A/N: For the past six months I've had this image of Jasper standing outside the tour bus, arms crossed, a frown on his face as he tapped the toe of his boot while waiting for me to get on the bus and produce this chapter. Soon another bus appeared, filled with all you wonderful readers and reviewers who have been on board since the one-shot first appeared, as well as new arrivals who've been adding follows and favorites during the past few months, all waiting for me to get this show on the road. So, without further ado, here is Chapter 9 at long last, with my gratitude for your patience.
This work of fanfiction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Rated M for M/M slash.
The Times (London): Cullen Returns Triumphant. Edward Cullen was spotted arriving at Heathrow Airport last night as he returned from his final Canadian performances for his Duchy Originals/New Beginnings tour. Concluding the tour with yet another sold-out concert at the Grand Théâtre de Québec in Quebec City, Cullen wowed audiences with his impeccable Parisian French, a program devoted to several modern Québécois composers, and a sneak preview of his upcoming performances for the Montreal Jazz Festival in June.
April 9 ~ Evansville, Indiana
Road Rule #1: Touring makes everyone crazy. Ride the waves as best you can and remember, moods pass.
I sit with my guitar on the steps of the tour bus, which is parked near the theater where we'll be performing tonight. I'm strumming some chords that have been floating through my mind since we left Chicago ten days ago. I take a pencil and a crumpled piece of paper out of my shirt pocket and make a few notations. Some notes fall right into place, like the border pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – notes that I'm confident about, knowing they won't change. It's still not quite right, but it's getting closer to... something. Whatever it's supposed to be. I guess I'll know it when I hear it.
It's a rare moment of solitude in the raucous experience of life on the road with eleven other guys. I close my eyes and let my head fall back, my face turned up to the sunny, clear blue sky, enjoying the gentle warmth of the spring day.
The tranquility doesn't last long, however, as my stomach cramps slightly, and I am reminded that I violated not one, but two, rules of the road earlier today. Road Rule #2 (Don't wander off; let someone know where you are) still seems like something more appropriate for a group of unmanageable kindergartners on a field trip to the zoo, but I am beginning to understand the value of Road Rule #3 (Fast food is poison).
I spotted that Steak 'n Shake sign when we drove into town, and I just couldn't resist their bacon and cheese double steakburger with fries, not to mention a large chocolate malt. So I slipped away after we unloaded our equipment, and now I'm afraid I'm paying the price for my little indulgence.
I'm distracted from my thoughts by loud rumbling noises that emanate from the sole occupant of the bus at the moment, other than myself. The snoring, audible even out here on the steps, is coming from the man behind the road rules, our driver, Collin. He's six foot six and 250 pounds of solid muscle, with a deep voice and over twenty years of tour experience with newbies like us.
"Sleep whenever you can," he advises every time someone yawns. It's Road Rule #4, he says. And he is definitely a guy who practices what he preaches. Which is a good thing, I guess, because he's usually driving while most of us are asleep, our slumbering lives in his wide-awake hands.
The rules haven't stopped coming since we boarded the sixty-foot Prevost tour bus in Chicago on the last day of March. Road Rule #5 was definitely a surprise – "Don't fuck anyone in the band; there are tons of people to fuck who are not in the band"– because as far as I knew, I was the only gay man on the bus, and Collin certainly didn't know me well enough at the time to be firing that rule in my direction.
Turned out he had another target: Laurent Edison, the bass player for Chicagoland. Tall and lean, with smooth, cafe-au-lait skin, a cascade of dreadlocks halfway down his back, and dark, sparkling eyes – Laurent is beautiful. When he boarded the bus, Collin took one look at him and growled, "Remember Rule #5? It's still in effect, dumb ass."
The guy just laughed at him. My gaydar must have been on the blink that day because at first I just figured that Laurent must have been fooling around with a girl in his previous group. But apparently his gaydar was in perfect working order, because he took one look at me and introduced himself immediately.
