Sing For Me by Rachel Schurig
It’s so loud backstage that I’m pretty sure the walls are shaking. Over the pounding noise of the band’s instruments, I can hear the sold-out crowd screaming and cheering. All around us, roadies, venue staff, and random people I don’t recognize rush through the halls.
It would be easy to get lost in a madhouse like this.
“Will! Rose! Wait up!”
Next to me, my cousin Rose huffs loudly enough for me to hear even over all the noise. She flips her long blonde braid over her shoulder as she turns her head. “Hurry up, River. You said if we let you come you wouldn’t slow us down.”
I turn back to locate Rose’s brother. His white blond hair, the same color as Rose’s, makes it easy to spot him, even as short as he is. River’s not that much younger than us—he turned eight a few days ago. But I’m just coming off a growth spurt, and Rose recently turned ten, which is really old. Next to us, Riv still looks like a little kid.
And if I let him get lost in all this craziness, our parents will kill me. Sure, Rose is the oldest, so you’d think they’d blame her, but I know that’s not how it would go. Rose is everyone’s favorite and she never gets blamed for anything. Besides, everyone will know that this spying mission was my idea.
Not wanting to get grounded for the rest of the tour, I turn back and grab River’s arm. “Such a baby,” Rose grumbles next to me.
River’s face is red, the way it gets before he cries, so I ruffle a hand through his hair and grin down at him. “Stick with us, okay? We don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Speaking of trouble,” Rose says darkly, peering down the way we just came. “Someone’s going to notice us if we don’t get moving.”
“Let’s go then.”
I lead my cousins down the twisting, crowded hallways of the stadium. It’s like a maze back here and I’m not exactly sure where the stage is. I figure if I follow the noise we’ll get there eventually.
We make another turn and all three of us freeze at the same time. Standing just a few feet away, talking to a roadie, is our Uncle Levi. Great.
We must be lucky, because he seems pretty preoccupied with his conversation. But I know he could look up at any minute and then we’ll be busted.
“Run for it!” I hiss, spinning on my heel. My cousins follow suit, Rose keeping a firm hand on River’s elbow this time as we take off down the hallway.
“Will?” Uncle Levi calls from behind us, sounding confused.
Our sneakers pound on the concrete floors as we run down a long, crowded hallway. Being smaller than everyone else comes in handy for once—we can dart around the roadies and the venue staff. “Hey,” a man carrying a heavy looking amp shouts as River jumps right in front of him, making him stumble. A security guard makes a grab for me as we pass but I manage to pull my arm back at the last minute.
“We’re with the band!” I shout over my shoulder, and River gives a snort of laughter.
“Down here,” Rose cries, turning down another hallway. I manage a glance over my shoulder as I follow her. Our uncle is standing way down the hallway, his hands on his hips. But he grins at me when he sees me looking, shaking his head, and I know he’s not really mad. I grin back before I take the turn, running fast behind Rose and River.
“Shh,” Rose says suddenly, pulling up short. I skid to a stop behind her, out of breath, and look around.
“Excellent,” I say, clapping her on the back. Rose has somehow managed to lead us directly into the dark wings around the stage.
“You think Uncle Levi is gonna tell Mommy?” River whispers to Rose.
“Probably,” she says flippantly, like she’s too grown up to care about getting in trouble.
I catch the worried gleam in River’s eye. “Let’s hide,” I suggest, leading them over to one of the empty equipment crates. I push River in front of me, wedging us both behind the crate. Rose sighs behind me but follows us. With a little wiggling, we manage to squeeze into a pocket between the crates. From here we’re hidden from the rest of the wings.
We also can’t see anything.
“Shoot,” River mutters. “Why’d we go through all that trouble sneaking out of the bus if we can’t even see?”
I risk sticking my head up long enough to take stock of our area. There’s another crate right in front of us, and beyond that I have a perfect view of the stage.
The noise actually hurts my ears this close to the speakers and the massive, screaming crowd. It’s so noisy it’s hard to even think.
“Let’s just go back,” Rose mutters.
“Nah,” I say, making up my mind in an instant. This is probably the kind of thing my mom always gets mad at me for. Impulsive, she calls me. I’m not totally positive what that word means, but one time I heard my dad laughing with her after they’d yelled at me for getting caught sneaking into one of the hotel pools on the last tour. “Kid acts first and thinks later,” my dad had said.
