Authors: Lane Hayes
Tags: #gay romance
By Lane Hayes
Rand O’Malley dreams of superstardom. He hopes to one day sing the blues like a rock god. Moving to New York City and hiring a new manager are steps to make his dreams a reality. But nothing moves as fast as Rand would like, and everyone has opinions, for example that he should keep certain pieces of himself quiet if he plans on making it in the Big Apple. Like his bisexuality.
Will Sanders is a gifted musician who dazzles Rand with his ability to coax gorgeous notes from an electric guitar one moment and play the piano like a professional the next. He’s a geek, but Rand isn’t concerned about Will’s pressed exterior clashing with his tattoos. His focus is music. Yet there’s something about Will that makes Rand think there’s much more to the quiet college student than he lets on. As Rand’s dreams begin to materialize, he’s forced to reconsider his priorities and find his own kind of truth. One that might include Will.
For Claire, because it’s your turn. Your beautiful heart is a gift I cherish every day. May the music inside you inspire you to reach for your dreams.
There is nothing like a dream to create the future.
closed with a quiet click that echoed through my skull as though it had been slammed shut. I listened to the happy chattering voices around the worn wooden table and even managed to nod a couple times with what may have passed for a smile, but I couldn’t shake the feeling this wasn’t a good idea. I knew to trust my instincts. I knew better than to nod my head and agree with the majority because it was easier than admitting we were making a mistake. But I kept quiet.
For ten seconds.
“It’s not gonna work.”
Tim cast his eyes at the cracked, discolored ceiling, then smacked his forehead on the table for good measure before turning to me in utter disbelief. I wanted to laugh. Tim was easily riled. His facial expressions and over-the-top slapstick reactions cracked me up. He was convinced I lived to torment him. I did. Most of the time. But I wasn’t teasing anyone. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I just couldn’t shake the feeling something was off.
“Please tell me you’re fucking around,” he begged, combing his fingers through his dark hair in frustration. He rested his cheek on his palm and gave me a sideways, pleading glance.
“Rand, you are fucking insane! This is the fifth guitarist we’ve auditioned. He’s by far the best of the bunch. You know it! We sounded pretty damn good together. Listen to the recording again. Listen to—”
I stood abruptly, accidentally knocking my chair over in my haste to move. I felt trapped. Like a caged animal. The room was too small, too cramped, and I was about to come out of my skin.
, I thought before rounding on the two men looking at me with a combination of worry and dread. My bandmates, my comrades. I couldn’t let them down by agreeing to keep the peace. I had to go with my gut.
“Terry’s good. But that’s all. He’s not amazing. He’s not special. I don’t think he’s the man.”
Cory sighed heavily but managed to look slightly cooler than Tim, who was now scowling at the table. “Rand, we need a guitarist. We have studio time booked, and no offense, but you don’t play well enough to make this work. Your strength is being the front man with a kickass voice and sexy moves that make the girls wet and the guys hard. You’re great at the occasional rhythm guitar, but we need someone full-time to handle lead. You can’t do it all. We know our roles. I play bass, Tim drums, and you sing. And write. And find us gigs. It’s too much for one guy. You’ve got to start delegating.”
“Yeah. You’re trying to do too much, and nothing’s getting done now.”
Cory was right. I
taken on more than I bargained for. Moving to New York was a big fucking deal. But it was a risk we had to take if we were going to take our band, Spiral, to the next level. Cory, Tim, and I had worked our asses off to get this far. We had a small and loyal fan base. In Baltimore. In New York City we were nobodies. We were starting from scratch. This could be the chance of a lifetime, but it was going to take big fucking balls to make things happen. This was the place. And now was the time. If we could make it in this city, we could make it anywhere.
However, the lack of a steady, reliable guitarist was an issue. A big one. Our previous one was currently doing his third stint in rehab, and our backup guitarist was my best friend, Seth, who only agreed to play with us occasionally to help me out. He lived in DC with his boyfriend now and had kindly informed me there was no way in hell he was moving to the Big Apple to do me a solid. I was on my own. While Tim and Cory were invested in making a go of the rock-and-roll dream, at the end of the day, Spiral was mine. My band, my songs, my lyrics, and my vision. They were counting on me to lead the way, and for the first time in a long time, I was lost. I was caught between following my instincts and doing what was necessary to keep forward momentum.
