“Jen?” Belinda was first to speak, “Is that really you? It is you! The hair threw me.”
“Hi,” she pushed herself to smile, “Belinda.”
The men didn’t speak. They stood facing at her, with shock on their faces, as they grouped around Drew like a defensive pack waiting for her to attack.
“Woah, Babe,” Chad continued oblivious to the change in mood, “Do you know these guys? Excellent. This party is going to go off. Hey Drey, do you want to jam with me tonight, it can be like old times?”
“Chad,” Jen said carefully, “Why don’t you go and tell Stevie, and the guys, they’ll be psyched to know who is here.”
Drew’s eyes hadn’t left her, but now they narrowed as if he’d understood what she was doing. If the guys all knew he was here, they’d want to meet him. He’d have to go to that party. He’d be busy with them. Which would make it easier for her to avoid him. And avoid him she must.
“Jen, where have you been?” Belinda started as soon as Chad disappeared, “Did you get any of the zillion messages I sent you?”
“As I said before,” she picked up the bucket, “I’m working. The restaurant is that way, and Stevie’s trailer is over there. You can’t miss it, just look for the drunk tattooed men. We’re leaving at three am sharp, so the boys will be drinking hard until we’re loaded and ready to go.”
“You’re working for MacArthur?” Sam asked in a soft voice.
“That’s right, I work for Reed,” Jen lifted her eyes to Drew, “I work for him, not sleep with him.”
“Yeah,” Mark mumbled, “Chad seems to have that job sewn up.”
She didn’t bother replying. She just focused her eyes on Drew as if challenging him to say something about it. Drew didn’t drop his gaze. She was surprised to see no annoyance in it. But given he was with Kay, what reason did he have to be jealous? She sighed as she dropped her eyes back to her task. It was stupid for her to expect otherwise.
“You just left?” Belinda was glaring at her, “Do you know what he’s been through?”
“Um, honey?” Jay moved forward.
“Why didn’t you let me know where you were?” Bee was on a roll, “We’ve been going through hell. How hard would it have been just to send me a text to let me know that you were alright?”
“What he’s been through? You’ve been going through hell?” Jen turned to her friend, standing her five-foot-two body as tall as she could, “Are you serious? This is the reason that I changed my phone number.”
“You brought Kay back into his life,” Belinda growled, “You threw that Bitch at him and left us with the aftermath.”
“Yeah, I threw Kay at him,” Jen couldn’t help but stare at her friend, “That was my mistake, but I didn’t tell him to sleep with her. That was all on him.”
Jay had moved to Belinda and had his arms wrapped around her as he attempted to calm her down.
“Jay, can you please take Belinda towards the food before she starts decapitating people,” Sam spoke, “Sorry Jen, Belinda turns into a rage monster unless she eats every hour, on the hour.”
“Sorry,” Jay mumbled as he dragged Belinda in the direction of the restaurant leaving Jen alone with the remaining three men.
“We’ll leave you to your work,” Sam said as he sent Drew a look, “But before we go, I’d like you to know that he was an idiot. He came to his senses the moment you left. He told Kay that he wasn’t going back, and he went looking for you. He never found you, obviously.”
“Sam,” Drew interrupted, “That’s enough.”
“And he’s not touched alcohol or another woman,” Mark cut in, “Something you said to him, I believe.”
“Mark,” Drew growled, “You both should go and make sure that Belinda isn’t sharpening her teeth on Jay’s bones.”
“Will you be alright?” Sam put his hand on Drew’s shoulder.
“Are you sure?” Mark frowned and looked at Jen with worried eyes.
“Go,” Drew nodded, “Jen, can I have a quick word?”
“If that’s what you want?” she didn’t know why she said that. It was a loaded question.
He was standing in front of her looking at her. She knew it would hurt later but right now she wanted to prolong the moment. She wanted to keep him there for just a little longer and enjoy the fluttering of her heart.
“How are you?” he asked without answering her question.
“Seriously?” she rolled her eyes, “It’s pretty obvious that I’m not pregnant.”
“That wasn’t what I was asking,” he said softly, “When you left, I’d made a mess of everything. I’d stuffed up your life worse than I’d destroyed my own. I just want to know if you’re alright now? Are you happy?”
“Happy?” she rolled the word around her mouth, “Interesting choice of words. Wasn’t that what I wished for you?”
“Yes, I remember,” his eyes didn’t leave her, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but I never did find that happiness. That’s why I’m asking you. I was under the impression that you took it with you. I had it before, but I’ve not seen it since.”
“Then it must be down the back of the sofa,” she suggested, “Did you look behind the cushions?”
“Nope, not there either,” he smiled the first grin that she’d seen on his face in six months, “I looked everywhere.”
“Sorry, can’t help you then,” she smiled back at him, “It didn’t hitch a ride with me.”
