music isnt going to be a viable career option by the time I turn twentyone, I said Id go back. That doesnt mean Ill quit playing, just that Ill have a better backup plan.”

“Wow.” Parker seemed impressed. “How long you got left?”

Jake did a quick mental countdown. “Uh. Four and a half months, I guess.” He shrugged, then flashed a quick grin. “Never said Id go back full time.”

It was his turn to be curious again, and he wanted it to be good this time. Parker kept dragging longer and longer answers out of him without really reciprocating. It was very mysterious, and Jake thought maybe kind of sad, too, but while Parker was his roommate and fellow band member, they werent exactly friends yet, and he didnt feel right pushing too hard. Finally, he decided on, “When are you going to man up and give the band one of your songs?”

“When Im sure Chris wont kick me out for having more talent than he does,” Parker scoffed.

At one point in his life, Jake would have been jumping to Chriss defense—the defense of his musical talent, at least—but he lived with Parker. No matter how much Parker tried to hide it by stashing the guitar whenever he thought Jake was in earshot, heknewParker on his worst day outclassed Chris any day, no contest. “Chris wouldnt do that!” he said instead, feeling obliged to defend his character. Off Parkers disbelieving look, though, Jake relented. “Okay, he would. But we wouldnt let him.” A second eyebrow joined the first on Parkers forehead, and Jake conceded total defeat. Chris just wasnt ready for Parker to upstage him. It took time for him to warm up to people.15“Okay, okay! You have a point. But Id make sure he knew it was a really dumb idea.”


Page 5

15Well, guys. Chris had a healthy double standard where women were concerned.

 

Parker accepted that with the lifting of one shoulder. “What about Jimmy?”

 

“Jimmy ever see your fingers move when you play?”

“Uh, I dont think so.” Parkers face was the picture of perfect confusion. “Except maybe during my audition.” Jimmy was usually pretty focused on the drums, and they practiced facing inward, Parkers body at a ninety-degree angle to Jimmys line of sight. “Why? Does it matter?”

“Only way Jimmy knows a good guitarist is by watching your fingers. I guess listening to the beat, too, but yeah.”

 

“Tone deaf?”

 

Jake confirmed it. “Like you wouldnt believe.” There was a reason Jimmy didnt have a microphone.

 

“Who ever heard of a tone-deaf musician?”

 

Snorting, Jake picked up his shot glass. “Son, you never hear of a guy called Bob Dylan?”

 

“Careful,” Parker said, laughing. “In some parts of the country, thems fightin words.”16

Jake winced, almost sloshing rum over his fingers. “Oh, God, please tell me youre not a Dylan fan. I might have to kick you out. Seriously, dude. I cannot have that shit in my apartment.”

“Relax,” Parker soothed him. “Its only on Mondays!”

Monday being tomorrow, when Jake would likely be hung over as hell and in the mood for peace and quiet, not toneless, indecipherable caterwauling. “I need a bigger bottle,” he decided morosely, knocking back the shot.

“Kidding. Not a fan.” Parker nudged him with his foot. “Its my turn.”

“So it is.” Parker still hadnt exactly been forthcoming. Jake was starting to believe that he would have to get to know his roommate the old-fashioned way: over time and through walking in on him in the shower. “Fire away.”

16Parker had picked up Chriss habit of imitating accents. Unfortunately, he was terrible at it.

In fairness to Parker, he stopped asking such complicated questions, and they ended up talking about books, movies, music, and television for the next half an hour, MTV playing on low volume in the background. Jake bravely confessed his clandestineAmerica’s Next Top Modeladdiction, and Parker explained his love of Vonnegut with a slightly slurred vocabulary that would have made Jakes mama proud.

The introduction of a feature about Paul McCartneys latest musical efforts prompted a long, serious, drunken conversation about whether he and John Lennon were doing it. Parker was adamant that they were, while Jake was more skeptical—”Dude, come on. You know he was totally in love with Linda.” That conversation further devolved—or re-evolved, depending how you looked at it—into a debate over which Beatle was the better songwriter.

“„While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Parker said.Jake had to give him that, but—“„Come Together.”Parker made a noise of assent. Stalemate.

Somehow they ended up streaming backwards clips from the White Album until John Lennons voice proclaiming Paul was dead gave them both goose bumps.

“If Paul is dead,” Jake said, “then who the hell is that guy?” Both sets of eyes darted back to the television screen while maybe-Paul performed a soulful version of “Let It Be.”

 

Parker reached for the remote and turned off the television. “Youre a bad influence,” he said, yawning.

Smirking lazily, Jake leaned back into the couch. “Yep.” He burped and wrinkled his nose at the taste. “Maybe we should have mixed that with something.”

No response.“Parker?”

Jake turned his head. Parker was slumped against the arm of the couch, mouth slightly open, eyes closed. “Lightweight,” he muttered, stretching out his legs on top of the coffee table. Hed just rest his eyes, and then hed go to bed.

In the middle of the night he woke up with Parkers feet in his lap, disoriented from a bizarre dream in which he and Parker were dressed up in the uniforms from the cover ofSergeant Pepper, being chased through the streets of Independence by a giant walrus.I have got to stop watching television before bed, he thought with a yawn. Then he reached up and turned off the light.

WHEN Jake got home from his shift at the store, Parker was sitting at the table in the living room, the weeks classified ads spread in front of him on the table. He had a pen in one hand and another he must have forgotten stuck behind his ear, and his glasses were sliding down his nose.

“Hey,” Jake said, kicking the door closed behind him and setting a bag of groceries on the counter. “Whats going on?”

“Got a letter from the landlord,” Parker answered without looking up from his papers. “Our lease is up in two months, just a reminder notice. So I was checking if there was anything better listed for the price.”

“Good idea,” Jake nodded; he had a cousin who worked in real estate, and hed heard her say many a time that it was a buyers market. Maybe that meant it was a renters market too. “Any likely candidates?”

Parker shrugged. “Some. It depends what were looking for. I thought it might be nice to rent a semi or a townhouse, have a bit of a yard. We could make some use of the barbecue your dad gave us.”

Jakes dad had purchased a new barbecue a few weeks previously in a sale and had offered them his old one. Jake wasnt one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but they didnt exactly have anywhere to put it at the moment; their apartment didnt have a balcony. “That sounds good, actually. Anything around here?”

“A few. Some shitty basement apartments with yard access, one or two townhouses that arent too bad—most of them are already furnished, so theyre a bit pricier.” Parker stopped to scratch his nose, looking perturbed, and then picked up the paper and showed Jake the one he had circled in red. “And this one.”

Jake squinted at the picture on the newsprint, taking in the miniscule details curiously. “This looks like Chris and Jimmys place.”

“Thats because it is Chris and Jimmys place,” Parker sighed, flopping back onto the sofa and pulling off his glasses. He rubbed an obviously tired hand across the bridge of his nose before continuing. “I double-checked. Its the other half of their semi.”

Blinking, Jake set the paper down and sat back with him, turning his full attention to Parkers reaction. “Okay,” he said agreeably, folding his hands in his lap. “Thoughts?”

Parker shrugged. “On the one hand, its not too far from our places of work, it has two baths, we can afford it, we know the landlord, and Chris and Jimmy live next door.”

Jake nodded along, waiting for the other shoe to drop. “And on the other hand?”

Voice drier than the Gobi desert, Parker replied, “On the other hand, its a one-year lease, some asshole painted the kitchen orange, and Chris and Jimmy live next door.”

“You make a compelling case,” Jake admitted with the ghost of a smile, picking up the paper again. There were a few other prospective places circled, and of course they could just stay where they were, but it seemed silly not to explore other options.

“Dont mock my pain,” Parker whined. “Seriously. I mean, dont get me wrong, the guys are great, but we already see them every day but Sunday.”

“I hear you,” Jake assured him, chewing his lip while he thought. “Okay, what if we make a list of the places we like best and go see them all? If any of them can compete with what we have now, or what we could have there, then we know its probably not the right thing to move next to the guys. If we dont, we reevaluate how much youd hate living next door to Chris”—Parker gave a guilty flinch—“and start again. Hows next Sunday for you?”

“I guess Ill make some calls.” Parker smiled ruefully. “Were going to end up their neighbors, though, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jake said easily, reaching around behind Parker for the TV remote. “But itll make you feel better if you feel like weve thoroughly explored our options.”

Parker was quiet for a minute while ESPN flashed on the TV. “Thanks.”

 

Jake nudged him not too gently with his elbow. “Dont mention it.”InterludeTen Things Jake Learned About Parker Their First Month Living Together

 

1. Parker was a musical genius.

Logans enthusiastic endorsements aside—Parker could apparently play nearly every instrument in the store—the evidence spoke for itself. He was always careful not to upstage Chris at practices, though as the days passed he was getting less paranoid. Out of deference to Chris, Parker refrained from embellishing the songs that had already been written and merely played them perfectly. Chris was even warming up to him, and as a show of appreciation had instituted a sort of guitarist-bonding-night ritual that seemed to revolve around a shared love of Twizzlers and Monty Python.17

But at home, there were no such compunctions. Whenever Jake caught Parker playing, and it wasnt often, the songs were beautiful, precise, and full of harmonies—and rarely anything he recognized. Occasionally Jake noticed a beat-up notebook sticking out from under the couch or hidden under Parkers guitar case; he took that as an indication that the songs were indeed of Parkers own design, but he figured Parker would come forward with them when he was ready and not before. Jake just had to wait and let him build his confidence. It was going to be awesome.

17Particularly the Silly Walking skit.2. Parker didnt like to wear shoes, even though his feet were always cold.

The morning Jake woke up with Parkers feet still in his lap, he had a bad moment where he thought hed given Parker alcohol poisoning and hed choked on his vomit and died, his feet were that cold. Of course, part of that panic was residual dumb-dumbs from alcohol consumption. After that, he started paying attention. Parker wore nice shoes to his job at the music store, but he took them off as soon as he got home and put his socks in the laundry. After the last frost, he wore sandals everywhere, including on stage, even though someone inevitably spilled beer on his foot. Jake didnt get it, but that wasnt really new where Parker was concerned.

3. Parker owned exactly three CDs. Four if you counted the Wayward Sons demo.

Jake didnt find them the day Parker moved his stuff in—hed been out while the actual physical moving had happened, and when he got back in, there was an empty hiking backpack on the floor. It took some serious work to find the little changes—a couple of framed photographs in what had been Kylies bedroom, a few battered paperbacks, and, a little surprisingly, a Bible that looked like it was older than Jake. He didnt find the CDs on the tower until two weeks later, when he was looking for something to rock out to while he cooked. There were three of them, though he only recognized Bach. The other two looked homemade.

Now that Jake was thinking about it, he was pretty sure that piece Parker had played during his audition was Bach. Curious, he popped it in the CD player instead, humming along to the motifs he knew while he boiled the water for pasta.

4. Parker still had an operational Discman. 5. He also had no fashion sense to speak of.

Jake wasnt really one to nitpick—seriously, his best friends were straight guys, so he put up with a lot of things, fashion-wise, that were frankly unacceptable. It was worse because they weresinglestraight guys, so instead of just having uncoordinated wardrobes, they had uncoordinated wardrobes that were generally stained with bleach, food, or grease, or had simply never seen an iron. In a few cases he had to wonder if theyd even seen a washing machine.

Parkers clothes were fastidiously neat by comparison. Hell, he even did Jakes laundry, too, on occasion (usually the occasion where Jake left dirty clothes around the apartment). However.

Jake knew Parker must have some clothes nice enough to go to work in, otherwise Logan wouldnt have hired him. And he did all right when he was just lounging around the apartment in ratty jeans and a Tshirt. All signs pointed to the fact that it was going to be okay, but no— the first time Parker dressed for the stage, it was a disaster. He put on his nice work pants and a long-sleeved button-down shirt that would have been too big on Jake. He didnt do his hair, either, but by the time Jake noticed, they had to leave or they were going to be late.

The next night, he made sure to get to Parker early. “Dont change,” he ordered, and Parker put down the pants hed been holding and blushed scarlet.

Jake grinned at him and leaned over to ruffle his hair. “And do something about this, seriously. I know the bed-head look is in, but this is ridiculous.”

Against all the odds, Parkers flush deepened. “I, uh—” “Used to playing classical?” Jake guessed. There had been something uniform-like about the black-on-white of the night before. Parker bit his lip. “Something like that.”

 

Jake nodded and clapped him on the shoulder, confident that Parker would tell him someday.

Probably.6. In a bizarre juxtaposition with his usual geek chic image—pale skin, fluffy hair, plastic-framed glasses, button-down—Parker had a tattoo.

Jake was so thrown the first time he saw it that his mouth stayed open in the middle of a word because it wasnt getting any input from his brain.

Parker adjusted the towel around his waist. “You were saying?”

Jake waved his hand. “Forget what I was saying,” he managed. He couldnt tear his eyes away from the clean black lines. “You have a tattoo!” he accused. “You have rocker cred after all!”

“Doesnt everyone have one nowadays?” Parker looked like he really wanted Jake to drop the subject so he could go put some clothes on. “Youve got one, right?” he asked a little desperately.

“Scared of needles,” Jake said shortly, still too entranced to be embarrassed. He walked around behind Parker to get a better look. Two sets of five lines wound in a spiral across the upper part of Parkers arm, then around again and across the back of his shoulder. The lines and spaces were interrupted every so often by a group of precise notes; the deep curlicue of the treble clef would only be just covered when Parker wore a T-shirt.

“Dude, Im dripping on the carpet,” Parker finally pointed out, and Jake snapped out of it at last and stepped back.
Page 6

 

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “Ive always wanted one, but Im chicken. Its really cool.”

 

“It was a mistake,” Parker snapped, and then his cheeks turned pink. “Can I get dressed now?” he added more gently.

 

Taken aback, Jake stepped out of the way. “Yeah, sure. Sorry.” Parker gave him a tight smile, and that was that.

 

7. Parker was celibate18.18Or else really oblivious.

He had to be. There was no other explanation for the way he ignored the advances of every single person who hit on him in the bar every time they performed.

8. He was fastidiously tidy.

Parker kept his things to himself with a tenacity that bordered on paranoia. If Parker hadnt been using it within the last five minutes, it was tucked away in his bedroom, with the exception of Kylies guitar, which stood on its stand on the opposite side of the television from Jakes. To be fair, sometimes he forgot things, but they were small: pens, notepads, an occasional spoon from his coffee. In general they were things that he used when he didnt have his glasses on, so Jake surmised that once he put them down he just forgot about them, and since he couldnt see them anymore once he was more than five feet away, that was where they stayed.

9. In direct relation with number eight, Parker lost his glasses all the time.

Hed leave them on the back of the toilet while he had a shower and search the kitchen relentlessly for them once hed finished his coffee. Hed put them on top of the fridge while he was getting out a carton of ice cream in the middle of June so they wouldnt fog up, but then inspiration struck and he wandered off to pick at his guitar strings and ended up squinting for the rest of the day. He lost them when they were sitting on the top of his head and when they were clipped to the front of his shirt. He put them on the windowsill and closed the blinds. He took them off to wipe his eyes while he was lying on the floor at Chriss after a Monty Python marathon, and they accidentally got knocked under the table. The sheer number of ways Parker managed to lose his glasses was mystifying to Jake, and in self-defense—it was always when they had to leave to go somewhere that Parker noticed his glasses were missing—he started keeping track of where hed last seen them.

“On top of the CD rack,” he said one Thursday before Parker could ask him.

 

When he turned around, Parker was watching him strangely, having located his spectacles. “What?”

 

Parker shook his head. “Nothing. Lets go, I want to grab a bite to eat on the way.”

He thought about buying Parker one of those strings that went around your neck to keep you from losing them, the kind seniors wore, as a joke, but somehow he never got around to it. And anyway, it was kind of nice to think that Parker needed him.

10. Parker didnt talk about his family.

Jake didnt have to be a genius to figure that one out. Parker was, for all intents and purposes, a runaway. He must have had someone at some point—his manners were too precise for someone brought up in the foster care system, and the way he reacted to Jakes mama, now that they knew each other better, was too warm, almost longing. Like he missed someone in particular, not like hed missed out on having a mother at all. Every time Mama Brenner paid him a compliment, or gave him a hug, or saved him the last cookie, Parker blushed, or held on too tight, or looked at the cookie like it held all the answers in the world.

Maybe Parker wasnt talking about it much, but that didnt mean Jake wasnt listening.Second Movement: With the Band

JAKE liked to think that the Wayward Sons were a what-you-see-iswhat-you-get kind of group. What he meant by that was that they didnt spend a lot of time thinking about theirimage. Of course hed helped Parker with his wardrobe some, but that was more of an act of mercy; there was contrived, over-thought clothes and behavior, and then there was going out in public looking like youd dressed in the dark.