"Well, hello there, handsome. Where have you been all my life?"
"Hanging out at Spin, looking for you," I replied, pleased to discover that my flirting skills hadn't completely wasted away during the dry spell of the past few months. I could hardly contain my smile, unable to think about anything other than the fact that I would be sharing a tour bus with this gorgeous guy for the next six weeks.
I remember how Collin watched that first encounter as if he were a spectator at a tennis match: mouth agape, head swinging back and forth as we flirted. Now he makes us repeat Rule #5 every day. If he had a blackboard, I'm sure he would make us write it one hundred times or something.
Despite my pant-tightening introduction to Laurent, Rule #5 isn't really an issue for us. It's not because I'm not attracted to him—I so am—it's just that I soon learned that Laurent isn't always the cocky stud he seems to be.
Collin tried to fill me in, describing how much of a dumb ass Laurent had been with his previous tour group. Apparently, he had a lot of fun testing his theories about how to turn a straight guy gay. Until the guy's girlfriend showed up and caught them in flagrante delicto, and all hell broke loose.
I found out the rest of the story from Laurent himself, over a beer at the Bistro, the only gay bar in Bloomington, Illinois, after our first performance. It was obvious that talking about it wasn't easy, but he shared how Diego, his boyfriend of over five years, had dumped him right before the tour began.
"But what about... What was his name? On the other tour?" I asked.
"Oh, you mean Mike?" Laurent looked down at at his beer. "Diego knew all about it. I made some comment on the phone about how cute – and straight – Mike was, and Diego bet me that I couldn't get him to make out with me. We used to do stupid shit like that all the time. It's fun, or at least it used to be."
He drank down half his beer and then set the glass on the bar, a grimace on his face. "It's flat." He looked around. "This place has definitely seen better days. Let's go, or else Collin will think we're breaking one of his precious rules. Lord knows I broke most of them last time." He shook his head and I saw a fleeting smile as I finished my beer.
We walked back to the bus together in silence, and for the first time since we'd begun the tour, I found myself wanting less space rather than more. The bunks were hardly big enough for one person, but after the revealing conversation we'd just had, I found myself wishing I could share the space. While the bus tires hummed along the back roads of Illinois, I drifted off to sleep, wondering if my wish would come true. Entangling myself with someone lean and lanky and just a little vulnerable might be just what both of us needed.
Not that anything like this will be happening during the current tour, especially not with Laurent. He is still a wreck from losing Diego.
Which brings to mind Collin's favorite Road Rule: Touring makes everyone crazy. Ride the waves as best you can and remember, moods pass. Even after only ten days, I can understand more why this is Rule #1. We all get along better than I expected – so far – but Laurent is in mourning, Riley misses Monica, and Alistair gets grumpier every time Travis, the Whole Foods representative, reminds him that there's not enough room for anybody's special friend on the bus.
Collin never has to bug me about having a special friend. I spend more time cyberstalking than sneaking random hookups onto the bus. I try to be subtle about it by confining it to my bunk time. I don't want to risk the other guys finding out that I'm not actually watching porn in my bunk, like they usually are, but rather replaying Edward Cullen's latest performance videos instead.
Riley and James haven't made a big deal about our experience with Edward, for which I am grateful. I still haven't said anything to them about how we were the pawns in Kate's dealings with Edward. I've been thinking a lot about how much he had to do with our getting hired at Katerina's, not to mention the question of whether he pulled strings to get us invited on this tour. I guess I'm finally beginning to make my peace with it a little. I tell myself that I won't let Kate's deal with Edward bring me down. I try to look on the brighter side: Even if Edward did have something to do with us getting the Monday-night slot at Katerina's, I'm pretty sure he was not involved with the selection process for the tour. Instead, the gig at Katerina's gave us a chance to improve our skills and really coalesce as a group and as performers. I'm just grateful that the tryouts were over before my last meeting with Kate.