“It’s really good to see you,” he said with his smile still on his face, “You’re heading off in the morning?”
“Yeah,” she shrugged, “You know the story. Urban Dysfunction have five more gigs, and then I wrap this contract up.”
“And you and Chad?” he asked without any judgement in his voice, “Is that serious?”
“Chad? You’ve met Chad, right?” she laughed as she asked, “He’s not a serious guy.”
“I’ve missed your blush,” he said with a soft laugh.
“Drew,” she stepped backwards, “I can’t do that.”
“That’s not what I’m doing Jen,” Drew shook his head, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”
She nodded but didn’t say anything as she continued to pack up her stuff.
“Will you be at that party?” he asked, “I’d like to see you again before you leave?”
“No,” she said honestly, “It’s moving night. Chad knows that I don’t party while I’m on the job.”
“What about eating?” he asked, “Do you get meal breaks?”
“Yeah,” she fidgeted, “I do.”
“If you’re free,” he frowned, “Come and eat with us. We’d all like to catch up with you. Believe it or not, you’ve been missed by everyone, not just me.”
“I don’t know?” she whispered.
“Chad can come too, if that’s what you want,” he offered.
“Chad?” she looked up to see if he was serious, “No, he’ll be getting ready to go on stage, and he’s not great in restaurants unless they use plastic tableware. He likes breaking stuff too much.”
“That hasn’t changed,” Drew laughed, “I’d like you to eat with us. I know that Belinda’s missed you and once she realises what she said to you, she’ll be a mess. None of us can deal with her when she’s having a melt-down, not even Jay. You’ll be doing us all a favour if you let her apologise now.”
“All right,” she said the words before she’d thought about it. He was behaving so differently to everything she remembered that she’d forgotten all the reasons why this was a bad idea.
He helped her pick up the buckets, the hose, and the other cleaning equipment and followed her to her trailer. Then he waited while she stored it all and changed out of her bikini into a pair of jeans and t-shirt. She pulled the band out and quickly ran a brush through her hair.
“You look great,” he smiled as they walked without touching, “Although, you’ve lost weight.”
“Yeah, that happens,” she shrugged, deciding not to get defensive as he was just being friendly, “You’re skinnier too.
“Yeah, that happens,” he repeated her words with a small smile.
“And you’re not drinking?” she asked carefully.
“I promised someone special that I wouldn’t drink,” he smiled, “I broke that promise once and decided that I wouldn’t do that again. And to tell you the truth, I don’t like drinking anymore. I did too much stupid stuff while intoxicated. I’m a better person for not drinking.”
“Really?” she laughed, “And are you a better person for not dating too?”
“Maybe,” he lifted his eyes to her, “I hope so.”
“You shouldn’t have done that for me,” she looked away, “I had no right to suggest that you stay single. It wasn’t fair of me to say that to you.”
“That’s not why,” he frowned, “Although you were correct, but that’s not the reason why I’m single. I haven’t been looking. I’m not interested in dating anyone else.”
“Oh,” she dropped her eyes again, uncomfortable.
“You were also right about Kay,” he said without her prompting, “Saying goodbye to her was the closure I needed. She wasn’t happy, but it released me from my prison and freed me from the shackles, that I didn’t even know were binding me.”
“Why did you do it?” she asked then bit her lip, “Sorry, I have no right to ask that. It’s none of my business.”
“I want you to know,” he said softly, “You wished me happiness. No woman has ever done that. You were unselfish, not just with your love, but you would have given up everything for me from your career right down to your work boots. In my experience, it’s always been the other way around. Everyone wants something from me, you asked for nothing but my love and for me to be happy.”
“But you?” she was about to say ‘you loved her’, but she found that the words wouldn’t come out.
“I was an idiot,” he hung his head, “She was nothing more than my past. I realised that as soon as the woman who was meant to be my future, left. I said goodbye to Kay feeling nothing more than disgust for myself and how blind I’d been.”
“But she wanted to be your future?” Jen couldn’t believe what she was hearing and couldn’t stop herself from pushing for more information, as if she was searching for the discrepancies in his claims.
“Kay wanted me to be Drey again,” he laughed, “She expected me to follow her plan and be her ‘doormat’, another thing you were right about. She wasn’t so friendly when she realised that I wasn’t going to play her game. She followed me around and manipulated the media to try and get her way. You would have probably seen the fake news stories she fed them. We rode the storm, but I was worried that you’d believe what they printed?”
She kept her eyes on her feet and didn’t answer that. She didn’t want to tell him how much pain they’d caused her.
“I ended it with her on the same day you left,” Drew emphasised his words with his serious expression, “I wasn’t with her after that night.”
“We’re here,” Jen gestured at the restaurant to avoid responding to what he was saying.
“Yeah,” he grimaced as he opened the door for her.
