If there’s anything I thought I’d never ever do in my twenty-three years of life, it’d be sitting in a stifling press conference room waiting for the rock band, Black Hurricane, to arrive. It’s not like I had much choice. My buddy, Eric, pulled out all the sympathy cards to get me to go, including a cute puppy dog pout, bribes of dinner at his and Alex’s, and a whole night of free booze at Clash, the gay night club down in South Boston. I could have said no, but Eric’s cute as hell even without the puppy dog pout, Alex’s cooking is to die for, and I’ll seriously need all the booze I can get after this conference. In the end it was the wages Eric promised me for acting as his photographer. I’m running out of oil paint and I could do with new guitar strings. Taking pictures at this specific conference is one hell of a high price to pay though. I can be such a pushover.
It’s not like I’m going to get up close and personal with the lead singer, Dean McQueen, anyway. Eric and I are sitting in the back with at least ten rows of chairs between us and the platform. It seems like every news agency in Boston decided to show up for this, and no wonder, since the star himself is a purebred Bostonian. Eric’s been buzzing about Black Hurricane—or more specifically Dean—and he’s told me half a dozen times that they’re ending their tour in this city, following up with a couple of charity concerts.
Eric pulls his platinum hair into a low ponytail, sky-blue eyes scanning the empty table on the platform. His white skin looks even paler against the deep-red sleeve of his shirt as he tucks a few strands of hair behind his ears.
“I can’t believe this is happening, Jazz. I’m actually gonna see him,” he says, for the umpteenth time.
I roll my eyes as I slide further down in the uncomfortable plastic chair, fiddling with the sparkly pink tag hanging around my neck that screams Glitter Guys Magazine. Eric has a matching one. He made them this morning when he found out he had to have some sort of a tag from the magazine he’s representing. A magazine owned by Alex and run by Eric. The fact that they’re lovers has nothing to do with Eric landing the job, or so he insists.
The buzz in the room dies down as a couple of people walk out on the platform. A red-haired woman smoothes down her grey pencil skirt before she sits at the far end. The second person, a handsome middle-aged man, buttons his matching grey jacket, the white cuffs of his shirt shining against his tanned skin. I can practically taste the anticipation in the room, but there’s still no sign of Black Hurricane.
“Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod,” Eric whispers, craning his neck to see the open doorway.
“Dude, chill. You’re acting like a fangirl,” I whisper.
“I am a fangirl,” Eric squeals, fingers trembling over his mouth as the leather clad members walk in, one by one.
The middle-aged man sits on one of the two middle chairs while the band members slump into the remaining seats, leaving the second middle one free, supposedly for Dean McQueen who hasn’t bothered to show up on time. The middle-aged man leans forward to the microphone and introduces himself as Jack Coleman, Black Hurricane’s manager.
He clears his throat. “Dean will be with us shortly.”
The room erupts with questions and I wonder how anyone is supposed to be able to hear a single thing to answer out of all the chicken squabble.
“We’ll start when Dean gets here,” Coleman says into the mike.
Eric leans toward me when everyone goes back to talking in hushed tones. “That’s the drummer, Maxime Lefevre.” He points at the African American with long brown hair, muscular body and a smile to die for. “Bass player, Lucas Hut.” He nods to a plain looking white guy with an honest-to-God perm in his blond hair, or maybe his hair really is that curly. “And guitar player, Yin Shaolin,” he says, gesturing to the Asian guy with the black hair spikes and vast eye makeup. “Their keyboard player just quit, they’re borrowing someone for the rest of the tour.”
“Are those their real names?” Who’d name their kid Yin Shaolin?
“Only their first names.”
Eric suddenly grabs my thigh and digs his nails into my ripped jeans. “Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod!” he squeals as another band member walks in. He’s wearing a pair of tight leather pants, a crisp white shirt only buttoned in the middle. About my height at five-ten, small hips, thin torso and long legs. His skin is white, but not so white that it’s a stark contrast against the black hair that brushes his shoulders and bangs artfully styled around his narrow face. The confidence oozing from him as he walks is sexy as hell. I wouldn’t mind a half an hour alone with that guy…until I get a really good look at his face and realize it’s him.
Dean fucking McQueen.
The star himself sits his royal ass in the middle, leans forward and speaks into the mike. “Sorry I’m late. Couldn’t find a parking spot.”
The people in the room laugh while all I can manage is a nasty sneer at the lame joke. Then they start asking questions I can’t hear. Nor can I hear the answers. The only thing I hear is that deep voice every time he speaks into the microphone. It’s not that I enjoy listening to him or his music. No way. Every time I hear that voice I want to pick up my guitar and smash it against the wall —not because Dean McQueen inspires me to go nuts with his deep, husky voice and rebellious lyrics. No, it’s because I hate the dude. And I don’t mean just hate; I loathe him. I wish he’d drop dead right this second, preferably choking on his vomit, Jimmy Hendrix style, in front of the press.
