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The (After) Life of the Party

“We need to talk,” she said, the most feared phrase in the English language invaded his ears. She took him by the hand into a quiet corner of the arena’s backstage area and waited for her to speak. She seemed resolute in her words, but her hands told him the truth. She was nervous and couldn’t quit playing with her trademark purple jade ring. She couldn’t look at him as she spoke either. He wasn’t paying attention, really, until…

“You’re what? Say that again?” he interrupted her.

“Look, Summers, I’m 30, you’re 21,” she began before he cut her off again.

“What the fuck?”

“We’ve had a good time together on this tour, right?” she blundered on. She was babbling, and they both knew it. During any other time, he’d have found it endearing. But endearing was the farthest thing from his mind right now.

“Are you seeing somebody else?” he fired back.

“No. Of course not, but I shouldn’t have let us go as far as it did.” Her shoulders sagged.

“You mean to tell me that everything we’ve done together meant nothing?” Shit, he was bragging to his mom how amazing she was, and she was going to pull this on him? Screw that noise.

“That’s where you’re wrong. I fell for you, Landon, and that’s where I’m wrong.” She hardly ever called him by his first name. She was serious.

“That’s doesn’t make any fuckin’ sense!” he said as loudly as he dared. Roadies were running past every few minutes, preparing for that night’s show. “There’s like a four-year age difference between Ingrid and Derek, and they make it work.”

“It makes perfect sense. You’ll see it my way. Me, I’m too old for you, and you – you’re young, you still have your whole life to fuck it up as badly as I have.”

“You told me that The Newsies saved you,” he argued.

“But I know what it’s like not to have the band. You had to Love Split Mystery from day one, and you were so sure of it. There was never any other choice in your mind. Everything was set for you. So it’s not that easy for me. I still don’t know if this is what I want to do with my life.”

He started at her disbelievingly, unable to speak because of how stupid her argument was sounding.

“We’ve only got a few more shows on this tour, and I need to know that we can be friends,” she said, hoping to close the issue and walk away within the next few minutes. She was going to fall apart if she didn’t.

He picked up on it but refused to let her go. “I make you come every night. There’s no way I can only be your friend. Being friends is impossible.”

She blushed but stuck to her guns. “It has to be this way.”

“No, it doesn’t. Are you in some trouble? Do you need help? Whatever it is, let me help you.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Landon. You can’t help me anymore,” she replied, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. He reached for her, but she shrunk away. Then, in a blur, she took off running.

“Heyyy Summers!” Derek said at the top of his lungs, as Summers was admitting defeat and simmering in the corner she had left him in. “Sound check-in 5.” He finally saw the look on his best friend’s face and the smile faded from his lips. “What’s wrong, man?”

* * *

By the start of the gig that night, everyone knew that Stella Delacroix had broken up with Landon Summers. They avoided each other, which was difficult to accomplish, as Stella’s band was Love Split’s opening act. The show went off without a hitch, and their fans were none the wiser. It was an open secret that they were a couple, but they weren’t obnoxious about it. So when the fans that were lucky enough to get pictures with them after the show, they immediately went online and started blabbering on their respective official LiveJournals.

The mood on their tour buses was electric.

And not in a good way.

“Do you think I did the right thing?” Stella asked as Katie Deleon – her synth player, best friend, and only other girl in the band – handed her a cup of chamomile tea.

“Do you think you did?” Katie asked diplomatically, settling down on the built-in couch beside her.

“Yes, I think so. I’m going to hurt him sooner or later, and I’d rather be in control of the hurt than have it be some huge like, surprise in the future.”

“You sure about that?” asked Katie, squeezing her best friend’s arm, leaving her to stew in her thoughts.

* * *

It’s a damn good thing they were both in bands that had a promotion to do. After the Year of the Tiger tour ended, both groups split to continue with their respective album promotions. Both Stella and Landon lost themselves in interviews, performances, and videos for their fans on FriendsorEnemies.com.

Neither could get the other off their minds. Stella had hoped time and distance would heal a broken heart, but it wasn’t. She deserved to be alone. She knew it. Why hadn’t he? She had stressed from the beginning what her plans were.

She had spent most of her life alone, stymied by her beauty, intelligence, and overprotective family. Guys fell for her for all the wrong reasons. At least that’s what she told herself. She’d rather be an ice queen to spare herself and them from the heartbreak that was going to happen.

But Summers was different. He was stubborn and fell in love at first sight. She kept her sarcastic and cynical bitch mask on for as long as she could, but he saw right through her. He was incredibly mature for his age, and she called him on it tons of times.

He broke her down and saw the scared little girl hiding beneath. He always kept the smile on her face, holding her when she cried, teasing her if she was taking things too seriously, and overthinking, as she so often did. He was perfect for her, and that was why she had to walk away.

Meanwhile, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. After the initial shock of the breakup occurred, he started talking to other girls he knew before they had met. But he would eventually stop returning phone calls, texts, and emails once he found out their imperfections.

One girl was too clingy. Another was too independent. He even stopped talking to one girl because she was too blond. At least those were the thoughts he comforted himself with. He had the perfect woman, and she walked away from HIM. Her loss, not his. If only he could make himself believe that for one second, he would probably be okay.