The table they occupied was loaded with plates of food, some stacked on top of others, but Belinda seemed to be the only one eating. The guys looked up with relief when they saw Drew, and surprise to see her following him. Another chair was brought over to the table.
“Jen, I’m sorry,” Belinda looked like she was nearly in tears, “I was totally out-of-line. Please forgive me. I’ve missed you heaps, we all have.”
“All good,” Jen focused on the plate in front of her, “You had every right to be angry with me.”
“Does this mean that you’re back together?” Mark asked, then he winced as someone kicked him under the table.
“Haha,” Sam forced a laugh as he tried to cover, “So, tell us about your job, Jen?”
She told them all about the tours she’d been on, and the places she’d seen. The guy joined in and shared their experiences with excited voices. There was much laughing. They had toured the same spots over the years, and she relaxed as they talked freely.
After being on tour, she was much more confident than she’d been before. She’d had to eat and socialise with the crew and roadies, nothing is sacred to those guys, and being one of the few women on tour, she’d seen and heard it all. The benefit was that she was now able to sit with these guys and hold her own, in a conversation.
Drew’s eyes didn’t leave her as he listened without adding much. She tried not to look at him. Whenever she did, her eyes got caught on his, like a deer in the headlights. And the deer vs vehicle contest never ended well for the mammal.
At the end of the meal, she gave Belinda her phone to add her number into her contacts, and then stood to excused herself. She had a schedule to keep to. Most of the action happened at midnight when the stage was down and while the trucks were being moved for packing, but she still had some jobs that had to happen while the guys were on stage.
“If you have time,” she cringed, “Can you go to Chad’s party? It would mean a lot to him, especially if you turn up Drew.”
“He’ll be there,” Mark clapped him on the back, “If you’re there?”
“This is my busy night,” she signed, “But I can probably drop in for a couple of minutes.”
“Then, we’ll all be there,” Sam smiled.
She smiled her thanks as she headed for the door.
“Jen?” Drew was behind her as she walked away from the restaurant. She instinctively turned as he put her one of the paper napkins into her outstretched hand, “This is my phone number. I won’t ask Belinda to share yours. If you want to ring me, then I’d love to hear from you.”
“Thanks, Drew,” she looked at the numbers in confusion, “I’m sorry, but I really have to go. I’ll see you at the party later?”
“Yeah,” he stood there looking like he wanted to say more, but instead he just watched her walk away.
She had to force herself not to run. She did have to work, but that wasn’t the only reason for the rush. She felt the weight of his eyes. The phone number was a deadweight in her hand. In giving her this, he was handing her the key to open the door on their relationship again. She could feel the unspoken words on his face and in the scrawled numbers. She couldn’t deal with this today, of all days.
She spent the next hour triple checking things that didn’t need her attention. She knew that she was avoiding the problem, but that was all she could do. Her heart felt like it was bleeding all over again. She couldn’t trust him. She didn’t want to be hurt like that again. She was better off without him.
“Hey Babe,” Chad interrupted her as she was checking the tread on the truck’s tyres, “What are you doing?”
That was a good question. She didn’t need to be doing this. She had a torch balanced in her mouth as she was clambering over the large wheels in the middle of the night, it was irrational for her to be doing this now.
“Come to the party,” he ran a finger down her arm, “I know that you aren’t in the mood, but your friends are there, and I want you to watch me jamming with Drey. It’s never going to happen again, and I want you there for it. Please, babe?”
“Sure,” she knew that if she refused, he’d expect an explanation as to why.
It was a party, more than half the crew would be there, and it was only an hour. It wasn’t like she’d even have a chance to talk to him. All she had to do was go, wave the flag, and make Chad happy by being there to cheer him on.
She undid and re-tied the top-half of her overalls around her waist, she was wearing a black singlet underneath. It was just the crew, and they were used to seeing her in work clothes and steel-capped boots. She washed her hands then followed Chad without bothering even cleaning off the dirt and grease which was smeared on her face.
Stevie’s trailer was party central. He’d strung up party lights between it and the next one and had plastic chairs set up underneath for the guests to his regular drinking sessions. It was rare not to find a group slouching with a case of beer next to his abode.
“Jen, our little grease monkey,” Stevie yelled his greeting and beaconed her forward as she looked around at the gathering, “You made it! You look like you could do with some liquid refreshment, my girl.”
She liked Stevie, he always had a whisky bottle on hand for her and a good story to take her mind off her sorrow. They’d become good friends early on the tour, when she’d woken in the middle of the night from a bad dream and found him awake, strumming his guitar, and sculling liquor. He was the one who’d introduced her to Chad.
“It’s moving night,” she laughed at him, “Keep it warm for me, tomorrow I’ll come looking for it.”
“Nice to see a smile on your dial,” he gave her a hug, “Isn’t this ‘that’ day?”