“Sounds like someone else I know,” Mom said, laughing with him.
I’m pretty sure that’s what impulsive means—acting first and thinking later. And mom would definitely get real mad at me if she could see what I’m about to do.
I grip the edge of the crate and give it a huge push. It’s heavy, but luckily it has wheels, and I manage to move it a couple inches.
“What are you doing?” Rose hisses.
“Giving us a way to see.” I push on the crate again, with my shoulder this time. It moves a little more.
“Awesome!” River calls softly. “I can see Daddy’s piano!”
“A couple more feet,” Rose tells me, crawling over to where I’m still pushing on the crate. She adds her shoulder to the side and we both give a good hard push—sending the crate sliding quickly forward, way faster than before. “The wheel must have been stuck!” Rose whisper-yells.
We both watch in silent terror as the crate keeps on rolling until it’s right on the stage. In the middle of Ransom’s sold-out show.
“Get down!” I whisper, pulling on Rose’s arm. We crawl across the dirty floor before throwing ourselves behind River’s crate. “Did anyone see us?” I pant.
“Uncle Lennon looked over here,” River whispers back. “But I don’t think he saw you.”
Peering over the crate, I can see my dad standing just a few feet away. He’s in the middle of a guitar solo, not paying any attention to what’s going on backstage, and I let out a relieved sigh. Across the stage, Uncle Lennon keeps looking over at the crate, probably wondering where the heck it came from. Then a roadie darts out to pull it back into the wings and I let out a relieved breath. We got away with it.
Rose slaps a hand over her mouth, giggling. I grin at her. Sometimes it’s fun to almost get caught.
“Ooh, I love this song,” Rose says happily, settling in next to me. The three of us rest our chins on the top of the crate, careful to keep our heads low. It doesn’t matter—from here we can see just about everything. Our dads playing their instruments. Uncle Lennon with his bass guitar. The flashing lights reflecting on the stage. And the huge crowd filling up the stadium, yelling and cheering for Ransom.
“This is so much better than the box,” I say, excited. For most of the shows, that’s where we sit, in the fancy boxes up at the top of the stadium with our moms and all of our cousins. There’s more room up there for the babies to play and for all of us to spread out—we have a super big family. And there’s usually a waiter who will bring me as much root beer as I can sneak without my mom noticing.
But the boxes are really far from the stage. Nothing like this little hideout in the wings. I’m close enough to see my dad’s fingers on the strings of his guitar.
“It’s definitely louder,” Rose says, rubbing her ears. “Now I know why mom always makes me wear those headphones when we come close to the stage during a show.”
“Louder is what makes it cool,” I say, eyes glued to my dad’s guitar. “Rock music is supposed to be loud.”
“Can you see Uncle Reed?” Rose asks, twisting her body around to see the back of the stage.
“Nah, can’t see him from here.” But the pounding of his drums means he’s out there with his brothers.
“Someday, I’m gonna be out there, too,” I mutter, mostly to myself. I have it all planned out. When I get older, I’m going to be a guitar player, just like my dad. I already know a bunch of my chords, which Grandpa says is really good for my age. By the time I’m a grown up, I know I’m going to be just as good as my uncles. Then they’ll have to let me in the band.
“Not me,” Rose says, shaking her head. “I would hate to have all those people looking at me.”
“How many people are there?” River asks, craning his neck to see the crowd. “A hundred?”
Rose snorts. “No way, Riv. This stadium seats twenty thousand people.”
River’s eyes go wide, like he can’t even imagine a number that big. I kind of feel the same way. I have no idea how many people that is, all I know is that it’s a lot.
Because Ransom is the best band in the entire world and so, so many people want to come see them play live.
“I wish we were on the other side of the stage,” River says. “We can’t see Daddy’s face!”
Across the stage, my Uncle Daltrey is pounding on his piano keys while he sings, his back to us.
“It’s good we can’t see his face,” Rose mutters. “You’d probably wave at him or something and then we’d be caught.”
“I would not!” River cries, way too loud. I slap a hand over his mouth.
“Just because it’s loud out there doesn’t mean the roadies can’t hear us,” I tell him.
“The roadies, huh?” a grown-up voice behind us says, and we all freeze. “I think you kids have bigger things to worry about.”