Take Chris, for example. Chris was a douchebag, and the way he presented himself did nothing to hide that fact. He had the typical rockstar hair, dyed dark, and he had spent the entire drive up to todays concert styling it in the van and getting hair gel all over Jakes comb. He was vain, and he liked to wear his T-shirts too tight to show off his biceps. Not that Jake wasnt a little vain too—he did want to be a rock star, after all. Chris just spent an awful lot of time on his hair for a straight guy, that was all.

The point was, you could tell a lot about Chris by the way he dressed. He didnt bother trying to hide it. Jake liked to hum that Carly Simon song under his breath sometimes to remind him.

Then there was Jimmy, with his artless dreads hiding piercing blue eyes. He was earnest and suffered from a total lack of selfabsorption that sometimes made him prone to forgetting to shower, though Chris always reminded him when the smell became noticeable. Jimmy was no more capable of subterfuge than he was of spelling it.

Either way, both Chris and Jimmy had some kind of innate rockstar appeal. When they had first started out, Jake had tried to achieve the look, but his own hair did that curling-up-at-the-ends, butterwouldnt-melt, look-at-me-Im-about-twelve thing, even though he was far from innocent. The one time he had tried to color it, though, it had turned out ginger, so it was a mistake he hadnt repeated. He was destined to be the boy-next-door type, and really, that wasnt so bad.

Parker, though. Parker was shy—he hid behind his glasses. To Jakes knowledge, he had never spent more than ten minutes in the shower. He shone on stage not because he enjoyed having the audiences eyes on him but simply because he loved to play, and off of it he avoided attention like the plague. He was so painfully shy that Jake had to wonder why the hell hed ever want to be in a band in the first place. Intervention was going to be necessary on Parkers behalf, and it looked like Jake was the man for the job. “Are you okay, dude? You look like youre going to be sick.”

It was their first concert in front of an audience bigger than the bar crowd at Rock Lobster, and it was about a million fucking degrees outside. They were playing an outdoor venue, some local music festival—Chris did the arranging and Jake published the details on their blog, but right now he was so excited he couldnt even remember what it was called.

Parker went the same color has his washed-out green T-shirt, which Jake had learned spelled bad news for his digestive system. “Im okay,” he said, wheezing a little. “Im okay.”

Jake didnt believe him, but he was struggling for something he could do. It wasnt like there was a cure for stage fright, and if you were going to be in a band, you shouldnt need one.

Then he had an idea. “Gimme your glasses.”“What?”“Your glasses. Give them to me.”“But I wont be able to see!”

“How bad is it?” Jake pressed. “Are you going to miss any notes? Fall off the stage?”

 

“No. Ill be able to see about five feet—”

 

“So give me your glasses,” Jake coaxed again. “Come on. Theyre sliding off your face right now anyway, dude.”

Parker finally relented, pulling the thick plastic frames down the bridge of his nose and handing them over. Jake folded the arms in and hooked them on his jeans pocket. “Okay. Now you cant see them.”

At first, Parker looked weird with his glasses off, somehow more vulnerable. Jake guessed that made a strange kind of sense, since he was essentially blind. His eyes were a funky greenish brown, like a kiwi or something. Jake had never noticed them before. Actually—Jake blinked, shaking himself. Actually, Parker was completely fucking hot, in that rock-star-cum-twink kind of way.Who knew?

“Youre going to have to make sure I dont trip over anything,” Parker muttered, scratching the back of his head.

“I got your back,” Jake assured him, wrenching his neck to peer out at the assembled crowd. The band on now was just finishing up their set, the reverbs from the last chord echoing from the speakers. “We have, like, thirty seconds. You going to puke?”

“Maybe.”

Fuck. Jake thought fast, spying the unlabeled bottle of Wild Turkey Chris had been drinking out of for the last hour and making a grab for it. “You like whiskey?”

“What?” Parker made a face. Jake took that for a “no.” “No, it burns.”

Jake felt kind of bad for what he was about to do, but hopefully Parker would thank him later. Or at least forgive him eventually. “Great. Drink this.”

“Is it whiskey?”“No.”

Technically nothing so unrefined could make a claim at that name.

Jake winced even before Parker got the bottle to his lips and stood back when he started sputtering, bending over at the waist to hurl the contents of his stomach onto the ground at Jakes feet. Jake grimaced and took another step back.

“You said it wasnt whiskey!”“I lied.” Jake shrugged, still feeling like an asshole. “Better?”

Parker looked up at him, eyes watering at the corners. He didnt look mad, although there was vomit on his chin. “Yeah,” he said at length, wiping a hand across his mouth. “Thanks, I guess.”

Chris took that moment to cozy up to them, swaying just a little. When he saw Parker, though, he straightened up, any hint of inebriation disappearing. “Were on in two minutes, guys. What the fucks going on?”

“Nerves,” Parker explained, gesturing unnecessarily to his mess. “Jake was just giving me some liquid courage.”

 

“Theres puke on your shirt,” Chris said succinctly. “Lose it and grab your stuff; come on, lets go.”

 

“He wants me to take my shirt off?” Parker asked forlornly as Chris jogged off to talk to Jimmy.

“This goes the way we hope it will, he wont be the last one,” Jake told him, trying to cheer him up. Parker just looked green again. “Come on, seriously. That shirt is gross.”

“If I take it off, Ill burn.”

“Yeah, well, you could use some color, you fainting southern belle, you.” Parker didnt bother reminding him that he was from South Dakota, and Jake turned away to triple-check the tuning on his bass. When he turned back again Parker was standing there in the sunlight, so pale it almost blinded him. “Dude. Do not look directly at your own skin.”

“Shut up.” Parker rubbed at his arms in an obvious display of self-consciousness. In the sunlight, the measures of Rotas “Theme for Romeo and Juliet” that covered his left shoulder and part of his back stood out in stark relief. Jake had seen it before, of course—hard to avoid when you were roommates—but the audience hadnt. “Hand me my guitar, would you?”

Jake did, though the contrast with the black body didnt do much for Parkers complexion either. “You ready to rock this thing?” “No,” Parker confessed frankly. “Does it matter?”

 

Jake shrugged. “Not really. We need you.”

 

Parker exhaled shakily, checking his tuning with a quick strum. “No pressure.”

There was a reason they hadnt told Parker there was a scout from a major label in the audience tonight, a contact of one of Chriss multitude of cousins, and that was it. Jake would have felt better if he could have talked about it with Parker, if Parker were right there being as nervous as he was, except for if Jake told him, he would probably explode. So he kept his mouth shut and smiled wanly, reaching out to touch the tattooed shoulder. “Hey. Its just like any other gig, okay? Look, you can even wear my lucky sunglasses.” He pulled them off his head, where theyd been resting, and slid them onto Parkers nose.

“I feel ridiculous,” Parker confessed. He could probably see even less now, since the lenses were smudged as hell.

 

“Yeah, but youlookhot,” Jake told him sincerely, straightening up. He met Chriss eyes across the staging area. “Lets do this.”

He had to guide Parker with one hand on his shoulder until he was in place, and then—worse—he had to leave him there and take his own place on stage, all the way across on the other side, and hope he didnt trip over his own two feet or a patch cord and fall and make an ass out of them or break his guitar or something. A hundred very bad scenarios ran through Jakes mind—none of them had to do with his own performance anymore, or even Parkers; he knew they were both more than capable of this. It was just the possible unforeseen disasters that were nagging at him. He didnt have time to concentrate on any of them, though, because all of a sudden the master of ceremonies was introducing them and Chris stepped up to the mike.

The audience didnt know them, and that was more than a little unnerving. Jake had become accustomed to people standing still and paying attention when he was in the spotlight, even if it was just the usual Friday night crowd at Rock Lobster, and the fact that these people didnt seem to care about them one way or another was unsettling and made him feel small and insignificant. Jake tried to remind himself that this wouldnt be their last chance at a record deal and major label representation, but his mental peptalk got interrupted by Chris motioning Jimmy to count them in, and he just had to hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

He had a bad moment when Parker didnt come in when he was supposed to, and his heart nearly stopped as he looked over to see Parker staring blankly at his right hand, dark lenses in place, but Jimmy kept his cool and tapped out another measure, and this time Parker didnt miss his cue, guitar screaming into the afternoon, and Jake breathed a sigh of relief and looked away. Then it was his turn to knock out a complicated riff, and even though these people didnt know their work and so wouldnt know it if he screwed it up, the guys were counting on him. Centering himself, Jake let Parkers wailing guitar and Chriss steady vocals wash over him, concentrated on getting in the groove, and tried not to worry about stage presence. Whatever else people might say about the asshole, Chris had that part of the performance covered.

The song they were performing was one Parker had written—the first he had had the guts to show to Chris, and Jake was still kind of amazed that Chris didnt try to pick it to pieces, not that there was anything to criticize as far as Jake could see. It was catchy enough to be pop but driven and loud enough for the alt-rockers, and so what if the original lyrics were crap? That part was easy to fix. He lent his voice to the backing vocals and tried not to keep looking over to make sure Parker was okay, sure that it would come out against them somehow if it looked like Parker needed a babysitter or something.


Page 7

The butterflies had more or less transformed into pure, heartpounding adrenaline by the time they hit the solo, and Jake finally had a chance to glance over again and see how Parker was doing. With the sunglasses and the tattoo, he already looked like a rock star, and the way he held the guitar low across his outthrust hips wasnt hurting anything. For a guy who had never so much as chatted up a girl in Jakes presence, the vibes he was giving off right now were purely sexual. He hit every note of the solo beautifully, clearly too involved in the song to worry much about the audience, or maybe he didnt care because he couldnt see them. Jake knew they had this in the bag by the time the solo finished, a grin stretched across his face, and he came back in on cue a little louder than theyd practiced, but it sounded great. He couldnt help feeling like he owned the world.

Sometime in the past minute or so, the crowd had stopped milling around and started actually paying attention, turning to face the stage and watching, maybe not rapt, but intrigued, anyway. Jake loved the spotlight almost as much as Chris did, and he knew it showed in the way he moved his feet and swung his guitar and made love to the microphone. With a scout out there somewhere—Jake suddenly had to try very hard not to pick him out of the crowd—this needed to be their very best work, and Jake did his best work when he was soaking up the appreciation of the crowd.

They finished out the three-song set with a cover of “Come Together” that the crowd really sank its teeth into, and one of Chriss staples, a dirty, punk-rocky tune that he always sang in a deceptively sweet tone and never failed to get the audience laughing. It probably didnt hurt that he coupled the multitude of double-entendres with lewd hand motions or, when he was actually strumming, wild thrusts of his hips. Once upon a time that kind of performance from Chris would have left Jake with an embarrassing hard-on, and, okay, he was still half hard, but that was the audiences work and had nothing to do with his onetime crush.

In the end, Jake was sweating more at the end of a three-song set than he ever had during any hours-long gig, and he had to admit to himself that his nerves were shot. The emcee came back onstage and incited the audience to give them a warm farewell, and the four of them staggered offstage into the mud behind the staging area.

Parker broke the breathless, anticipatory silence with, “Christ, I need a cigarette.”

Jake snorted in laughter—Parker was about the last person he could ever see smoking—but then a stranger in jeans and a longsleeved T-shirt—seriously, in this weather—appeared from nowhere and held one out. The way Parker took it was completely natural, one hundred percent grace as he leaned over and let the guy light it for him too, and then he leaned back on the cheap construction of the stage and exhaled like he was James fucking Dean or something. “Thanks.”

For the moment, Jake was too weirded out by Parker smoking to wonder who their new friend was. “Dude, since when do you smoke?”

“I dont. I quit a couple months before I met you. Cost too much.” Parker took another deep drag, and Jake could practicallyseethe tension draining out of him. “Awesome.” Then he dropped the still-lit cigarette onto the ground and toed it out, bent to pick it up, and tossed it in the trash. He turned to their new acquaintance with his usual shy half-smile. “You going to introduce yourself?”

That was when Jake remembered that if anyone was going to be meeting them backstage, it was probably the industry guy. He hoped Parker didnt have a fainting spell or something, because that would probably look bad. “Michael Reilly,” he said, extending a hand to Parker, who shook it coolly. Then he said, “MERI.”

Jake felt his mouth go dry at the label. Music Entertainment and Recording Industries was a newer name, but they had already signed a huge number of Jakes favorite artists, plus a bunch of other popular ones he hated.

Parker said, “Oh my gosh, you guys are such jerks.”19Such language, Jake thought to himself with just the hint of a smile. He just hoped he wasnt going to puke again.

 

“Relax,” Chris said. “This is the part where you introduce yourself, genius.”

Parker managed to control his flush somehow—Jake wasnt sure how; until now, he hadnt seen much evidence that Parker could control it at all. “Sorry. Parker McAvoy. Nice to meet you, Mr. Reilly.”

“Its Mike,” the guy said, smiling. “The pleasures mine, I assure you. And you must be Chris,” he continued, making nice with Chris before shaking hands with Jimmy as well.

The dreamlike state Jake had found himself in got interrupted when Reilly offered him his hand. “And youd be Jake. Love the blog—very informative.”

“Uh,” Jake said intelligently. His brain had stuck on the idea of a rep from MERI actually researching their band. It was completely surreal. “Yep, I think so.”

“I apologize,” Chris broke in. “He was dropped on his head as a child. Repeatedly. Irreparable damage to the part of his brain that controls intelligent conversation. Hes only good for music and blogging.”

19Parker never swore.

 

“So what did you think?” Jake finally managed, ignoring the urge to shoot Chris the finger.

“Impressive,” he nodded, but his face was unreadable, and Jake couldnt tell if that meant “not bad for a bunch of barely grown guys who just put their band together a few months ago” or “I want to sign you right now and give you lots of money.” “You showed a lot of versatility for a three song set. I have to ask, though—why the cover?”

Jake fell back and let Chris field the question.

He shrugged. “We have our fair share of fans in the greater area, but it tends to be the bar-going crowd. Most of the people here this afternoon are a little older. You cant please everybody, but you can sure as hell do your damnedest.”

“Good answer.”

 

“Plus, we like paying homage to the gods of rock,” Jimmy added in. Jake was surprised—Jimmy didnt really talk to strangers.

After a few more stilted attempts at small talk, Jake was the one who got his thoughts together and asked the question none of the rest of them had the stones to say aloud. “So, did we pass the test?”

Reilly shot him a grin. “Oh, Im going to like you. Nothings set in stone yet, of course, too many details to go over, but provisionally— youre in.”

Jake said, “Holy shit.” Chris whooped and was immediately chest-bumped by Jimmy, the force of their enthusiasm knocking them both back a few steps. Parker looked a little green. Jake sincerely hoped he could wait until Reilly was gone before he threw up again.

“Heres my card,” Mike said, handing one to each of them. It had the MERI corporate logo on it with his picture in the corner. The logo was embossed, contact information printed neatly underneath. “I was hoping we could get together sometime while Im still in the area to discuss particulars, though I understand if you want to go over the contracts first. How does Thursday sound?”

“Thursdays good for me,” Jake managed to get out, still hardly able to believe that this was really happening. Today was Sunday; that gave them four solid days to freak out. “Guys?”“Uh-huh,” Parker said faintly.

“Lets do lunch,” Chris said with a grin. Jake could cheerfully have killed him for getting hold of himself so quickly, except that then theyd be short one lead singer.

“Good, good. That Italian place—Giuseppes—it looks nice.” “Theyve got a great veal parmesan,” Jimmy told him. “Delightful. One oclock sound good?”

Jake had to hope that the other guys were absorbing the details of this conversation, because the only thing going through his mind right now wasOh my God, oh my God, oh my God, we’re having lunch with a rep from MERI.He shoved his hand into his pocket and pinched himself, just in case—butow, no, he was definitely awake.

He managed a wave as the guy moved off to his car, and then Chris cuffed him across the back of his head to snap him out of it. “Did you forget to put your brain in this morning, asshole?”

“Be glad its broken,” Jake muttered, rubbing the spot where Chriss watch had hit his head. “There would have been clapping and verbal diarrhea otherwise.”

“Well, get your shit together by Thursday, okay? I dont want him to think youre”—Chris fluttered a hand around in the air to illustrate whatever it was he didnt want Reilly to think Jake was— “you know.”

“Gay?” Parker supplied with a quirk of his lips.“Well, its not like hes going to miss that,” Jimmy said. “Hey!”

“Jake, if you could stand the idea of getting inked, youd have a pink triangle tattooed across your chest.”

 

That was true, so Jake just shrugged and took it. “Whatever, if hes read my blog, he already knows Im gay anyway.”

“I was talking about hiding the fact that youre a total spaz,” Chris said a little irritably, but then he broke out into a wide grin. “Holy shit, you guys, we made it. Can I get a high five or something here?”

Jake muttered, “Oh, and Im the spaz,” but he submitted to the group hug Jimmy initiated with as much grace as he could muster. It wasnt so bad, though being pressed up against a half-naked Parker was kind of awkward. “So, I guess we need a lawyer?”

