As I thudded my way down the stairs to the landing at the fifth floor, the door to 5D swung open. "Hey Red," called the guy who lived below me.
He'd told me his name several times, but in my head he was just... 5D.
"Hey," I grunted, letting my suitcase thud down and executing a quick stutter step to save it bashing into my Achille's heel. "Sorry about the noise."
"No sweat," 5D said, grinning his eager grin. "You heading out to your work thing now?"
"So I'm going to have a new neighbor," he mused, pulling his mouth down into a frown, clearly distressed. "Boo. I hope your sub-letter is as cute as you."
"She's not," I deadpanned.
He laughed much more loudly than necessary. "Two whole months? Man, I'm going to miss you, Red. Hope those rock-assholes know how good they have it, keeping you all to themselves."
"They do because I remind them," I said. "They've never had a manager as good as me before."
"I'm sure you're the best in the business," 5D added, clearly kissing my ass.
I shrugged. "I'm up there," I said with a grin.
"Well," he leaned against the door-frame, crossing his bare feet at the ankles. "When you get back, look me up, okay?" He tapped the number on his door. "You know where I live."
I could feel my grin fading a little and tried to perk it back up again. 5D and I had been flirting for months. Why the fuck was he making his move now, at the last possible second when I literally had my suitcase packed and ready to go? Just as I'm about to leave for two months to be with my band as they record their comeback album? Jesus, dude. Your sense of timing sucks.
"Sure," I said and there was no way of masking the wan note in my voice so I didn't even try.
But 5D either didn't notice or didn't care. He just grinned all low-key cool like, like we had reached some kind of understanding, and for what seemed like the millionth time in my adult life I wondered why on earth I couldn't be attracted to guys like him. Normal guys. The kind with decent, stable jobs and and decent, stable egos.
In other words, non-musicians.
So I grinned back. Keep my options open and all that. "Have fun upstate," 5D said with a wave.
"Don't miss me too much," I said loftily and was rewarded with another cocky grin. I lifted my chin and continued my slow progress down the stairs from my sixth floor walk-up, trying to exude as much dignity as I could with a suitcase banging into my ankles. 5D stood in his doorway and watched me as I struggled down the stairs, clearly wondering if he should offer to help. But I didn't wait for him to make a move. I was used to pretending like I had my shit together.
It's how I'd made it this far in the first place. Twenty-five years old and managing one of the biggest rock bands in the industry? You don't get in that position by waiting for people to help you. You have to go out and grab those opportunities for yourself.
With a last grunt of effort, I let my suitcase slam down to the lobby floor. "Success!" I hissed. I was coated in a fine sheen of sweat and more than a little rattled from the constant ankle-bashing. "First thing I do with my bonus is buy a place in a building with a fucking elevator," I muttered as I peered out of the dirty glass doors. The bus wasn't here yet. Thank god.
My phone buzzed in my hand. I didn't even need to look to know that it was Cabot texting me. It was 9:30 in the morning and he would have just finished second period with the girl he was obsessed with. He was convinced that girls were some alien species and that I, as a woman, spoke for all of them. Sixteen year old boys were just a slow-motion tragedy all the way through.
I rested against the railing and checked my phone. Sure enough it was the usual Cab silliness. "What does it mean when a girl says she likes your shoes?" my brother had asked me.
"Probably that she thinks your shoes are nice," I typed back. It was snarkier than my usual responses to Cab, but seriously. My four younger brothers all knew I was leaving today but did that matter? Of course not. So far, as I was rushing around grabbing last minute toiletries, I'd fielded a panicked call from Tate about trouble with his History professor and received three selfies from Simon asking about whether his acne was looking better with the new face wash he was using. Leo hadn't bothered me yet, but that was probably because he was still hung over from the night before. His calls usually came after I'd just managed to fall asleep for the night.
Managing my four immature brothers was the best possible practice for my new job. My skills went beyond just booking studio space and renting limo-busses. I kept them in line.
Wreckage was the first band I'd ever managed. As in, getting paid to manage them, I mean. I'd managed Noah's band - he of the silky, soulful voice and roaming dick - but I'd done that for "love."
Never fucking again.
No, everything with Wreckage was business and so far that was working great. They were, to a man, slightly immature and prone to the usual rowdiness when alcohol was involved, but they had their good points too. Niall, the bass player, was the most level-headed of the bunch, and approached most band decisions with your typical British stiff upper lip. Ewan, the Scottish guitarist, had his bouts of moodiness, but they had gotten much better once he got together with my best friend CeCe. The lead singer was a guy I had hand-picked myself. Hudson was no trouble at all.
It was the drummer that was the problem.
Wasn't it always?
I ignored Cabot's middle finger emoji and swiped my phone screen. 9:33AM. The bus was late. I blew air out of my nose irritably and tapped my toes against the scuffed marble floor. There were a million reasons why a bus could get held up in Manhattan, but I was fairly certain as to the reason why.
"Fucking hell, Jules," I muttered, but the second the words left my lips, a white bus squealed up to the curb with a hiss of air-brakes. "About time!" I shouted as the doors swung open.
My suitcase skidded to the side as I yanked it through the door. "I told you!" I yelled in the direction of the bus as my suitcase lurched this way and that, catching me in the already sore ankle. "Goddammit, you guys we have a really tight schedule." I tugged harder, but it suddenly refused to move. I turned, "Fucking A... what the hell are you caught on you piece of - "
At that moment, the driver appeared out of nowhere to easily lift my suitcase out of the gap between the bus and the curb. I let out a helpless yelp as the sudden lack of tension sent me sprawling up the stairs into the bus. With a curse, I rubbed my sore elbow and looked up to catch a glimpse of dark curls, darker eyes and a big, swinging...
"Oh my god, Jules, where the fuck are your pants?!"