I shake off those thoughts and give up on finding the elusive melody when I get a text from Alice. It's the third one already today, as she reminds me yet again that we still haven't sent her a blog entry since we left Chicago.
At first, Alice was sweet about it, sending email messages with lots of hearts and smiley emoticons, reminding us that a blog post was due. Now, she texts almost hourly, each message sounding more irritated as the day goes on. The first two came before I even woke up today.
"Where is the blog?"
"Please send the blog entry. NOW!"
When I didn't hear from her again for several hours, I figured that she'd forgotten about us for another day. No such luck. This time, it's serious.
"Why haven't I heard from any of you, you little shits?"
Sighing, I climb into the bus and set my guitar on the driver's seat as I settle into the matching captain's chair next to it, looking around for inspiration. It's the most comfortable seat on the bus, and we're always arguing about whose turn it is to ride shotgun with Collin. Only two of his rules are about driving: The driver chooses the music (Road Rule #6), and whoever is riding shotgun does the navigation (#7). It's a relief to sit here, swiveling from side to side, while the bus is parked and quiet, except for the snoring. At least I don't have to listen to Collin's mix tape of disco hits from 1977. He's a great guy, but his taste in music leaves something to be desired.
I've been trying to come up with something to blog about for days. When I swivel past the video monitor for the back-up cameras, I realize that my blog topic is right in front of me. I take out my phone and set up the video camera app, then hold it up in front of me and start talking.
It is so cool to be on the road and living in a tour bus. Our new home-away-from-home until the middle of May is a sixty-foot bus that once housed my guitar hero, Pat Metheny, during one of his tours.
The three of us Dust Covers share this unusual home with the four members of Chicagoland, an assistant who also serves as both security and back-up driver, two crew members, and the driver himself. A trailer containing all of our equipment is towed along behind the bus.
This is the view from the front of the bus. Our driver, Collin, is the only one who's allowed to sit in the driver's seat but we all take turns navigating.
I stand up and turn around, looking down the long, narrow corridor toward the back of the bus. The curtain on the nearest bunk moves softly. Collin found a nifty little fan on eBay with a USB plug that attaches to the pull-down screen we each have in our bunks, and he bought one for everybody.
That's Collin you hear in the background, snoring. I'll show you our luxurious accommodations in a moment, but first, here's the front room. As you can see, it has lots of sofa seats and a flat-screen TV. On the left, the sofa is a little shorter because this booth is tucked in next to it. Behind the booth is the galley, or what passes for a kitchen on this bus. Don't blink, or you'll miss it.
I stand in the middle of the tiny kitchen area and focus the camera on the mini-fridge beneath the sink.
Of course, we make use of it by stocking up on necessities—like beer. On the right side of the front room, there's a longer sofa, followed by two very cozy restrooms, each with a toilet, a tiny shower, and an even tinier sink. And by cozy, I mean minuscule.
I open the door of one of the bathrooms, hoping it is not too disgusting to be filmed, and am relieved to see that it looks fairly tidy, although it does not smell great. The chemical toilets can only handle so much, so as often as possible we try to use the rest rooms in the theaters where we play.
We're lucky that we have two bathrooms. Most of these buses have only one. Can you imagine sharing this tiny bathroom with ten guys? No, wait – don't. It's too gross.
That reminds me of Road Rule #8: Everyone showers every day. Laurent told me that this was a new one, but after enduring the funk of almost a dozen unwashed men for two days, I'm very grateful to Collin for putting his foot down on Day 3.
Next we come to the bunk area. If you can believe it, there are twelve bunks in this bus.
I pan across the curtained bunks. There are six on each side of the bus, each closed off by a little curtain. Three up and three in the middle, with storage space at the bottom. The bunks are comfortable, but hardly luxurious. They're exactly six feet long, so that means I never really get to stretch out. It could be worse. Apparently, the bunks used to be even shorter in the "olden days," as Collin puts it.
