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It’s black, almost liquid looking, and gleaming in the LA sun, like a sleek, horizontal skyscraper. I’ve only ever seen a tour bus on the highway and I can’t believe how gigantic it looks, looming over us. Maybe my fears of being cramped with eleven guys were completely unfounded. Maybe it’ll be like a rock ’n’ roll palace inside, everything studded and rhinestoned and shimmering. I saw a band special once, where the bus even had a crystal chandelier and a hot tub. How did I even get here? I mean, aside from the four-hour plane ride from Chicago and the completely insane cab-ride-from-hell.
“Are you freaking out?” My best friend Logan’s voice breaks me out of my thoughts. “I can’t wait for you to see it,” he says, pushing me out of the car and into the hot afternoon air. “I dropped my bags off already, but I was waiting on you for the big tour.”
For the nine hundredth time since Logan called me two weeks ago, I wonder if saying “yes” to this crazy idea was the right choice. Who just up and leaves everything to join a band tour for three months? And on national television. The thought of the cameras that will soon surround me sends a flush across my face. “The cameras … they’re 24/7 or just for interviews and stuff?”
“Dunno,” Logan says, hauling one of my bags over his shoulder as I follow him across the parking lot to the last in a row of five identical buses. “But filming doesn’t start for a few days, once all the bands are settled in.”
I’m positive Logan is sick of my questions, but I just want to know what I’m getting myself into. I bet I know more about this tour than he does. Logan probably packed his bags two minutes before picking me up at the airport this morning. I’d be shocked if he even knows which cities his band, Your Future X, will be competing in. I, on the other hand, have been quizzing him for the last two weeks. It’s the most we’ve talked in the last year, since he left school midsemester and moved to LA. I even looked up bios for the other two bands sharing our bus—the four members of Caustic Underground (a hipster rock band out of Seattle), and a folk-rock trio of brothers from St. Louis called The Phillips. Which is not their last name. Or anyone’s first. Go figure. I’m praying they’re nice, even though they’re technically the competition. I wonder what they’ll think about me. Probably that it’s weird an intern is buddy-buddy with another band. “So when do I get this surprise you promised?”
Logan taps twice on the glass door of the bus, and it opens with a loud, breathy sigh. “Right now,” he says, grabbing my hand. Climbing up the stairs into the bus, he pulls me in behind him. “Get your asses out here,” he yells into the empty space. “I’ve got a surprise.”
Before even clearing the last step, the unmistakable shriek of Anders—drummer extraordinaire, childhood friend, and resident loudmouth—assaults me. “The strippers are here!”
Strippers? God, what are they planning to do on this bus? “Sorry to disappoint you,” I laugh as his scrawny body comes barreling down the aisle toward me. “No strippers, just me.”
Anders’s body collides with mine in the front lounge of the bus, almost toppling me over into one of the leather couches. “I can’t believe you’re here,” he says, holding me in a bear hug. My nerves finally start to settle as I’m engulfed in familiarity. I’ve known Anders and Logan since elementary school—of course this will all be fine. Anders has barely let me out of his grip when I notice someone sitting on the couch next to us, long legs stretched out like he’s been here a million times. Eyes that are so brown. And a smile that would probably draw me in, if I didn’t know who it belonged to.
“Hey there, Vee.” I’ve never actually met Your Future X’s bassist, Reese, but from everything Anders and Logan have told me since he joined the band last year—flirt, player, man-whore—I’m not surprised by the look he’s giving me right now. “You’re probably exhausted after your flight.” He looks at me apologetically. “I saved a seat for you, if you wanted to get off your feet,” he says, patting his thighs as he winks at me.
“Seriously?” I say, laughing. “That’s just lazy.”
“Is that a no?” Reese says, giving me a gigantic grin as he pats his lap once more.
That grin probably would have done something for me once. I bet it does the trick for ninety-nine percent of the girls he meets. Maybe when I was seventeen I would have melted for the teasing look he’s giving me right now—or those brown puppy dog eyes. Not today. Seventeen-year-old Vee feels like a different century, even if it was only a year and a half ago. “That’s a no.”
Behind me, Anders is laughing. Logan lets out an exhausted grunt. “She’s like our sister, dude.”
“I guess,” Reese says, shrugging his shoulders. “If you’ve made out with your sister before.”
