I stood there in disbelief trying to process what just happened. I couldn’t believe he had the balls to disappear all day, leave me worried sick, almost screw up the show for his band, and then act as if it was no big deal. Confused and hurt, I wrapped my arms around myself, wondering where things were headed with us.
On stage, the band exploded into the first song. It was even more energetic, bombastic, and sexual than usual. Within the first few minutes, a woman rushed out on stage. A security guard quickly caught her before she was able to reach Jax, who continued singing and playing without missing a beat. I could tell it was going to make for a great DVD.
I wanted to enjoy the show, but Jax hurt me. I felt like he tossed me to the side like a dirty tissue while he swaggered around on stage, being his typical seductive rock star self, as if nothing had happened.
I promised myself to have a serious talk with him after this show, even if it meant risking everything we've built together thus far. The status quo was simply not going to work, and I was far too stubborn to drop it. But the thought left me deeply distressed, since if we were unable to talk about our problems, I couldn't picture a scenario where we'd be able to work as a couple. But I clung to the hope that Jax cared for me enough that he’d be willing to talk to me, to open up to me, and let me into his world.
I paced nervously backstage during the show, barely hearing the music above the buzzing in my ears. Whatever was going on with Jax, it was clearly not just going away on its own. As the band took their post-encore bows, I waited for my chance.
Jax, guitar over his shoulder, walked offstage to his dressing room. I took a deep breath, steeling myself for this conversation. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I didn’t think I could take another day like this.
I didn’t want to give Jax another chance to blow me off until later. I burst through the dressing room door without knocking. His back was turned to me, his ass looking unbelievably taut in the leather pants from the second act.
When the door clicked shut behind me, he whirled around, wearing a grin, until he saw me waiting there, scowling. With a casual raise of his eyebrow, he took off the leather pants and slid on a pair of distressed dark-wash jeans. He was completely, maddeningly silent.
I tapped my foot anxiously while he put his street clothes back on, but he made no sign of being willing to talk to me—or even acknowledge that I was in the room.
"Do you just want to pretend like none of that ever happened?" I finally asked, exasperated.
Still looking away from me as he ran a comb through his hair, Jax said, "None of what?"
I felt my eyelid twitch. "Do you have any idea how freaked out the band was?" I asked as my voice rose. "They were less than a minute from calling off the whole show."
"That’s on them," he said with a shrug, not meeting my eyes. "If they can’t trust me by now, that’s their problem. I was here on time for curtain, ready to go."
I shook my head in disbelief. "What’s gotten into you? Your band needed you. Where did you go?"
He gritted his teeth, and I saw sweat beading above his brow. "I just needed to be alone, Riley," he growled. "Can’t you understand? Alone? The bus is small enough as it is, and I’m sharing my space. I needed to clear my head."
What was that supposed to mean? Was he trying to blame his disappearance on our sleeping arrangements?
"It’s not good enough, Jax," I said, trying to keep the hurt out of my voice. "You didn’t see how worried everyone was. Do you know what all those ticket refunds would do to your profits, not to mention your publicity? The venue would have been furious. The label would have been furious."
His eyes closed. "Stop it. I don’t want to hear about this."
"Then start telling me what’s going on! Where were you? Why did you disappear today?"
He wouldn’t open his eyes. He wouldn’t say a word. He just sat there, still as a stone. I wanted to cry.
"Is this—is this about us?"
"I figured it was coming," I said, feeling the words tumbling out of me as the tears flowed. "The tour leg will be over soon, and then I’m going back to New York, and you’ll want to break things off before then."
He walked toward me and put his hands on my shoulders. "I don’t know what we’ll do when the tour stops." I felt my stomach sink. "But I don’t want to break up. I promise, everything between us is fine."
"It is not fine," I said sharply, then sighed. "I—I know you don’t think I can handle whatever’s going on, but you’re wrong."
He looked away, a thousand-yard stare that made my heart hurt. What did this to you, Jax?
"Is it drugs? We can get you into treatment. We can do whatever you need to do. Whatever it is, let’s face it together."
His face contorted into a sad smile. "You’re too good to me," he said softly. "But I promise you. The only drugs I’ve done on this tour, you’ve seen me do."
I didn’t understand. Why all the secrecy? Why had he changed so much in a few days? "I can’t help you, Jax," I said as a heaving sob escaped my chest. "I can’t help if I don’t know what’s going on."
He stepped back, and when he looked at me again his eyes were cold. "You’re blowing this way out of proportion. So I’ve been in a bad mood for a couple of days. Why does that mean you have to fix me all of a sudden?"
I swallowed, willing myself to stop crying so I could talk. "I know what a bad mood looks like. This is something else. I know it is."
Anger glinted in his eyes. He started to say something, then stopped. I saw his hands curl into tight fists as his eyes closed and his breath became slow and steady. When his eyes opened again, they were different, somehow—softer, back to the Jax I’d fallen for.
"I’m sorry," he said, looking ashamed. "I’m not going to tell you that you’re seeing things. You deserve better than that, after what that ass**le did to you."
I reached out to his shoulder, my heart beating fast.
He took a slow, deep breath, then another. I leaned against his chest. Jax, please, if you were ever going to be open with me . . .
His breathing was almost meditative. It took everything I had not to ask more, not to push—I knew by now that if Jax was about to tell me, the worst thing I could do would be to push more.
Just as the silence was becoming unbearable, he spoke quietly. "Okay. I think I can handle it now. I’ve got it under control."