Heart sinking, I turn to see my older brother, Wyatt, standing behind us. His arms are crossed over his chest and he’s got a serious look on his face. But when I look at his eyes, I can tell that he’s not really mad. In fact, I think he might be trying not to laugh.
“We just wanted to see the show,” I tell him.
He glances down at his watch. “Pretty sure it’s a school night, kids. Which means you aren’t supposed to be anywhere near the show.”
Rose sticks a finger into her mouth, pretending to make herself throw up. “I hate school.”
“It’s so, so super boring, Wyatt,” River agrees.
Wyatt rolls his eyes. “I used to have school on the bus, too,” he reminds us. Wyatt is way old, like almost a grown-up. My mom had him a long time before she met my dad, so he was already almost ten when I was born. When he wants to tease me, he reminds me that he was the one who got to name me when I was a baby, and if I’m not careful, he might change it to something really awful. Like Barney.
But Wyatt doesn’t tease too much. He’s a really cool big brother.
Hopefully that means he’s not going to get us in trouble. “Are you gonna tell Mom?”
“You should have thought of Mom before,” he says, his voice suddenly a little sharp. “She doesn’t need to be chasing you down, Will.”
I hang my head, feeling a rush of guilt in my belly. My mom is really, really pregnant with our baby sister right now, and she gets out of breath and uncomfortable when she has to walk a long way. I picture her following us through all those winding hallways we just ran through and feel awful.
“Is she looking for me?”
“Nah, I don’t think she noticed yet.” He looks between the three of us. “But I do need to text your moms and let them know where you are.”
“Wyatt!” Rose cries, reaching for his hand.
“Sorry, Rosie,” he says, pulling out his phone. “If they see your bunks are empty, they’ll worry.”
She scowls at him as he types into his phone. “This tour was more fun when you were still away at college.”
He laughs, tugging at the end of her braid. “When I’m at college, you’re the oldest,” he reminds her. “Maybe you should start acting more responsible.”
“Responsible sounds like another word for boring,” she says, and Wyatt laughs some more before he pockets his phone.
“Climb on out of there,” he says, holding out his hand to give us a boost. He eyes the crate. “Let me guess, the runaway crate was you guys?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I say, climbing out of our hiding spot. Wyatt slings an arm around my neck, pulling me close and messing up my hair. I squirm and try to punch him, but I’m just messing around. I never really get mad about Wyatt teasing me. Rose was wrong—I like tour much better when he’s here. My brother goes to a fancy college where he practices piano all day, and I miss him a lot.
“Why don’t you guys come with me,” he says, letting me go to help Rose climb over the crate.
“Are you taking us to get in trouble?” River asks glumly.
“Nah.” Wyatt leans close to him. “I’ll tell you a secret—I used to sneak back stage when I was little too.”
“You did?” River asks, eyes wide, like he can’t believe a grown-up ever messed around like we do.
“Sure,” Wyatt says. “These are the best seats in the house.” He grins. “Well, almost.” He herds us away from the crates but we’re going the wrong way. Instead of heading back to the hallway, he seems to be leading us to—
“Wyatt, this is the stage,” Rose squeaks.
“I know.” There’s laughter in his voice. “Check it out.”
We all look up to see that the song is over. Instead of moving right into the next one, the grown-ups on the stage are all relaxed. And they’re looking right at us.
“Oh, shoot,” River says, defeated.
“Don’t worry,” Wyatt says, pulling us out onto the stage.
“Oh no, oh no,” Rose is muttering next to me, staring at the still-screaming crowd. Across the stage, Uncle Daltrey holds out his arms. He’s smiling. I let out a relieved sigh. Maybe they won’t be too mad.
River takes off immediately, beaming as he runs to his dad. The crowd goes even crazier when Uncle Daltrey pulls him up into his arms. He whispers something in his ear and River shyly waves at the fans. They erupt in another wave of cheers.
“Come on, Rose,” Wyatt calls over all the noise. He takes her hand, leading her across the stage to the piano. Before they get there, big arms appear in my vision, wrapping around me. My dad.
“You’re trouble, kid,” he says, but he’s grinning down at me. I grin right back, knowing he’s not mad. He gestures to one of the roadies before stepping up to his microphone.
“So, my son Wyatt was going to join us on piano for the next few songs,” he shouts to the fans, who scream right back. “But it looks like he brought a couple stowaways.”
