Joel Ricki has decided he's had enough of being in foster homes. A few weeks before his eighteenth birthday, he plans to grab a bus to anywhere. Before he does, he has only one desire, to see The rock group Unhinged in concert. He doesn't have a ticket but he's not going to let that stop him. In fact nothing will stop him from seeing the band that saved him.
Stone Lewis is the frontman for Unhinged. He is gorgeous, and talented. It appears he has everything. Yet he can't sleep at night and he drinks too much. Consumed by guilt and grief, the nightmares remind him of the brother he lost in a horrific car accident two years ago. Then Joel Ricki shows up on their tour bus and everything changes.
Joel watched the sheer white drapes billow out around the window as he gently swung back and forth in the hammock. The motion was soothing. The complimentary bottle of wine he was drinking was almost empty now. He knew he should get up and go inside. He had work to do. He just didn’t have enough energy right now, physically or emotionally.
The moonlight cast beautiful patterns across the Trans- Atlantic Ocean. It was an incredible spot, the sand so warm, the water azure blue and turquoise. It took your breath away. But he was struggling to truly appreciate all it had to offer.
He was alone, but he’d asked for solitude. He’d powered down his phone. No calls, no messages, no e-mails. He couldn’t do it right now. It took everything he had to take the next breath without it feeling strangely painful. He needed time to disconnect emotionally from the only family he’d ever known, and it felt like someone was ripping the flesh from his bones.
It had only been a week and already the silence was softly killing him. He finally stumbled out of the hammock, putting down the bottle and walking back inside through the balcony door. On the table was his notebook and pen. Even now, he still wrote that way, pouring out his emotions onto the empty blue lines. Writing was his therapy. It had always made it easier to endure suffering. But writing wasn’t helping this time. He’d started writing a song yesterday and he’d ended up in tears.
Strange because he’d never been prone to crying. Even at twelve when he’d found his mother dead with a needle sticking out of her arm, he hadn’t cried. He hadn’t cried the first time some John had sex with him without any lube, either.
But he was crying now.
You never miss what you’ve never had. He’d written that line, then crossed it out, deciding it was cliché. Joel picked up the pencil again. Tavis had given him this pencil because it looked more like a pen. “You pen the words,” Tavis had told him, joking, “not pencil them, Joel.”
Joel pulled his shoulder-length, dark curly hair back into a ponytail. A very prominent pop star had commissioned a song from him, and he hadn’t even started it. For the past year, he’d been writing songs, and Unhinged had turned one of them into a hit. Now, other popular singers were asking him to write a song for them. Joel couldn’t quite believe how much they were willing to pay.
The four guys who made up the band Unhinged were responsible for giving him this future. He was grateful. Songwriter’s royalties allowed him to finally be independent, pay for this luxurious hideaway in Jamaica, buy a car.
These guys had become his family, the only family he’d really ever had. And now, aside from his promising new career as a songwriter, he felt as if he had nothing.
Joel put the pencil to paper.
You gave me this life, you taught me love, helped me to grow, showed me happiness, loyalty, friendship. You loved me as a brother. I need more. I love you as a lover. And now, I have to leave you.
His nineteenth birthday had been so much more than he’d ever dreamed. A big cake, the beautiful quilt the guys had given him as a gift, and Stone. It was unexpected. Joel still wasn’t sure why it had happened. There was Carmen, the new girlfriend, who had been telling everyone that Stone was ready to propose to her, yet Stone spent the night in Joel’s bed.
The night of his birthday, Stone had held nothing back. He gave Joel everything that he’d ever dreamed of, and more. It wasn’t as if they’d never kissed, or even fooled around, but this was different.
Joel could still taste Stone on his tongue, smell his skin, and when he closed his eyes, Stone was inside him again, coaxing joy from the very core of his being. God, I love you so much. Joel loved Stone in so many ways, and he knew that Stone loved him back, but like a brother, a friend, not as a lover.
Was it his birthday gift, Stone giving his body to him that night? If it was, it was one hell of a present. Was it a pity fuck? Stone had always known how Joel felt about him. Joel had never been able to hide it. But after that night, Stone was distant, hiding himself away in the music studio in the basement. Joel was convinced Stone regretted what had happened between them. And that hurt so damn much.
Then there was Carmen, a new singing sensation who’d been signed with the same label. She was talented, beautiful, and completely obsessed with Stone. She asked Stone to collaborate on a song with her, and it was a hit. After that, they were seen out together in public, photographed, looking like a couple. The tabloids screamed that Carmen was Stone’s girl, and Carmen never missed an opportunity to encourage them.
“He’s going to propose,” she told Joel one day. “I’m sure he’s going to announce it on my birthday.” When Joel only shrugged, Carmen added, “I know you slept with Stone on your birthday. You are in love with him. It doesn’t matter to me. He can fuck all the guys if he wants, but not you, never again.”
Joel narrowed his eyes. “You are pathetic. As long as Stone puts that ring on your finger, you’ll share him with other men?”
She smiled. “As long as he comes back to my bed in the end. There has to be rules.”