Chapter 1: a beginning, of sorts

A/N: A cheesy love story for my roommate’s benefit… Inevitably cliche and predictable, but my only goal here is to have better writing than Fifty Shades of Grey.

I wake up to sunlight hitting my face. I’m sweating — the covers are too warm, and with the sunlight streaming in through the crack in the curtains, the whole room is stifling. I kick the blankets off my legs and pull a pillow over my face, willing myself to fall back asleep before Curtis does his morning rounds.

I’m almost drifting off again when I feel the bed shift. Fuck. I should’ve remembered when I saw the dark green t-shirt draped over the chair — I’m in Chad’s room. Normally I room with Deirdre, but her boyfriend managed to fly out last night to meet us, so naturally they wanted the room. I was fine with it — still am — and four shots and three beers into last night, I honestly didn’t care where I slept. I could’ve slept on the floor, which, all in all, might’ve been a better option than Chad’s bed.

I should explain. Chad is the lead guitarist and playboy extraordinaire of Ravenlight, an alternative rock/psychedelic pop/sometimes funk band. My brother’s best friend Curtis has been their tour manager for the past two years. His usual photographer got locked into a custody battle with his ex-girlfriend over their daughter and couldn’t make it on this tour, which is where I come in. I’m not exactly your usual freelance photographer, and portraits aren’t really my thing, but Curtis knows me and my brother and sister. Even if I prefer taking my camera to the High Sierras, he knows I’ve lived and breathed photography since I was born. My dad made sure of that. I can compose a shot of trees, mountains, zoo animals, rowdy toddlers, books, wedding gowns, jewelry, whatever you want. So for the past month and the next three, Curtis wants me to take photos of Ravenlight.

Ravenlight is fantastic — I mean, I can’t really argue with traveling and partying for a living. The band plays good music, the venues are fun, their fans are hilarious… not too many downsides to this job. I wouldn’t be taking a quarter off from school if there were. But this, this morning is one of those unfortunate moments that make me wish I were back in college.

Chad is one of those guys that gets every girl he wants because he figured out that he’s good looking. I’m ninety percent sure he blacked out last night, which means if he wakes up with me here, he’s going to assume he got laid. And let’s be real, with a face like his and that much talent, that’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. But trust me, it didn’t happen last night. Even seven-drink Melanie didn’t let that happen last night.

I froze when he moved, but he’s still again now and breathing slowly. I raise my head up slightly, pillow still draped over my head. Deirdre had the presence of mind last night to throw some of my clothes into a bag for me, and I spot it on the floor next to Chad’s duffel. I check myself — bra and underwear: check. Last night’s blouse: gross, but check. Pants… I seem to be wearing pajama pants, so I guess that change happened at some point last night. So that means my jeans are… there, on the floor on top of Chad’s. Great.

I scoot out of bed, trying to make it quick so the mattress doesn’t bounce him awake. My blouse is truly disgusting — dried sweat from last night, Texas humidity clinging to the fabric, and not only that, it smells like someone spilled tequila on it. I can’t believe I slept in it. I strip it off — whether or not Chad was awake when I changed last night, I don’t really care if he sees anything. After summers up at the lake with my gang of best friends, I’d be surprised if I had any shame left. I pull off my pajamas and wiggle into a fresh pair of jeans because last night’s look no better than the blouse.

My phone chimes from the pile of abandoned jeans. I retrieve it and find a text from my friend Tess: “Oriented some freshmen last night. How’s the middle of nowhere?” I smile, fleetingly homesick for college life. “Hot and hungover,” I reply. My phone chimes again: “You? Or is there an anonymous hottie in your bed?” Oh if she only knew…

I realize belatedly that I’ve just been standing here in my bra and jeans, and start digging through the bag in search of a nicer smelling top when Curtis starts pounding on the door.

“Wake up, you pile of shit,” he yells each word in the offbeats. “Breakfast, then we’re hitting the road.”

I find a tank top in the bag and pull it on. Behind me, Chad groans mightily, the sound muffled. When I glance back, he’s got his face smashed into the pillow and his hand stretched out behind him, flipping off the door. Curtis’s pounding stops, then resumes a moment later at the next door over. I pick up my boots from the foot of the bed and pad over to the door in my bare feet, slipping out before Chad even musters the energy to roll over in bed.

