“I just want you to not be a dick about it.”

“If you don’t like it, leave,” he repeated.


“That’s all you’ve got to say?”

He leaned over slowly, and got right in my face – so close I could smell the scotch on his breath.

I was a little intimidated, truth to tell, but I stayed there nose-to-nose with him. No fucking way I was backing down.

And if I’m telling the entire truth, I was also half-expecting him to kiss me… which made my heart race even more.

“Did you change your mind from last night?” he asked quietly.

“No,” I snapped.

He smirked. “Then that’s all I’ve got to say.”

He stood up and walked away.

GOD I hated him.

And wanted him more than ever, for reasons beyond my understanding.

33

Irvine was like the night before, except on a smaller scale.

There were a few differences. For one, Ryan’s family wasn’t in attendance. For another, the concert was at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, which is what its name suggests: an amphitheater outdoors. There’s the main stage, then a lot of chairs arranged in stadium seating with an aluminum roof high overhead. Beyond the seats is a wide open grassy area where people sit on lawn chairs or blankets. So the evening was going to basically be an outdoor concert.

But other than that, it was mostly the same.

The bus arrived shortly before six. The band got off and waved to a bunch of screaming fans, signed a few autographs, then went to the stage. Sound check, with Miles running around screaming at people. Dressing rooms, where a ton of food (including a platter of Big Macs and a bowl of one third red M&M’s, two thirds orange) was waiting. Mike was already there, chowing down on filet mignon tidbits.

“You’re still here,” he said with fake surprise.

“Yup.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t said something ‘reporter-y’ yet and pissed Derek off enough to throw you out.”

Little did he know.

“Guess it helps you’re a hot chick,” he laughed.

I wanted to be irritated with him, but, again… little did he know.

The opening band was already there, too. This time it was a girl with blue hair and tats, and a bunch of skinny guys with long hair in their eyes. They gushed effusively, Derek was super-friendly, a good time was had by all.

Except me.

The chick with the blue hair was pretty damn good-looking, and she and Derek were awful friendly as they compared tattoos. She even pulled her shirt up to show him the dragon that curled from her hip on one side all the way around to her collarbone on the other.

She wasn’t wearing a bra, FYI. She had enough decency to cover her left nipple with her hand… but she didn’t leave much to the imagination.

Of course, Derek did her the courtesy of stripping down half naked (just like he had for me back in the gyro place in Athens) and showing her the intricate designs on his back.

The green-eyed monster gnawed at my guts a little more.

Another minor twist: Riley was actually friendly. Probably because of the half-topless lead female singer. Riley came over with her Jack Daniels bottle and they all ended up doing shots. And then Killian offered them a toke, and eeeeeeeverybody was having a good old time.

Except me.

And Ryan, I suppose. He smiled and laughed along, but he seemed like he was kind of out of place. At one point he even looked over their heads and caught my eye, and raised his eyebrows with a smile – like, Oh well, gotta play the part.

I smiled back at him, then went back to silently seething.

It didn’t get any better. Several fairly famous actresses popped by, a couple of big rock names, at least one rap star – and they were all fawning over Derek. He was eating it up, telling stories, making everybody laugh, being the star of the show before he even set foot onstage.

It all came so naturally to him. He was in his element: putting on a performance, no matter how big the audience.

For the first time, I actually started to feel down. Like, How can I compete with that? I’m not like that… I’m not a part of his world…

And then I remembered, the whole point of what happened last night was that I wasn’t going to be part of that world. I chose not to be one more lay in his long line of conquests.

Still… I was feeling kind of depressed.

The opening act went on, slightly stoned and drunk. Riley fixed her mohawk with some styling gel, Killian doodled on his guitar, Ryan went through his pre-show ritual of stressing out… and Derek flirted continuously with the steady stream of hot chicks parading backstage.

At one point, I realized my jaw hurt from clenching it so hard.

Why are you being like this? I reprimanded myself. Stop being pathetic!