“And a lot of beer,” Chris agreed.

 

“Maybe some groupies,” Jimmy teased with an elbow to Chriss ribs.

“Good idea.”“How bout a shirt,” Parker put in.

Now that Jakes brain was working again, he noticed that Parkers nipples were standing out and his lips were kind of blue. Maybe he was in shock—it was certainly not what Jake would consider cold outside. He peeled off his top layer and held it out.20“Here.”

In a daze, they packed up their instruments and equipment, loading them into the back of the decrepit old van automatically. Jake had driven on the way up, and Parker didnt have a license anymore, so Chris and Jimmy were in the front seats, the radio turned low to some quiet alt-rock station, and Jake and Parker were on the bench seat in the back, surrounded by ratty blankets that had probably been in the van since the late sixties, empty beer cans, and microphone stands. Parker fell asleep five minutes into the ride, evidently worn out by their exciting day, but Jake stayed up staring out the window at the dark, gently rolling southeast Kansas landscape until it resolved into the street they lived on.

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: June 11, 2009 Author: Jake

 

20The shirt he was wearing underneath actually did have a pink triangle on it.

 

MERI Presents the Wayward Sons

 

In case you guys didnt know, we signed with MERI today, so the concert tonight? Is going to be off the hook.

 

Okay, okay. You want details? Ill give you details.

That CD weve been talking about doing for so long? Thats finally going to happen. I know weve only had the ones we recorded in Chriss basement out for a little while, but this is going to be a little different. Ten tracks, professionally produced. We retain creative control, were just gonna have a little help recording and editing. Oh, and were getting paid for it this time, which is pretty awesome.

Theres a tour in the works as well, though itll just be a short one, probably August till November, and then hopefully well be back in the studio cutting some more tracks for another CD in the spring.

Obviously, we are more than over the moon about this.

Thank you so much to all our fans whove stuck with us this long and helped us get this to happen. We love you guys and we hope to see you on the road!

THE night after they signed their first record contract, they played a festival in some dinky hick Kansas town. They had already been high on adrenaline and good vibrations when they got on the stage, but now they were buzzing with a contact high too.21So far Jimmy had managed to keep them in line with his driving drum beats, but Jake honestly didnt know how much longer he could keep it up. Also, he really wanted a bag of Cheetos. And maybe some candy.

He and Chris called the end of the set by mutual agreement—he met Chriss red eyes across the smoke-hazy stage and nodded, both of them unslinging their guitars and handing them to a stage hand, which was so far the closest thing theyd ever had to a roadie, though this one was working the festival, not for them. Chris was just about to thank the audience for a great night—he was literally half a step away from the microphone—when Parker somehow got between them and flopped himself down at the edge of the stage, feet dangling over the side, and swiveled the mike stand so it hovered about two and a half feet off the ground, just in front of his face, where he needed it.

21Seriously, the town must have been the grass-smoking capital of the world or something; Jake felt lazy and slow, so it was a good thing their set was winding down.

Chris mouthed, “What the hell?”—by this time, Parkers stage fright was legendary and a major source of good-natured ribbing—but Jake had no idea, and even if he did, he probably wouldnt try to stop Parker anyway. He was way too curious how this was going to play out.

“Hi,” Parker said softly into the mike, and the whole crowd just got quiet listening to his voice. Jake was just stoned enough to wonder if Parker had some kind of crazy magical influence before he said, “Imma play a song now,” and his fingers started spanning frets easily.

Jake chanced a look back at Jimmy, who just shrugged and set down his drumsticks, and figured since he had no idea what Parker was doing and no desire to play another song (or in fact do anything other than park it and listen)22, he might as well sit down beside Parker and enjoy this.

A nice, leisurely lead-in eventually resolved into a recognizable song, and Jake smiled a little, though it felt strange, because for some unknowable reason Parker had chosen Stevie Nickss “Crystal.” Jake didnt even like admitting heknewsuch a girly song.

It didnt escape his attention that Parker was stoned out of his mind. His eyes were glassy and red, and his posture was much more relaxed than he usually managed during a performance. In the months they had lived together, Jake didnt think hed ever seen Parker so carefree, which was maybe a little disturbing. The high hadnt affected his ability any, though—each note rang as clear and precise as ever, though Jake would have sworn, looking at Parkers fingers, that they were actually moving in slow motion.


Page 8

The mellow nature of the song didnt seem to put the crowd off any. Actually, they had started swaying along, seemingly lost in the music, waving lighters or cell phones or the dimly glowing ends of their cigarettes. Jake took out his own cell and joined in, letting Parkers rhythm move him. The sound of his voice set the hair on the back of Jakes neck standing straight up, and through the fog clouding his brain he had the opportunity to wonder how the hell it was he hadnt known Parker could sing like this. Jake felt like his body could just float up and away and out into the wind on the sweet otherworldliness of it all.

22By this time the desire for Cheetos had been relegated to the back of his mind.

 

Then again, it could have been that he was high as a fucking kite.

By the time Parker finally finished up the song, you could have heard a pin drop in the audience. In the same completely mellow, relaxed voice he had started in, Parker said, “Thank you very much.” Then he got up, swayed over to the back of the stage, and zig-zagged off into the night.

Jake spent another few seconds idly kicking his heels against the side of the stage as the crowd cheered for Parker, but eventually he found the motivation to pick himself up, weaving his way across the mess of patch cords and down the rickety steps behind the stage. He almost ran into Parker, who was bent double at the bottom, emptying the contents of his stomach into the damp earth.

“This is going to be a thing with you, isnt it,” Jake said, leaning heavily on the stage.

 

Parker was too busy retching to answer verbally, but he did manage to get one finger up in a sufficiently eloquent reply. “Ill find you some water,” Jake decided. “And maybe some Cheetos.”

It took him a few minutes, partly because he was dodging girls wanting autographs, some on inappropriate body parts, but eventually he made his way to a concession stand that didnt have a lineup fifteen miles long. He picked up two bottles of water, a pretzel, a bag of Doritos (he tried not to be disappointed they didnt have Cheetos), and a half a pound of cotton candy. By the time he caught up with the rest of the band, Parker had taken a seat at the bottom of the stage steps, and Chris and Jimmy were observing from the minimum safe distance.

“Dude, what got into him?” Chris asked.“Morning sickness,” Jake told him. Chris gave him a funny look. Seriously, if Chris hadnt caught on yet that Parker got ill before, after, or during every major performance, he didnt deserve to know. “Parker, heads up, buddy.”

Parker looked up just in time to catch the water bottle Jake lobbed at him. Jake really should have known to be prepared for this by now, and he did actually have several bottles stashed in the cooler in the van, but there werent any Cheetos in there.

“Thanks, Jake,” Parker said gratefully, twisting the top off the bottle. He must have been really thirsty, because he downed threequarters of it without coming up for air.

Jake watched his throat work absently. “No problem. Pretzel?”

They ended up taking a walk to a nearby diner to clear their heads and eat something more than junk, none of them confident in their ability to drive clear-headed. Parker fell asleep at the table, narrowly missing knocking over the ketchup, and Jake snapped a picture with his phone and set it as his wallpaper.

“That shit is adorable,” Jimmy said, leaning back in the booth and belching loudly.

 

“Classy,” Jake told him with a roll of his eyes. “You gonna do the alphabet next?”

“Dont encourage me.” He reached for his milkshake and downed the rest, wrinkling up his nose in what Jake called his brainfreeze face before smacking his lips thoughtfully. “Could be one of the last times we do this,” he said philosophically, looking around them.

“What, get a contact high and eat too much?” Jake said doubtfully, because yeah right, like that would happen.

 

“No, asshole,” Chris interrupted on Jimmys behalf. “Eat dinner in a restaurant unmolested. We are gonna be famous, after all.”

A couple of weeks ago, Jake wouldnt have been so sure. He was still nowhere near as confident—some would say cocky—as Chris, but he could definitely see them going places.

“Well just have to find a better class of restaurant,” Jake said, stealing one of Parkers fries and popping it into his mouth. “One with private rooms and Cristal and violinists or something.”

“Violinists?”

“Or something.” He finished Parkers orange juice while he was at it. “Goddamn, I am tired.” He looked enviously at Parker, who might actually have been drooling on the table. Apparently his experience meandering from city to city had had one lasting upside—Parker could sleep anywhere.

“Yeah. You guys ready to go?”

Jake nodded, reaching into his wallet and fishing out enough money to cover both his and Parkers meals and placing it in the little black folder at the end of the table. Then he kicked Parkers foot. “Hey, sleeping beauty. Time to wake up.”

Chris snorted when Parker jerked his head up, flushing and wiping at the side of his face; hed fallen asleep in a puddle of condensation from his juice. “Adorable. Come on, kids, pack it in. Weve got a long drive ahead of us.”

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: June 29, 2009 Author: Jake

 

Tour dates

 

Hey guys! Im back and Ive got details on this summers tour dates.

So obviously were a newer group, and that means we have to pay our dues to those who went before us by opening for somebody else. Thats okay though, because for the month of August, we will be opening for (drumroll, please): Red Star! Well be on tour with them from August 3rduntil the middle of November. Im posting the concert schedule below.

In other news, weve heard back from the execs at MERI, and weve got the first seven tracks of a tentative ten-track album chosen. The songs that have made the final cut so far are: The Shakedown, Independence, Two-by-Four, Black Lipstick, Hard Rock Karma, Politics, and High Fidelity.

Well be heading down to Nashville in a week or two to start laying the tracks for professional mixing. The album isnt going to be anything special in terms of layout or anything—they want to have at least a couple singles available by the time were ready to tour with Red Star, and theyre going to make the rest available on iTunes as they are finished. The final finished product should be ready in time for Christmas. Crazy, huh?

Anyway, the bigwigs are starting up a Wayward Sons mailing list for announcements of new tracks, merch, tour dates, contests, and all those goodies, so if youre interested, head on over there and sign up. You wont regret it. Well, unless you hate us, but then why would you sign up in the first place? Ill be keeping up with the blog as much as I can, too, so watch this space!

JAKEdidnt know how he knew the roadie thing was going to be a problem, but he did know it, and he was not surprised in the least when the first three production managers Mike hired for them quit not two hours into their first meeting with Chris. Jake didnt blame them exactly, but Mike knew what Chris was like by now—theyd had to sit through countless meetings on everything from wardrobe to publicity— and Jake couldnt help but think that Mike ought to have known better.

“Listen,” he said when Mike called him to bitch about how difficult Chris was being, “I told you we should have been there for the interviews. I have a couple of suggestions that are going to make your life a lot easier.”

Mike grumbled something about know-it-alls, but he grudgingly accepted the help.

“First, we cant have a guy for a production manager. I know that sounds weird, just—hear me out, okay? Its a clash of the egos thing. Men and Chris just dont get along, unless hes known them for ages or theyre gay. He only let Parker in the band because Parker is a genius. We need a woman. Preferably a lesbian, because otherwise Chris is going to be too distracted trying to get her to sleep with him to get any work done.”

“People dont actually write their sexual orientations on their resumes, you know,” Mike pointed out blandly.

Rubbing his temple with one hand, Jake shot Chris a look out of the corner of his eye. He was sitting on the hood of the van, smoking a cigarette and brooding. “I realize that. Look, I know its a lot to ask. Just… let us come to interviews, alright? You can pre-select candidates or whatever.”

After Mike agreed, it didnt take much to persuade the other guys into spending a day in an office. The interview process was a little strange to Jake—he was used to sitting on the other end, for one thing—and once he almost shot water out his nose when Jimmy flat-out asked the candidate if she was a lesbian.

She wasnt, it turned out, but the woman after her was, volunteering this information upon introduction23, so probably the word was getting out that they were a little unusual. Her resume was sound, though, and after a few minutes of careful deliberation, she was hired.

They had to fire her a week later because it turned out she was a lesbian who occasionally screwed men, and Chris could not work with women hed previously fucked. It was a character flaw.

This time, when they went into the interview, they were looking for a woman who was either a) capable and completely unattractive or b) willing to sign a legal document stating that she would never sleep with Chris. At this point, Jake was ready to settle for someone with standards.

It was not so much fun the second time around; Jimmy was grumpy because he was missing his yoga class, and Chris had a date lined up with the lesbian, but Parker was still Jakes loyal sidekick, so they ended up conducting most of the interviews by themselves, Mike supervising off to one side.

23“Hello, nice to meet you, my name is Sara, and Im a lesbian,” she said, as casually as if she were announcing she was a Pisces who liked long walks on the beach.

The first round of interviews was not promising. There was one girl who kept leaning over to give them a better view of her cleavage; a competent, matronly older woman too nice ever to earn Chriss respect; a guy in a suit who was in serious need of an attitude adjustment—Jake glared at Mike, who shrank back in his chair—and a lady with a rather impressive resume and excellent interview skills wholicked her lipsevery time she looked at Parker.

Jake wrote “no fucking way” on the top of her resume and declined to elaborate.

The rest—mostly women and a handful of men—werent glaringly terrible, but neither did they inspire the confidence Jake was looking for. None of them really clicked with the band; nobody shared their artistic vision. It was kind of like looking for a fifth Beatle.

He had a good feeling about the last resume in the pile, though. It was a bit thin—the woman it belonged to, an Allanna Danvers, was only a few years older than he was—but Jake had made Mike call everyones references, and hers glowed. She was new to the industry, but everyone theyd talked to had said her organization skills were impeccable. Apparently, she used to be a life coach.

“This is it,” he told Parker, partially to wake him up; he was drooling on the tabletop again.

“M awake,” Parker assured him, sitting up and wiping a hand across his chin. Chris and Jimmy were playing some kind of game on their phones, possibly interactively.

Jake said, “Send her in.”

The door opened to the answer to Jakes most recent prayers. Allanna Danvers was short—not much over five foot—and slender, her auburn hair cut in a stylish bob. Her blue polished nails were chipped, and she was wearing a band T-shirt. Not their band, but it was an interesting touch. She shook hands with Jake first, then Parker, waiting with her hand stuck out for a few seconds in front of Chris and Jimmy before clearing her throat and raising an eyebrow when she finally got their attention. The two of them actually looked guilty before standing—Jake mentally added five hundred points to her interview score—to shake her hand and introduce themselves. Her eyes flicked them all up and down without lingering, and she took her seat with a smile. “Its nice to meet you. Mike sent me your demo; you have a really interesting sound. Kind of retro with a modern twist, but sometimes….”

That caught Parkers interest. “What?”

 

She shrugged a little. “Sometimes it seems like theres a classical influence, as well. I like it—its original.”

That was exactly what every band wanted to hear—that their sound was unique, different, that it stood out—so Jake tried not to take it too much to heart, knowing it could just be flattery. Still, Allanna seemed to have reasons backing up the compliment, so he was cautiously optimistic. Parker totally had worked classical-sounding riffs into background tracks, or sometimes he used classical songs and built a rock tune out of them. It was pretty damn impressive, and Jake liked that shed noticed.

Parker blushed. “Thanks.”

They got through the standard interview questions in record time, and even Chris and Jimmy participated, throwing in a question here and there, asking for elaboration on an answer.

Then Chris attempted to draw her into some flirtatious banter, and Allanna shut him down so fast he didnt even see it coming. Jake wished he had the moment on film, because he would play it every single time Chris did something douchey, which happened a lot.

Finally the interview ran out of steam, and Jake stood, thanked her for her time, and waited patiently and impassively while she shook everyones hand again. As soon as the door closed behind her, though, he threw his arms up in the air and whooped. “We have a winner!”

“You just like her because she shut me down,” Chris grumbled, but there was a hesitant smile on his face.

 

“I like her,” Jimmy opined. “Shes tough.”

Parker beamed, practically bouncing, something like a dog that had been cooped up in the house all day and needed to be let into the yard. Or maybe Jakes own enthusiasm was just catching. “Shes got vision,” he said. “And she knows about music.”

This was high praise, coming from him. The highest.

Mike shook his head resignedly. “Id like someone with a little more experience, but maybe shes just young enough to keep up with you. And maybe her past life as a life coach will do the lot of you some good. Ill have someone draw up the paperwork and bring her in to sign everything as soon as its all in order.”


Page 9

Allanna was still waiting as they exited the conference room, and Jake couldnt help himself. He held his hand up for her to slap, a giant grin spreading across his face. “Welcome aboard,” he told her, feeling like he was on top of the world.

They were going to be great friends, he just knew it.

THE tour bus was amazing. It had a full kitchen, a bathroom, a sitting area with a TV and couches, and, best of all, four bunk beds, two on each side.

Unfortunately, Jake was not in any condition to appreciate the galley—or the X-Box Jimmy had hooked up in the back. About the only thing he was interested in was pulling the covers up over his head and sleeping until he felt better. He moaned pitifully as the bus changed lanes, upsetting the fragile balance in his stomach.

“Hey—you okay?”