Curtis catches sight of me closing Chad’s door and arches an eyebrow at me, judgement all over his face. He’s as much my brother’s best friend as another older brother. I roll my eyes at him and shake my head. “You have that little faith in me?” I ask. He just laughs.

“Long drive today?” I say, changing the subject.

“Nine hours at best,” Curtis answers. I groan, and he frowns down at me. The frown just deepens when I grab his shoulder and use him as a balance post to keep me steady as I shove my foot into one boot.

“You driving?” I ask.

He shakes his head in reply. “I drove yesterday. That plus the show and I’m beat.”

I finish zipping up my other boot. “Whose turn is it to drive?”

He shrugs and sizes up the doors around us. “Chad’s probably, but we’ll see how hungover he is.”

We head down to the hotel breakfast room. I claim a waffle maker before one of the white trash moms can get to it. We’ve been on the road for long enough that I’ve started learning the tricks. Rule #1: Listen to Curtis. Rule #2: When the tour van leaves, be on it. Rule #3: Waffles cure hangovers; white trash makes them worse.

With practiced ease, I spritz the waffle maker with nonstick cooking spray and empty the contents of a portioned cup of batter onto the hot iron. Curtis made the mistake of pausing for a banana on his way over and is now paying the price by having to wait behind the young mother wrestling with her toddler while trying (and failing) to spray down the waffle maker. In my head, I pick up the can of nonstick spray and spritz the kid in the eyes, then spritz the mom for good measure. But the compulsion fades, and I scoot along the line to grab a plate while my waffle cooks.

We’re soon joined in the breakfast room by Logan, Ravenlight’s drummer. Logan is by far my favorite member of the band, possibly because he’s the only one who doesn’t have a stick up his ass. I told him that once, and he joked it’s because he needs that stick for drumming. He’s taller than the rest of the band, about six foot two, topped off with a mop of curly brown hair. He’s been sporting some sort of beard type thing that I don’t understand, and the fans have been calling it his pet hamster (we discovered this last week on the forums and haven’t broken the news to him yet). He has the kind of personality that mellows out with alcohol instead of getting belligerent. He’s a drummer. Steady, reliable, first band member down for breakfast. He’s even showered already this morning. Hell, I haven’t showered yet this morning.

Curtis and I stake out a table in the corner while Logan splits an English muffin and patiently butters each half before sticking it in the conveyor belt toaster. We all have our breakfast routines — at least, the three of us who reliably make it down for breakfast do. Of the rest of the group, Rob concocts protein shakes in his hotel rooms somehow, while Chad’s appearances at breakfast are sporadic at best, Noah’s are only slightly better, and Deirdre is a hurricane wherever she goes.

Speaking of Deirdre, I’m enjoying my maple syrup-doused waffle when my usual roommate storms into the breakfast room in a bathrobe and beelines for the stack of mini cereal boxes. She grabs four without really looking at what brand they are, swipes a carton of milk, and whirlwinds back out.

“Ethan’s here,” I remind Curtis by way of explanation.

He nods vaguely and glances at his watch. “You think Chad’s coming down for breakfast?” he asks.

“More likely him than Noah. Noah managed to snag a UT cheerleader last night.”

Curtis just rolls his eyes. I’m not sure what he makes of the rampant sexing this band does. He doesn’t really seem to care, although it seems like he’s done a lot of grumbling and eye rolling for my benefit. He’s seen me grow up (well, he didn’t see all of it), but some part of him clearly still wants to protect the little girl I was. I kind of wonder if he’d be taking part in the womanizing if I weren’t here… I should ask Deirdre. She’s been the publicist for Ravenlight ever since they signed with Phoenix Records, and she’s been on each tour of theirs that Curtis has managed. She might be privy to some details that my brother Lewis has yet to divulge about his best friend.

We’re still making our way through breakfast when Chad does indeed meander his way into the breakfast room. I don’t actually see him come in — Logan and I are bent over the crossword in the New York Times — but Curtis mutters a soft, “about damned time,” which I figure means Chad has shown up. I glance up, but Logan starts slapping my arm excitedly and points to 37 across.

