Dane shifts me and starts walking me backwards towards my bedroom, his lips never leaving mine. My heart rate begins to pick up, but I’m not sure if it’s from anticipation or fear. Fear that this could be a big mistake. Conrad wants me, he says that he never stopped wanting me, and now he’s back and ready to give me everything I ever wanted from him. So why am I doing this? To punish him? To get all the facts before I make my final decision? Am I giving into Dane because he’s the safer option or because I actually want him too? I think I know the answer to that question but I feel bad actually admitting it to myself.
Dane’s fingers start pulling the hem of my shirt and before I can think about it too much, my shirt is already off and on the floor, followed by his own.
“You have no idea how long I’ve fantasized about this,” Dane murmurs, his lips finding their way to my neck.
My voice is lost in my throat, so I just hum a weak acknowledgment before Dane guides me down onto my bed and he’s on top of me. His hands are everywhere, like he can’t decide which part of me he wants to touch the most. I close my eyes and try to get myself into the moment, but all that happens is Conrad’s face flashing in my mind. The way he looked so hurt when I told him to leave. The way he pleaded with me to take him back, and the way he kissed me earlier today. The memory of his hands on me flood my brain, and they felt so good. I sigh at the memory.
“What the fuck?” Dane gasps while pulling away from me.
I open my eyes and look at him in confusion.
“What?” I ask, not understanding what Dane’s sudden problem is.
“You just called me Conrad,” he tells me with disgust on his face.
“No I didn’t,” I claim, at least I don’t think I did.
“Yes. You did Sydney. You just sighed his name right into my god damned ear.”
“Oh!” I gasp. Oops.
“You’re thinking about him right now while you’re with me?”
“I didn’t mean to...”
“Save it Sydney,” Dane mutters, getting off the bed and grabbing his shirt off the floor, “You have to choose. It’s him or me, but I have a feeling I already know the answer.”
Without another word, Dane strides quickly out of my room, but I don’t follow him. A second later I hear my door open and slam shut. I should feel bad, call him back. But instead, I feel relief.
The next day, I spend the entire day going over the events of yesterday. So much happened in one little day. What a crazy way to end the weekend. Now I get ready for my shift at a popular cafe called Reader’s Coffee a few blocks away from my apartment. I decided to get a part-time summer job after graduation otherwise I’d be bored, plus I could use the extra cash. I still have a good chunk of what John left me in my bank account, but I try very hard to use it wisely. I found this place after coming here with a friend. They do open mic nights and she had brought me to a poetry reading. I found that I liked the atmosphere and thought it would make a nice place to spend my time, at least until I found something in publishing. I’ve sent out resumes to multiple publishing houses for an internship, or assistant or secretary position, anything to get my foot in the door and start working towards accomplishing my dream of someday becoming a publisher, preferably run my own publishing house, but I know that is a very long way off. I need actual experience before I can think that far ahead.
A few hours into my shift I realize that I haven’t heard from either Dane or Conrad today. I feel like I handled myself very poorly with both of them yesterday and don’t blame either of them for not wanting to talk to me today. While on a quick fifteen minute break, I grab a cup of coffee and my cell phone and have a seat on a bench just outside the cafe. I stare at the screen and try to decide who I need to talk to. Who do I want to talk to right now? Whose voice do I want to hear right now. Decided, I type out my message.
*I’m so sorry about last night.
I press send and wait for his reply.
All day I war with myself, wondering what my next move should be. I felt like Sydney ripped a little piece of my heart out last night when she told me to leave her apartment in favor of Dane. I understand why she did it, but it hurts all the same. I know I have to earn her trust back, but part of me wonders if she did what she did to purposely hurt me. I consider flying back tonight, but decide against it. I’ll wait until tomorrow like I originally planned, and hope to god she calls me today. I need to know what’s going on, but refuse to push her. I cringe at the thought that Dane was with her last night after I left. What happened between them? Did they fight? Did they make love? Did they break up?
I check my face in the mirror again and grimace. My eye looks pretty bad, it’s a few different shades of blue and purple. My bottom lip is slightly swollen with a small split and I have a bruise on my chin where Dane landed his first hit. That fucking asshole. I could feel his hate for me in every blow he gave me, and I have to admit that I got some satisfaction from hitting him too. I couldn’t punch him out like I had wanted to all those years ago when he helped in outing Sydney and I at the school dance. This will surely raise some questions when I fly back to LA tomorrow night.
