“Jesus fucking Christ. I’m coming.”
I threw my legs over the side of the bed, blinking my eyes into focus, the sunlight reflecting off the white walls burning them. Why was someone banging on my front door before nine in the morning and where in the hell had Heath gone? He should’ve been dragging his ass out of bed to see who’d been banging on it for the last fifteen minutes since I only went to bed a couple of hours ago, after reworking the lyrics for our latest song. Even as the drummer of Jaded Ivory, I did my fair share of songwriting.
I tugged on a pair of shorts and ran a hand over my face. The pounding started again and I forced myself to leave the room to answer the door. I noticed Heath’s door open, the room empty as I passed by. No wonder he hadn’t answered the door. I hadn’t heard his car leave, but that didn’t mean anything. The minute my head hit the pillow I was out cold.
By the time I reached the door, the person on the other side had started yelling and I couldn’t stop my eyes from rolling. A voice I’d know anywhere. I yanked the door open.
“Why didn’t you use your key?”
Mari stood on my porch. Her one hand still raised to knock, the other settled firmly on her hip. She dropped her hand and shrugged. “Because I forgot it. What took you so long?”
“I was sleeping, like most people would if they were up all night.”
Mari was the lead singer of our band, Jaded Ivory, and my best friend. We met in college freshman year. We were both trying to escape the memories of home and grew close pretty quick. She’d been bullied by the jocks in her class. They’d flat out tortured her. Over the years, I watched her shake off that shell and become a brand-new person. Someone with self-confidence.
Mari stepped around me and into the house, her eyes moving around the room, no doubt taking in the pizza boxes and beer cans scattered throughout it. She looked back at me and lifted a brow as I shut the door. “How many all-nighters have you pulled lately?”
The woman knew me better than anyone else in the world. Well, maybe there was one other, but it had been seven years since the last time I saw him. Even if I did, I’d highly doubt he knew or would want to know anything about me now. Not with the way I left.
“More than I can count.”
Mari flopped onto the couch, her nose scrunched up, and she leaned forward, pulling something out from behind her. She lifted a brow, holding up a drumstick. “Nice to know Heath suffers like I used to.” She tossed the stick at me and laughed.
I caught it mid-air, then dropped into the seat next to her. “Very funny. What are you doing here this early?”
“It’s not early.”
“For you it is. We’re talking about a girl who thought that anything before eleven in the morning might as well be dawn. You’d get up and swear no one should have to get up before it was time to eat lunch.”
Mari held up her hands. “Okay. Okay.” She lifted my arm over her shoulder and snuggled into my chest. I couldn’t help but hold her close. It seemed so long since either of us had the time to sit and talk the way we used to.
“I missed this,” I whispered into her hair.
She snuggled closer. “Me too.”
“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing up so early.”
She sighed. “I was lonely.”
I couldn’t stop the chuckle that escaped my lips. “You’re lonely? I’m pretty sure all you have to do is look at Cole and he’s trying to get your clothes off.”
“Pretty much. Except he’s not home. Cole left last night. Hayward has an away game this weekend.”
Cole was Mari’s boyfriend. As a star football player, he had plans to play professional football. At least until he broke his leg. When he couldn’t play anymore, he began coaching. Last year he’d been hired by Hayward, the local university, to coach their offensive line.
“So I’m the backup plan?” I tried to keep the amusement out of my voice, but I should have known she’d see right through me.
Mari sat up and smacked me in the chest. “You’re never the backup plan.” She settled back down against me and whispered, “But I miss seeing you all of the time.”
“I miss you too, but we do see each other almost every day.”
“It’s not the same.”
“I know it’s not, but you’re happy, right?” I asked, a part of me a little jealous, wanting the same happiness for myself.
“So happy.” Mari glanced up at me. “I’m still waiting to hear you found your Prince Charming.”
“I think you’ll be waiting a very long time for that to happen.”
“There’s no one you have your sights set on? We’re in a whole new city. Have you even bothered to look around?”
“I’ve looked,” I said, hoping Mari would leave it alone. Sure, I’d noticed guys throughout the city, but it wasn’t exactly easy to pick them up when you were hiding the fact you were gay from everyone, except your two best friends and Mari’s boyfriend.
“Sawyer, be honest with me.”
“Even if I were looking, how in the hell am I supposed to go on a date without the world finding out?”
She squeezed my waist tighter. “We’re in a bigger city. There’s got to be a way.”