“It’s ‘exfoliate,’ right?” he demands.

I frown, trying to find the clue that corresponds, when Chad drops my camera in my lap.

“I believe this is yours,” he proclaims.

My brain gets stuck deciding between looking up at him and losing my place on the list of crossword clues. The latter wins out. “Thanks,” I manage to tell him, still scanning the crossword for exfoliate. Automatically, my hands check the lens cap and off switch on my camera. I set it down carefully on the newspaper next to the crossword, where it’ll be clear of any syrup patches or spilled OJ.

“As are these,” Chad says pointedly, finally tearing my attention away from the crossword. I look up at him, and he’s holding my jeans.

I blink. Well that was unnecessary. The camera I can understand, as I usually document everything the band does, even eat breakfast. But I was going to head upstairs to round up my stuff and load up the van after breakfast. Just my jeans aren’t entirely helpful.

His expression is unreadable, though my brain tries to extrapolate. His eyes meet mine easily, no sense of shame or embarrassment, not that I expected either. Actually, I’m not 100% sure that Chad’s even capable of shame or embarrassment. His tone betrays no annoyance; there’s no crease in his brow to indicate he’s at all angry. I didn’t expect those either, but it’s a small comfort to rule them out. Yet I still can’t tell if he remembers letting me crash in his room last night… “Thanks,” I say and gingerly take my jeans from him. They smell like tequila and lime. “Anything else?” I ask, trying to keep the sarcasm out of the question.

He raises an eyebrow, a hint of a smile creeping into his expression. “I think you already know the answer to that.”

There it is — the pleased, victorious tone in his voice that means he thinks he scored with me last night. I suppress an exasperated sigh. Great. Yes, Chad, I do know the answer to that. I know my blouse is on your floor, as are my pajama pants and a bag of assorted clothes. Hints that should point to me crashing in your room, nothing more. I choose to ignore his last comment and return to the crossword puzzle, but he plops down in the seat next to me, turning the chair so he sits with his arms crossed on the backrest. I give up on helping Logan and look over at Chad.

“Yes?” I ask, cocking an eyebrow.

“I knew you couldn’t resist me,” he says smugly.

Curtis and Logan are watching us. I take in Chad’s self-satisfied smirk, and can’t keep an even keel anymore. I burst out laughing.

“Resist you? What are you talking about?” I ask, though I already know what he thinks happened last night.

He looks momentarily thrown by my question, opening and closing his mouth once. Then he motions back and forth between us. “You and me. Last night.”

I let my brow furrow. Oh, I’m enjoying making him power through this, but I think it’s time to let him down. “Chad… you know nothing happened between us last night, right?” I take advantage of his loss for words by continuing. “We were all pretty drunk, but you said I could crash with you since Deirdre’s boyfriend is here.”

Chad is still working this out in his head at this point, so I stab the last bite of my waffle with my fork to give me something to do so it’s not so obvious I’m making a spectator sport of watching him struggle with this idea of sleeping with a girl and not getting any.

Logan reaches around me to nudge him. “Dude, you volunteered. You were too busy being Noah’s wingman with that UT girl to chat up anyone yourself.”

Chad seems to find his tongue again and blinks at me a few times. “My bad,” he says, significantly less smug now. “Sorry about that, Mel.”

I push down the laugh that wants to surface. “No worries. I’m just glad I didn’t have to sleep on anyone’s floor.”

Curtis smiles, and reaches over to pat him on the back. “Melanie, get a picture of this. The rare ‘Bewildered Chad.'”

I laugh but shake my head. Curtis and Logan continue to make fun of him, and he takes it. Finally I scoot my chair back and sling my camera around my neck.

“Have a waffle, Chad,” I tell him. “They cure hangovers.”

One reply

  1. […] Skies Over Kalispell Genre: mainstream fiction/romance Premise: complicated girl falls for rock star bad boy? I bet you can fill in the rest. Started with the goal of writing a romance story with better writing than Fifty Shades of Grey (high standard, that) Pros: plot mostly planned, straightforward but fleshed out characters with some dynamism, same narrator as (4) but a little younger Cons: if I can’t take myself seriously writing fantasy, I can tell you I definitely can’t take myself seriously writing this Existing story bits: 1 2 […]

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