“Look, we told Terry he’s got the gig, so it’s his for now,” I said with a heavy sigh. “I’m just worried he doesn’t have the drive. He seems like the type who’d like to drag out his adolescence for as long as possible. He takes pottery classes, works at Starbucks during the day, and likes getting stoned in his free time. That’s not the résumé of someone who—”
“Are you kidding me?” Tim pushed his chair away. “You work at a fucking bagel shop! Were you looking for a NYU grad with an MFA in music?”
I snorted, thinking both Tim and Cory could pass as college students with their short-cropped hair and clean-cut good looks. Their preppy sweaters hid copious ink, but the conservative attire was in deference to the chilly January weather, not a fashion statement. My longer hair made me the odd man out. But like them, I was dressed in a thick black sweater and even wore a beanie on my head. The temperature outdoors hadn’t risen above twenty degrees in a week. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt warm.
“My bagel stint is temporary. And it keeps me out of trouble. Give me shit and I’ll conveniently forget to bring home the oat bran with jalapeño cream cheese tomorrow, asshole.” I waited a beat for the finger I knew he’d flash me before continuing. “A degree isn’t necessary, but I want someone serious. I don’t want the drugs, the nonstop parties, or people who are in the game for a quick thrill. I want this to be something important. Something real. I have to trust we’re all on the same page. I know you guys are but….”
“Hey. I get it, but we have to keep the momentum going.” Tim crossed his arms over his chest. “We’re wasting time. Renting the studio to practice isn’t cheap.”
“Nothing in this city is cheap,” Cory grumbled.
“Thus the bagel job.” I swiped my hand over my stubbled chin in frustration. No one said the road to success would be easy, but it would be nice to get on the fucking path already. “Okay. We’ll start practicing with Terry tomorrow, go over the contract with the new manager the day after, and somewhere in there, I’m going to take guitar lessons.”
I ignored their shared eye roll as I reached for my coat.
“Actually, it’s not a bad idea. It’ll keep you from thinking too hard,” Cory snarked.
“Why don’t you ask the guy who referred Terry? The college kid. What was his name again?” Tim draped his red-and-black scarf over his neck and pulled his gloves from his coat pocket.
“Um…. William Sanders,” Cory replied. “The girl we met at that bar on Delancey referred him. She said William was a maestro. Unfortunately he wasn’t interested in playing with a band. He’s working on his degree. Terry graduated last year, I think. Or maybe he dropped out, but he went to school with them too. Remember Holly? The hot chick with huge—”
“You’re telling me we’re taking referrals from cute girls with big tits to find our Eric Clapton. No wonder I’m skeptical.” I shook my head in mock disbelief.
“You got a better idea? You didn’t like any of the other guitarists. At least you didn’t hate Terry. Step in the right direction,” Cory said, opening the studio office door with a goofy grin on his face. “By the way, I said hot… not cute. I asked her out.”
“Look at you, Romeo.” I pinched his cheek hard and chuckled when he punched my arm.
“Yeah, yeah. So let’s find you something to get you out of the apartment in case… you know.” Cory turned a funny shade of red as he turned to walk down the narrow corridor to the elevator.
Tim and I wolf-whistled as we followed him. “No, I don’t know. Spell it out. You hoping to get lucky?”
“Fuck off.” He pushed the button hard, then made a production of pulling out his cell and typing a message.
“Aw. Don’t get cranky. We’ll be good roomies, right, Timmy? We’ll find ourselves a nice little bar while you entertain your friend, and maybe you can return the favor.”
“Gee, thanks. I just sent you William’s info. I still had it in my phone. Call him. If he can teach you how to change chords without fumbling… hell, I’ll blow him. And if he’s gay, sexy, and unattached, all the better.”
“For who?” I asked, rolling my eyes. “I told you I’m playing by new rules for now. I’m not looking for a man. Or a woman either.”