Way out in the crowd I can see two of the huge screens that show what’s going on to the fans who are too far away from the stage to see much. Right now, the screens are showing River and Rose. My cousin slaps her hands over her eyes and Uncle Daltrey laughs. He gets both of them sitting in front of the piano, handing them tambourines.
A roadie runs out on stage, carrying another guitar and three pairs of the big headphones our moms make us wear to protect our ears at concerts. On the screen, my face appears. My mouth hurts, I’m smiling so big.
“Will,” my dad shouts over the noise, crouching in front of me, and I drag my eyes from the sight of my face on the huge TV to look at him. “Put these on.” He hands me a set of the headphones. “You don’t ever get this close to the stage without them again, you understand?”
I nod quickly. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to get in trouble for this so I’m pretty eager to do whatever he says to keep it that way. He helps me adjust the headphones on my ears and the sound immediately drops, no longer hurting my head.
My dad grins and holds out the extra guitar. I just stare at it. There’s no way he actually wants me to—
“You guys can sit in on this song,” he shouts. “One song. And then it’s straight back to the bus and into bed, you hear me?”
I can’t seem to close my mouth. I’m just standing there in front of all those people, staring at my dad like he’s lost his mind. He laughs and pushes the guitar into my chest. I finally snap out of it and grab the instrument out of his hands before he can change his mind. It’s too big for me, and heavy, but my dad helps me to adjust the strap around my neck, then pulls a pick out of his back pocket.
“You remember the chords we worked on this week?”
Dad smiles at me. “Have fun, kid.”
When he turns back to the microphone, I snap my head over to Rose and River. They’re both wearing the big headphones too and Rose doesn’t look as scared of the crowd now. She gives me a huge smile and a thumbs-up, like she’s happy for me. Rose knows all about my plans to be in the band someday.
“Looking good, kid!” Uncle Reed calls from behind me, and I spin around to see him grinning down from the drum kit.
This is so cool,I think, turning back to the front of the stage as my uncle counts off the intro behind me. Perfectly in sync, my dad and Uncle Lennon come in on their guitars. Across the stage, Wyatt is standing over the piano, his hands already a blur on the keys. Then Uncle Daltrey starts to sing from a mic at center stage, and I remember that I’m supposed to be playing too.
For the next four minutes, I do my best to concentrate on playing my chords, trying to keep up with my dad. It’s hard to focus though—I just want to look around at everything.
Way too soon, the song is over. My dad takes the guitar from me and hands it off to a roadie. “Have fun?”
I throw my arms around his legs. “So much fun.”
He laughs, ruffling my hair. “Get back to bed now before your mom comes out here and kills me.”
I’m too happy to care that I have to go back. My cousins run across the stage to me, Rose grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the wings.
“That was the coolest thing ever!” I shout. “Did you see me play guitar?”
“Daddy let me play tambourine!” River is grinning just like me.
Rose flips her braid. “That was so scary! Did you see all those people? I thought I was going to throw up!”
“Don’t be a baby, Rose,” River says, and she pushes his shoulder.
I lead my cousins back to the hallway we came through. The sudden brightness hurts my eyes after the darkness of the stage area. It’s a lot easier to hear now, so we all take off our headphones.
“I want to do that every single night,” I tell them fervently.
“Think again, buddy.”
We all look up to see Aunt Daisy standing in front of us, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Um, hi, Mommy,” Rose says, her voice too high. “We just went for a little walk.”
Aunt Daisy’s lips twitch. “You can drop the act, Rosie. I know all about it.” She looks between the three of us. “We’ll talk about it in the morning. Beds, now.”
I practically skip all the way to the busses behind the stadium. I’m already thinking of the next time I’ll be able to get on stage. Maybe I can convince my dad to make it a regular thing. Wyatt usually plays with them when he’s on a break from school. Why can’t I?
My excitement fizzles a little when we finally get on the bus and I see my mom standing in front of the bunks. She’s got her arms crossed too, and she looks a lot more annoyed than Aunt Daisy had.
She takes one look at my face and sighs. “Enjoy your moment, Will,” she says. “Tomorrow we’re going to have a long talk about the rules.”
“Sorry, Mom,” I tell her, but I can’t seem to wipe the smile off my face.