To try and clear my head, I opt for a walk. The evening is warm, but theres a slight breeze that hints at the oncoming fall. Just as I’m about to head back to the hotel, I spot a coffee shop across the street, and see none other than Sydney sitting on a bench in front of it. I see that she’s wearing an apron over her clothes bearing the name of the cafe on it. She’s got a coffee cup in one hand and her cell phone in the other, her eyes glued to the screen. Then I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. I reach for it and check the screen. It’s a message from her. I open it.
*I’m so sorry about last night.
I look back at her, wondering if she had seen me and sent this, but I realise quickly that she has no idea that I’m standing right here. I can’t help but smile at this and type back a message.
*Can we talk about it?
She looks relieved, and types back a message.
*How about tonight?
An idea strikes me then, so I don’t reply to her. I watch her as she watches her phone waiting for my reply. She frowns at her phone when it doesn’t come and eventually she goes back inside. After she’s been inside for a few minutes, I dodge across the street towards the cafe and peek inside the window. I look around for Sydney but don’t see her. The cafe is surprisingly busy for a Monday afternoon. Doesn’t anybody work around here? I walk inside and head for the counter. The guy behind the till looks up at me and smiles.
“Hi, welcome to Reader’s. What can I get for you today?” he asks.
I scan the menu above his head for a moment. I hadn’t planned on ordering anything but I could actually use a coffee since I didn’t get much sleep last night.
“Hey, aren’t you...you’re Conrad Riley of Un-Classic Heroes,” he asks excitedly, his voice rising slightly.
“Erm...yeah,” I answer with a shrug. I was hoping nobody would notice.
“Holy crap. What are you doing here? Isn’t your band in LA?”
“How do you know that?” I ask curiously.
“MTV. I wanted to get tickets to your last concert when you were in New York but they were sold out.”
“Sorry bout that,” I say because I don’t really know what to say. I notice a few more eyes turn my way as recognition blooms amongst them.
“Oh wow!” he starts getting flustered, “this is awesome. Can I um, can I have your autograph?”
I chuckle as he fumbles around looking for something. He finds a pad of paper and pen and holds them out for me expectantly. I smile broadly at him and take the items from him.
“What’s your name?” I ask him and he points to his name tag. Duh!
“Dylan,” he tells me anyway and I write him a message and sign it.
“What happened to your face?” he then asks as I hand the paper back to him.
“Long story. Hey, does Sydney Chase work here?” I ask and his eyebrows go up.
“Sydney? You know Sydney? Yeah she works here but the boss sent her on a quick errand to the bank. She left through the back but should be back soon. In the meantime...” he gestures across the room and I follow his gaze. Off in the corner I see a small stage with a stool, microphone and single guitar, “Would you?”
“I uh...I don’t know,” I shake my head.
We are then joined by two more staff members, one with a manager tag on her shirt. It reads Carrie.
“Oh please?” Carrie cuts in, “you have no idea what this would do for our reputation if someone like you played here.”
I scan their hopeful faces and I can’t find it in my heart to refuse them. Oh heck, why not? I sigh in defeat and smile at them.
“I suppose I could do a few songs.”
“Awesome!” Dylan, says, “can you please play My Muse? I love that one.”
Of all the songs he chooses, he happens to pick one of the songs I wrote about Sydney, except Harrison was always the one to perform it. But it’s also one of our more mellow songs which would work as a solo performance. Carrie claps happily and comes around the counter and rushes to the stage. She fiddles with the microphone and taps it, getting the attention of everyone in the cafe.
“Hey guys, sorry about the interruption but this is worth it. We have a special customer in here today, and he has agreed to sing for us. Everyone give it up for Conrad Riley of Un-Classic Heroes,” she gestures to me, and I make my way up to the stage, feeling a bit awkward for some reason. I’m met with applause and even some cheering as I grab the guitar, take a seat on the stool and readjust the mic in front of me. I clear my throat and look around the room, and everyone stares back at me. That’s when I see Sydney appear behind the counter. When she realizes what has everyones attention her eyes go wide in surprise.
“Uh hey guys,” I address them, “I wrote this song a while back about someone who inspires me. She’s My Muse.”