 

Jake opened his eyes to find Parker sitting on the bed opposite him, leaning forward.

 

“Cold,” he said, knowing he was pouting like a child and not caring.

 

“Want me to get you another blanket?”

 

Jake nodded, curling his fingers into the one he had already, tucking it up under his nose. He just couldnt get warm enough.

With the blanket he already had pulled up so high, he heard more than saw Parker grab the blanket from the top bunk, then felt the extra weight as it was layered on top of him.

“Did you take anything?”

 

Jake peeled back a corner of the blankets to show off the bottle of NyQuil hed been sipping.

 

“Jake! How much of that stuff did you take?”

 

“Not enough,” Jake told him mournfully. “M still sick. M still conscious. N m still cold.”

 

Parker sighed and took the bottle. “Maybe we should get you to a doctor.”

“No!” Jake protested. He hated doctors—all the poking and prodding and particularly the needles. His fear of needles made him the worst rock star ever—no drugs, no tattoos. Not that they qualified as rock stars yet; theyd only played a couple of shows with Red Star, but he was optimistic. “Ill be fine once I get some sleep. I just need to get warm first.”

“I could ask Chris to turn the air down,” Parker offered.

That was sweet, but not exactly what Jake, in what he was stubbornly attributing to fever-induced childishness, wanted. He shook his head against the pillow.

“Okay, well, Ill let you try to get some sleep, then.” Parker took a step back toward the lounge, but Jake reached out and snagged his wrist before he could go anywhere.

“Jake? Do you need something else?”

Time to bring out the big guns. “You’renice and warm,” he pointed out, tugging Parker closer with what remained of his strength. They totally needed to get an electric blanket, but for now he was willing to compromise. Parker would be just as good.

“Im not sick,” Parker pointed out to him. “And Id like to keep it that way.”

Jake opened his eyes and gave what he was sure was his most pitiful expression, shifting further back on the bunk and patting the small space beside him.

Parker looked back toward the lounge, then sat with a longsuffering sigh. “I didnt realize youd stoop this low to get me into bed with you,” he griped good-naturedly. “Youd better not snore.”

“Promise,” Jake said sincerely, shivering for a moment when the cold air seeped under his blankets. Then Parker squished in beside him, and there were a few seconds of cool clothing soaking up the heat before it was finally, blissfully warm.

The bunks were really too small for Jake even by himself, but he was too out of it to wonder how the hell Parker had managed to fit in beside him. As soon as he was warm, he fell asleep.

HE WAS still warm when he woke up, and even though his mouth was dry as fuck and he kinda had to piss, he didnt move. Hed managed to warp himself into some kind of three-dimensional superpretzel; he could feel his arms and legs, but they were in places that didnt really make a lot of sense, and he was still too fuzzy from the NyQuil to care to investigate.

Or he was until Parker shifted beside him, mumbling something. The cadence was just right; it couldnt be anyone else. Jake opened his eyes long enough to see Jimmy snap a picture with the camera from his cell phone and take in the hilarious way Parker was drooling on the pillow. Adorable, he thought vaguely. Then he shoved his face back into his own pillow and went back to sleep.

The next time he regained consciousness, he felt… better? The pressure in his head had subsided a bit, though his mouth was now Gobi-desert-level dry and he really,reallyneeded to go pee. He was still wrapped around Parker, though—like, one of his legs was somehow slung overtop of Parkers hip, and he had one arm under Parkers head on the pillow, the other over his waist, and the blankets were tangled around them so tightly he was pretty sure he couldnt even scratch his nose without the movement waking Parker.

He tried anyway, though, because when a man had to piss, a man had to piss. He was planning to just loosen the blankets and then climb over Parkers sleeping form—his legs were long enough to allow it— but just when he attempted the part where he put weight on his right foot, the bus took a turn, and he fell back into the bunk, half on top of Parker.

Parker grunted, stretching languidly and rubbing a hand over his eyes, apparently oblivious to the way Jake was frozen behind him. “I think you just messed up my sleep schedule,” he said, voice sandpaperrough from sleep. “Jerk.”

“Sorry,” Jake squeaked, still not moving. He was painfully aware of every place he and Parker were touching, one in particular. “Dude, either get up or get off,” Parker said at last. “Seriously, dont expect me to do it for you.”

 

“Parker!” Jake said, shocked into laughter. “You dirty boy,” he sighed, climbing out of bed for real this time.

 

“You like it,” Parker mumbled, rolling over into the warm spot Jake had left.

 

There was no point in correcting him, since he was right and also mostly unconscious. Besides, Jake really, really needed to take a piss.

 

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: August 9, 2009 Author: Parker

 

On the road again

So I know Jake promised you guys an update (which is what Im doing here—he used the puppy eyes) once we crossed the Rockies, but youre going to have to hold out just a little longer. Jake picked up a flu bug somewhere, and he hasnt done anything but sleep and puke since. Were making him drink lots of fluid and eat lots of chicken soup so he wont have to miss any shows, though of course he could always get worse. Knock wood. He is pretty whiny and pathetic right now, guys. Very emo. Im debating whether I should stop being his friend.

Anyway, so the news from the road! Here is a picture Allanna took of the four of us standing at the Great Divide! Please note that there is snow on the ground, which I stepped in. Apparently nobody told the cloud it was July in Wyoming, too. Also note that I am not a midget. Everyone looks like that when they stand next to Jake. Well, everyone except freaks and NBA stars.

Heres a picture of Jake in front of the exit sign for Fruitland, Utah, his home away from home. I bet you guys didnt even know there was such a thing as Fruitland. Well, theres a place… anyway.

Well be playing Salt Lake City tomorrow night, then Reno, then Sacramento, then San Jose, Bakersfield, and LA after that. I guess Id better get my beauty sleep.

Before I go, Jimmy wants to post this picture he took the other day from the tour bus. Warning: its probably of the wall of fame. EDIT: Not the wall of fame, then. Incidentally, if Jimmy is murdered in the next couple of hours, I didnt do it.

 

EDIT 2: How do I turn off comment notifications?

 

“COMEon, Jake, you gotta get up.”

Jake rolled over in the hotel bed, pulling the pillow over his face. Even that small movement made his stomach churn unpleasantly. “Just let me die,” he whined. His stomach hurt, his chest ached, and he was so congested that a sneeze would probably have made his brains leak out his ears.

“You have a concert in two hours,” Allanna snapped, jerking the blankets off of him. Jake curled up into a ball, shivering. “You are not going to let your boys down.”

Jake groaned. “Look, this might be too much information for you, but I cant stop puking, and thats not the least of my problems. How am I supposed to go onstage?”

Allanna thrust a bottle of Pepto-Bismol in front of his face. “I have a few ideas. Come on, youll feel better after you shower, I promise.”

Somehow, Jake mustered the energy to glare at her. He was starting to rethink his initial assessment.

Allanna was not in the least bit cowed. In fact, her expression was remarkably similar to the one Jakes mother had worn every time shed insisted he go to school despite the fact that he was sick.

Of course, Jake hadnt actually been sick then, and he definitely was now. Still, the expression was no less effective for that. He sighed and rolled to the side of the bed, cautiously slipping his feet over the side. “What are you doing here?”

“Hiding from Chris. I think hes in heat or something. He keeps trying to hump my leg. What do you think Im doing here?” The sarcasm went right over his head. “Wheres Parker?”

“He went across the hall to tell Chris and Jimmy youd be late for warmups.” Allanna watched him carefully as he got to his feet. “This was the earliest hed let me in to wake you.”

Jake felt a warm, shivery rush of affection for Parker. Then again, it could have been the fever. “Good man,” he managed. When it didnt seem like he was going to fall over, he started making his way toward the bathroom.

Then he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Holy crap, it was a wonder Parker hadnt just called the coroner. “Maybe youd better tell Macy Im going to need some extra time in her chair today.”24

“Already done,” Allanna called from the next room. “Shes readying your war paint. You just worry about getting clean.”24Apparently even what-you-see-is-what-you-get bands needed stage makeup in order not to look like zombies on stage.

Jake had to admit, the warm water did wonders for his outlook. Once the layer of sickly grime hed been wallowing in all day had been washed away, he almost felt like he could face the world. The steam helped clear up his congestion, at least temporarily, but when he stepped out of the shower and wiped a circle in the condensation on the mirror, he still looked like death.

At least it was a clean death, he thought to himself wryly.

“Oh, for Gods sake, Jake, put some pants on,” Allanna told him when he emerged from the bathroom wearing only a towel. She hadnt even looked up from her PDA.

“Sorry,” Jake said snidely, “I like to shower in the buff.”

Allanna tried to mask her snort, but Jake heard it despite the fuzziness in his head. He reached for his travel bag unselfconsciously. It wasnt like Allanna hadnt seen them all more or less naked the week before the tour started, when Macy had had them in and out of seventeen different outfits each before breakfast. So much for an uncontrived image. “Whats that smell?” It had been so long since he could use his nose properly that the scent seemed especially strong.

“I ordered you room service.”

 

Jakes stomach growled. “I take back all the bad things I said about you.”

 

“You didnt say any bad things about me.”

He waved his hand. “Semantics. I was thinking them.” He tugged on a clean pair of boxers and a pair of stage jeans, then reached for a Tshirt.

“Wear the Under Armour,” Allanna advised, again without removing her eyes from her PDA. She definitely had a lot more in common with Jakes mom than hed previously thought.

“I dont have Under Armour.”“I bought you some. Itll help regulate your body temperature.”

For the first time, Jake noticed the plastic bag on the bed. “You think of everything.” He pulled the shirt over his head and checked himself out in the mirror. He still looked sickly, but the shirt wasnt half bad. “Thanks.”

Allanna finally shoved her PDA into her pocket and looked up at him. “Youre welcome.” She gestured to the secretary, where a bowl of steaming soup was waiting for him. “Go ahead and eat. Macys on her way up; shes going to do you up here to save time.”

Jake sat and dug in. It was the first time hed felt hungry in a week, and he took advantage and tried to put some meat back on his bones. He was skinny enough to begin with, but he was starting to look emaciated.

While he ate, Allanna lined up a number of medications on the table beside him: the Pepto, some Tylenol, vitamin C, and a bottle of nasal spray. “I checked with a doctor,” she assured him. “Theres no contraindications, so you can take them all if you need to. I recommend keeping the nasal spray in your pocket during the concert, just in case.”

Jake nodded, shoveling another spoonful of hot soup into his mouth. It burned his tongue, so he made himself put the spoon down and gestured to the last bottle, which looked like a tub of Vaseline. “Do I even want to know what you think Im going to be doing with that in my condition?”

“Your „condition?” Allanna echoed. “What, are you pregnant now?” She reached out with one foot and nudged his chair, causing it to rock just a little. “Its a topical decongestant. You rub it on your chest. It should help you sleep better tonight.”

Jake picked it up, surprised, and turned toward her.

 

She shrugged. “Parker mentioned youd been having trouble breathing.”

“I didnt realize Id been keeping him up.” Maybe he should have gotten his own room when he got sick, after all. The label only sprung for them to double up, and since Parker didnt mind and Jake never brought anyone back to his room as a rule, it had worked out fine.

Chris and Jimmy had decided to split the difference on getting their own rooms, of course.

“I dont think he was complaining. Just concerned.” Allanna consulted her PDA. “We have a couple of days downtime after tonight. Well get you in to see a doctor, get some antibiotics, and you can spend almost the whole week sleeping. How does that sound?”

Jake spooned up the last mouthful of soup and slurped it down. There were a couple of packages of crackers on a little side plate, but his stomach protested. He was full. “I hate the doctor,” he said, pouting, chancing a poke at his stomach.


Page 10

It protested. Loudly.“So were agreed, then,” Allanna said.Jake sighed and gave in.

Rolling StoneMagazine Issue dated October 17, 2009 By Emily Lorne

Newcomers The Wayward Sons Kick it Old-School—And We Like It

In the four weeks since Kansas-based newcomers the Wayward Sons first hit the airwaves, we have been inundated with requests for reviews of their highly anticipated first album,Manifest Destiny, as well as for information on the charismatic group.

So of course when MERI sent us an advance review copy of the album, we were all over that.Manifest Destinyhas all the hallmarks of a solid freshman effort—originality, diversity, and sing-along-ability. The Wayward Sons beginnings as a tribute band are apparent—they havent forgotten their roots—but neither have they sacrificed innovation. True, the album has its weak spots—at only ten tracks, its run-time is only forty-one minutes, a few of the tracks tend toward what one might call “preachy” (though not in the religious sense), and the packaging is somewhat uninspiring. Still, the albums appeal is undeniable. Bust out that air guitar—youre going to need it.

The characters behind the sound are no less impressive and diverse than the album theyve created. There are no weak links on this dynamic team, but the real stars are Collins, who displays incredible diversity for someone so new to the scene, and McAvoy, a Julliard grad25who might well have been born with a guitar in his hands. Heres a quick introduction to get you started.

Name: Chris CollinsAge: 22Height: 511”Eyes: BrownHair: Black

Position: The bio on the band website says “reverse cowgirl,” though we hear hes flexible.

Showcase: Collins has lead vocals on every track forManifest Destiny, but he shows off his range particularly well in the BrennerMcAvoy collaboration “Lucky Sevens,” and the Hollies-esque “Blood Brothers” (in which Collins also laid a track for the harmonica) gives us goose bumps.

Name: Jimmy JonesAge: 22Height: 6Eyes: BlueHair: BrownPosition: Drummer

Showcase: Jones is an accomplished percussionist, working with everything from conventional rock drum kits to retro cowbells and maracas. We like the way he works them all together in “Sourpuss”— besides, the drum solo is inspiring.

Name: Parker McAvoy Age: 25Height: 510”Eyes: GreenHair: BlondPosition: Lead guitar

25Parker had always been very careful not to mention the actual name of the school hed attended, but people found out anyway.

Showcase: To be fair, there isnt a single track on this freshman album that doesnt shine with Parker McAvoys raw talent, but for pure entertainment and difficulty factor, check out “High Fidelity”—soon to be heard in guitar stores near you.

Name: Jake BrennerAge: 21Height: 61”Eyes: HazelHair: BrownPosition: Bassist

Showcase: Brenner seems to favor the old-school wandering bass lines, and “Independence” and “Politics” are great examples of bass parts that are almost as complicated as McAvoys fast-paced riffs. Hes also a talented lyricist, penning the words to half of the songs on the album.

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 Author: Jake

A Cry for Help So you guys and ladies may have noticed a trend lately. If you havent, I will give you a clue. Here is a picture of Chris getting smoochies from a pretty lady at an afterparty. Here is a picture of Jimmy and twins Sarah and Jessica from Connecticut. And of course I am getting laid all the time, though any pictures are naturally too sexy to be posted in such a public place where innocent children might see them.

Do you know whos not getting laid? Parker. There is no excuse for this, ladies! Parker has taken some kind of vow of celibacy or something. I am counting on you to get him to break it. Seriously. What self-respecting rock star hasnt been laid in… actually, I have no idea how long its been, which should tell you something.

At least he doesnt get cranky like Chris does. Anyway, my point (and I do have one) is: we need to get Parker laid. Whos with me?

WITH the way things had been going, they were bound to hit the ceiling sometime, Jake knew that, but that didnt make it easier to handle. Tonights had been a tough crowd, or maybe they just hadnt been up to their usual standard, too worn out from endless traveling. Either way, he felt shitty about it, and hed lost his usual drive to pull out his laptop and type out a quick ten-minute post-show blog entry.

“That sucked,” he said disgustedly to no one in particular, reaching for the hem of his soaked T-shirt and dragging it over his head.

“I dont wanna talk about it,” Chris growled, and Jake couldnt blame him.

 

“I need a beer,” Jimmy put in, shutting the door behind them. Parker slid down the wall onto a bench and put his head back. “Get me a few, would you?”

Jake knew itd been a bad night if even Parker wanted to drown his sorrows. “Christ,” he muttered disgustedly. “I want a shower and, like, a memory scrub of the past hour and a half.”

The thing is, they werent used to this. They werealwayson— they never had an off night. Sure, some nights were better than others, but this was the first time they hadnt clicked onstage. Jake couldnt categorically state what the hell had been wrong with their performance; he knew it had been technically okay, that they had been in tune, that they were together.

They just sucked anyway.

 

A knock on the door startled them out of their funk, and one of the guys from Red Star came in.

 

Chris looked up in disgust. “Son, you better not be here to gloat, cause I sure as shit aint in the mood to hear it.”

The guy didnt bother getting offended at Chriss… Chris-ness. “Naw, man. Just wanted to say dont beat yourselves up over it. Shit happens, you know? We all got off days.”

“You got a fix for this?” Jimmy wanted to know. Hed broken seven drumsticks tonight; Jake knew this intimately, because one of the flying fragments had smacked him in the back of the head.