“Jazz, take pictures!” Eric pokes me hard in the side with his bony elbow.
I wince and raise the camera, clicking a shot.
“Go to the front, like they’re doing.” He points at the photographers running to the front and clicking madly on their cameras.
Heaving a sigh, I drag my ass off the chair to walk forward. I rake my hand through my hair before I glance back at the monstrosity on the platform. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be in this position. Suddenly oil paint and new guitar strings don’t seem all that important. I just wanna get out, but Eric needs these pictures for the magazine and I’d rather die than let one of my friends down.
My heart thuds when I see Dean looking right back at me as I approach. His brow furrows as if he’s trying to place me. Typical. Of course he wouldn’t remember me. Why would he? My heart hammers a fast beat as my body breaks out in sweat. The inside of my throat thickens, stopping half of the oxygen from reaching my lungs. And still, I’m having the hardest time looking away.
Am I nervous under his green-eyed gaze? Or is it just the hate? It’s been years since I last saw him.
Not wanting to give the wrong impression of an adoring fan, I narrow my eyes and spew out all the venom I feel for this man into one, hateful glare, just before I raise the camera and snap my shots.
Dean’s eyebrows lift. I don’t know if he’s recognized me. It’s doubtful, since I looked so different back then. He leans behind the Asian guy, whatever his name was, to whisper to the woman who stretches toward Dean. She nods and I swallow hard when her brown eyes seek me out. She lifts a piece of paper on her clipboard and writes something down. What the hell was that? Are they going to sic security on me and kick me out? Just in case, I snap pictures like crazy: of Dean being his smart-ass self, acting indifferent to everything; of the Asian guy telling jokes and smiling with his whole face; of the perm-dude barely saying a word; of the African American with the constant smirk on his lips and an “I-just-came-from-an-orgy” look in his eyes; of the red-haired woman scribbling notes, and of the owns-the-world manager shooting his mouth off as if he’s doing twenty questions in less than a minute. Single shots, group shots, and even shots of colorful Eric in the sea of blue suits, with his hand raised for a question.
It all seems to pass in a blur. I can only thank my lucky stars that it seems to end pretty quickly and before I know it I’m heading toward the hotel lobby.
“Jazz, wait!” Eric calls and grabs my arm. I look down into his exhilarated face. “Where are you going? We have the private interview to go to.”
“Private interview?” I hardly recognize my own voice.
“Yeah, come on.” He pulls me toward the back, pushing us through the crowd. “I think Dean might be trying to score points with the gay community, you know, after he got outed last year. He’s been doing a lot of interviews with gay magazines, but I was too late to book one. Didn’t know about this conference until last minute. I couldn’t believe it when the assistant came up to me just now and offered a private interview. She said I should bring you to take pictures.”
Eric is yanked backward by my sudden stop.
“Eric, I didn’t sign up for that. Can’t you just take the pictures?”
“What?” he asks, his voice rising in a pitch. “No way, I have like five minutes in there before it’s someone else’s turn. I didn’t manage to get a single question in during the press conference. I have two hundred and sixteen questions prepared. Two hundred and sixteen!”
He clutches a stack of pink stationary to his chest.
“Come on, Jazz. Please. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ll double your pay. Buy you more drinks. Just whatever, I’ll do it.”
Goddamn Eric. Why does he have to be so adorably pathetic when he begs for something? He has this way of looking like someone kidnapped Santa on Christmas Eve. I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose though, like he’s manipulating people or anything. He just has this enthusiasm that infects everyone around him and the world lives or dies with his spirit. It was the first thing that drew me to him.
“Fine,” I mutter after a sigh and push my fingers through my now tangled hair. The light-brown strands are laying in clumps around my cheeks, down to my chin. “Fine, but you owe me drinks. Lots of them.”
“Tonight?” Eric has a huge smile on his face as we continue walking through the less crowded area.
“Not tonight, I’m working.”
“The Flying Frenchmen?”
“Enrique’s Pizza’s,” I reply as we push through an entryway into a long hallway, brushing past the woman in the pencil skirt.
“Oh, tomorrow then?”
“The Flying Frenchmen. Come on, I told you this yesterday when you asked about going to Clash.”
“God, how am I supposed to remember? You have like, six jobs or something.”
The red-haired woman guides us into a waiting area full of reporters and photographers.
“They’re just temp jobs. It’s my last night at Enrique’s tonight. At least for now.”
