I wake up early the next morning, and it takes a second to get my bearings. When I realize where I am, a blanket of peace washes over me. X’s father is wonderful. He looks sick, true, but his zest for life is refreshing and impossible not to soak in.
I sift through the events of last night with a sense of detachment. Finding that clump of hair in my food, like some kind of sick warning, was one of the scariest things that had ever happened to me. The fact that someone who wanted to kill me had put it there deliberately—ugh. I snuggle farther into my blankets, trying to force away the sudden chill.
An hour or two later, I get up and pad downstairs, hoping for a cup of coffee. I hear X on the phone in the dining room and find Donovan in the kitchen with the Keurig going.
“Good morning, gorgeous,” he calls out when he sees me. “How do you like your coffee?”
“Good morning. And black, please.”
I sit on one of the stools around the kitchen island and smile as I watch him whistle happily and set up three mugs.
“It was so nice to wake up to a full house,” he tells me. “With X’s job, he doesn’t get to visit as much as I’d like. Let alone sleep over.”
I thank him as he hands me my cup and takes the seat beside me. “Does he have any brothers or sisters?”
“No,” Donovan replies. “My wife and I had a hard time getting pregnant. Tried for years before Xavier. He’s our miracle baby.”
My first instinct is to ask about X’s mother, but I decide not to, as it’s clearly a touchy subject. But Donovan sighs heavily, warming his hands around his mug. “I miss her.”
“She was very beautiful,” I answer. “X and I were up at your cabin and I saw a few photos…”
“She was. She had her troubles, but…man, some days I really miss her.”
Unable to help myself, I hedge, “He didn’t really want to talk about her.”
Donovan’s eyes turn sad. “No. He never does. One thing to remember about X is that he takes everything personally. He internalizes things and blames himself for things he shouldn’t.”
“It is hard to tell what he’s really feeling,” I reply. “He doesn’t show much outward emotion.”
Donovan laughs without humor. “He’s gotten pretty good at hiding his feelings.” He turns to me with a sparkle in his eye. “You, however, are not.”
I blush. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to pry, but when you two showed up here yesterday, it looked as if you had seen a ghost.”
“Oh,” I say quietly. “There are some things going on…”
Donovan holds up a hand. “Don’t feel as if you need to tell me. I know if Xavier is watching over you, it must be bad. They only bring him in if they need the big guns.”
“You’re safe with him,” he says. “I hope you know that.”
“I do. He seems to have an instinct for danger.”
Donovan suddenly looks sad. “I believe that stems from what happened with his mother.”
“When did she die?” I ask, wanting more information if he is willing to give it.
“When Xavier was thirteen. Tragic accident…”
X’s voice suddenly cuts through our quiet conversation. “Good morning.”
We both jump, guilty. Donovan recovers first. “I’ve made you a coffee, son. Two milks—just how you like it.”
X walks over and grabs the mug. “Thanks.” His eyes fly back and forth between us as he takes his first sip. “E, can I talk to you for a moment?”
Uh-oh. He doesn’t look happy. Did he hear our conversation? I’m dying to know what happened with his mother and can’t help but be a little resentful that he interrupted us. I was so close to getting farther under that shell! “OK.”
I get off the stool and follow him into the dining room. His eyes travel over my face before he speaks. “They’ve pulled the tapes.”
I fight to remain calm. “And?”
“Can’t get a clear shot. The sweatshirt he’s wearing is huge, and the hood is pulled down low over his face. The video marks him at about five feet three.”
Well, that information surprises me. I’d been picturing him as a hulking, scary monster, not someone who was the same height as me. “Really?”
“He was seen walking in and out of the hotel parking lot, so no car. But if he walked, that means he must live in the area. Cops are canvassing now for clues.”
Sadness washes over me. “What about the indoor cameras?”
“Just prove that the dishwasher’s story checks out.” His face falls. “I’m sorry.”
I think about what Donovan told me and wonder if he’s feeling guilty. “It’s not your fault. I’m just curious as to how this little man was somehow able to throw a rock at me on the red carpet, tape a knife to my door, and shove a clump of hair in my food without getting caught.”