“Ice creams better than beer, and skip practice tomorrow.” “Beer,” Jake said mournfully. Then he caught a whiff of himself. Goddamn, he needed a shower.

 

“Alcohols a depressant. Trust me on this one, kid.”

“There a Dairy Queen around here somewhere?” Chris finally asked, probably annoyed that he didnt have a reason to be irritated at the guy anymore.

“No idea. Go for the convenience store a couple blocks down, though—theyve got a good selection of Ben & Jerrys.” He shrugged. “For some reason, it helps if you eat it out of the carton with a spoon.”

Jake was pretty sure this advice could have come straight from his little sister, and he was suddenly aware of how much he missed having dinner with her once a week. He made a mental note to call her after this impromptu shopping trip. “Thanks for the peptalk,” he said weakly.

“Yeah, sure. Thats what the tour circuits all about, anyway.” Then he left, letting the door swing shut behind him.

Jake took a shower and then took his advice, and while it didnt cure all his problems, he did feel a lot better. When he crawled into bed that night, there were only a few minutes of agony before he dropped off to sleep.

The guys name, once Jake bothered to remember, turned out to be Elliot. Once he figured out that Elliot wasnt half as big of an asshole as his lead singer,26it wasnt a hardship to hang out with him; actually, it was a sometimes much-needed change of pace from the everyday insanity that was the Wayward Sons tour bus. Elliot had a sharp sense of humor, but he was usually pretty calm, and being around him helped Jake unwind.

They were in Minnesota for the night, playing a mid-sized venue, and if Jake had to hang around with Chris and Jimmy for another second, he might crawl out of his skin. Instead, he hung back at the concert and waited for Elliot, watching from backstage with his feet up on an unused speaker.

Elliot dropped by at what Jake couldnt help thinking of as “halftime,” even though it barely lasted five minutes. It was just enough to give the band a breather to rehydrate, but Jake appreciated it.

“Good set tonight,” Elliot commented, downing half a liter of water without stopping. “Thanks for warming them up for us.”

Jake smiled; they had been on fire tonight, Chris especially, and the audience had noticed. “No problem. I see youre keeping up just fine.”

“You guys may be young, but we have experience,” Elliot said wisely. “Which mostly means were used to this insanity. You sick of your boys already?”

Making a face, Jake debated telling the truth. He shrugged mentally; if anyone was going to understand what he was going through, it was Elliot. “Its just a lot of Chris to take at one time, you know? I hung out with him all day, I worked with him, I dont want to have to party with him too. I needed a break.”

“What about Parker?”

 

Jake gave him a wry smile. “Parker failed Rock Star 101. Hes sleeping—think hes coming down with something. Itll be karma if he

gives it to me; it went the other way last time.”

26Or Jakes, for that matter.

“Seriously? Hes sleeping? Its, like, not even ten oclock.” “Yeah, I told you, hes not feeling well.”“He seems kind of standoffish.”

Jake gaped like a fish. “Really? Parker?” Parker was the least snobby person on the planet, especially when you stood him up next to Chris for comparison. Then again, he wasnt exactly what one might call outgoing.

Elliot shot him a sideways look. “Youre not being sarcastic.” “Not at all. Parkers—okay, you know how I said he failed Rock Star 101?”

 

“Yeah….”

 

Jake leaned forward, his own bottle of water tucked between his knees. “Heres the secret. Parker is debilitatingly shy.”

 

Elliot blinked in apparent disbelief. “Shy.”

Jake nodded. “Stage fright, stuttering, blushing-to-the-roots-ofhis-hair-when-he-meets-new-people shy. Seriously, before we got this gig, he worked in a music store, and I think the only reason that worked out for him is because he pretended he was talking to the instruments.”

“How does he manage on stage?”

“I hold his glasses for him. Its sort of a ritual. If he cant see the audience, its not so bad. He just has to be careful not to trip on something.”

Chad dropped by trailing cigarette smoke, blatantly flaunting the no-smoking sign that was not four feet behind him. “Two minutes, Eli.” Elliot stood up, dusted off his knees, and reached for his second water bottle. “Duty calls. You going to stick around after?” Jake shrugged. “Ive got nothing better to do.”

 

“You want to go out for a beer or something?”

 

“No afterparties?” Jake said hopefully. The last thing he wanted right now was a crowd.

“Nah, I know a quiet place where nobodyll bother us.” There was something unidentifiable in Elliots voice, but Jake didnt bother trying to decode it. He probably just needed a vacation from his own band.

“Eli,” Chad said again.

 

Elliot rolled his eyes. “Coming, Mother.” He smiled at Jake. “Well take this up later, I guess. Meet you in the ready room?”

Jake looked at Chad standing behind Elliot and tried not to let his emotions show all over his face. He was pretty sure he failed spectacularly. “How bout I just wait in the hallway with the security guard instead. Someone to keep me company.”

Elliot lowered his voice. “Dont blame you in the slightest.” Then he nodded toward the stage. “See you later.”

Jake waited out the rest of the set with as much patience as he could muster. What he really wanted was a nice, juicy hamburger, a never-ending plate of fries, a beer, and someone to talk to whose pockets he didnt live in seven days of the week. Right now, he was more than ready to wait, even if he only got two out of four in the end.

It turned out that Elliot really did know a place where no one would bother them, and he must have known the bouncer or something, because the man just bumped his fist without checking for either of their IDs. As soon as they were inside the bar, the bartender cleared a table for them in the back, relocating its previous occupants with the promise of free beverages. Once they were settled, he dropped off two pints of something imported and then went back to the bar as if he never saw them.

Jake smiled across the table. “So, you come here often?” he asked drily.

 

“I grew up here,” Elliot explained.

 

“In a bar?”

“In Minnesota, smartass.” Elliot rolled his eyes and picked up his beer. “The bartenders an old friend, and hell keep anyone who might recognize us off our backs.”

Jake wasnt at the point in his career where hed expect anyone to recognize him, and he was fairly certain that unless any of the patrons had come from the concert, no one would recognize Elliot, either, but he appreciated the anonymity anyway. He relaxed back into the booths cheap vinyl upholstery and sighed happily. “God, I needed to get away. Thanks for rescuing me.”

“Its a mutual thing,” Elliot assured him. “If I had to listen to Chad breathe for two more seconds, I wouldve punched him in the face.”

“Talk about fight or flight.” Jake tentatively sipped at his beer. It was good, a little hoppier than he was used to, and it soothed his frazzled nerves.

“Something like that,” Elliot agreed. “What about you? You got the lead singer blues too?”

Jake shook his head, unable to really put his finger on what had been up with the guys tonight, what had made him need to get away, but it had something to do with the way he could feel their tension settling into his own shoulders. “No, I… Im not sure what it was. Maybe Im just going stir-crazy. And maybe—this is going to sound terrible—theyre great guys, my best friends in the world, but I hope to God they all get laid tonight, because I have no idea what else could make them so uptight or how Ill deal with them for the rest of the week if they dont.”

Elliot snorted. “I wouldnt have thought Chris would have that problem.”

Making a face, Jake considered the situation. “Me neither. Maybe hes just, I dont know, sick of being on the road or something. I mean, this is his dream, mine too, but long hours on a bus will do just about anybody in.”


Page 11

“Maybe you should take a vacation,” Elliot suggested. “Weve got a few days between dates—get somewhere early and quit traveling for a few days, see some sights. It might help.”

The idea wasnt unappealing, and maybe part of what had been wearing Jake down over these past few weeks was the fact that he had essentially done nothing other than work. That sort of thing could wear on you even when you loved your job as much as he did. “That sounds like a good idea. Were in New York in a month; maybe Parker can show me around.”

Elliot gave him an indecipherable look, and Jake had the unshakable feeling that he had said something wrong or stupid, but he couldnt figure out what it was. “Sure. Or stop somewhere between, see some stuff. Appreciate life.”

Jake nodded along. Maybe the stifling work-work-work atmosphere was the reason none of them had worked on any new songs in a while. “Thanks for the advice. Its good to have somebody we can talk to about this shit. None of us has any idea what were doing.”

“Now, that much was obvious.”

The conversation lapsed into silence after that. Jake had the distinct impression Elliot wanted to say something, ask him something, but didnt know how to phrase it. He couldnt think of any other reason for Elliot to be staring at the condensation ring his beer had made on the polished wood table and drawing his finger through the moisture absently.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Jake finally offered when he couldnt take the silence anymore.

 

Elliot ducked his head and shifted in his seat. “Dont get mad, okay?”

“The beer bought you a lot of points.” Off Elliots confused look, Jake elaborated, “Itd take a lot to get me mad at you right now. Im feeling mellow for the first time in days. If the tension keeps up, Im going to have to start doing yoga with Parker and Jimmy, and frankly I prefer the beer. So, shoot. I wont get mad. Unless you accuse me of being a Nazi or eating babies or something.”

“Not a Nazi,” Elliot practically whispered, and all of a sudden, Jake got what it was all about.

“What then?” he asked innocently. If Elliot had a problem with him, hed rather know about it now, though he didnt think that was where this conversation was heading.

“Are you… I mean, theres a rumor going around….”

Was it actually possible that Jake had found someone to talk to who was actually more bashful about sex than Parker? It seemed unlikely. “An interesting rumor?”

“Youre not going to make this easy for me, are you?” Elliot didnt wait for an answer, just rubbed his thumb back and forth in the small puddle on the table and then looked up, visibly steeling himself. “Rumor has it that you, uh, that you prefer… male company.”

Jake could feel the corners of his lips twitching, but he did his best to keep his expression neutral. He genuinely liked Elliot, and he didnt want to alienate him by laughing at him. “And?”

“Uh, is it true?”

 

Jake very carefully did not roll his eyes. “Am I gay, Elliot? Is that what youre asking?”

 

Elliot said something low under his breath that might have been a curse. “Yes, damn it, thats what Im asking.”

“Oh. Well then, yeah, the rumors true.”“Do you, I mean, do Chris and the other guys….”

“What? Want my hot bod? Make sure never to be naked in my presence in case I start lusting after them? Avoid touching my skin in case Im contagious?” Jake finally couldnt hide his exasperation any longer. “Its very difficult to have this conversation by myself, Elliot.”

“Do they know?”

Jakedidroll his eyes this time. “Elliot, theres a rumor for a reason. Its not a secret.” Hed been friends with Chris and Jimmy since before hed even known himself.

“Oh.”

 

“Does that make you uncomfortable?” It wouldnt be the first time, but Jake was usually a better judge of character than that.

“No, no,” Elliot assured him quickly, cheeks scarlet. “I was just… curious. So how do you go about, I mean, finding someone to, you know….”

“Well, seeing as I am not in the closet, I generally ditch the guys and go find someone who looks like theyd be amenable and propose marriage.” Jake kicked him under the table, trying to figure out why he was being so weird. “Same way anybody picks up anybody else, except I have to be a little careful in case they turn out to be the homophobic asshole type.”27

“Oh,” Elliot said again. Jake was starting to wonder if the bartender had put something in his beer, because he was being exceptionally stupid. “So Chris and Jimmy and Parker, they dont care?”

Jake gave him a blank look. “That Im getting laid? Other than appreciating that Im not a giant skeevy ball of frustrated sexual tension, no.”

“I mean that youre….”

“Gay?” Jake supplied, wondering why Elliot would think he would be in a band with people who hated him on principle. “Man, I think Chris knew before I did, which is pretty embarrassing considering the monster crush I had on him at the time. Jimmys so Zen that shit wouldnt even register on his radar of things to be concerned about, not that much does.”

“What about Parker?”

This must have been weighing on Elliot pretty hard if he had this many questions about it. Shrugging, Jake took another sip of his beer, wiping the froth from his upper lip before answering. “Well, it didnt stop him from moving in with me, so I assume he doesnt have a problem with it.”

He hadnt thought it was possible for Elliot to flush more than he had been already, but apparently he was wrong. “Oh—you mean youre—I didnt realize the two of you were….”

27Jake had only made that mistake once.

Jake realized belatedly that hed given Elliot the wrong impression. “No, no, not… theres nothing going on. Never has been. We were just roommates.” He was unaccountably embarrassed, and he wasnt sure why, but it was probably for Parkers sake. “Hes my best friend, but its more… you know that nursery rhyme, „Mary Had a Little Lamb?”

Elliots lips turned upward in a teasing smile. “He followed you home?”

Jake didnt tell people the whole story about Parker as a rule, how he had practically been living on the street when they met. It was partly because he wanted to make sure Parker knew he didnt see him that way and partly because he didnt like making Parker seem vulnerable. Something about Parker stirred something in Jakes deeply protective nature. Besides, it wasnt really his story to tell. “Something like that,” he agreed, taking another sip of his beer.

“So youre single?”

Elliot was definitely angling for something. Jake vaguely hoped he wasnt going to try to set Jake up on a blind date or something. That was so not his style. “Confirmed bachelor.” He stretched his legs out under the table and tried to resist the urge to curl up and sleep right there. “It would be hard on the road anyway, you know? That would put a strain on any relationship. This way I can, I dont know, enjoy seeing the country guilt-free, I guess.”

Elliot talked to his beer glass. “You dont get lonely?”

Jake finished his beer and shot Elliot an amused look. The blind date theory was starting to look unfortunately plausible. “Dude, were professional musicians. If were lonely, well, I hate to put it like this, but there are ways of going about solving the problem, you know?”

When Elliots ears turned red and he developed a renewed interest in the wood of the tabletop, Jake realized that most of their conversation had gone right over the top of his head. Apparently, being on the road had dulled his faculties—and his gaydar—considerably. Mentally kicking himself, he reached out a foot under the table and nudged Elliots ankle. Once he had his attention, he pitched his voice low. If he hadnt known Elliot was gay, chances were Elliot didnt want the rest of the world knowing, either, and that was his decision. “Hey. Just because I dont, you know, handle commitment well or, uh, at all, doesnt mean we cant….”

The flush graduated to Elliots cheeks, and Jake grinned, nudging him with his foot again. “Really?”

Elliot was easy on the eyes, always around when Jake needed somebody to talk to, and he was one of the nicest people Jake had ever met. Sure, they didnt exactly spark, but that was not a prerequisite for having a good time. Jake took out his wallet and pulled out a fifty, dropping it on the table with a significant look. “You ready to go?”

Their hotels were only a few blocks apart, and they had the cab driver drop them off at the end of the street so they could walk. They werent in a hurry, and the anticipation was a pleasant buzz low in the pit of Jakes stomach. Every few steps their shoulders bumped together softly, and a spark of warmth traveled up Jakes arm and settled in the base of his brain.

“It must be hard for you,” Jake commiserated, shoving his hands into his pockets to keep his fingers warm.

 

“What do you mean?”

The attempted innocence in the question didnt fool Jake for a moment. “Chad and the other guys. They dont know, do they? How do you keep that kind of thing a secret? Sexuality is such a huge part of who we are.”

Elliot sighed in frustration, cutting him a sideways look. “It isnt easy, let me tell you. Sometimes Ill hang out with a girl all night and let them think I took her back to her place, but I know Chad suspects.”

“Is that why hes such a douchebag?” Jake asked with a purposeful bump of his shoulder.

 

Elliot grinned at him, a dimple appearing high on his left cheek. “No. He was just born like that.”

 

“I think its endemic to lead singers,” Jake confided slyly. “Seriously, you have to know them. And even then—”

 

“Sometimes you wish you didnt,” Elliot finished for him. “Exactly!”

They reached the front of the hotel, and Elliot stopped awkwardly, fishing in his pocket for something. It wasnt a very big city, but Jake understood the need for caution. “Here.” Elliot handed over a keycard. “Im in room 2013. Give me five and come up?”

WHEN Jake let himself into the hotel room he was sharing with Parker, the lights were all off except for the bedside lamp. Surprised to find Parker still awake, Jake was startled out of his usual silent sneaking-in habits, letting the door latch closed itself before reaching behind him to lock it. “Youre still up?”

Parker made a noncommittal noise from where he was curled up on the bed closest to the door, his back to Jake.28

Then Jake noticed that Parker was still wearing the clothes he had played in that night. Jake wrinkled his nose. “Dude, have you been in here since we finished the set?”

“No,” Parker said in the exact tone of voice that meant “yes.”

“Liar.” Jake toed his shoes off and sat down heavily on the foot of Parkers bed. He felt more than a little guilty that Parker had been here all night with something obviously on his mind and no one to talk to. “Come on, tell me whats up.”

Parker let out a heavy sigh and turned over at last, and Jake could see that his eyes were red-rimmed. That just made him feel worse. Parker handed him a four-by-six photograph in a protective plastic sleeve. “Its my sister,” he explained when Jake didnt say anything. “Its her birthday today. Shes twenty-one.”