I rush to get my PJs on, eager to get into the privacy of my bunk where I can relive those minutes on the stage over and over. Before I can get my curtains closed, an upside-down face appears next to my mattress. My cousin Everly, hanging down from the bunk above mine.
“Go to sleep Lee,” I say, pushing on her forehead.
She doesn’t listen, of course. Everly is seven, and she thinks she’s the boss of the whole family.
“You’re in big trouble,” she whispers, and I can see her grinning even in the dark. Rose says Everly loves drama. “I heard your mom say you were going to get grounded tomorrow.”
“Big deal.” It’s not like I can go anywhere when the bus is on the road. We’re all stuck here.
“I bet she takes away your video game privileges,” she says.
Okay, that would be pretty bad. Playing video games with Rose is basically the only thing I look forward to when we’re all doing our school lessons on the bus.
But it’s hard to care too much about that right now, not when I can still hear the sound of the fans cheering for me. “It was worth it.” My smile is so big my cheeks hurt. “That was the best night of my life.”
Everly huffs and disappears back to her own bunk, leaving me alone with my memories of being on stage.
That’s going to be my life,I promise myself. Someday, I’m going to be a rock star, just like my dad and my uncles.
I can hardly wait.
Thirteen Years Later
I do not hate my job,I tell myself, for probably the tenth time in as many minutes.
It’s kind of hard to convince myself, though, when I’m staring down a pile of paperwork.
“You’ve got that look on your face again,” my cousin notes from the other side of my desk. Rose is lounging in a big leather armchair—my big leather armchair, the only comfortable seat in this office—with her feet up on the desk, her textbooks spread out, crowding out my paperwork.
“Isn’t there like, a library or something you can go study in?” I grumble, pushing a psych book away.
“Yes, but then I wouldn’t have your charming company, would I?” she says drily. I flip her off.
“Seriously, Will, what’s with the face? You look like you’re being force fed Brussels sprouts.”
“I like Brussels sprouts,” I point out.
“And this is why you’re crazy.” She swings her legs down, brushing a mane of white blonde waves over her shoulder as she plants her elbows on my desk, eying me. “What’s your problem?”
I gesture at the paperwork. “I hate this shit. Wasn’t the whole point of becoming a tattoo artist so I didn’t have to sit in a boring office all my life?”
“Sure, if you would have stayed a tattoo artist,” she says. “But you just had to go out and start up your own shop.”
I don’t respond to that, because I don’t want to have the same fight with her again. Rose is convinced I only bought the shop—at a pretty young age—to try to prove something to my dad. Rose may know me better than just about anyone in the world, but she’s still full of shit.
“You know what you need, Will?”
“A bottle of whiskey and an office manager,” I mutter.
“You read my mind on the office manager, but we both know you aren’t going to make that hire any time soon. So, we need to think of something else to deal with this little problem.” She spins her pointer finger in front of my face.
“What little problem?”
“River and I have started to call it WAS—like PMS, but worse.”
I hold her eye contact, refusing to ask her to explain. There’s no point—I can never get Rosie to stop talking, even when I want her to.
“Will Asshole Syndrome,” she says proudly, like she’s just told a hilarious joke. I keep my expression flat, staring at her, and she groans, throwing a wadded-up piece of paper at my head. “You stomp around the apartment all the time. You snap at River pretty much every day—”
“Because your brother is a pain in my ass.”
“Well, yeah.” She shoots me a quick grin. “No one’s arguing that. But that still doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to be around you when you have a giant stick up your ass.”
“Thanks for the insight.”
“Will.” She leans across the desk, expression grave. “You need to get laid,”
I close my eyes as she giggles. If there’s one thing in the world my cousin enjoys, it’s giving me shit.
I’m self-aware enough to admit she has a point about some of this. It’s not like my default is sunshine and roses, but lately I have been having a harder and harder time keeping the full-out asshole side of me at bay.
The thing is, there’s not a lot I can do to change the situation. I’m dead set on the shop turning a profit this year, and I’ve been working my ass off to make that happen. It usually takes a lot longer for a new business to get the start-up money paid off, but I’m impatient. The sooner I can start to support myself fully, and pay my uncle back, the better I’ll feel.
But the only way to get to that point is to keep my nose to the grindstone and get the work done. Even if it sometimes feels like I spend more time in this fucking office than I do with a tattoo machine in my hands. I definitely spend more time in this building than I do my own home.