“You know that’s not the way it works. Someone will always be looking to make money off the story if they can.”
“I wish it didn’t have to be that way.”
I tucked my finger under her chin and lifted her face to mine. “It doesn’t have to be. At some point, we’ll have made our way to the top and I won’t have to hide anymore.” At least I had to hope it would be that way, or I’d have to wonder what the point of it all was.
“You shouldn’t have to hide who you are for Jaded Ivory.”
“No, but you have to remember there are two sides to that coin. There are enough bigots in the world. I’d have to worry about it impacting our sales. On the other side, I don’t want to become one of the poster boys for gay musicians everywhere and our sales jump because of who I want to sleep with.”
“Yes, it would.”
She huffed and I pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.
“I know you want to make everything right in the world. This may not be something you can fix.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “You doubt my abilities? I’m gonna figure this one out if it kills me.”
Oh, Christ. Who the hell knew what she had up her sleeve. When Mari focused on something, she didn’t let it go until she got it. At least this Mari did. Fuck, I’ve helped create a monster. Or at least someone who was going to get me into a boatload of shit. The first time I met Mari, she hid behind long locks of blond hair. Afraid of the world. I thought bringing Mari out of her shell might help us both. Maybe it made me a dick, focusing on her to forget all I’d walked away from. In the end, she’d become the woman sitting beside me, ready to take on the world so I wouldn’t be lonely.
And for years, I hadn’t been. Neither one of us was interested in finding love. We both wanted someone in our bed for the night and that was enough. I had a feeling Mari’s goal was to prove she came out stronger than before. Mari’s bullies had taken their toll on her. Especially when Cole showed up in her life. He’d been part of the crew that made her life a living hell. Since he’d found her again, he’d been going out of his way to make her happy and atone for everything he’d done to her.
Nobody was going to tell her she wasn’t good enough again. Me? I just wanted to fuck him out of my head. Not an easy feat when you were hiding who you were from the world. I spent plenty of nights in college driving an hour or two away from campus to find a guy to hook up with. All to keep my secret. Even from the band. At least most of them.
Heath had been my roommate all through college. It would have been impossible to keep something like that from him. Then again, I didn’t want to try and hide that part of me in college. In my mind, three years should have been enough time in the closet. Never once did I consider the implications of being in the band. Like I told Mari earlier, I didn’t want who I chose to sleep with to impact Jaded Ivory.
“Don’t hurt yourself trying. I’d hate to get Cole pissed at me.”
She rolled her eyes. “That would never happen.”
“You have that much control over the poor guy?”
She laughed. “No. He’s glad that you and I were never together.”
“Please tell me he’s not still worried about that.”
Mari’s boyfriend, Cole, had gotten into his head that we were sleeping together. She begged me to tell Cole the truth. Not wanting to be the one thing that drove them apart, I gave in and told Cole my secret.
“Not at all.” She moved to sit farther on the edge of the couch and patted my leg. “Now, you’re going to get dressed and come to breakfast with me.”
“Nope. I’m going back to bed. We have that meet and greet tonight.”
It wasn’t something we could miss. Jaded Ivory had worked too hard to get to this point. Once Mari joined the band, our popularity had exploded, leading to our first recording deal with LiteStar Records.
Mari poked me in the chest. “And you can take a nap later. Now go get dressed. We’re going to get pancakes and figure out how to get you a man without anyone finding out.”
“Mari,” I warned, even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good.
“Don’t even try it, Sawyer. Go. Get. Dress.” She pulled her phone from her bag. “I’ll wait here.”
There was no point in arguing with her. Even if I tried to go back to bed, she’d find a way to wake me back up. “Fine,” I grumbled.
“Just remember, the faster you get changed and we leave, the faster you can get back here and grab a nap before the meet and greet.”
I walked into my room and eyed the bed. Sleep or breakfast with Mari? She had a point. Most of the time we spent together anymore was with the whole band. With her moving in with Cole, we lost that extra time alone. I pulled the T-shirt over my head and tossed it on the bed. I’d sleep later. I may not want to deal with finding a guy for a random hookup, but I’d still take Mari’s company. By Sunday, Cole would be back. No reason to not sleep then.
After a quick shower, I threw on a clean T-shirt and jeans. Mari was still sitting on the couch with her phone in her hand when I went back to the living room.
She looked me over. “Ready?”
I gestured to the door. “Let’s go.”