Jake took the picture and examined it. The girl in the photograph couldnt have been more than sixteen, and Jake was reminded that Parker hadnt had contact with his family in a long time. She was sitting on the back of a much younger, happier-looking Parker, a little meatier than he was now and covered in freckles. The affection between them was obvious even though the photo was old and worn. It made Jake want to call his own sister, spend half an hour on the phone talking about nothing and teasing her about boys. “You never talk about her, but you must miss her a lot.”

28Parker always chose the bed closest to the door as opposed to the window; he got too cold otherwise.

“Some days are worse than others,” Parker admitted, struggling to sit up. “To tell you the truth, I… forgot. I only remembered what day it was when we were halfway through the show.”

Wincing, Jake put down the photo and laid his hand on Parkers shoulder instead. That couldnt be a good feeling. “Im sorry, man.”

“Not your fault.” Parker carefully replaced the photograph in the front of the beat-up hardcover he carried around with him everywhere. “I wish I could call her, you know? But I dont know her number at school, and my parents and brother wont take my calls. I want to think shed still talk to me, but I have no way of knowing.”

“Im sure she would,” Jake tried to sound positive. “I mean I know I only saw a picture, but I could tell she adored you. Shes probably thinking about you right now.”

That got him a small, sad smile. “Maybe,” Parker allowed, though it didnt seem that the notion cheered him any. “Sorry. I dont mean to be such a downer.”

“Oh, shut up.” Parker always did this when he unloaded something emotional on Jake, not realizing that it was one of the perks of having good friends. “A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved, or something. The point is, you get to selfishly spill all of your most depressing secrets to me without feeling bad about it, and I get to take it and like it.”

“You make me sound like you think Im going to start cutting myself at any moment,” Parker said drily, but some of the weight was gone from his voice. “Thanks for that. How was your night out with Elliot? Youre home late.”

For half a second, Jake debated whether or not he should tell him, but then Parker wasnt the type to gossip. “It turned into a night in, actually,” he confessed sheepishly, rubbing at the back of his neck.

A quick flash of surprise crossed Parkers face, then something else even briefer, and then all expressions were schooled into a careful neutrality. “Oh,” he said. Jake couldnt be sure in the low light, but he thought maybe there was a slight red tinge to the apples of Parkers cheeks when he said that.

“Yeah, so, it was fun.” It occurred to Jake that Parker had never had this slow, tongue-tied reaction to Jake having sex before, and he wondered why. Maybe Parker didnt like Elliot, although that would be odd; Jake had never known him to take an active dislike to anyone. “But now I think Im going to shower and turn in. You think you can sleep?”

Parker waved him off one-handed, already kicking down the covers. “Ill be fine.”
Page 12

Jake somehow doubted that, both from his tone and his body language, but he had no idea what else to do or say to make this better, and he had the sneaking suspicion that Parker wasnt going to enlighten him any time soon. “Okay. Ill try not to keep you up.”

Under the too hot, too weak spray of the showerhead, the situation didnt make any more sense. Jake washed away all traces of sweat and sex and come with cheap hotel soap because his body wash was still in his overnight bag and he didnt want to disturb Parker. Once he was clean, he stood under the running water for five minutes and leaned his head against the tile wall fighting off an onslaught of— something. Then the moment passed, and he shut the tap off, dried himself, and slipped into his pajama bottoms.

Parker wasnt sleeping when he went back out into the main room, the rise and fall of his chest too rapid, but he didnt say anything, so Jake followed his cue and crawled into bed, then reached up to turn off the light.

Sleep was a long time coming.

 

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Friday, November 13, 2009 Author: Jake

 

Post-Show Commentary

 

Update: Holy shit you guys, I am tired. What a show! Thank you allso muchfor coming, your enthusiasm made our night!

That last set was INSANE! Did you see Parker rocking out on that solo? Eat your heart out, Jimmy Page! Allanna got it on her cell phone, were gonna put it up on the website as soon as were not all dying of exhaustion. I will be jerking off to that for the rest of my life (which wont be long from now, considering how Im already dying of exhaustion and everything).

Pantycount for the evening is: 10 thongs, 2 boy shorts, 3 bikini briefs, 1 pair boxer shorts (represent!). Theres also something we cant identify which may or may not be some type of bondage gear. You guys are awesome. We are running out of room for them on the sides of the tour bus lounge and have started hanging them from the ceiling. We are classy, classy gentlemen. Especially Jimmy. Here is a picture of him with our latest trophies.

Thats all from me for tonight. Time for me to hit the sack. See you next time! Peace!

 

THE cute blond guy in the fourth row had been staring at him ever since the intro to “Lucky Sevens.”

To be fair, there were a number of other people in the audience who were probably staring at him too—Jake wasnt the fan heartthrob that Chris or Parker was, but he knew how to use the Internet to boost his ego, not that he needed to. Still, it was unusual that he noticed— most of the time, he was too wrapped up in what was happening onstage to pay attention to someone checking him out.

He was definitely being checked out. It was the only possible reason the guy would not be staring at Parker during “High Fidelity.”

It took Jake until the last song of the set to decide what to do about it. They had kept up their tradition of closing with a cover song— Chris had stipulated that if they ever got big enough to have their own tour, they would have to play a Wayward Sons encore—and it was technically Parkers turn to choose. He and Jake had practiced “Hotel California” on the bus that morning, but it wouldnt be the first time their selection had changed at the last minute.

Before Parker could launch into the iconic opening solo, Jake burned through the raunchy opening bars of Foreigners “Hot Blooded.” Chris turned and shot him a look—doubtless he was wise to Jakes intention—but they all jumped in, anyway, and if Jake lent a little more of himself to the backing vocals than he usually did, well, that was between him and the hottie in the fourth row.

Jake surreptitiously sneaked into the audience when Red Star started their first set. It was the perfect cover—nobody cared to recognize him when a much more famous band was playing onstage. Nobody except Blondie, anyway, and even then Jake was practically in his lap before his eyes caught Jakes and widened attractively.

Jake grinned. “Enjoying the show?” he shouted over the scream of Elliots guitar.

 

Blondie nodded but didnt try to talk over the music. “Do you play?” Jake asked, nodding toward the stage to show he meant guitar.

Blondie recovered from his shock and shot him a coy smile. “Depends what instrument,” he replied in a yell Jake was only just able to make out.

Apparently Jakes gaydar was back up and running in top form. He smiled. “You want to get out of here?”

The blonds name turned out to be Justin, and he was everything Jake could have hoped for in a one-night stand: cute, easy, agreeable, and ultimately forgettable. He was also a tease, so much so that several times before they made it back to his downtown apartment, Jake had to push him up against the wall and kiss him, just to remind him who was in charge.

He never saw the camera flash, but that was no wonder. PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 Author: Jake

 

Holy. Shit.

 

I just got this e-mail from Mike. I amfreaking out.

 

J,

 

Lucky Sevens just broke into the American Top 40.

 

Seriously, thank you guysso much. Youre making all our dreams come true.

 

Us Weekly

 

Issue dated November 6, 2009

 

Wayward Sons Gay Love Affair?

Fans of alt-rock newcomers the Wayward Sons will be interested to know that hit “Lucky Sevens” lyricist Jake Brenner was caught on camera last week making a little luck of his own—with another man.

Us Weeklycan exclusively reveal that budding heartthrob Jake Brenner, bassist for the band the Wayward Sons, whose albumManifest Destinyhas been climbing the charts steadily since its release in September, is not only gay but seriously involved with an unnamed partner, a source close to the band reveals.

“Jake is over the moon,” the source confides. “Hes not normally the monogamous type, but hes making an exception.” He certainlylookssmitten! So, Jake, whos the lucky man?

“JAKE! Hey, Jake, wake up!”

Jake groaned and rolled over, pulling the pillow over his head. What the hell was Allanna doing in their room so early? “I know its not morning yet,” he tried to mumble, fully aware the words came out in an incomprehensible slur.

“Its sort of important,” Parker put in.

Jake cracked one eye open and glared at him. The traitor. He must have let Allanna in. “What do you want?” he complained, rolling over and rubbing at his eyes with one hand.

Allanna thrust a glossy magazine in his face. “Congratulations, youre famous.”

Jakes eyes were still too close to sleeping to see much, so he reluctantly sat up in bed and blinked them a few more times before trying to focus. When he did see the picture in the magazine, it took him a few seconds to process the fact that it was ofhim. Well, him and Justin, though you couldnt see much of Justins face. “They didnt really get my good side,” he said with a slight frown.

He was pretty sure his reaction wasnt what Allanna had been going for, but really, what did she expect? Jake was just not the discreet type. He looked up at his audience and flipped back to the magazines cover. There was a giant picture of some waif-thin celebrity doing a line of coke on the front. “Look at that, I didnt even make the first page.”

Allanna yanked the magazine out of his hands and smacked him ungently on the head with it. “This is a joke to you?”

 

That pissed him off. “No, its not a joke,” he said acerbically. “Its my life, and Im not going to live it in the closet!”

Allanna flinched like shed been slapped. Even Parker winced. Then Allanna sighed and dropped into the chair beside his bed. “Im sorry. Look, I wasnt suggesting….” She sighed. “Did you even read the article?”

He hadnt, but he took the time to do it now, groaning aloud as he reached the end. “Great, now Im going to look like a slut.” He didnt miss Parkers inelegant snort.

 

“Oh, shut up.” But there was a smile trying to work its way out between his lips. “Let me guess: Mike called you.”

“Youre lucky, you know,” she told him, putting her feet up on the vacant chair. “Another label would probably want you to deny everything.”

Jake made a face. “How would I go about denying that? „My tongue tripped and he caught it with his mouth?”

 

Parker snickered.

 

“You just love this, dont you?” Jake accused. “Youre enjoying my pain.”

 

“Im enjoying the fact that youre going to have to explain that you dont even know your supposed one and onlys last name.” Jake stared at him. “Im shocked and appalled, Parker. Shocked and appalled.”

 

“Back to the topic at hand,” Allanna said, diverting him. Sighing, Jake flopped back into the pillows. “What does Mike want?”

 

“Ideally, I think hed like you to doOprah, but her people havent called him back. Youre not that famous yet.”

 

“Cant I doElleninstead? Seriously.” Jake barely resisted the urge to pull a pillow over his face. This was going tosuck. “Actually,” said Allanna, “I have a better idea.”

PeopleMagazineIssue dated November 13, 2009 Jacob Brenner Sets the Record StraightOn his sexuality, his boyfriend, and the Wayward Sons on tour

Sure, hes still cute, but in his street clothes youd never guess Jacob Brenner was a rock star. Fresh-faced and dressed in jeans and a faded T-shirt, he met this lucky interviewer for lunch in a café in his hometown of Independence, Kansas.

The big smiles and loose posture cant contain the energy lurking beneath the surface, though; Brenner has a hard time keeping still, seeming to need to be in motion. Its easy to see why the fans adore him.

Over Reubens and mac and cheese, Brenner opens up about a wide variety of topics. There seems to be nothing he wont talk about, from sex, drugs, and rocknroll to the current presidential administration. Of course, the former topics are a lot more interesting.

Q: The Wayward Sons are now three months into a cross-country tour with the legendary Red Star. Whats that like?

A: For the first month or two it was kind of unbelievable. It was just go, go, go all the time. We didnt really have time to absorb everything that was going on. And of course, I got the flu, like, the first week, and recovering on the road is tough. It took us this long to finally hit our stride, and now I can safely say its amazing. At first it was weird hanging out with guys who have been doing this since we were in high school, you know? Im pretty sure they played Red Star songs at our middle-school graduation. But the guys are pretty cool, and theyve given us some really good advice. Hopefully Elliot (Dane, Red Stars lead guitarist) isnt mad at me for implying that hes old!

Q: What kind of advice do they give you?

A: Well obviously they forgot the part about how not to get caught kissing another man on a street corner. (He laughs.) Stuff like how to handle having an off night, what to do when you start chafing from living in each others pockets, how not to burn out on tour. How to keep in touch with your family so you dont get a big head. Important stuff like that.

Q: Since you brought it up—you recently came out of the closet as gay. How has that affected you?

A: (He laughs.) You know, people always look at that headline as me being “outed,” but you can ask anyone, I couldnt even find the closet with a map! Anyone whos ever read my blog knows I bat for the other team, so most of the really hard core fans already knew. Sure, theres been a hateful comment or two, and if people want to stop buying our records and listening to our music because one of us is gay, thats their business. I cant say it doesnt hurt, but its nothing I havent dealt with my whole life, just on a slightly larger scale. And on the plus side, now Im getting propositioned by guys who didnt know I was gay before, so thats something thats changed for the better.

Q: Tell us about the man in the photograph.

A: I know the rumor is that hes the love of my life, and I hate to disappoint, but a rumor is exactly what it is. We had a good time together and now its over. End of story. I know its boring, but not everything can be an epic love story!

Q: Theres been a lot of speculation about you and the bands guitarist, Parker McAvoy. Can you comment on that?

 

A: Seriously? People think that? Im going to have to start reading the comments on my blog again, arent I?

 

Q: So thats a “no”?

A: Parkers my best friend and I love him. If I could get him to sleep with me, I would have to be a complete idiot to go get caught with other guys. I mean, have youseenParker? Give me some credit. Im not that stupid!

Q: So are you seeing anyone?

A: Ill tell you what I told my mom. (He laughs.) Im too young to fall in love. Im too busy sowing my wild oats! Maybe someday Ill be ready to settle down and start writing love songs, but its not going to be anytime soon. (Another pause.) Of course, now that Ive said that, Ill probably meet someone amazing tomorrow.

Q: You mentioned writing love songs. Thats not what youre working on now?

A: Oh, the new album—I say “new album” like weve started recording, but were just in the preliminary phases really—will have a lot of exciting stuff on it, including a few love songs, but I didnt write them.

Q: Any idea when well be able to hear it?

 

A: With any luck, we should be recording by the time the tour is over. So—summertime, maybe, if were lucky.

 

Q: Looking forward to it. Thanks for talking to us.

 

A: Thanks for lunch!

 

INGATLINBURG, Chris and Parker bought cowboy hats.

They were just passing through on their way through to Nashville, and Chris wanted to stop for a smoke. The next thing Jake knew, he was being dragged into the kind of place a self-respecting gay man wouldnt be caught dead in. There were dead animals on the wall. He had to suppress a shudder.

Chris and Parker acted like total kids, putting on fake29southern accents and whipping out pretend six-shooters and generally being clowns. Jake was too charmed to see them actually having fun together to care much that he was in a shop with a floor made of raw timber, and the shop owner had a copy of the latest issue ofPeople, the one with Jakes “coming out” article in it, on the desk, and he hadnt even batted an eye.


Page 13

And, okay, he also ordered a really nice pair of custom boots. Retail therapy—the concert later on would be his first since his interview had been published.

He could not have been less shocked when Chris and Parker wore their Stetsons to the concert, but then Parker actually spoke into the microphone, and Jake almost had a heart attack. “Were changing up the routine a bit tonight,” he announced, thankfully sans terrible accent.

29And really awful, in Parkers case.Chris added, “This here is our final comment on the matter,” and then Jimmy counted them in.

 

It was the first and last time “Dirty Laundry” brought tears to Jakes eyes.

It was a good show—not their best, but far from their worst—and Jake was feeling pretty good when the afterparty finally ended and he stumbled back into the room he was sharing with Parker. “Aw, you shouldnt have,” he cooed a bit drunkenly when he saw the giant bouquet of flowers sitting on the table by his bed.

“Oh, trust me, I didnt.” Parker yawned, turning from his side onto his back and stretching. He hadnt lasted as long at the afterparty as Jake had; he never did.

“Well, who are they from, then?”“I dunno, Allanna must have dropped them off.”

Maybe they were from her? Jake locked the door behind him and kicked his shoes into the closet. Curious, he crossed the room and turned the vase a few times, looking for a card. A lurid purple envelope was set on one of those plastic forks florists used for just such a purpose, and he snatched it up, rolled across his bed—a mistake, as he ended up dizzy and kind of nauseous—and flicked on the light so he could read it.

His first thought was that he had had too much to drink. “Parker.”“Hmmm?” Parker didnt open his eyes.“Does this say what I think it says?”

“Ugh, you suck.” There was a flash of pale bare skin and freckles as Parker rubbed both hands over his eyes, and then he reached over for the card and took it from Jakes nerveless fingers.

Silence.

 

Then: “Holy shit!” and Parker dropped the card and envelope like they had burned him.

Jake was taken aback. Parker almost never swore; the most vulgar he got was the use of gestures, and Jake had never heard him put the word “holy” in front of anything.

“You got a happy-coming-out card fromElton John!” Oh. Holy shit.

“This is one of the more surreal moments of my life,” Jake said blankly.

 

“Elton John knows who weare!”

“Not helping,” Jake told him. He looked at the card. “I didnt know they made happy-coming-out cards. Do you think I should frame it? Maybe get a shadow box and dry the flowers?”

Parker stared at him blearily. “I think you should turn the lights off and go to bed,” he suggested at length. “You can fangirl Sir Elton in the morning.”