And as far as getting laid goes… yeah, let’s not even go there.
Distraction from this annoying as hell conversation comes from an unexpected source—my employee Quinn pops his head into the office. “Hey Will—” He catches sight of my cousin sitting across from me and his entire demeanor changes. He stands up straighter, adopting a smarmy little smile that he probably thinks works for him—he would be wrong—and turns his body towards her.
“Hey, there, Rose. Didn’t know you were back here.”
She gives him her usual warm smile. Unless we’re talking annoying brothers—and me, apparently—Rosie is incapable of being anything less than friendly. “Just brought Will some leftovers from home,” she says, pointing at the empty Tupperware containers.
“Will is a lucky, lucky man,” Quinn says, his eyebrows doing this weird waggling thing that I think is meant to be seductive.
“Did you need something, Quinn?” I ask. “Or did you just want to flirt—badly—with my cousin?”
He gives me an innocent look. “I’m not flirting. This is just my natural charm oozing through.”
“Oozing sounds about right,” I mutter, then give him a pointed look. “What do you need?”
He smooths the stupid little goatee he wears, looking apprehensive. “I could use your help with something.”
“I’m not going to be your wingman at Telly’s tonight,” I tell him firmly. “You need to learn to pick up your own women at the bar.”
He smirks over at Rose, smoothing the chin weasel again. “I have zero problem in that department, let me assure you”
I grit my teeth. “Yeah, yeah. So, what’s the favor? I really do have a ton of shit to do.”
“Sorry, buddy, you’re going to have to put it off for a bit. We have a pretty big group coming in about twenty minutes. The whole shop is booked up but they just called and asked if they could add another client to their group.”
“What kind of group?” I ask, immediately wary. Images of bachelorette parties tipsy from day drinking swirl through my brain. Giggling girls demanding glittery butterfly tattoos and unfortunate lower back tribal pieces.
“They seem pretty legit,” he assures me. “A few of them were in last week, picked out some pieces from our books. Seems like it’s just a group of friends who want to do something together. Bonding, or some shit.”
After the morning I’ve had, I’m not really in the mood for what basically amounts to a walk-in. But the last thing I need is for all my artists to get bogged down. That will throw off the schedule for the rest of the afternoon.
“Fine,” I tell him. “I’m gonna get started on payroll. Call me when you need me.”
“Got it, boss.” He gives me a salute and my scowl deepens. He knows it pisses me off when he calls me that. Which is definitely why he insists on doing it. Quinn lives to annoy the shit out of me. “Hey, Rose, if you’re ever looking for some company—”
“Get the fuck out,” I snap, and he holds up his hands.
“I’m going, I’m going.” He shoots her one last smarmy smile before he goes.
“You don’t have to be so mean to him,” Rose says. “He was just being friendly.”
“He was trying to get in your pants.”
She sighs wistfully. “I’m getting to the point where I wouldn’t turn him down.”
I give her a sharp look. I know she hasn’t dated much since the douchebag ex fucked her over, but she hasn’t seemed lonely to me. Then again, I haven’t been home all that much. My stomach twists with guilt. I’m missing things. I’m supposed to be the person who looks out for her, who looks out for all my cousins, and I’m dropping the ball.
“Oh my God,” she says, leaning back in her chair. “Drop the martyr look, Will. I’m fine. And even if I wasn’t, that would be my problem.”
“You’re my problem,” I say, and her eyes widen. “Shit, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant—”
She cuts me off with her tinkling, musical laugh. “I know what you meant. But you really don’t need to feel so responsible for all of us. The Ransome clan is doing fine.”
I know that she’s right. My cousins, siblings, and I talk every day either on the phone or in our group text thread. They’re all busy, excited about the things they’re working on. Rose’s little sister Violet was recently accepted into a prestigious dance program at her ballet school. Our cousin Lyric, the brainiac of the family, got another perfect report card last week. My little sister CeCe scored in her last soccer game. My cousins are happy. Thriving.
I’m the only one who feels so damn stuck.
Enough of that,I think, reaching for the ledger so I can get going on the payroll. “Will,” Rose interrupts, her voice soft now, concerned, and I feel my shoulders tense. I know that tone and nothing good ever comes from it.
“I’ve got to work, Rosie.”
“I know we joke around a lot,” she says, ignoring me. “But I’m honestly getting worried—”
“Don’t you have class in half an hour?”