“He blends in,” says X, his eyes flashing. “Doesn’t draw a lot of attention to himself. Not to mention getting a few lucky breaks, so to speak.”
I lean against the closed door. “I’m just worried about everyone. Are they safe? What if he goes after them?”
“Rob is in LA, but Sandy, Joe, Big, Jacques, and Michonne are all back at your house,” X says. “And the rest of them, they’re all fine. I hate to say it, but…it’s probably the safest place for you right now. There’s no way he’s getting in there now or has the balls to come back.”
“I don’t know if I want to go back there just yet,” I tell him quietly. “I just…”
“I understand.” He nods. “We can go back to that later. But it’s time we talk to the FBI.”
I blow out a breath. “OK. We should at least tell your father what’s going on. If there are going to be police coming over, he deserves to know the truth.”
“I’ll tell him.”
“Should we also tell him about the rumors circulating…about us?”
X rolls his eyes. “He probably already knows. He’s always on Facebook, so he must have seen it.”
I laugh. “He has been kind enough not to mention it, then.”
X chuckles. “He brings things up in his own way. If you didn’t notice, he was trying to sing my praises last night.”
I laugh harder. “Those movies were great. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone you weren’t potty trained until four years old.”
“I can’t believe he got all that on video. Parents document the strangest things.”
We both laugh quietly together, and it’s the best and strangest thing ever. Despite everything, despite my confusion surrounding X, there’s a genuine comfort growing between us, beneath the attraction and beneath the tension. I can’t help but wonder if it’s born from two souls who had difficult childhoods.
Once we quiet down, he clears his throat. “I’ll go explain things to him. Then we can take Bella for a quick walk.”
A few hours later, I’m sitting between X and his father, talking to the agents. They ask me all the normal questions, and I feel like an idiot because I have nothing of substance to give them.
“I don’t know,” I say for what feels like the fiftieth time.
“How is she supposed to know that? She has thousands of fans all over the world!” X’s father shouts, coming to my defense for what also feels like the fiftieth time. “She’s not spending her days looking out for madmen and vagabonds!”
“Pops, please,” X says with a sigh. “They’re just trying to help.” He looks to the two male agents sitting on the couch. “Something is bothering me about his appearance, but I can’t put my finger on it. Is there any way we can clear up that video?”
Agent number one, who has been the most aggressive so far, shakes his head. “Not soon enough. Just looks like a short, petite man to me.”
I lean forward. “Is there something I can do? A restraining order I can take out or something?”
Agent number two makes a pained expression. “It wouldn’t do much good. At this point, we don’t even know if he’s working alone.”
“He’s working alone,” X interrupts. “Stalkers are independent. And he’s getting away with all this shit because he’s working on his own terms. Dual criminals have a completely different profile.”
The agents, who are obviously outranked by X, nod. Agent number two looks at me with sad eyes. “I want you to know we have our best people on this. We’re going to get this guy, because he’s going to mess up. It’s just a matter of time. As long as Xavier is here, try to live your life as normally as possible.”
“Ha!” Donovan grouchily responds. “Easy for you to say! I doubt anyone’s stalking you!”
X sighs loudly and stands up, holding out his hand. “Call me if you hear anything.”
They leave a few moments later, with Donovan nearly slamming the door on their behinds. “Ridiculous!” he sputters. “How has he been able to get away with all this!”
“There’s something I’m missing here,” X says quietly, hands folded in front of him. “Something I’m not seeing.”
Donovan runs over to me and pulls me into a hug. “I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, darling. What a way to start a day.”
Sundays used to be my favorite day. When I’d have my brunches. When I was able to trust my fans. I tell Donovan and X as much.
“What a nice thing that must have been for them,” Donovan says.
I laugh, lost in the memories. “I met the most wonderful people. One time this girl wrote me the loveliest poem about how I changed her life. It meant so much to me.”
“Don’t let one rotten apple spoil the bunch,” Donovan cuts in. “You’ve got a week until this tour of yours. You’re still making a difference in their lives, darling.”