Each bunk has a window, which is nice, with a snap-on cover to keep out the light. In addition to the tiny TV screen that folds down from the ceiling of each bunk, there's also a small shelf with outlets to recharge our various electronic devices. With headphones and the remote control, it's a warm cocoon for passing sleepless hours on the road.
I quietly pull open Collin's curtain and film him for a few moments, then move toward the back of the bus to continue my commentary. Collin's snoring stops for a moment as he rolls over on his side, then starts again.
As you can imagine, with curtains instead of doors, we get a little better acquainted with each other than some guys might be comfortable with. Three of the guys snore – all I'm gonna say is that earplugs are my best friends.
It's not just the snoring and farting that are clearly audible; we can also hear each other talking on the phone, jerking off, or having full-on bunk sex when someone gets lucky. Sad to say, I haven't been one of the lucky ones.
Beyond the bunks at the back of the bus is a bigger entertainment center – cleverly referred to as the back room – with its own flat-screen TV. Where the front room is somewhat civilized – so that we don't distract Collin while he's driving – the back room is where we can really let our hair down. Guitars come out, along with cases of beer, and we have a great time jamming as the road unrolls before us.
I sit down and slowly sweep the camera around the back room, then point it up the passageway toward the front.
Living on a bus isn't for everybody. When the Whole Foods representative joins us and all twelve of us are on board, it's tight in here. Personal space is pretty much nonexistent. Every nook and cranny is used for storage space. But right now, I wouldn't trade places with anyone.
I email the video blog entry to Alice and await her judgment. It should give us a reprieve from her demands for a while. But I don't want to think about blogging now. My fingers twitch as I try – and fail, as usual – to resist the urge to open my laptop and scroll through the bookmarks for my favorite video. And there he is again, singing. Every time I watch it, I feel a sort of delirium as I try to figure out if Edward really was thinking of me when he wrote that song.
I must be insane. I spent a single amazing night with a piano virtuoso, and have been cyberstalking him ever since. And now I'm convinced that he's sending me secret messages in songs performed in front of hundreds of people on the other side of the planet? All I can do is shake my head and laugh.
"What are you doing in here, laughing all by yourself? And where the hell have you been?"
I look up to find Laurent standing in the passageway. Why would anyone want to break up with him? In addition to being gorgeous, he can be hilarious and fun, but the pain in his eyes when he talks about Diego is as clear as day. I can't help but wonder if that's what I look like when I think about Edward.
"Just contemplating life's little mysteries," I reply. "Why are you here? I thought it was time for the sound check."
"What do you mean, 'exactly'?"
"Your boys sent me to find you. Because it's past time for the sound check, fool."
I close the laptop before he can see what's on the screen. He reaches down with both hands to pull me up, and I admire the shape of the muscles in his shoulders and arms as he does so, thinking that Diego is the fool, to cheat on Laurent and then dump him. Laurent isn't sure that he'll ever get over the break-up. I'm not so sure he will either, but I'm happy to have a new friend.
We weren't scheduled to play here in Evansville until Travis, the genius from Whole Foods, noticed that no one from the company had even thought about developing the market here. He figures that he'll earn some extra brownie points back in Austin by taking the initiative and doing a little advance work. So he booked the Victory Theater at the last minute. It was a great idea – in theory.
The sound check is the first disaster. When I walk in with Laurent, the huge, empty theater echoes with voices from the stage. It sounds like everyone is tuning their instruments and talking – or maybe shouting – at the same time, until Alistair grabs a mic.
"The sound check is for checking sounds. Could you just shut the fuck up while everyone else is checking?"
Ah yes, Road Rule #9. What would we do without Collin's wisdom to guide us every step of the way? That doesn't stop the chatter however.
"What the fuck was Travis thinking, booking this place?" I whisper to Laurent as we walk down the aisle toward the stage. "It must have a thousand seats."
"Nineteen hundred, to be exact," he replies. "Travis was very proudly pointing that out to Alistair when I left to look for you."