We take a seat in the corner and begin what will probably be the longest wait of my life. Or the shortest. I really don’t want to go see Dean and it seems that every time you don’t want to be somewhere, time passes way too quickly.
The beige wall is cool against my shoulder blades as I close my eyes. It feels like my stomach is being eaten by critters from the inside. Hundreds of questions run through my mind as we wait. Why were we invited? Did Dean recognize me? Is he going to talk to me? What should I say? Maybe I won’t have to say anything since Eric will do the talking.
“Oh, I love this song.” Eric sighs and looks up to the speakers blasting out a deep, husky voice. The music isn’t loud, but now that Eric’s pointed it out to me it’s impossible for me to ignore it. Dean sings rock, almost heavy metal, but in my opinion his voice would be much better suited for ballads. I’ve only heard a couple of ballads by Black Hurricane, though I flick past the radio channels whenever I can. Damn band is so popular that DJ’s play their songs in clubs and they’re even sometimes on store speakers when I go out shopping. There’s really no escaping them.
“God, he has to be the sexiest man alive.” Eric stares up at a big poster I hadn’t noticed. Dean in all his glory: leather pants stretched over the small bump on his backside, a couple of belts hanging on his hips. His torso is bare, with lots of necklaces hanging to his navel and lots of bracelets adorn his bare arms. A black tribal tattoo curls around his left upper arm and stretches over his shoulder and pectoral. His face is contorted as he screams into the microphone with blue lights shining behind, showering his black hair in a blue glow. Some people look ugly when their faces are contorted like that. Dean is beautiful no matter what and I hate it. Hate, hate, hate.
“Sexier than Alex?” I tear my eyes from the poster.
“No, sexiest after Alex,” Eric corrects. “Just wish I’d have met Dean before meeting Alex so I could’ve had a little fun with him, that’s all,” he continues with a wink.
“Well, if Alex doesn’t mind sharing, I have it on good authority that Dean McQueen is a complete slut. He’d definitely take you.”
Christ, just saying that name out loud makes me shudder in the same way the sound of someone dragging their nails across a chalkboard would.
“Alex and I don’t share. It’s relationship rule number one.” Eric reaches forward to search through his satchel.
“Not even if it’s McQueen?” I ask, pinching Eric’s little purple-jeaned butt as he bends further toward the floor.
“Hands off, Jazz. Alex will kill you if he ever finds out you did that.” He sits back with his satchel in his lap.
“Yeah, right. He’s harmless as a hamster.”
“Hey, hamsters bite hard. My cousin Kaleb had one back in Virginia. That nasty piece of lint not only shit everywhere, it also drew blood every time we’d hunt it down to put it back in its cage. Stupid thing kept breaking out.”
“Hardly stupid if it could figure out how to get out, was it?”
Eric snorts as he straightens up and stretches his body, the whole five foot six of it. “Goddamn it, I can’t find my Sprite. Pretty sure I saw a dispenser out in the hallway. We’re not gonna be called in for hours anyway.”
I push myself out of my seat and hang onto the camera bag as we step out into the hall.
“You’re right though,” says Eric as we stop by the dispenser. “That piece of shit hamster was a devious mastermind, so don’t underestimate my boyfriend. He’s smarter than all of us combined.”
“Smart enough not to let you near his money.” I shoot Eric a smirk as he pops some coins into the machine and punches the Sprite button. The can rolls down into the slot.
Eric picks it up before turning around with his hand on his skinny hip. “Hey, I never ask him for money. I make my own.”
“You’re still in college.”
“Yeah, but hello. I’m also the chief editor of Glitter Guys Magazine. I’m rolling in the dough. I’ve turned that sucker around in only five months. It’s one of the hottest selling gay magazines today. We sold out two months in a row and the subscriptions have more than quadrupled. And that’s not including the online subscriptions. We’ve —”
“Okay, okay, you totally lost me at ‘rolling in the dough’. Fine, you make your own money; you are your own man and all that. Still doesn’t mean you’re not spending it. Are those new boots you’re wearing?”
Eric grins and shows off his shiny new black ankle boots. “Hell yeah. Gucci’s. Alex has a closet full of designer shoes. Wish I could borrow, but his feet are way bigger than mine. Besides, his style is different. Speaking of styles… What do you call yours? Hobo chic? You lose a bet or something?”
He eyes my beat-up sneakers, torn jeans and paint splattered T-shirt. Not exactly a conference outfit, but no one stopped me in the doorway to force a jacket on my back.
“I spend whatever money I make on party clothes, bro. No point in wearing them in daylight. They sparkle so much in the sun they’d make people blind.”
“Uh-huh. And what do you think Dean McQueen will do when he sees you wearing that? He’ll look right past you, eyeball my ass and ask for my number, is what he’ll do. Seriously dude.”
