“I am a journalist, you know.”

“Fine. Yeah, I’ve done the wild nights and empty sex, and it just doesn’t really hold any allure for me anymore.”


“Seriously.”

“Yeah. Seriously.”

I swept my arm out at the dance floor. “You could have any one of these gorgeous women tonight, and you’re going to tell me that, naaaah, you’re not interested? What are you, a monk?”

He laughed. “I don’t know if I could have any one of them.”

“You could pretty much have your pick.”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

“So why don’t you?”

He looked straight into my eyes, and I could feel the earnestness and warmth radiating from them. “Because it doesn’t mean anything.”

“Explain.”

“I got tired of sleeping with girls ten minutes after I met them. I got tired of waking up next to strangers whose names I couldn’t remember. I got tired of the utter meaningless of it all. There was no depth, no connection… no passion. It was like somebody lining up an endless series of shots on a bar. The first twenty or so were fun… and then you start to get sick of it. Just like alcohol poisoning. And then you realize that it’s doing something to you… making you numb and dead inside, disconnecting me from what I set out to do in the first place, which was make amazing music… and it wasn’t fun anymore. It was just something to do, a way to ease the boredom and the loneliness on the road.”

“Daaaaaamn,” I said, really impressed – and depressed, all at the same time. “You make it sound awful.”

“It was. Well, not at first… like I said, the first twenty were fun. You know what made me stop?”

“What?”

“I’d just slept with a woman I kind of liked. She seemed really cool and friendly, and I was thinking about having her stay the night when I overheard her in the bathroom talking on her cell phone. ‘Guess who I just slept with – the bass player for Bigger!’”

“Ew,” I said, wrinkling up my nose. “Gross.”

“Yeah – but that’s not the best part. There was this pause like her friend was asking her a question, and then she says, ‘No, I couldn’t fuck Derek, he was already with some other bitch – but I’ll use the bass player to get to him, just watch.’”

My face contorted in horror. “OH MY GOD, THAT’S HORRIBLE!”

Ryan just laughed. “Yeah. That was the last time I ever slept with anybody I met the same night. Actually…” He seemed to count off a number. “…that was the last time I slept with anybody I met the same week.”

“So… it sounds like you’ve slept with somebody else since then,” I prodded.

“Yeah, I dated a girl in another band for awhile. We met at a show where they opened for us.”

Kristin Longforth, lead singer of the indie band the Troublemakers, currently doing pretty well for themselves on the Billboard 100. Nowhere near Bigger’s status, though.

Last I’d heard, though, she and Ryan were still dating.

“Aren’t you seeing her anymore?”

Ryan shook his head and took a sip of his beer. “Nope. Broke up about a month ago.”

“What happened?”

He shrugged. “She’s a great girl, it just… it got to be too tough coordinating our schedules. She’s got her life, I’ve got mine… and they just never seemed to sync up.”

I put a hand on his. “I’m sorry.”

He smiled at me. “It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world.”

“Yeah… but it still sucks, though.”

“It does, but… life goes on. Now, tit for tat – what’s going on with you and Derek?”

That was a good question – but not one I wanted to answer, so I neatly sidestepped it. “‘Tit for tat’ – that sounds a little risqué coming from a nice boy like you.”

“I’m thinking of it for the title of the song I’m writing about Derek and his groupies.”

In spite of the little jab of pain it caused me, I laughed. It was pretty funny.

“Or it could be about Riley,” I suggested.

“No, that would be ‘Tats for Tits.’”

I laughed out loud, and searched the crowd, careful to avoid Derek and his circle of debauchery. “Where is Riley, anyway?”

“Hitting on anything with a pulse and a vagina, most likely.”

“What, and hope that she runs across a lesbian?”

“Oh no,” he scoffed. “That’d be too easy. Riley loves seducing straight girls. The girlier the better. ‘Turning ‘em out,’ as she calls it.”

“EW. Does that work?”

Ryan gave me a look like Are you crazy? “Oh yeah. She’s in the hottest band in the world. Of course it works.”

“Yeah, but she’s… ugh. Even if I were into women, which I’m not, I would never sleep with her.”

“Some women would. Some women do.”

“Straight girls,” I said in disbelief.

“Yup. Well… they say they’re straight, anyway.”

“Girls that look like that,” I said, and pointed to the nearest Playboy centerfold wannabe.

“Oh yeah.”

“WHY?”

He shrugged. “She’s famous.”

His words echoed Derek’s earlier assertion: They’re only acting like this because I’m famous… whoever said power is the greatest aphrodisiac had it wrong; it’s fame.

“That’s enough?”

“Welllll… in Riley’s case, because she doesn’t go out of her way to be… um… ‘presentable’…”

“Or even smell good,” I interjected.

Ryan laughed. “Or even smell good… she basically has to play the numbers game and hit on a lot of women. But Riley is perfectly willing to hit on a LOT of women, all day, all night. Plus, she’s dominant and she never gives up. Which seems to do pretty well for her.”

I shivered, thinking what horrors the phrase She never gives up might hold in store for me. “Still.”

“Yeah, well, alcohol helps, too,” Ryan grinned.

“Social lubricant and seduction aid throughout the ages.”

“Yup. By the way, you never answered my question about you and Derek.”

I looked at him from the corner of my eye. “Noticed that, huh?”

“Yeah.”

I smiled. “Hey – I’m the journalist here. I’m supposed to ask the questions.”

“I didn’t ask many. Just the one.”

Dammit.

I shrugged. “There’s not much to tell.”

“Give me a break, Kaitlyn.”

“There’s not,” I insisted. “He wants to screw me, I don’t want to be a cheap lay, end of story.”

He laughed and tilted back his head, then got a weird expression on his face, like Do I do this or not?

“What?” I asked.

He looked at me hesitantly. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, but… it’s not like that with him. Not when it comes to you.”

My face hardened. “Yeah, right.”

“It’s not,” he insisted. “I think it’s safe to say that you mean more to Derek than any girl he’s ever been with in his entire life. I mean, he wrote an entire album of songs about you. I don’t know any other girl he’s written a single song about, ever.”

That was like a punch to the gut.

I could feel my throat tightening and my eyes starting to water. “He said you… you saw what happened to him after we… after I left…”

Ryan nodded. “It was bad. It was real bad. Not suicidal bad or anything, but… I’ve never seen him that depressed. Never. Didn’t want to leave the house, lost his job at the 40 Watt… just sat around all day and watched crappy reality TV. He basically became a hermit for three months. And if you know Derek, that’s not the kind of guy he is.”

“What made him snap out of it?”

Ryan gave a wry little grin. “He got really angry at you and decided he wasn’t going to mope over you anymore.”

Ouch.

“It was like somebody flicked a light switch. One day he was sitting around with two weeks’ worth of stubble and Cheetos dust on his lips, and the next he was showered and ready to go find a guitarist and a drummer and start recording. And the shit that poured out of him… it was dark. At first. And then, finally, the good stuff won out… the good memories. And that was the stuff that eventually made it on the first album. So, yeah, I think it’s probably safe to say that you mean more to him than any other woman that I’ve ever seen him with.”

My heart was racing in my chest. It was filled with pain for Derek… and tenderness… and the hope that maybe, just maybe, I’d been wrong.

Then I made the mistake of looking out at the dance floor.

Reality rudely intruded.

“Great,” I said bitterly. “So I mean more to him than that.”

Ryan looked over.

Derek had his shirt off and was grinding on the floor with five or six different women, their hands running over his bare chest, grabbing the front of his jeans, clutching his ass.

Ryan sighed. “This is going to sound crazy, but… I think he’s doing this because of you.”

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