My jaw drops. In college towns like Bloomington and Champaign, we've been drawing audiences of about five hundred on a good night. This, on the other hand, is an enormous old-fashioned auditorium with a huge stage. The acoustics are less than stellar. It takes only one glance from James's face to Riley's to realize that they feel exactly the same as I do: completely overwhelmed.
Laurent and I both cringe as discordant noises blare from the speakers. Alistair looks like he's about to go ballistic. The two crew guys come out and fiddle with the cables for a while. We eventually complete the sound check, but the greasy-burger feeling in the pit of my stomach seems to be getting worse.
It doesn't help that everything that could possibly go wrong during our performance does. Riley misses his cue during the one song we play together with Chicagoland. The special fuzz pedal for Laurent's bass guitar goes missing, and Alistair can't find his favorite guitar pick. To make matters worse, the spotlights go off right in the middle of his solo.
To add insult to injury, only about seventy-five people show up, sitting scattered around the theater. We invite them to move down to the front so that the energy is concentrated in one place, but few of them accept our invitation. In that cavernous theater it feels like we're playing to an empty house.
Backstage, after this fiasco finally ends, Travis stands red-faced, embarrassed by his miscalculation and probably worried about keeping his job. He starts arguing with Alistair about what will and will not happen in Nashville next week. The rest of us pack up our instruments and equipment as quickly as possible, then take off into the night, like rats deserting a sinking ship.
Laurent and I stow our gear in the equipment trailer and make our way through the dark, empty streets to Someplace Else, one of Evansville's two gay bars. Ever since the Bistro in Bloomington, we have been searching out local gay venues in each new town, although it's hard not to be cynical about establishments outside of Chicago. We really do have an abundance of choices there.
Along the way I have become Laurent's default boyfriend. Depending on the day, Laurent is alternately moody and morose, or flamboyant and flirtatious. He loves to flirt, which probably didn't help with Diego, even though he says it was a game they liked to play. He never fails to snare the interest of any guy he chooses. However, without exception, every time I think he's about to take off with the latest object of his affection, he gives me a signal to intervene.
I never question his decision when he walks away from yet another good-looking guy. I know what it's like to want to move on, but not be quite ready – or willing or able – to let go. So I play the part when the need arises. On nights when the pickings are slim, we just have a good time drinking and dancing by ourselves. Then, when we show up back at the bus each night, Collin looks us over suspiciously and makes us recite Road Rule #5 again as the price of admission. We usually stand there like naughty children, holding hands and reciting the rule in unison, with me rolling my eyes while Laurent laughs at the absurdity of it all.
Tonight Laurent has been extremely moody, almost crying in his beer ever since we got here. It's not the first time I've spent an hour listening to him extol the virtues of his beloved Diego, but I wish he would get angry too, for all the pain he caused Laurent when he left him, and for whatever led up his departure.
I've matched him beer for beer, and eventually I have to go to the men's room. I'm not really paying attention to the guy who comes in behind me as I step up to the urinal and unzip my jeans.
"Want some help with that?"
Startled, I turn, my dick in my hand, to see a tall, beautiful boy looking hungrily at me as he takes a deep breath and carelessly rakes his fingers through the long black hair that falls into his eyes. I noticed him earlier, dancing with another guy. I caught him checking me out a few times, but from the way they were grinding against each other on the dance floor, the last thing I expect is for him to come on to me.
"Where's your boyfriend?" I ask as I turn back to empty my bladder.
"He's not my boyfriend," he insists. "We're just friends, I guess." He takes a step closer as I finish. I turn and stand facing him, still holding my dick. "I haven't seen you around here before."
"Just passing through."
A look of disappointment flashes across his face. "I'm sorry to hear that," he says in a soft voice as he walks toward me. "But you haven't answered my question."
I try to remember what his question was as I look down and watch his hand wrap around mine. It's warm, and strong, and I don't think about the fact that a stranger is touching my cock. I just think about how good it feels, and how long it's been since anyone touched me like this.