“Huh.” Jake considered the idea. Hewaspretty comfortable. “Kay.” He leaned over and flicked off the light. He was asleep even before he could try to wiggle under the covers.

IndependenceTown GazetteWednesday, December 16, 2009

 

The Boys are Back In Town By Amanda Price

After a successful three months on the road, Independences own Wayward Sons are home to roost for a few weeks before jetting off to LA to record their second studio album. Their first album,Manifest Destiny, hit the shelves earlier this month and has already sold over 50,000 copies.

Chris Collins, Jimmy Jones, and Jake Brenner, all native to Independence, as well as guitarist Parker McAvoy, originally of South Dakota, have been touring the country since August with veteran altrockers Red Star. The boys plan to play three free shows as a holiday thank-you to their loyal fans here in Independence. You can catch them this Saturday at P.T. Morts and next Saturday and Sunday at Rock Lobster. All three shows begin at 9 p.m.

If you cant make it to one of the shows, not to worry—the Wayward Sons are set to tour again this summer.

 

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Thursday, December 17, 2009 Author: Jake

 

Rock Stars: A Cautionary Tale

 

You guys, I dont have much of an update in terms of music clips or tour dates or anything, but I just have to share this story.

 

So after we got our first royalties checks, we all went a little, you know. Rock star crazy, I guess.

 

Well, no, thats not exactly right. Heres what happened.

I bought a hot tub. What else do I need, right? Ive got a place to live— two, strictly, if you count the place were going to be renting in LA, which is a lot nicer than where we live when were at home, but its still not, you know,home. But we had some downtime in Kansas, so.

Jimmy went out and got a motorcycle. It is an absolutely beautiful machine, a classic Harley, but man, the thing is beat to hell and back. I think hes planning on spending the next couple of years learning how to fix it up again. He got the matching leather jacket,too, although I dont know how the hell hes going to be able to fit a helmet on over his hair.Chris got drunk with a bunch of strippers and woke up with a tattoo. I wont tell you where it is, but its of a whole bunch of different colored lip prints. Its hilarious. I cant post a picture, so Ill just leave it to your imaginations.

Parker spent two days researching on my laptop, put on a suit (I didnt know he had a suit—though to be fair, its the ugliest suit Ive ever seen) and took a cab somewhere. He came home with a used Prius.

Seriously. I love this guy.

“HAPPYNew Year, this is Chriss phone,” Jake chirped happily, his feet up on Chriss coffee table and his right hand curled around a cold beer. It hadnt lost any of its charm or appeal since he became legally old enough to drink it.

“Happy New Year,” Mike said back, and Jake held the phone to his shoulder to shout at Chris and Jimmy—they were having a flip-cup competition with a couple of coeds the next room over, and they had the music blaring. “Hey, assholes! Shut up, would you? Im trying to talk to our boss, here.”

The whole “professional musician” thing was still new enough that this actually held some sway, and not only did the sound die off, but Chris and Jimmy themselves left the coeds to their own devices and crowded into the practice room where Jake and Parker had been watching the broadcast from Times Square. “Whats he want?” Chris asked, but he was grinning.

Jake shrugged. “I dunno.” He picked the phone up again and held it to his ear. “Chris says whats up.”

Mike told him, and Jake dropped the phone. “Shit.” He fumbled for it again, spilling his beer all over himself in the process as the guys looked on in amused befuddlement. “Mike, you better not be kidding, because that shit is just not funny, okay?”

“I never joke about money,” Mike said drily. “Congratulations, kid.”

Jakes brain felt like it was currently not getting any reception. “Seriously?” was all he could think of to say, and, “Oh my God. Mike—dude, thank you.”

Mike laughed at him. “No, kid, thank you—I have just made a lot of very important people very happy. Not to mention the paycheck.”

“This is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Jake said stupidly, unable to keep the grin from spreading across his face. Sitting here in his buddys mediocre townhouse drinking second-rate beer with four minutes to go until midnight—this really wasnt where he thought hed be when they got signed back in June.

This was so, so much better.

Mike had to get off the phone before Chris could steal it away— his wife wanted to spend time with him while he was at home for once, or something. Jake said his goodbyes without really feeling them, and once the call was disconnected, he spread his arms wide and started laughing.

“Son, if you dont tell me whats so goddamned funny, Im gonna have to beat it out of you.” But Chris didnt exactly look too threatening just then.

“Manifest Destiny,” Jake said when he could finally speak. He was so high right now that nothing in the world could bring him down. “It went gold, guys. Five hundred thousand copies.”

Chris said, “Holy shit.” Then he whooped so loud they probably heard it three doors down. “Holyshit!” This was followed by a lot of jumping up and down and hugging that Jake wasnt paying attention to now and wouldnt remember later; he thought he might be in shock.

However, he was never going to forget the look on Parkers face when Chris pulled him bodily off the couch and bear-hugged him, then laid a big, fat kiss on his mouth and ruffled his hair. “Couldnt have done it without you.”

Parkers cheeks pinkened, but he grinned back and managed to keep his balance when Jimmy patted him enthusiastically on the back. “This calls for champagne,” Jimmy said wisely. “Screw waiting for midnight.”

They called in the coeds—not that Jake was surprised by that turn of events—and shared the news, and Jake already knew by the looks the girls were casting Chris and Jimmy, not to mention Parker, who as usual didnt seem to notice, that hed be heading back to their side of the semi sooner rather than later.

He wasnt wrong about that, and he didnt miss the significant glances of the third coed as he and Parker stumbled drunkenly out the door an hour later, holding on to each other for support. He was too happy to care, though, still basking in the glow of their success.

He couldnt wait to tell his mom.

Parker was a little worse off than he was, so Jake kept an arm around his shoulders until they made it to their couch, then dropped him on it and more or less fell down himself, unreasonably winded.

There was a telltalethumpfrom next door.

“Hey, Parker,” Jake said, reaching out just far enough so that his hand could reach Parkers hair. His fingers curled into his skull without input from his brain, but Parker just made a happy little sound and pushed into the touch so that his head was resting on Jakes thigh.

“Hmm?”

“Chris is totally right, you know. So, thanks for being an awesome guitarist and not abandoning us for somebody cooler with a lot more talent.”

Jake didnt need to look to know that Parker was blushing—the silence said it all. He started pulling his hand away, figuring Parker was embarrassed enough already, but Parker made another noise, this one of protest, so he left it where it was. A few more rhythmicthumps punctuated the silence.

A minute later, Parker managed, “Hey, Jake?”

Jake smiled lazily. Man, he couldnt remember the last time hed been this close to falling asleep at not even two oclock on New Years Eve. Next time he definitely needed to go easier on the champagne. “Hmm?”

“I couldnt have done it without you,” Parker said, and yeah—he sounded hideously embarrassed.

Jake didnt know what to say to that, so he just smiled and scratched his fingers gently against Parkers scalp until he passed out a few minutes later.

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Sunday, January 3, 2010 Author: Jake

 

Happy New Year, everybody!

 

We have good news, better news, and slightly less good news, depending on how you want to look at it.

The good news: you all lovedManifest Destinyso much it went gold. I cant even tell you how awesome that makes me feel. It was so awesome that even Parker got drunk to celebrate,that’s how much you make us love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The better news: Red Stars tour has been extended until March, and were going with. Click here for info on the extended tour.

The slightly less good news: this is going to delay our next album release somewhat, since itll be longer before we make it into the studio. But hey, I promise it will be worth it!PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

Date: Monday, February 1, 2010 Author: Jake

 

Pictures of the Road Trip (and Parker Update)

Hi guys! Jake here, writing you from someplace on Interstate 80. Sorry its been so long since my last update. Weve all come down with a case of the boring. Seriously, its like weve done nothing but work, work, work for the last three weeks. Good thing we love our jobs! A big WS shout-out to LA, Vegas, Salt Lake City, Boise, and of course all my peeps in Fruitland, Utah. We missed you guys!

Anyway, here are some pictures of our time on the road/significant events you might have missed. For example: that first one is Jimmy peeing at the Great Divide! Of course I have censored it so you cant actually see him peeing, but you can imagine the way it breaks into two streams! Dont tell anyone though, I think this might be illegal, and I wouldnt want Jimmy to get in trouble! Another example: Chris at the roulette table in Vegas! I personally think the purple feather boa would look better on Parker, but Chris insisted it was lucky and wouldnt take it off the whole night.30And finally, my personal favorite, Parker asleep on a Formica tabletop in a McDonalds. I actually have a collection of pictures of Parker asleep at restaurants. I wish Id taken another picture when he woke up, because he had ketchup all over his face. He looked like a zombie.

Speaking of Parker, I assume the nosier of you are wanting to know how the Quest is going, though I admit it has been a while since I floated the idea by you. For anyone requiring a refresher: we need to get Parker laid. On that front, I have sadly little to report. I am not sure yet if it is because he is asexual (difficult to ascertain) or just blind (plausible. Parker cannot see shit without his glasses). He still lets me cuddle him when I have a bad dream, so I know he isnt repulsed by the touch of others. Then of course there is the possibility that hes a virgin and is afraid of sex! I keep telling him he cant get pregnant his first time, but I dont think he believes me.

30He didnt realize that Jake knew he still had it in his closet in LA.

 

Anyway, be strong, my perverted friends, and be patient. He cant hold out forever!

 

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Monday, February 8, 2010 Author: Jake
Page 14

 

Parker Update

So as you guys know, in October I undertook the endeavor of getting Parker laid. To be fair to me, there is an element of difficulty in the task. Namely, that Parker knows about it and is trying to thwart me. He insists on being perfectly gentlemanly with all of the nice young ladies I introduce him to, and he wont open his door for hookers. I am just about at my wits end, here, people—I need your help! Click the button below to submit your idea for how I should help Parker get laid. All participants will be entered in a draw to win a brand-new Wayward Sons concert T-shirt designed by yours truly. You know you want one!

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Monday, February 15, 2010 Author: Jake

Parker Update #2 Okay, so in our last conference meeting, I asked you guys for suggestions on how I might get Parker to remove his iron chastity belt.

I figured Id get a few of the old standards (get him drunk, slip him some Viagra, lock him in a room with one of you guys and a vibrating bed). Stuff like that. And I did get quite a few e-mails like that—thank you guys for your commitment to the cause, really. The rest of us Sons appreciate your efforts.

What I did not count on was you crazies implying (or, in the case of a few of you, stating outright) that if I want something done right, I ought to do it myself.

I thought that was what I was doing—you know, with the hookers—but apparently thats not enough for you. Oh, no. You thinkIought to seduce him, you delightfully pervy little wenches.

However, there are a few issues with this new plan. For one thing, I am pretty sure Parker is onto me, and not in the “white on rice” way. I blame technology. He can read these little updates on his phone now. For another thing, this is totally against Band Rules, so if Chris finds out about this, I am in deep you-know-what. Lastly, I usually make it a point not to sleep with anyone who is better-looking than I am, which sadly eliminates Parker from my list of potential bedmates.

Still, never let it be said that I dont enjoy a challenge! Maybe Ill catch him on a bad hair day. I can do this! Right?

JAKEwas almost done hanging out at the bar of the small venue theyd played tonight; they were fresh off the Red Star tour, and Mike had lined up a series of smaller concerts that they actually got to headline that were more or less on their way back to LA The band was recognizable now, and he found he sometimes missed the anonymity, but he knew he would miss it more when they were playing huge arenas instead of packed holes-in-the-wall. The only reason he was still at the bar and not at the afterparty was that he had promised the bartender an autograph for his daughter, and Jake liked to get that kind of thing out of the way before he could forget. He was a bit of a flake.

So when a pint-sized little girl in a tiny pair of shorts and a barely there tank top hopped up onto the barstool next to him as he signed his name, he kind of expected to be annoyed.

“So at the risk of being a total cliché, can I buy you a drink?” she asked, one hand around a glass of some amber-colored liquid.

“Its „may I,” Jake said absently, drawing a little happy face and passing over the autograph with a calculated grin. The bartender traded him for a healthy glass of rum with some coke mixed in for color, and he gave the girl a rueful grin. “And no offense, but I think if I have another drink on top of this Im not going to have a very good morning.”

The girl gave him a faux-pout. “I must have you mistaken for someone else. I thought you were a rock star.”

 

That got a laugh. Unfortunately,thatcaused rum to shoot up Jakes nose. “God, warn a guy,” he said, reaching for a napkin.

“Sorry.” She didnt sound particularly sorry; she sounded like she was hiding a grin behind her hand, and sure enough, when his eyes stopped watering, that was exactly what she was doing. “My names Mickey.”

“Jake,” he said wryly, looking around briefly for a trashcan before giving in and shoving the used napkin into his pocket. “You do know Im gay, right?”

“You do know Im only talking to you so youll take me to meet Chris, right?” she said back, a tiny smile playing in the corner of her mouth.

Jake snorted in answer and relaxed, sizing the girl up. She reminded him of someone, and though he wasnt sure whom, he was curious enough to keep talking for a few minutes. Especially because she was either very honest or very funny. Maybe both. “Let me tell you something for free, honey,” he said. “A girl like you doesnt wanna get mixed up with a boy like that.”

Her eyes danced in the low light. “Maybe I was just gonna slap him with a child-support suit. Serve a subpoena.”

 

“Oh, God,” Jake said, laughing. “Dont even joke about that shit, its not funny.”

 

“You laughed.”

“Some things are too terrifying to take seriously.” He took a sip of his very strong drink. “Did you come here alone? This isnt a very good neighborhood, you know.”

“I was supposed to meet someone here,” she admitted, hooking her tiny little shoes around the legs of the barstool. “They didnt show.” Jake wrinkled his nose. “That sucks. Did you enjoy the show, at least?”

“Fishing for compliments?” Mickey teased. “Shouldnt your ego already be inflated enough? I mean, here I am debasing myself by hitting on the only man in the bar who isnt interested, and you want more from me?”

“Oh my God,” Jake said. “I was just going to keep you to myself to keep all the other female attention at bay”—not that he actually had a problem with that, now that the whole world knew he was gay—“but you are too much fun for one person. And I think youll give Chris an apoplectic fit, which is not something to be missed. So, master manipulator, what do you say—you wanna hit up our afterparty?”

The way Chriss eyes bugged out of his head when he saw her was, in fact, extremely satisfying, though Jake had a bad moment where he worried that there actuallywasgoing to be a paternity suit.

Then Mickeys eyes lit on Parker, who was standing just behind Chris and to his left, and before Jake knew it, she had both her legs wrapped around his waist and her arms around his shoulders.

But that wasnt the really crazy part. The crazy part was that Parker was hugging her back so tightly he had his hands locked around his wrists, and Jake could hear him laughing.

He blinked as Parker put the girl down and they made their way to the private elevators without so much as a goodbye. Chris and Jimmy looked on with twin expressions of disbelief.31

Finally, Jake shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “Well, there goes the neighborhood.”

 

31This turned into something of a theme whenever Mickey was around.

 

PRODIGAL: OFFICIAL BLOG OF THE WAYWARD SONS

 

Date: Saturday, February 20, 2010 Author: Jake

 

Parker Update #3

Well, ladies, its finally happened. After the show tonight, a smokin hot babe in a white tank top and the shortest little shorts I ever saw swept Parker off into the night. Seriously. Like, she launched herself at him and he caught her.Andhes had his phone off all night. I guess wishes really do come true!

Still, I cant help feeling kind of sad now that this epic quest has finally come to an end. I was really starting to think it might have to be me who introduced Parker to the joys of sex. I was wearing him down too, I could tell.

Oh well! Here are the pictures from tonights show. Word to your mothers!

 

EDIT: Turns out the hot brunette is Parkers sister. So thats awkward, but in other news—the quest is back on!

IN THE following weeks, Jake got to know a whole different Parker. He smiled more, he talked more, he laughed more, and he called his sister on his cell phone about fifty times a day. A few times she made him hand over the phone to Jake or Chris or Jimmy so that she could get to know Parkers new family better, but eventually Parker got tired of that, so Jake just texted her his cell number. She was pretty awesome, and every time she called, it reminded Jake to forget he was sort of almost famous for a few minutes and call his family to check in.

Becca, who wouldnt admit it over the phone but followed Jakes blog religiously, was immediately intrigued. “I want to meet her,” she insisted.

Jake imagined the two of them teaming up and immediately got goose bumps all down his spine. “Over my dead body.” The world was not ready for that.

It wasnt until they were in New York for a sort of almost major concert—a venue of a couple thousand at a university—that Parker started getting quiet again.

Quiet and kind of—paranoid. He kept looking over his shoulder, and he jumped about seventeen feet when some random guy on the street came up to him and asked if he had a lighter. Jake was debating whether to ask if he had a secret stalker he hadnt told anyone about or just slip him an Ativan when, an hour or two before the concert, he seemed to sort himself out.