“Dean McQueen can go suck my balls.”
“Not with you dressed like that, he won’t.” Eric pops his soda open and quickly skids backward as the soda fizzes out of the hole and dribbles down the can to form a small puddle on the floor. “Shit.”
“Bro, I don’t need clothes to stand out. I have my gorgeous smile and that just-got-out-of-bed hairstyle. That’s all I ever need to get dates.”
I’m not really this conceited; I just like yanking his chain.
“Well, you just got out of bed. That isn’t style, that’s just you being lazy with the comb. Why don’t you —”
“Eric Wesley and Terrance Nihal Adani?” the red-haired woman asks, checking her list and crossing out a line.
What the hell? We haven’t even been waiting for fifteen minutes. With any luck, they’re kicking us out.
“Actually, Terry couldn’t make it, so it’s —”
“Andrew,” I shoot in before Eric can give my name. If Dean hasn’t figured out who I am, I’m not going to help him. I don’t want him to figure out who I am. But still I kinda do, just so he’ll understand where my glares are coming from.
“This way, please,” she says with a smile, gesturing to a room at the far end of the hall.
“Andrew?” Eric mouths as we walk, a deep frown on his face.
“It’s the guy I was with last night,” I whisper back and give him a wink. “He’s why I just got out of bed before I got here.”
Eric shakes his head and adjusts the strap on his shoulder as we walk to a couple of beefy guys on either side of a door. Security? Seriously?
One of them grabs a hold of the doorknob and opens the door. Eric prematurely gasps as soon as he walks into the dark furnished room, looking around for a sign of the band members. There’s no one inside.
Once the door closes another opens and in walks my nightmare. The guy who ruined my life. My nemesis, as my best friend Cal-Al would say. The critters in my stomach start gnawing on my insides at triple speed.
Dean’s green eyes do a quick brush over Eric before they focus on me with the same quizzical look he had on before. No, he doesn’t know who I am. I let out a breath I’d been holding, relieved and annoyed at the same time. This time I’m prepared and manage not to get caught like a deer in the headlights. I avoid his eyes by pulling out the camera and fiddling with it, trying to make myself appear busy. I can still feel his gaze on me, but only glance up when Eric snaps out of his awe.
“Oh my God, Mr. McQueen. I’m a huge fan of yours,” he says, stepping forward with an outstretched arm. Very professional, Eric. He stops a few inches from Dean, as though he’s not sure if he’s allowed to shake hands with his idol. Dean looks away from me to give Eric another once-over.
“Just Dean’s fine,” he says with a damn sexy smirk, and I swear I can hear Eric squeak a little as Dean takes his hand in a firm handshake. He gestures at the brown couches and they sit down on either side of a coffee table. “The others won’t be in on this one.”
I stand firmly in the doorway. Dean’s acting all fake, being nice and polite. No doubt the room he just came from is full of the patented Black Hurricane booze, drugs, and skimpy little fangirls and boys.
“That’s totally fine,” says Eric with a huge smile as he studies Dean from head to toe. “Um, I’m Eric Wesley, Glitter Guys Magazine, and this is…” He looks over his shoulder.
“What?” I ask, going back to polishing the spotless camera lens.
“Andrew,” I say in a short tone, just to make it clear that I’m here only to take pictures.
“Yes, Andrew.” Eric smiles back at Dean.
“Nice to meet you, Andrew,” says the deep, husky voice that makes me shudder down to the core. Was that a leer? Is that what this is all about? He wants to get in my pants?
Instead of replying, I start snapping shots of Eric and Dean as Eric puts a tape recorder on the coffee table.
Dean shrugs, his green eyes seeking me out again. I thin my lips and continue to take pictures.
Eric asks questions from his list, speaking very fast as if trying to get in as many of his two hundred and sixteen questions as possible before the five minutes are up. Dean is laid back with a hint of the “I don’t give a shit” attitude he always portrays. He seems to be looking into the camera whenever I take close-ups, and when it becomes too much I start snapping pictures of Eric instead.
“Jazz, you’re supposed to be taking pictures of Dean,” Eric reminds me with a scowl.
“Sorry,” I mutter with a sigh, turning back to Dean.
“Jazz?” Dean asks, directing the question at me.
I only hesitate a second before I continue clicking. “Jazzman. Andrew Jazzman.” Shit. That was a close one. I wasn’t known as “Jazz” back then, but the nickname is too close to “Jasper” for comfort.
His eyes run over my body like they’ve been doing ever since I came in. Goddamn it. That is what this is all about. He wants to get in my pants. Or more like, get me out of my pants. It infuriates me, but at the same time I feel like smirking. He so chose the wrong dude.
Available on August 23rd 2013