He follows my lead, stroke for stroke, as I get harder. He pushes the foreskin off the head and catches a single clear drop of pre-cum as it emerges from the slit. He brings his finger to his mouth and licks it, moaning appreciatively.
"May I?" he asks, and I grin at the formality of his request in this setting. He doesn't wait for my response. Instead, he drops to his knees and takes me into his mouth. I groan as his tongue flutters rapidly across the frenulum before he circles the head, then adds suction. I lean back against the wall and reach down to stroke his cheek with one hand while I push that wayward hair off his forehead with the other, the better to see his lips wrapped around my cock.
"That feels so good," I manage to say. He looks up at me, dark eyes shining. He reaches around and grabs my ass with both hands and pulls me toward him as his lips slide further down my dick until his nose is touching my belly. My toes curl as his suction increases, and I can't help but thrust my hips forward. "Is that okay?" I ask him.
"Mmm-hmm," he hums, the vibration of his voice serving only to add to the feeling that is building and building. I hold his head as I push slowly into his mouth, pulling back when he gags a little. But he holds me tighter, not letting me get away. I start fucking his mouth, trying not to go too deep, but I know I'm not going to last much longer.
"I'm gonna come," I warn him, ready to pull out if that's what he wants. I groan again as I imagine painting his face with my come, but he doesn't let go, and in a moment I'm filling his throat as he moans around me, then swallows.
He keeps sucking until I can't stand it anymore, and I shudder as I reluctantly withdraw from his mouth. He tucks me back into my jeans before standing up. I'm still leaning against the wall, with a huge smile on my face.
"Thanks, man. I really needed that."
"I could tell," he says with a grin as he washes his hands and rinses out his mouth.
Before I can say anything else, two guys come in and start talking about the drag show upstairs as they use the urinals. Normally, I'd offer to reciprocate, but the moment for that has passed. I wash and dry my hands, then turn toward him. "Listen, I gotta go. My bus is leaving soon." I reach out and touch his cheek, and he sighs. "If you're ever in Chicago, maybe I'll see you at Spin."
"Yeah, I've heard of it. Maybe someday." He turns and walks out of rest room. Now it's my turn to follow him as I go in search of Laurent. He looks like he's deep in conversation with the supposed non-boyfriend of the guy who just gave me the blowjob. The minute he sees me, he jumps up, says good-bye to the guy, and pulls me out of the club and into the street.
"Don't you think we could have asked the bartender to call us a cab before we left?" I complain. I'm exhausted, and I just want to climb into my bunk and crash on the blissful wave of endorphins that are now circulating freely in my bloodstream. The last thing I want to do is walk back to the bus.
"Oh don't be such a pussy," Laurent laughs, grabbing my hand, his mood now much improved. "It's only about three blocks from here, remember? C'mon, we're late. And you know what that means."
Grumbling, I follow along behind him. About a block before we get to the bus, we stop at a convenience store and pick up a couple of twelve-packs of beer. It's like a ritual offering – or maybe just the equivalent of a bus ticket. Anyone who delays the bus's departure for any reason had better show up with beer. After a week of Collin's threats to leave us behind if we don't comply, it's now a habit.
Collin is not usually in a hurry to take off after a concert. He understands that everyone needs to blow off a little steam after a good set. It's probably even more important after a bad set, like the one we played tonight. Alistair has already informed us that we'll have extra rehearsals when we get to Nashville. I know we'll need the practice if we want to make the most of the studio time we've been allotted.
Alistair is the only one in the bus besides Collin when we get back. Collin has him parked in the navigator's chair at the front of the bus and we can hear him all the way across the parking lot, yelling at Alistair about losing his temper with Travis. Something about not biting the hand that feeds you...
It's a good thing that the beer we brought back is ice cold, because Collin immediately grabs two bottles, twists off the tops, and gives one to Alistair, who scowls at us as we climb into the bus.