“Yeah, you’d best get stocked up with scotch and tissues for tomorrow night though,” she grimaced. Stevie had seen the result of more than one of her pity-parties and had stayed up to sit with her when she needed it.
She was still smiling when she turned to find Drew staring at her. He’d heard the whole interaction. The other guys were also looking as Stevie slung his arm over her shoulders and turned to them.
“Horsey men,” he slurred, “Meet the world’s prettiest mechanic and my drinking buddy, Jen.”
“They know her,” Chad sang out from where he was sitting with an acoustic guitar on his lap, “Sit with me, Babe.”
“You’re popular,” Mark laughed as she reluctantly sat in the chair that was pulled in between him and Chad.
She made a face at him but didn’t answer. Someone handed Drew a black acoustic guitar, and he took the instrument like it was a natural thing for him to hold it. She was amazed. She knew he didn’t play anymore. She wanted to tell him that he didn’t have to, just because she’d asked him to be here, but he was already strumming a tune.
“Chad,” she leaned in to ask them not to force Drew to play, but Mark put his hand on her arm.
“Shh,” Mark hushed her, “Listen. He wants to do this.”
She turned to look at him, not understanding what he was saying, but before she could ask, Drew started to sing. She spun her head to look at him. He didn’t sing. He hadn’t sung a note since Kay had cheated on him. It caused him too much pain. He didn’t play or sing. And yet, he was doing both, with his eyes focused on her.
His voice was deep but rich like honey as it reverberated around her. He played without looking at the instrument, as he sang the slow song about love and loss. It wasn’t a song she’d heard before, but it was beautiful. His singing was perfectly suited to the words of longing, and his playing was intricate and skilled. She’d seen the guys playing before, but this was on a different level. He was amazing, and she felt mesmerised by him.
She couldn’t take her eyes off him, as he sang to her. Their eyes were locked on each other as the world around them blurred. His entire focus was on her as his words, thick with emotion, were sent directly to her. She forgot how to breathe as she sat there trapped in his web. She felt her heart yearning for him and her body craving his touch. She listened to his words of devotion with tears burning in her eyes.
She didn’t realise that the entire party had fallen silent and was watching until he sang his final note and the guitar fell silent. She’d been motionless other than dripping tears, but once the applause started, she sank back in her chair and turned her face. She closed her eyes, wiping the liquid from her cheeks with the loose sleeve of her overalls, as she fought for control of her heart.
“Drey,” Chad was looking from her to Drew, “You wouldn’t happen to be the dickhead that broke Jen’s heart, would you?”
“Yeah, I’m that dickhead,” Drew confirmed, “I like you Chad, but I made a mistake six months ago, and I’m telling you now, that I want my girlfriend back. I’m going to do everything in my power to convince Jen to love me again.”
She stood up, she looked at Drew with her mouth open as she shook her head. She couldn’t say anything. She turned and shoved the chair aside as she escaped. Pushing her way through the group, the tears in her eyes refused to stop, as she fled.
“Jen,” he was chasing after her.
He caught up with her too easily, she was handicapped by the tight bands around her chest and the salty water in her eyes. They were next to one of the trailers but outside of the party area. It was dark and quiet with no one else around. He held her by her arm as he turned her to face him.
“Don’t cry,” he said in a hesitant voice, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“What are you doing Drew?” she shook his hand from her, “Why did you say that?”
“Because it’s true,” he whispered.
“No, no, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is Jen,” his eyes were filled with his pain, “I love you.”
“You, you,” she stuttered, “You can’t do that. I can’t do that.”
“I don’t expect you to forgive me,” his eyes searched hers, “I’ll earn your trust again.”
“You hurt me,” she beat his chest with her fists, “You broke me.”
“I know,” he stood there accepting her pounding fists.
“I can’t go back,” she pulled her fists back to her chest, “I can’t go through that again. I can’t let you do that to me again.”
“I wouldn’t,” he started to say then saw the disbelief on her face. He inhaled as he started again, “I lost you. I hurt you. I know the agony of that. I wouldn’t do that again.”
“No,” she shook her head as she backed away, “Six months, it’s taken me six months, and I’m just starting to breathe again.”
“I’m not expecting much,” he pleaded, “Just let me into your life.”
“But,” she looked around desperately, “It’s not that easy. I can’t do this now. I have to go.”
“Jen?” he stood there looking helpless as she backed away.
“I have to go to work,” she shook her head, “It’s moving day. I have trucks to co-ordinate.”
“Jen,” he looked lost, “Don’t give up on me again.”
“I’m sorry Drew,” she whimpered, “I can’t do this.”
She turned away from his broken expression and ran. She didn’t know where she was heading, she just needed to get away from him and the pain he promised. Her heart was already wrenched open, and she could feel all the agony all over again. She couldn’t do that again. She had a job she loved, and she was finally starting to feel human. She had a new life. She couldn’t give it all up. She couldn’t sacrifice it all for him again.