* * *

It was at Derek’s 25th birthday party when they saw each other for the first time in months. They were both scanning the crowd for people they knew when they locked eyes. Her heart skipped a beat – as did his – but she wasn’t there for him, she reminded herself. She was there for Derek, one of her good friends. That was all.

The Society was a pub co-owned by their label’s poster boy Dan “The Man” Buchanan and several artists. The party was already off to a great start. Mike from Abstract Theory was the DJ, and cameras were flashing every few minutes. Even George Michael – Love Split’s camera guy – was trying to capture as much as he could.

Summers pulled Derek away from his girlfriend Ingrid and her friends Becky, Natalie, and Donna. “Did you invite her?” he asked in a tortured voice.

“Who?” Derek shouted over the thumping music, already more than tipsy.

“Stella!”

“Yeah, man, we’ve been texting each other off and on since the Tiger tour. She’s still MY friend, you know.”

‘Keep your cool, man, keep your cool,’ the little voice in his head counseled him.

He didn’t believe it for one second.

* * *

The Newsies had become the “It” band of their scene. After toiling away in nightclubs in their native Las Vegas for years, they were discovered by Appleton of Butler 7 during an open mic night at a local club. He slipped their debut EP, ‘Music from Another Room,’ to Dan Buchanan. He immediately hopped on a plane to attend a gig.

Their initial meeting at the Tidal Bar in their hometown had become the stuff of legends.

A drunk Stella announced from the stage, “This is for the Dan the Man lookin’ motherfucker out there.” The audience laughed as The Newsies launched into an impromptu cover of “Charge Up,” a song Dan’s band was most famous for. She became embarrassed when Dan introduced himself after the show. She refused to believe him until he showed her his ID card.

They were signed and immediately began working on their self-titled LP. They already had a small fan base on MySpace, but signing to Dan’s Eight Deities imprint sealed their creative fate.

After being impressed with “Music from Another Room” and the demos Dan slipped them, Love Split Mystery asked them to open their Year of the Tiger tour. That’s where frontwoman Stella and bassist Summers fell for each other. During the three-month stint, they all became close friends.

A home movie shot by George Michael spoofed “The Real World” and starred both bands halfway through the tour and posted on YouTube. It was so convincing that people were still talking about it online for months afterward and helped spread the word about the tour and each band.

* * *

And now, watching her work the room was unnerving him. It was difficult to stay away as The Society was tiny.

“And getting smaller by the second,” he thought, sipping on his water.

The party itself was going to be talked about for ages afterward. After he had blown out his candles, Derek got an entirely separate cake smashed into his face from C-Dawg and Liam, the Newsies’ guitarist. Before he could clean himself off, his best friend from The Darkest Corner, Caleb, as well as Ingrid, Stella, and Katie, licked the chocolate frosting right off his face.

Not long after Derek cleaned himself up, Katie stepped outside for some fresh air, and Stella decided to join her. Unfortunately, Summers got the same idea and unwittingly followed them out to the cramped patio.

Her laughter filled his ears just as he rounded the corner to the outdoor area.

“I can’t believe we did it!” Katie was saying.

“Good thing everyone held him down. Derek probably would’ve socked C-Dawg and Kuya Liam if they hadn’t!” added Stella.

“Him and whoever got in the way,” Katie agreed, laughing.

They both turned instinctively when he came upon them. They both froze, as he did.

“Hi Katie, hi Stella,” he began uncomfortably.

“Hello Summers, how you been?” asked Katie. Stella coughed and mumbled her greeting.

“I’m doing okay, I think,” Summers offered. There was a tense silence between the three of them, though nearby partygoers filled it easily.

“Mike asked to take over DJ duties soon. I better go check with him,” Katie said, trying to keep her voice light.

Stella and Summers stood a few feet away from each other in silence for a few minutes as the others carried on around them.

“I heard ‘Security’ on the radio the other day. I didn’t know that was the next single,” Stella offered. Silence didn’t usually bug her because she was used to being a loner. But for some reason, at that exact moment, it did.

“Yeah,” Summers replied. “The label thought it would be a good third single.”

“I figured as much. As soon as I heard it, I knew. My sixth sense, and all.”

“Oh, that’s right,” he said, suddenly remembering. She had the uncanny ability to predict the singles from an album by listening to it without finding out on the Internet. It was a private joke amongst her friends, but she hadn’t been wrong yet.

Her heart was aching to reach out and know that he still loved her; her convoluted common sense is damned. Just being near him was intoxicating. But she couldn’t bring herself to make the first move.

He was debating whether or not this would be the last conversation they would ever have. He had to get over her. Being lovesick just wasn’t right. He had to grow up and let her go. But she was so beautiful, so insecure, so imperfectly wonderful. The things that drove him nuts with other girls were what made Stella irresistible to him. It was ridiculous to feel this way about someone and not have them feel the same way. And if there’s one thing he had left, it was his pride.

Finally, the loaded silence became too unbearable. He turned to walk back inside and away forever.

“Landon?” she said gently.

It was straight out of a movie. She took a deep breath and hurled herself in his general direction. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and their lips met in slow motion. She wrapped her skinny arms around his neck and pulled him as close as she could without getting indecent.

Cheers erupted from everyone on the patio and whoever could see outside as they kissed on the barely lit terrace.

“I’m all wrong for you,” she blurted out, a bemused expression on her face before he kissed her long and hard again.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

laurel

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