“Speaking of,” X grumbles. “We’ve got a lot to do this week. And if the tour is still on—”
“The tour is still on,” I put in hastily. “I can’t run scared and let down all those people who bought tickets.”
He nods, standing up and grabbing Bella on his way. “Well, then, we’ve got a lot to do.”
The next week was insane—so insane I almost forgot there was a psychopath stalking me.
I recorded the new song I had just written and practiced it with the band. Went on photo shoots and staged dozens of social media posts. Perfected a few dance numbers. Met the tour staff. Talked to catering. Put the final touch on makeup and wardrobe choices. And interviews. So many interviews. The one good thing about that was I’d been able to take Bella to most of them, and she provided a lot of comic relief and distracted folks from the more serious things that had happened to me. Everyone unfortunately learned about her obsession with food when she tried to take the doughnut right out of a cameraman’s hand. But other than that, things were running smoothly.
Everyone was caught up in the excitement. Even X, who had been by my side the entire time. It got to the point where I was completely uneasy without him around. He helped me with everything, gave his opinion, and generally made me feel safe.
But at the same time, it was extremely hard to be around him. My attraction to him was stronger than ever, and it extended past the physical. His quiet confidence, comforting presence, and no-bullshit attitude complemented and leveled my constant daydreaming, general uneasiness, and wishy-washy demeanor. I was a balloon floating toward the clouds, and he was the one making sure I didn’t float away.
The rumors about us dating died down a little, as did the drama between Martha and me. Concocted stories were just a part of the business I was going to have to get used to. But I was happy to see that most of the news was focused on my upcoming tour. That was all that mattered. Sandy, as always, was really good at keeping me up-to-date with the latest. But she was acting a little strange lately.
“Are you OK?” I ask as we sift through my outfits in the wardrobe room two days before the tour starts. “You haven’t spoken much today.”
She frowns. “Yeah. I’m fine. Just nerves is all.”
“Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be nervous?” I joke.
It earns me the smile I’m hoping for. “I just want everything to go right for you. You…you’ve done so much for me, and you deserve it.”
I turn and pull her into my arms. “I couldn’t have done it without you, you know.”
She nods, and I try to push again. “Are you sure you’re OK? You’d barely touched lunch.”
She looks around nervously and licks her lips. “I’m sure.”
Hmm. I guess she’ll tell me whatever is on her mind in her own time. I have a million other things to worry about, so I push it to the back burner.
“Your dad called again,” she tells me. “Have you changed your mind about allowing him to come to the show?”
I shake my head. “He can come.” I decided a few days ago that the urge to have him see what I’d made of myself was stronger than the need to never speak to him again. I wanted him to see that in spite of him—in spite of him leaving me homeless and lost—I had found a place for myself with my fans and with my music.
“And if he wants to see you after?” she asks warily. “He’s been asking about it nonstop.”
I sigh. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Michonne, Jacques, and Rob burst through the door then, all with huge smiles on their faces.
“I don’t want to jinx it,” Rob says, his grin a mile wide, “but I think we’re ready.”
“Fuck yeah, we are!” Michonne chimes in, looking as stylish as ever in designer jeans and a glittery crop top. “First stop, Hartford, Connecticut!”
“My work on display for all to see,” Jacques says dramatically, holding my face in his hands and admiring my makeup. “A dream come true for all of us!”
Sandy and I look at each other and burst into laughter. “You all are sure in a good mood,” I say happily.
“And ready to celebrate,” Michonne says. “Rob rented out the bar next door for some of the crew to let off some steam.”
“No outsiders allowed,” Rob quickly adds.
Out of everyone, Rob has been having the most trouble dealing with the stalker situation. I think he’s been warring with himself constantly on whether to minimize my exposure or put me in the spotlight as much as possible to advertise the tour. Poor guy.
Everyone becomes subdued a bit at Rob’s comment, which is what usually happens when it comes up. I know my crew’s miserable over it, but they try to put on a brave face for me.
In a good mood, I decide to take some weight off their shoulders. “Well, what are we waiting for, then? Who’s got first round?”