Collin doesn't even ask us to recite Rule #5 as he slides back into the driver's seat. "You have to pace yourself," he tells Alistair. "Touring makes everyone crazy. That's Rule #1, Alistair. You know this."
Alistair's grumbling gets louder when James returns to the bus with a startlingly pretty girl.
"What's his problem?" I ask Laurent as we carry the rest of the beer back to the galley.
"Alistair is just jealous," Laurent explains as he stows the rest of the beer. "He wanted his girlfriend to join us in Nashville, but Travis said no. She'll fly in for a couple of days in Myrtle Beach after Travis takes off, and he'll be fine after that."
I toss my jacket into my bunk and grab my guitar and laptop, then head toward the back of the bus. I settle back on the sofa, start plucking the strings and thinking about how fortunate Alistair is to even have someone to bring on tour with him. Not all of us are so lucky. Abruptly I stop strumming, my fingers poised above the next chord as I realize what I am thinking. Since when have I wanted to be part of a couple?
I sigh. I think I know the answer to that: since I met Edward Cullen.
Instead of lingering on that, I open the laptop and enter the notes I was playing this afternoon. Something is still missing. I pick up my guitar and tune it, then strum a few chords, trying to figure it out. The main melody has been in the back of my mind for a while now, begging to be played. I run through it again, then shake my head. It's still not quite right. I'm about to try again when I realize that I have an audience.
"You listening to this? I ask Laurent. He's leaning against his bunk, watching me as I play.
He nods, then moves into the back room to sit down beside me on the sofa. He stretches out a hand. "May I?" he asks.
I hand him the guitar. A minute later, he has modified a couple of the chords, and the bridge suddenly emerges.
"That's awesome!" I delete some of the chords I'd entered on my laptop and try to capture the perfection of what I'm hearing now before I forget it.
At the front of the bus Collin can be heard shouting out the door at the stragglers. "Get your asses on the bus, assholes. And everybody better be bringing some fucking beer." On nights like this, he sounds like a raging alcoholic, but he never drinks more than one beer before he drives.
The wisecracks roll in as Riley and the others climb on board and start stowing bottles in the mini-fridge. When the tour began, we quickly learned that there's also a huge cooler under one of the seats in the booth. Collin usually fills it with ice while we perform, and we refill it each day with water, sodas, and beer. On the road, hard liquor is just that: hard. Hard on the head and hard on the stomach. Not to mention hard on whoever's turn it is to clean the bathrooms.
According to Collin, Road Rule #10 is: If you feel like shit all the time, drink less. You'll play better and feel better. Of course, we didn't believe him at first. It wasn't until he started to enforce Rule #11 – You puke, you mop – that we finally came to our senses. So now we stick to beer. And only after a show, not before. Because he's right, of course.
Riley wanders back to join us and starts texting with Monica. He's almost as cranky as Alistair sometimes, missing her, but she's doing a huge performance art installation at a gallery next week so she had to stay in Chicago. Before we left, I started wondering how faithful he would be on tour – after all, there are beautiful girls in every town – but he seems content to spend almost every free minute texting or phoning or Skyping with Monica.
Now if we could only get him to sleep in his bunk, all would be well in the world. Somehow he manages to roll out onto the floor of the bus almost every night, his heavy thud waking even the soundest of sleepers wearing the world's best earplugs. Or maybe it's his shocked cry, and Collin's laughter from the driver's seat, that startles us awake every time.
James has already disappeared into his bunk, shedding clothes as he goes. We can hear the girl giggling as he "works the Jamesian magic," which he explained to us with a straight face one night in Chicago. I don't understand what they see in him – he's not really that good-looking, and his sorry excuse for a ponytail is hardly an enticement – but he really is a chick magnet everywhere we go. It started back in Chicago when we were performing at Katerina's, and since the tour began, hardly a night goes by that he doesn't have a little female companionship on the road between performances. He fucks them and gives them bus fare to get home and then starts all over again in the next town.