Aside from a few inconvenient broken guitar strings, everything went according to plan (they finished with a cover of “Longview,” which wasnt quite classic rock but was still pretty awesome) until the afterparty, when it became apparent that Parker was just not okay.

“Ive never seen him like this,” Chris hissed to Jake as they watched Parker down a shot of tequila from across the room. “You got any idea whats got into him?”

Jake shook his head, flabbergasted. He vaguely recalled that Parker had been a bit off the last time they had played a venue in New York, so—“Maybe its just bad memories?” he suggested. Parker had gone to school here, after all.

“If he isnt careful, hes going to make a few more tonight,” Jimmy said. Both he and Chris looked at Jake.

Yeah, Jake understood that that was his cue, not that he minded Parker-sitting duty. Parker looked after him well enough. He finished his drink and set it down on the bar. “Ill talk to him.”

“Talk” turned out to be something of a misnomer. What Jakedidwas cajole Parker out of the party and into the street for a hint of fresh air, hoping it would sober them both up some, since Jake had consumed a fair amount of drink himself. Parker held his peace, staring silently up at the stars and leaning against the side of the building as his breath fogged up the air in front of him. He looked like a man with something to say, or at least with something on his mind, but he was locked down—there was no way Jake was going to get anything out of him tonight.

It was too far to walk to the hotel, and there was too much temptation waiting for them back inside the bar, so when Parker finally complained of thirst Jake ushered him around the back to the parking lot and managed, after several very frustrating attempts, to open the door to the bus.

Jakes sense ofsomething is very wrong hereonly intensified when Parker went directly to Jimmys smoke box and started rolling a joint, but Jake wasnt about to jump in and stop him. He wasnt Parkers keeper, and who knew, maybe he would actually relax a little and Jake could stop wondering when he was going to snap.

Parker finished rolling and lit up, sliding down onto one of the couches in the back of the bus. Jake could see the change in his posture after just one drag; his shoulders relaxed, his head fell back, and his knees parted. “Arent you going to give me the third degree?”

If Jake had had any more to drink, he would have sworn it was a pod person sitting in front of him and not his sweet, somewhat naïve friend. He had just enough sense to remember that Parker had traveled the country before this, alone, and that he was almost certainly nowhere near as innocent as Jake thought he was. “Would you tell me?”

Parker took another drag and then pulled the joint away, regarding it thoughtfully. “Probably not.”

“Not much point then, is there?”“I guess not.”

For a couple of heartbeats the silence stretched out into all corners of the bus, and then Jake sat down next to Parker on the couch. The only light besides the lit end of Parkers joint was the glow of the streetlights filtering through the tinted windows; it made the space between them seem too small.

Or maybe that was the contact high. Jake couldnt be sure. “Parker….” He hesitated. “Are you okay?”

Parker passed him the roach, and in the space of one breath that strange, alien Parker was gone and Jakes best friend was back, if a little more messed up than Jake had ever seen him. “Its just some bad memories,” he reassured him—or, well, he tried, anyway. Jake wasnt ready to be reassured just yet.

He pinched out the smoking end of the joint and ditched it in an ashtray. “I know you said you dont want to talk about it, but if you change your mind….”

There was something dry in the twist of Parkers lips, but then he rested his head against Jakes shoulder, and Jake forgot to be on his guard. “Thanks,” he said.

Jake just “hmm”ed in response.

Sitting there in the almost-dark time passed differently, and Jake didnt know how much later it was when Parker raised his head and looked at him, eyes mere glints of light in the night, and Jake couldnt help but feeling that this was someone new again. Hed already seen Parker-his-friend and Parker-not-his-friend and now this was— “Parker—”

Parker kissed him.

For a couple of heartbeats, Jake was too stunned to do anything other than sit there like an idiot and let Parker kiss him. His lips were soft and sure but a little chapped, and it took his tongue running over the seam of Jakes lips for his paralysis to snap, and even though a part of his brain was absolutely screaming about what a bad idea this was, Jake didnt hear it. He reached up to drag Parker on top of him, but Parker had anticipated the move and was already climbing into Jakes lap, pressing him back into the couch, his hot, slick tongue invading Jakes mouth. With a downward thrust that had to be deliberate, he settled himself down with his—well, everything, actually—pressed up against Jakes.

Jake bit Parkers lower lip in a show of appreciation, then stuck his hand down the back of his pants just to make sure he got the message.

Shuddering in a deep breath, Parker pulled his mouth away for a moment, leaning his head against Jakes until Jake couldnt handle the waiting anymore and kissed him again, softer and more controlled. The kisses melted together into one long, hazy impression of mouths and hands and lips and tongues and teeth and noses; for once Jake happily ignored his dick and focused on Parker. God, hed never expected—but it was Parker; Jake should have known.


Page 15

He was just thinking of how best to broach the subject of what to donowwhen Parker pulled away again, and Jake let him, running his hands up and down Parkers back soothingly, needing to touch. “Parker,” he said again, his voice sounding unbelievably wrecked to his own ears.

Parker dropped his head on Jakes shoulder again, and his body sagged. As foggy with beer and smoke and lust as Jake was, it took him a minute to realize that Parker had passed out.32

“Fuck,” he muttered, throwing his head back against the couch as the enormity of what had just happened caught up with him. “Double fuck.” He was not allowed to make out with Parker in the tour bus. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Parker was Jakes best friend and that meant he was Off Limits. Furthermore, he obviously had some kind of intimacy issues if Jake had never even seen himflirtwith anyone before, or maybe he had someotherkind of issue that had caused him to get drunk and then high and they could write this whole thing off as a stupid, intoxicated mistake.

Fine. They were mature, they were adults—they could do that. But Jake was by no means under the impression that he would be forgetting the taste of Parkers lips or the press of his body anytime soon.

The worst part was that he wasnt even sure he wanted to.

With a sigh and a grunt, he managed to maneuver Parker off of him and onto the couch without waking him. Then he took a few minutes to panic.

As a rule, Jake was not prone to self-examination. He was of the opinion that life was too short to sit around navel gazing. Most of the time, that served him well, but sometimes, like now, it would have been nice if his startling self-realizations didnt come screaming out of the blue and smack him in the face.

32It was, sadly for Jake, not the last time Parker would pass out at an inopportune moment.

 

Almost literally, in this case, except for the screaming part.

He watched Parker sleep for a few minutes, making sure his breathing was even as his mind whirled out of control. How long had he been dancing around this thing with Parker? Surely he should have clued in by now? And what was Parkers deal, anyway? Jake didnt know if Parkers actions were due to liquid courage or simply impaired decision making.

Suddenly finding himself on the wrong side of sober, Jake rubbed his hands over his eyes. There was nothing further he could do about anything tonight, anyway. The metaphorical ball was in Parkers court, and Jake could guess well enough that they would be returning to the status quo in the morning.

Well, hed managed this situation fine once before. There was no reason he couldnt do it again.Interlude

“HELLO?”“Hey, Becca.”

“Jake!” It was nice to know that there was always someone who was happy to talk to him. “I just saw the new music video!”

He smiled. “Which one?”“„Black Lipstick. How long were you in makeup for that one?”

“Cute,” Jake said drily. “Do you mean me in particular or the four of us cumulatively?”

 

“Just you, everyone else looks like that naturally.”

 

“Hey!” he protested, mock-wounded. “An hour, but most of that was for the hair.”

 

“It looks the same as it always looks!”

“Yeah, they gave up on trying to change it after that.” He braced his feet up against the bunk above him as the bus took a turn. “They realized the futility.”

“What about the other guys?”

“Jimmy has dreads,” Jake pointed out. “Parker practically has a buzzcut. Chris was in the chair for like two hours, though.” A tennis shoe came flying out the lounge area at the back of the bus and smacked the side of the bunk Jake was lying on.

“Whatever. I liked the guy with the wig. Very post-post-modern.”

“That was Parkers idea,” Jake credited easily. He leaned his head out of the bunk to wave at him, but Parker had his headphones on and was lost in his notebook. “Have you been reading Moms textbooks again?”

“I do actually have to pass high school English, Mr. College Dropout. Hows your quest going, by the way?”

Oh, crap. Jake had forgotten that Becca was one of the thousands of people who occasionally tuned into his blog. What should he tell her? “Uh….”

Unfortunately, he hesitated too long. “Oh my God! Jake!” If Chis ever lost his voice, Jake knew somebody else with pretty impressive range. “I demand details.”

“Becca, I cant even smile at Parker in public without the Internet knowing about it. If there were anything to tell, you could Google it.” He peered around the end of his bunk to make sure Parker still had his earbuds in—not that he could take it back now.

“I am not stupid enough to Google that,” Becca said sharply, and Jake cringed. “So if nothings going on, then….”

 

“Then what?” he asked, hoping his apprehension wasnt apparent in his voice.

 

Becca paused for a long moment. “Nothing. Never mind. Hey, what are you getting me for my birthday?”Third Movement: American Love SongsTHE last concert before they would break for recording was in Los Angeles.

 

It also happened to land on Beccas birthday.

Jake spent most of the morning trying to get her on her cell phone, but all he got was a lousy text message:Sry, cn’t talk now, call me l8r. He was kind of bummed, but he was also in Los Angeles, and it was sixty-five degrees in March, it was sunny rather than smoggy, there was a nice ocean breeze, and they had just put the ink on a deal to rent a house in the hills. It would have been rude to complain.

Especially since they were headlining a sold-out show at the Hollywood Palladium. They were all trying to pretend that it wasnt the coolest thing that had ever happened to them, but it totally was, so it was no surprise that sometime about halfway through the concert, probably when the crowd was roaring along with Chris to “Lucky Sevens,” he forgot it was his sisters birthday at all.

He might never have remembered—and then he would have owed Becca make-up presents until the end of time—but then the song ended and Chris introduced a special guest and his baby sister walked onstage.

The scene played out something like this:

Chris wailed out the last power chord of the song on his guitar. The audience cheered in approval. Someone waved a sign that said, “LA hearts Jimmy Jones.”

Chris waited until the cheers died down again before speaking.

“Thank you! As you all know, this is our last tour date before we go on a hiatus to start recording our next album.”More cheers.

“What you may not know is that its also our best girls birthday!”

 

Jakes mouth dropped open in front of four thousand fans. “Oh, you didnt.”

 

“Oh, we did. Well, Parker did—apparently your mom likes him better than me.”

 

“Mama likes Parker more than she likesme,” Jake pointed out, craning his neck around. They must have stashed her somewhere. “Cant blame her for that. Anyway, Los Angeles, may I introduce you to Miss Rebecca Lee Brenner!”

Apparently shed been hiding backstage, because she appeared on the other side of Jimmys drum kit at a dead run. Jake barely had time to sling his bass behind him so it wouldnt bear the brunt of her impact, and then her arms locked around his neck. “Hey, sis,” he said into her hair, squeezing a little. He had to shift a bit to make sure she wouldnt squish Parkers glasses.

“Hey, rock star,” she said back, pulling away.“Happy birthday.”Becca gave him the biggest smile hed ever seen. “Thanks, bro!”

He had to relinquish custody for a few minutes so that Parker and Jimmy could get their hugs while Chris explained the little surprise they had arranged. Then it was Chriss turn, and, well. Despite the fact that Jake knew very well Chris wouldnever, he did have a brotherly image to maintain, so he crossed his arms and glared as menacingly as possible.

Chris rolled his eyes at him and pinched Beccas butt. Par for the course.

“In case you were wondering, Ive been freaking out because I couldnt get hold of my baby sister,” Jake told the audience. “These assholes let me suffer for hours.”

“Not everything is about you,” Parker smiled mischievously. “Speaking of things that arent about you.” Becca had pulled away from Chris and was giving Jake a look.

 

Chris said, “Wed best be earning our keep,” and he plucked out the beginning riff to “Happy Birthday.”

Becca stuck around to sing a fairly decent duet with Chris, considering that she wasnt warmed up and wasnt used to singing in front of four thousand people, and then she headed off to watch the rest of the show.

Jake had expected to spend the afterparty, well, partying, but hed done enough of that in the last year and not very much hanging out with Becca, so sitting on a couch in the corner chatting with her while strictly supervising her alcohol intake wasnt much of a hardship.

His liver could probably use the break, anyway.

“So this is your life now, huh, Mr. Rock Star?” Becca teased, failing to hide a grimace as she sipped at her drink. “Where are all the screaming girls?”

“Newsflash,” Chris broke in, dumping himself into the leather chair across from them. “Jakes gay.”

“No way. I thought that was a rumor!” She rolled her eyes. “Seriously, though, my social standing went through the roof when you guys broke into the top twenty. Id be thanking you if the in-crowd wasnt such a bunch of shallow, egomaniacal self-absorbed piranhas.”33

Parker raised an eyebrow. “Should we cut her off?”

 

“Feed her some more and give her a pen, we could use those lyrics,” Chris suggested.

 

“Hello, Mamas an English teacher, remember?” Jake reminded them both. “She does that shit for fun. It was bound to rub off on us.” “How come youve never called anyone a shallow, egomaniacal self-absorbed piranha?”

 

“Maybe because all the people I know are shallow, egomaniacal self-absorbed jackasses,” Jake muttered.

 

33No offense to actual in-crowders.—JB“Zing!”

Allanna appeared out of the ether with a tray of champagne glasses dripping in condensation and passed them around. “Eighteen on the eighteenth,” she said. “Thats a champagne birthday. But you didnt get this from me.”

Looking grateful for an excuse to get rid of the mixed drink Jimmy had made her, Becca swapped out her cup for a flute. “Thanks. Im Becca, by the way.”

“Allanna. Im the tour manager, also known as head roadie.” “Shes also in charge of making sure I dont fuck anyone inappropriate,” Chris drawled from his chair.

 

To her credit, Becca managed the spit-take very gracefully. “Hows that going for you?”

The hint of a smile lurking in the corner of Allannas mouth was easy to spot if you knew what you were looking for. “Its a work in progress, if Im honest.” She squished in between Parker and Jimmy on the loveseat.

“Well, there go my chances,” Becca joked, and it was Jakes turn to do damage control on the champagne hed just tried to shoot out his nose.

“Dont even think about it,” he said before his eyes had even finished watering. “I will forgive you for a lot of dumb shit, but thats not on the list.”

Breaking in before the slinging of sarcasm got serious, Allanna said, “Not to steal the spotlight or anything, but can I get some love here? Im not gonna see you guys for, like, three months!”

“Why not?” Becca asked.“The tour is over,” Parker explained.

“And I live practically on the other side of the world,” Allanna chimed in. “Or as close as you can get on this continent, anyway.” “She lives in Newfoundland,” Jake said.

Jimmy elaborated, “Its like an iceberg, only colder.” “Im sorry,” Becca offered.Allanna looked offended.

“That you have to put up with my brother and his pet assholes all the time,” she finished with a grin.

 

“Oh, I like you. Come on tour with us this summer. I can use all the extra estrogen I can get.”

Now there was a terrifying thought. Jake shuddered.Becca nudged him none too gently with her sneaker.

Before Jake could mount a more vocal protest, Matt and Laura, the guitar techs, interrupted his train of thought. “Were ready,” Laura said to Chris, unslinging his favorite guitar from around her neck and passing it over.

Chris took it by the neck and stood to secure the strap. “Awesome.” Then he reached down and pulled Allanna up by the hand. “Come on, babe, were on.”

The rest of the group tracked their progress across the room to where a makeshift stage had been set up. Chris shoved Allanna in front of one of the two microphones, where she stood looking utterly confused and kind of terrified while he reached down and plugged in his guitar.

“Hi guys,” Chris said brightly. “You might have noticed that we already paid tribute to one lovely lady on stage tonight, but I wanted to do a more private sendoff for the road crew, so.”

Jake looked at Parker, who shrugged helplessly. “This should be good,” Jake said in a quiet aside to Becca.

From all corners of the room, they gathered at the stage: Matt and Laura; Marissa, Jakes bass tech; Little Mike on the bongos; Big Mike on the keyboard. Everyone had an instrument but Allanna, who didnt play as far as Jake knew and was thus stuck in front of the microphone.

“Um,” she said. “Whats going on?”

“We took a vote,” Big Mike said, “and the crew thought the best way for us to say so long for three months was for you and Chris to sing a duet.”“Of a Paul Simon song,” Laura added.

Becca said, “Seriously?”Jake and Parker shushed her simultaneously.

“I know you know the words, and if you dont sing Im going to hit on Lindsey,” Chris promised. Lindsey was their sound engineer. She waved cheerfully from her perch behind the bar, where she was doing engineers everywhere proud by making sure everyone got as drunk as possible.

“Cheers,” Allanna laughed, and she picked the mike up off the stand. “Alright, hit it, Little Mike.”

Recognizing the song only took a few seconds. Parker said, “I dont believe it,” his voice full of equal parts humor and shock, but Jake was already swaying along with the beat by the time Chris opened his mouth.

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