“Well it wouldn’t hurt for you to find something or someone to do to keep your mind off the fact New York City didn’t open her arms and legs the minute she found out Rand O’Malley had finally arrived.”
I smacked him upside the head as we jumped into the empty elevator. Cory was a shit, but he was right. I had to stay busy. And productive. My part-time gig at Bowery Bagels was mind-numbing at best, but I could only write and practice for so many hours a day. Taking lessons would be a good diversion for me. New York City wasn’t short on things to do, but I had to stay focused. And if things with Terry didn’t work out, maybe I’d learn enough to take Spiral from a quartet to a trio and put the never-ending guitarist search behind us.
working with the same two guys was a challenge. We were crammed into a tiny two-bedroom, one bath apartment in the lower East Village. It was a fourth-floor walk-up with low ceilings and paper-thin walls, and in January, it was a fucking icebox. I slipped on my thick leather gloves, zipped my coat up over my chin, and picked up my guitar case before pushing open the lobby door. I braced myself against the elements, keeping my head down to ward off the chilly wind as I decided whether I should splurge on a taxi versus riding the subway to New York University. At this hour, it was time versus money.
I hailed a cab. I was already running late, and my balls were shrinking at an alarming rate after I’d only walked half a block. It was a no-brainer. Usually I was all about saving a buck and soaking up the ambience. The people-watching in New York City was second to none, and the best way to experience it was on foot. Street by street, every neighborhood was eclectic and brimming with life. Sometimes they were tragically hip, other times they were just tragic. But they were never boring. The city’s energy was invigorating and hypnotic. It made you think you might actually have a shot at being something special. Someone extraordinary.
Maybe it was all in my head, but I swear I could feel it. A pulse, a beat, an upswing in tempo. Something was driving me to keep moving, keep trying. I had a dream, and instinctively I knew this was where it would begin.
“You gettin’ out?”
Oh. Right. I handed over the cab fare to the disgruntled-looking driver without making eye contact. It struck me as a funny thing how faceless people could be in big cities. Cabbies, waiters… hell, the guy working behind the counter at the corner bagel store. Manhattan was a “point A to point B” kind of town unless you were a tourist or an artist who hoped to get paid to catalog details of this diverse city. For those who lived here full-time, details were distractions. True, I’d only been here for two months, but I hoped I never became too jaded to notice how freaking amazing this place was.
I glanced over at the arch monument across the street in Washington Square Park. Snow dusted the ground and benches lining the pathways around the circular fountain. A couple of tourists took selfies under the arch, but otherwise the park was empty—and strangely inviting. A sudden gust of wind quickly changed my mind. I crossed the street and heaved a huge sigh of relief the moment I stepped into the university’s blessedly warm Performing Arts Center lobby.
The center was a stunning contemporary masterpiece of undulating lines in glass and travertine. I set my guitar case at my feet and checked out my surroundings while I waited for my guitar hero, William. There were a few students milling around, but they didn’t fit his description. Tall, skinny, brown hair, with glasses, wearing a plaid shirt. Hmph. I peeled off my gloves and stuffed them in my pockets, then pulled out my cell to make sure I hadn’t missed any messages.
“Um, hi. Are you Rand?”
I eyed the shy-looking guy standing a couple feet away. His rigid posture made him seem taller, but when I stepped forward to shake his hand, I could tell he was closer to my own six foot two. He was perfectly pressed and put together in a designer-label plaid shirt and khakis. The glasses were a sexy addition. He had a nice face. Not super-hot by any means but… attractive. Sort of. I caught him giving me a thorough once-over and wondered if he regretted agreeing to help me fine-tune my guitar playing. The thought made me smile. On the surface, our height and the fact we were both on the lean side were all we had in common. We couldn’t look any different if we tried. I had longish, dark brown hair that skimmed the collar of my sweater, brown eyes, and more tatts on my arms, chest, and back than he’d probably be comfortable knowing about. I was pretty sure the only name brand I was wearing were my Levi’s. Oh and maybe my underwear too, if they counted.