We watch as Collin begins his nightly head count to make sure everyone's on the bus before we hit the road to Nashville, but he trips on a pair of jeans in the corridor and loses his shit. He picks up the jeans and yanks open the curtain on James's bunk. James is sprawled naked on his bed. The girl is naked too, and her mouth is busy working James over, but she still manages to let out a pretty noisy scream. The space seems impossibly small for sexual gymnastics, but somehow he always manages the contortions necessary to reach his happy ending.
"Rule #12," Collin growls as he throws the jeans at James. "Respect public space in the bus. Don't leave your shit lying around, you fuck."
James just grins as the rest of us burst out laughing. The girl tries to pull the curtain out of Collin's hand and yank it closed again, but he hangs onto it a moment longer.
"Nice boobs," he observes, before letting go of the curtain. The girl pulls it shut and barely misses a beat before we hear James moan as she gets back to work on him.
Laurent shakes his head at the whole scene. "That James sure does love the pussy, doesn't he?"
"Oh yeah." I roll my eyes, having grown a bit tired of listening to his nightly live-action porn.
As James gets louder, Laurent's head flops back against the sofa and it's as if he's a balloon with all the air leaking out. He shuts his eyes and takes several deep, shuddery breaths. A single tear runs down his cheek as the Ghost of Blowjobs Past comes back to haunt him.
"Dude." I don't know what else to say. I've never been in a long-term relationship. As awful as I feel about my one-sided infatuation with Edward Cullen, I can't imagine what it would be like to spend five years with someone and then see it end so badly. I turn back to my guitar and focus on the new chords for a few moments.
"Do you have any lyrics yet?" he asks after a few more deep sighs.
I show him the file of what I've written so far and he gets real quiet for a few minutes. I know he's thinking about Diego, and wishing that even the yearning kind of love I'm writing about was true for him too. I just sit there with him, listening to the sounds of the bus.
James is already close to coming, his rhythmic grunts sounding like a drum riff that is accelerating. I can't help but think of the sweet blowjob I enjoyed just an hour ago, and I wonder how long it will be until the next one.
Laurent passes the laptop back to me and I make a few minor changes to the lyrics before checking my email. As always, I can't resist clicking on Edward's website, but there's nothing new. His concert schedule for the rest of the year has been booked solid for months, and I think he'll be playing at almost every major festival on both sides of the Atlantic this summer. But he won't come anywhere near Chicago again until next Christmas.
"Are you finished with your email?" Laurent's voice is low and seductive in my ear. "Or are you just sitting here mooning over that gorgeous piano player?" He snatches my laptop before I can close it. "Ah, he's a pretty one, isn't he?"
I'm busted. "Yeah, he is." Laurent and I have talked a little about Edward. It was inevitable, after he caught me cyberstalking on the third day of the tour. But he's pretty cool about it.
He balances the laptop on his knees, and takes my hand in his. We sit quietly for a moment, watching that amazing video yet again. We both sigh when it ends.
"So, where is your darling boy these days?" he asks. He has that wistful look on his face that he gets when he's thinking about his own darling boy.
"He's not mine," I grumble.
"Oh really? Who else is singing love songs to you from the other side of the planet?"
"You don't know that for a fact."
Laurent sits back and laughs. "Oh Jasper, would it kill you to believe that he really was singing to you and just enjoy it?"
"It kills me either way."
"You didn't answer my other question: Where is he now?"
"He's back in London," I reply, still embarrassed to be caught cyberstalking once more.
"When do you think you'll you see him again?"
A/N: TruceOver, Kate, and faite-comme-moi have entered the beta/prereader Hall of Fame on this one, thanks to their patience, encouragement, and inspiration. TruceOver found the Tumblr site with the wonderful road rules that frame this chapter. Special thanks to Whitlock's Darlin for sending encouraging words (and virtual wine, chocolate, and chocolate wine) that were a supportive nudge toward finishing this challenging chapter. And thanks to all of you who take the time to read and support this story with your generous reviews.