Her expression turns from worried to annoyed. “You can’t hide from me forever, you know. We live in the same apartment.”
“A decision I regret daily.”
She rolls her eyes as she gathers her books. “Please. You practically begged me and River to move in.”
I snort. “That’s an egregious rewriting of history. Pretty sure I found the place first and the two of you tagged along.”
She slings her book bag over her shoulder. “You keep telling yourself that, buddy.”
She comes around the desk on her way out the door, stopping at my side and placing a warm hand on my shoulder. For a second, I close my eyes, letting myself relax into her soft touch. Willing myself to forget all the stressful, painful shit swirling in my head.
“I’ve got dinner plans with Alex and Everly tonight,” she says. “But I can stay home if you feel like company.”
I force a decently sincere smile on my face and turn to her. “I’m fine, Rosie. Probably gonna work late. We’ll talk tomorrow, yeah?”
She stares down at me, ice-blue eyes filled with concern, looking like she’s uncertain about leaving. Finally, she squeezes my shoulder. “Have a good afternoon. Try to relax a little.”
I chuckle. “You know me, Rosie. Mr. Cool.”
She gives me one more shoulder squeeze and then goes, leaving me alone in the office with way too much work to do and not a lot of motivation.
Luckily, my cell rings a moment later, and I’m so relieved at the distraction that I pull it out and accept the call without looking at the screen.
“Will?” my little brother’s voice comes through the line.
“Hey, Si,” I answer, settling back in my chair. “How’s it going, man?”
Silas makes a huffing noise. “Same shit. Mom and Dad are on my case. CeCe is pissing me off. Just another day at casa de Ransome.”
“I don’t buy it. My baby sister is a perfect angel. What could she possibly be doing to piss you off?”
He snorts. “You only say that because you don’t have to live with her. I swear to God, Will. She’s insufferable. And she’s so spoiled. She never gets in trouble.”
Knowing he could bitch about our sister for an hour if I let him, I nudge the conversation. “What’s this about Mom and Dad being on your case?”
He sighs, and sounds an awfully lot more sheepish when he responds. “I may, uh, be failing geometry.”
I wince. Nothing bothers our mother more than one of us not taking our education seriously. “Are you having trouble with the material?”
“Nah. Just don’t feel like dealing with it, you know?”
“Sure. School sucks, I get that. But you also don’t want to deal with failing, Si. They’ll just make you repeat the class. You don’t want to spend your summer back in school.”
“I don’t see why I even have to be in school now,” he mutters, sounding every bit the sullen sixteen-year-old. “It’s not like I’m going to college.”
“You could,” I point out. “You’re smart enough.”
“You don’t need to go to college to make music, Will,” he mutters, and I feel something tighten in my stomach.
My little brother is determined to follow in the family footsteps and make a career out of music. And that’s a topic that I have zero desire to discuss with him.
“Wyatt went to college,” I say, attempting to keep my voice even as my stomach gives another uncomfortable clench. Our older brother spent four years at a prestigious music conservatory before starting his career as a concert pianist.
But we both know that’s not the career Silas is aiming for.
“I don’t need to go to college to learn guitar,” Silas grumbles. “Dad didn’t. You didn’t.”
I grit my teeth. “We’re not talking about me,” I snap, too sharp. My fucked up issues with the music industry are not my little brother’s problem. I release a heavy breath, trying to calm down. “You at least need to get through high school, man. Something Dad and I and all of our uncles did.”
“Uncle Daltrey didn’t!” he shoots back. “Grandpa let him leave to go on tour when he was seventeen. That’s only a year older than I am now.”
I’m pretty sure Uncle Daltrey would be the first to say that was a mistake, what with all the shit that went down after he left for their first tour, but I don’t mention that.
“Doesn’t matter,” I tell him. “There’s no way in hell Mom and Dad are going to let you drop out of school. You know that.”
He grumbles something under his breath. “When are you coming over, anyhow?” he asks. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“The shop is pretty busy,” I say, even as a sting of guilt slices through me. “I’ll try to get over there this week, okay?”
“Fine.” He still sounds pretty petulant.
“Hey man, at least there are girls at school, right? High school is the best time to work on your game.”
He’s quiet on the other end of the line and I wonder, suddenly, if my little brother met someone. Before I can ask, there’s a rap on the door. “Clients are here!” Quinn calls.