I proceed to sing the song and the room falls silent. I’ve only ever sung this song for the guys before we decided to record it with Harrison on vocals. They all argued that I should be the one to sing it, but I couldn’t do it. It was just after I left her. It went to number one much to my surprise. When I finish, I’m awarded with more applause and loud cheering. I sing one more song after that, then put the guitar down and stand up. As soon as I take a step off the small stage, I’m flanked by people asking me for my autograph and selfies. Not wanting to be rude, I pose for every picture and sign my name for anyone who asks. When I’m finally able, I go back to the counter where Sydney is arranging cups for a display.
“How’d you find me?” She asks quietly, not meeting my eyes.
“I happened to be across the street when you text me earlier and I saw you sitting out front. You didn’t see me?” I ask, knowing she didn’t.
“Oh,” she murmurs, still not looking at me, which is frustrating.
“You wanted to see me and now you won’t even look at me?” I say, and finally she does. That’s when I notice her eyes are glassy. She quickly swipes her sleeve over her face before turning away.
“Conrad I’m at work, I can’t talk right now.”
I know it’s not fair, but I decide to use my celebrity status to fix this. I wander over to Carrie who is watching me and Sydney with curiosity.
“Carrie is it?” I ask, unleashing my most charming smile, which is probably not great right now with the condition my face is in, “would it be alright if I stole Sydney away?”
She giggles nervously and fiddles with her hair.
“Um...I guess so. She’s off in an hour anyway. I’m sure we’ll survive without her.”
“Thank you Carrie,” I say before reaching for my wallet. I pull out all the cash I have, which amounts to about almost four hundred dollars, and stuff it in the shared tip jar. Carrie’s eyes go wide. “For your troubles,” I finish.
“No trouble at all but thank you so much,” she breathes.
I walk back over to Sydney who is now frowning at me.
“That was unnecessary,” she whispers.
“Go get your stuff so we can get out of here,” I order.
She just nods and does as I ask her.
Ten minutes later, she meets me out front.
“Let’s go to my hotel,” I suggest, and she pauses.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Sydney, I just want to talk. Forgive me if I’m not in a hurry to return to your place after being attacked last night.”
She nods in understanding.
We walk in silence the few blocks to my hotel. I can tell she’s nervous as we step into the elevator and take it to the top floor. It’s no penthouse but the room is a fairly large suite, and it’s clean and modern. She stands awkwardly near the couch but doesn’t sit down.
“Have a seat,” I say as I grab two overpriced Cokes from the minibar and take a seat on the couch.
She sits down on the opposite end, and I reach over and hand her the Coke. She murmurs a thank you and sets it down on the table without opening it. She looks tired and troubled.
“Sydney, talk to me,” I encourage softly.
“Last night, after you left, Dane and I almost slept together,” she blurts. It’s the last thing I thought she’d say. My jaw instantly stiffens and my body goes rigid.
“But then I guess without knowing it, I called Dane by your name. So he left”
“Is this supposed to make me feel better? Because it doesn’t,” I reply, trying to keep my voice level.
“No, thats not why I’m telling you this Conrad.”
“Then why? To hurt me?”
“So if you hadn’t said my name, you would have slept with him?”
“Maybe. But that would have been a mistake, I know that now. It was like my heart was speaking to me when my brain wasn’t listening. I was about to make a rash decision, but something inside of me stopped it.”
“And why do you think that is?” I challenge. I want to hear her say it.
She pauses and draws in a deep breath.
“Because I love you Conrad. I can’t deny it, everything inside of me knows it’s true, and everything inside of me won’t let me love anyone else. Last night I thought that if I just gave myself to Dane, that maybe I could see beyond you, but I couldn’t do it.”
Relief washes over me and I shuffle across the couch so that I’m next to her. I feel a sense of deja vu, but at least I know this time Dane won’t be interrupting us. I take her hands in mine.
“Then stop fighting it Syd. Stop fighting me. It can be that simple. It’s obvious what you have to do. You need to break up with Dane once and for all so we can begin the rest of our lives together.”
“Is it that simple Conrad? How do I know you won’t...”
I cut her off by placing a finger over her lips.
“I vow to you, with everything I have and everything I am, that I will never leave you ever again. I will spend the rest of my life proving that to you.”
Before she can respond, I take her face between my palms and kiss her, desperate for her to understand, to believe what I’m saying is true, I pour everything into this kiss. I hear her moan softly before I feel her hands in my hair, holding me against her, and I feel her acceptance as she kisses me back.