“Logan Samuel Hart,” I say, turning back to the front of the bus, where my bigmouth best friend is mouthing “sorry.”
“I’m never telling you anything,” he says to Reese, who looks happy with himself.
“You can make it up to me by giving me my surprise,” I say to Logan. “Let’s get it over with, already.”
“Turn around,” Logan says, looping his finger in the air.
Anders is standing between me and the long line of blue-curtained sleeping cubbies stretching out before me, and something about his face changes, like he just remembered something he forgot. “Don’t be mad,” he mumbles, leaving me confused.
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be looking for in the back of the bus. Then it all starts happening: I see a pair of long legs hanging over the edge of the bunk. My body freezes as I look into his eyes, seeing my own confusion mirrored there. For the first few seconds it doesn’t register. Maybe I’m in denial. Or shock. I hate surprises, but this isn’t anything like what I had expected. It’s so much worse. His hair is a darker blond now, cropped shorter than before. His shoulders are broader, the lean lines of his muscles visible under his shirt, and a faint line of hair prickles along his defined jawline. He’s definitely not the boy I knew.
No. No. No.
I can’t breathe. As melodramatic as it might sound, if Logan weren’t standing between me and the door, I’m pretty sure I’d be sprinting out of this bus and across the parking lot right now. My arm twitches as I contemplate knocking him down to make my escape. This can’t be happening. Logan is looking past me, at him, and I can’t even bring myself to think his name. I don’t want even that tiny part of him in my head.
“Surprise!” Logan shouts, to no one in particular, and for a moment I have to wonder if my best friend actually hates me. Seeing him—the last person I ever expected to lay eyes on again—wasn’t in even the top twenty possible scenarios that crossed my mind when Logan called me three weeks ago, promising me a job that would save me from spending summer break back at home with my parents.
“You know you’ll be bored,” he said. “Come help us promote the band,” he said. “We need you,” he said. “It’ll be fun,” he said.
Right. I can’t believe how much fun I’m having right now. As I contemplate what I’m going to do about my dear friend Logan, the guy staring at me from eight feet away is headed my way. Time has run out and I have to figure out what I’m going to do. Just get off the bus. Except the reality is, I don’t even have enough money for a ticket home. No, like it or not, I’m going to be trapped on this bus for the next three months. Even if I made it home, there’s no way my parents would pay for me to stay in Chicago for the summer. I already moved out of the freshman dorm. And at home, I have zero chance of surviving a small-town summer after a year in the city. Stirring up trouble before this bus even leaves the parking lot is the last thing I want. Because I’m out of options. And this is ancient history, anyway.
All I have to do is act normal. He’s just some guy—a friend for a few months, almost two years ago. Two years! I’m not the girl he knew then, and he’s definitely not going to affect me the way he used to. I need to fake it and not give him the satisfaction of anything more than that.
My eyes are on his brown leather shoes, my voice soft. “Hey, Cameron.” I’m trying my best to smile but it feels like my face might crack.
His voice sounds strained, like I said something wrong. “Hey, Vee.”
“Your band’s in the tour too?” I’m unsure of what to say but I need to fill the silence. I force myself to look him in the eyes just for a moment as I mutter, “Small world.”
And really it is, because what are the odds?
“Uh, Vee—” Anders is looking at me like I’ve got two weeks to live and he doesn’t know how to break it to me. “Cam’s in our band?” It’s not a question—he’s gauging my reaction.
Of course he is. The universe hates me.
I’m unable to form a coherent thought. “Oh.” You’ve got this, Virginia. Slap on a smile and get through this.
Logan moves next to Cameron and throws an arm across his back. “We needed to add a fourth guy. We picked him up a few months ago.”
This is the new guy Logan has been mentioning for months?
Logan’s smile is still assaulting me. “Just like old times, huh, Vee?”
I want to smile, to be happy, because I need to believe that Logan really did believe me when I told him Cameron and I weren’t a serious thing. And he thinks he’s reuniting long lost friends; bringing back joy-filled memories. Because if it isn’t that, then he lured me onto this bus for three months, knowing I’d be trapped with an ex-whatever. Logan and I have been friends since we were nine. He knows how to push my buttons, but I don’t believe he has an actual death wish.
I’m trying to smile, but I’m not sure if my lips are actually cooperating, because my eyes are locked on Cam and my brain is screaming, “Punch that asshole in the face!”
Copyright © 2018 by Jessica Pennington