“Hey, Si, my next appointment is starting. I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”
“You’re going to come to the house this week?” he presses.
I stifle my sigh, wondering when I’m going to have time to squeeze that in. “Sure, man. I’ll see you.”
As I end the call, I look down at the pile of untouched paper. So much for getting a start on things.
Out in the front of the shop, a small crowd has gathered, my guys introducing themselves to the clients. I slide up next to the desk where Lulu, our receptionist and all-around shop overlord sits. Lulu handles the schedule, makes sure we’re stocked up on everything from clean needles to coffee in the break room, and basically keeps this place from descending into chaos. She runs my shop with a steel fist and she’s the single best hire I’ve ever made.
“Where do you need me?”
She makes a note on one of the freshly signed waiver forms, then looks up at me through her thick black cat-eye glasses. “Girl in the blue sundress needs someone,” she says. “Red hair. Bit of a looker.” She leans toward me. “Half of the assholes you employ have been giving her the eye. I’d put her with Hannie, but she already consulted with one of the others. Figured you could at least be professional.” She rolls her eyes. “Better get to it before Quinn makes a move.”
The last thing I need is Quinn—or any of the other guys in the shop—hitting on a client. “Thanks for the heads up,” I tell Lulu. “Name?”
She checks the waiver. “Evangeline.”
I push away from the desk and wade into the crowd. The girl in the blue dress has her back to us, talking to one of her friends. I make my way to her, crossing my fingers that she wants something on the smaller side so I can get back to the office soon.
“Evangeline?” I ask when I’m a couple feet away. She starts to turn. “I’m Will.”
My name comes out with a slight catch because the woman is facing me now and holy shit. “A bit of a looker” is the understatement of the century. This girl is fucking gorgeous.
Red curls brush against her shoulders, kissing the thin little straps of her sundress. She has the kind of eyes a person could get lost in, big and expressive, irises a clear green. There’s a scattering of freckles over her nose, which strikes me as unbearably adorable. Funny, I’ve never had a single thought about freckles in the past, but right now all I can think about is where else on her body I might see them.
Speaking of her body. Shit. I swallow hard, trying to keep my eyes on her face so they aren’t tempted to scan over her perfect, willowy figure.
“Hey,” I say, wincing at the sound of gravel in my voice. “I’m, uh, going to be helping you out today.”
Her posture stiffens, shoulders going up and back, like she’s bracing herself for something. Her eyes are wide as she stares back at me and I’m pretty sure she’s not actually breathing.
What the hell?
The friend at her side, a tiny blonde woman with a pixie haircut, clears her throat, her fingers sliding over the girl’s pale forearm. Like someone breaking out of a spell, Evangeline’s body relaxes, lungs filling with a long breath. “Hi,” she says, her voice soft but friendly, and then holds her hand out for me to shake, like nothing weird just happened. “You can call me Eva.”
I take her hand in mine, trying not to think about how good it feels, all warm and soft and small against my big palm. “I’m Will.”
She holds my gaze, her big green eyes like a magnet, pulling me in. I’m pretty sure there are flecks of brown right around her pupils and I’m struck with the strongest urge to lean closer.
The friend makes a little amused noise and I realize that I’m still holding Eva’s hand. I drop it quickly, trying to get my shit together. I have hot clients all the time and none of them make me get all… affected.
“Did you have a chance to look at the books?” I ask in a much more normal voice, gesturing to the black leather photo albums that are making the rounds with her group of friends.
She shakes her head quickly. “I don’t need to. I know just what I want.”
“A girl with a plan. I like it.”
She ducks her head a little, like she’s shy, and it’s so damn cute.
I realize that I’m staring again and clear my throat. Jesus, Will.
“Well, if you’re ready, we can head on back to my station.”
Her eyes go to the friend at her side. “Are we seriously doing this?”
The friend holds up her hands. “You know the rules.”
Eva lets out a long sigh as she turns back to me. “Guess I’m ready as I’ll ever be.”
Something clenches in my stomach, some warning that I need to tread carefully here. Which is ridiculous—I probably have at least sixty pounds and more than half a foot on this girl. It’s not like she can hurt me.
So why do I have the strangest feeling like she’s going to?
I push away the ridiculous thought and gesture to the back hallway.
“You can follow me.”