Easier said than done when you’re watching the hot guy you want get hit on by a dozen totally gorgeous models.

Finally the time came.

The band strode out to roars and screams, with Killian playing the opening guitar part to ‘Paradise City’ by Guns ‘n Roses – which is what they opened the show with. It was weird at first hearing Axl Rose’s high-pitched vocals in Derek’s rumbling voice, but after you got used to it, it was pretty fucking awesome. Riley was absolutely insane as she thrashed the drums.

The crowd went wild.

Especially the women in the pit. They reached out like last night, with Derek moving almost-but-not-quite close enough for them to touch, their fingernails brushing the denim of his jeans. A thousand screaming females, their pretty faces lifted in rapture, their arms outstretched, willing to do anything for their god.

I seethed in silence a little more.

The band followed up with some of their own hits, but interspersed the show with a variety of covers. ‘Black Dog’ by Zeppelin. ‘Last Night’ by the Strokes. ‘More Human Than Human’ by White Zombie (without the female orgasms, though I’m sure plenty of Derek’s female fans would have been happy to supply them). ‘Helter Skelter’ by the Beatles.

And then… halfway through the show… Derek threw me for a loop.

“Hey, I wanna do one for my dad,” he said to the crowd. “He used to live in Southern California, and this was a song he used to sing for me… probably more than anything, this song led me to be what I am today… so… thanks, Dad.”

And then the band did ‘Under The Bridge.’

I stood there on the edge of the stage and just watched, mesmerized, as 15,000 people in the audience sang along. Thousands of people held cell phones and lighters over their heads, and the audience was suddenly a sea of tiny points of light swaying in the darkness, a community of souls held together for three minutes by one beautiful song. And the way Derek sung it, it was beautiful… and wrenching. Heartbreaking. It reminded me of that day in Ryan’s basement, and the story of his father, and all the pain and the joy I’d felt so long ago in Athens.

For a minute I let go of my resentments and my anger, and just let the music take me over.

By the time Derek was finished, I was wiping tears off my cheeks.

Then they went on to more of their own hits, and more covers, and played non-stop for almost two solid hours.

But before they were finished, there was one final surprise.

“I sang ‘Under The Bridge’ for my dad. This next one’s for a girl I know,” he told the audience.

And as he looked back towards me from center stage, the band cut into a song by Cheap Trick.

‘I Want You To Want Me.’

I was floored.

After all that bullshit on the bus… after chewing me out at band practice… the whole ‘if you want me, you make the first move’…

Then he goes and sings ‘I Want You To Want Me.’

He kept looking back at me as he sang it, almost taunting me with it.

The crowd loved it. The entire amphitheater sang along to the chorus, shouting it back at him.

I didn’t know how to feel.

Elated? Yeah.

Angry, definitely – for having the balls to sing it after the ‘pretty fuckin’ please, shut the fuck up’ speech.

Confused, for sure.

More than anything, though… I wanted him to be telling me the truth.

34

The concert was over and the band went backstage to shower. I didn’t get an invitation this time – in fact, I barely got any recognition that I existed. Derek just smiled faintly as he and the others walked past me, and then they were gone.

I went backstage and waited.

It was all the same as last night. The women waiting in line. The famous people, the rich people, the beautiful people. The rockers and the actors and the celebrities.

The band showed up and things went crazy. Drink, food, drugs, alcohol.

I kept to the periphery as more half-naked women threw themselves at Derek.

The longer I watched, the angrier I got – not to mention more and more jealous with each passing moment. It felt like he was doing this to spite me – waving all these hot little boob-jobbed playthings in my face –

And then I remembered ‘I Want You To Want Me.’

A little voice in the back of my head whispered, You know, YOU were the one who threw him out last night.

YOU were the one who spurned all his advances.

YOU were the one who said ‘no.’

Another voice almost shouted, But he’s going to hurt me!

And then I realized: THAT was the problem.

That voice.

And what it was saying.

Not the part about getting hurt – because that part might be true.

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