When I knocked on the door, though, all I heard was a soft British voice saying, “Come in.”

“It’s locked,” I said.


“Just a minute,” Killian called.

A few seconds later, the door opened to a thick fug of marijuana stank and a lead guitarist in black silk pajamas – along with his omnipresent guitar and doobie.

“Mornin’, luv,” he said amiably, and ambled back to a seat in the main room.

“Morning,” I said, and looked around the room anxiously. “Is Ryan here?”

“No, he had something to take care of,” Killian said as his fingers danced across the steel strings.

My head whipped around, perhaps a little too sharply. “Something, or someone?”

He smiled. “You know I don’t kiss and tell, luv. But… no. Just some sort of money thing. Banking and such.”

“Oh,” I said, and wondered why I felt a tiny bit of relief.

“You alright?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You seem a bit stressed.” He took the joint dangling from his lips and held it up a few inches from his face, as though offering it to me. “Might I suggest a bit of my favorite medicine for that particular condition?”

I couldn’t help but grin. “Thank you, but no.”

He nodded and replaced the joint in his mouth. “Suit yourself. Anything in particular got you down?”

I was about to say ‘no’ – but then I hesitated. Killian had really opened up to me on the way to Joshua Tree. I knew it was part of the deal we’d made so that he could go tripping on shrooms… but closing myself off to him now, when he was being so kind, seemed rude.

“…I just had a fight with my friend. Well, more like a… an unpleasant discussion.”

“Ah, the bird who knows her herb.”

“Yeah. Her.”

“I like her.”

I crossed my arms. “Yeah, well… I usually like her.”

“What’d she do?”

“It’s not so much what she did, it’s what she said.”

“Which was…?”

I stood there feeling uncomfortable.

Killian patted the cushion on the chair next to him.

I sighed… relented… and walked over and sat down.

“She said I needed to stop living in a fantasy and come back to the real world,” I grumped.

“I myself prefer fantasy to the real world,” he said, right before he took another drag.

“Well, yeah. You’re a rock star.”

“Being a rock star has nothing to do with it,” he said, in that voice pot smokers use when they’re trying to keep as much smoke in their lungs as possible.

I frowned. “Isn’t that the fantasy world you’re talking about?”

“Oh no. Being a rock star is more of a nightmare than a fantasy.”

I stared at him. “What?”

He shrugged. “In some ways.”

This was not computing.

“But – you love music – ”

“Ah, you said being a rock star. You said nothing about being a musician.”

“Isn’t it the same thing?”

He laughed, a funny little snort. “Hell’s bells, no. The rock star bit is pageantry. The music… that’s real.”

“What about playing for the crowds?”

“What about it?”

“Don’t you like it?”

“Of course. But I did that back in Hackney.”

“What?”

“Neighborhood in London. Where I grew up.”

I frowned, still not quite understanding.

He realized that, and smiled. “Meaning that I’ve always been a musician, even when I was that five-year-old who nicked his mum’s paycheck and bought a guitar from the pawnshop. This rock star nonsense, that’s just been the last couple of years.”

“Oh. So… is there any part of being a rock star that you like?”

He paused and thought. “I’d say playing with other rock stars… but we were all just musicians when we first got together, weren’t we? The rock star bit just happened along the way.”

“So you’d be okay just going back to Athens and playing the clubs there, then? Nobody knowing who you are?”

He shrugged. “I know who I am.”

Whoa.

I hadn’t planned on getting this deep at ten-thirty in the morning.

Killian realized how he sounded, and smiled genially. “As long I’ve got my guitar and my herb, luv, I’m a happy man. But that’s enough about me. I seem to remember the conversation started off about you.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

He continued right past my objections. “And what was this fantasy she was so adamant you leave behind?”

I debated saying anything… and kept quiet for five, six, seven seconds…

Killian just waited patiently, strumming away quietly at the strings.

“She says that Derek’s going to cheat on me, and that he can’t be faithful,” I finally blurted out.

“Oh,” Killian said, and settled back in his chair.

He even stopped playing his guitar.

That ‘Oh’ just hung there in the silence like a sword over my head.

“‘Oh’?” I said incredulously. “That’s all you’ve got to say – ‘oh’?”

He winced, then started picking at the strings again. “Perhaps I shouldn’t get involved.”

Now I was getting pissed again.

“Oh, you’re already involved,” I said, irritated. “You got involved the second you got me to sit down and spill my guts.”

He sighed. “You seem like a nice bird, Kaitlyn. And I’m quite fond of Derek. Besides being a hell of a front man, he’s a good bloke.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

“But… I’d have to agree with your friend.”

It was like he’d knocked the air out of me. It took me a few seconds to respond.

“Agree with her about…?”

“From all the evidence I’ve ever seen, Derek’s not a one-woman chap. He’s a bit of a… free spirit, you might say. He’s just wired that way. It’s in his nature.” He pronounced it very British: nay-chuh. “And it’s in your nature to…”

I waited, on the edge of my seat.

He didn’t finish his thought, but sat there looking like he was thinking hard.

“It’s my nature to what?” I said, a sliver of aggression in my voice.

He made a face, like he knew he’d stepped in it, and now he regretted going out for a walk in the first place. “Have you ever heard the story about the scorpion and the frog?”

“What? No – what’s that got to do with – ”

“So there was this frog, see, on the riverbank. And he’s just about to swim across the river when this scorpion comes along and says, ‘Hey, mate, can you ferry me across the river on your back?’

“And the frog says, ‘But you’re a scorpion.’

“And the scorpion says, ‘So?’

“And the frog says, ‘You’ll get me halfway out there and sting me, you right bastard.’

“And the scorpion says, ‘No I won’t – if I sting you, you’ll die out there, and I’ll drown along with you. I’m not gonna sting you ‘cause it’ll be the end of me, too.’

“The frog thinks about that for a moment and finally says, ‘Alright, then, I guess I’ll take you across.’

“So they’re halfway across the river when suddenly the frog feels this horrible pain and realizes the scorpion’s gone and stung him. And as he starts to go numb and can’t work his legs anymore, he croaks out, ‘You stupid git! Why’d you sting me? Now we’re both going to die!’

“And the scorpion says, ‘I’m sorry… I couldn’t help it… it’s in my nature.’”

It’s in my nay-chuh.

Killian fell silent, watching me expectantly, with only the plink of his guitar strings filling the air between us.

“I do know that story, Killian,” I said, fighting to keep calm. “I didn’t know what you were talking about at first, but once you started telling it, I remembered.”

He brightened the tiniest bit. “Oh, good. So you have heard it.”

“Yeah. And they always use it to point out how fucking stupid the frog is. Which apparently is me.”

He got an alarmed look on his face. “What? No – ”

“So apparently Derek’s a scorpion, and I’m the dumbass sleeping with him, waiting to get stung.”

“No, no, no,” Killian said hastily. “No, you’ve got it all wrong – ”

“Really? You mean, it’s not a parable about how idiotic it is to get involved with somebody who’s just going to hurt you, even when you know it ahead of time?”

“The point is, the scorpion’s not bad,” Killian explained. “It acts according to its nature. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just a scorpion.”

“People generally agree that scorpions are bad, Killian.”

“Only because they get stung when they mishandle them. But people like grasshoppers, don’t they?”

“…what?”

“People like grasshoppers, don’t they?” he repeated, then added, “More than scorpions, anyway.”

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