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Tucker has a weird smirk on his face. Shaking his head, he laughs. “Trystan, I’m already proud of you. This stupid smile on my face is pride. You’re the kid with the most crap stacked against you and you rose to the top. You finally learned what I was trying to teach you and I couldn’t ask for more.”

Tucker stands abruptly and smacks Trystan on the back, nearly knocking him out of his seat. “I’ll see you before the play tonight and tell you how it goes. And Mari, make plans to stay at Katie’s in case I can’t pick up your dorm room key until tomorrow.” He drops fifty bucks on the table and adds, “Celebrate, both of you. Grab a piece of cake and something for dinner. I’ll see you guys later.”

CHAPTER 9

~MARI~

Trystan and I go to the diner for dinner. My parents won’t show up and I doubt my dad is out looking for me. He’ll wait for me to come home and then chew me out. I already called a left a message on the answering machine that I’d be staying with Katie tonight, so I won’t have to deal with that mess until tomorrow, and right now tomorrow feels so far away.

I’m staring at the menu way too long. Trystan is sitting across from me in the little booth. He glances over the top of his menu and looks around. “Where do you think they went?”

“Who? The press?”

“Yeah, I thought they’d be harder to ditch.”

Seth appears next to me and interrupts, “Well, you can thank me for that. And her, I guess.” He jabs his thumb at Katie, who’s giggling like a maniac and standing next to Seth.

Trystan scoots in to give Seth room, and I do the same. Katie sits next to me and is trying really hard not to laugh. “Tell them what you did,” she says to Seth.

Seth leans back into the booth and spreads his arms across the seatback. “Well, the reporters were hanging around the school, like you’d come back. So me and Katie walk over and ask if they’ve seen you, yet.”

Katie can’t shut up. She blurts out, “Seth gave an interview and totally made up a bunch of stuff. The reporters are out at Robert Moses beach looking for you right now. Seth told them that you always go out there before opening night, but that you’d be back in time for the show.” Her smile looks so weird, because she’s trying to keep herself from laughing. “Tell them the other part—about Brie.”

“Oh, yeah. I told them that the Skank is a bit of a psycho and that she’s not your girlfriend.”

“They believed you?” Trystan asks, looking surprised.

“Nah, of course not. I said I was your best friend, but everyone is pulling shit and trying to get on camera. So I told them to confirm that I was your bro with Brie, which they did. So, Brie says yes, and then they ask her where you go before every performance and she says you don’t go anywhere.” Seth is smiling like he’s the most awesome guy in the world.

Katie jumps in and finishes the story. “So they didn’t believe that she’s going out with you! They told her to step aside so they could talk to Trystan’s real friends.” Katie busts a gut laughing and doubles over. Her face comes dangerously close to hitting the table as her body shakes.

Seth reaches forward all of a sudden, and shoots his hand out, placing it between Katie’s face and the table just before she smacks into it. “Watch it, bacon girl. You’ll knock the few brains you have left out of that pretty head.”

Trystan’s eyes widen and we give each other a silent what the heck was that stare.

Katie stares at Seth’s hand and lifts her eyes slowly, smiling way too hard. “Trying to steal a feel, Sexbot?”

“Only from you.” Seth and Katie are in their own little world with their eyes locked. Katie practically swoons when he says that last bit.

“Okay, what the hell is going on?” Trystan elbows Seth in the side, adding, “You’re freaking us out. What’d you guys do all day?”

Katie sighs and looks at Seth like she’s love struck. “Nothing. Messed with reporters, cut class, toilet papered Brie’s car, and stuck pickles on her antenna.”

“Pickles?” Trystan and I ask at the same time.

“Yeah, cuz she’s a dick,” Katie says.

Seth laughs. “I had no idea why you picked up pickles.”

“It’s because the lunch lady gave me the whole jar. I didn’t think of the metaphor until later.” They both start laughing again, and it’s like aliens came down and snatched Katie’s brains while we were gone.

“So,” Seth says and looks at us, “Did you guys get stuff worked out? Is our boy going to be a rock star? Because I want backstage passes. I’m going to take a marker and cross out the VIP and write PUS-E on mine.”

Katie kicks him under the table. “You will not!”

Seth laughs, “Damn woman, those boots hurt. Stop kicking me!”

“Stop saying dumb-ass stuff!”

“I only said it to get a rise out of you.”

“Well, you’ll get a boot up your ass if you say it again.” Katie’s smirk is back. She’s flirting with him.

“Uh, Trystan…” I say and scoot away from her a little bit. “I think someone stole Katie’s brain. They must have sucked it right out of her head.”

“Yeah,” Trystan answers with a smirk on his lips, “that dazed look on her face says—ahh! She kicked me!” Trystan’s eyes widen in shock and he looks under the table and then back up at my best friend.

Katie folds her arms over her chest and leans back in the booth, smugly. “Sorry, the alien made me do it.” She examines the back of her hand, looking closely at her polish before looking up. “What?”

We all start laughing and things feel like they’re going to be all right.

_____

When we get to the school, the building is surrounded by reporters. Trystan stops in his tracks and his face turns white. His hand slips out of mine as he stares. This will be his life from now on and I’m sure he’s questioning whether or not he can handle it. Seth and Katie stop when they notice we aren’t following them.

“This is nothing, Scott. We can elbow past them—”

“Or?” Trystan asks as he looks at the news vans again. There are more people here than before. This morning it was manageable, but now there are close to twenty different reporters, plus their crew, and cameras are everywhere. Some of the media people are standing in front of the school, blocking the doors, with a microphone in hand, ready to pounce when Trystan arrives. Since Trystan doesn’t want to make the announcement until after the performance, it’s an issue.

“Or, we can open the basement door. Come on, Katie. I’ll distract them and you sneak through. Knock three times on the door and wait for her to open it. Got it?” Seth doesn’t wait for an answer. Instead he walks away with Katie a few paces behind.

Trystan looks over at me. “So.”

“You’re not ready for this, are you?” He takes my hand and shakes his head.

“I don’t think anyone could ever be ready for this. I like the limelight, Mari, but only when I’m on a stage and everyone else is far away. I’m not used to having them in my face and sorting through my personal life. I don’t like it.” He sighs and pushes his silky hair out of his eyes.

Squeezing his hand, we round the side of the building and head toward the stairwell that leads to the basement. “I know. I wish I could keep them away from you, but I think you need them. They’re the ones that’ll get you a contract and pay your bills, right? Maybe you could think of it like a show, throw out some personal stuff so they don’t go digging for it. I’m not naïve enough to think that’ll stop them, but it should slow them down, right?”

“Maybe. The truth is I don’t think I’m cut out for this, Mari. I’m an actor. I never planned on signing—”

“But that’s exactly why they love you. Trystan, you’re real. You aren’t someone whose clawed his way to the top. You’re the lovesick guy that wrote a girl a song. You’re the guy who wanted to stay out of the spotlight, and that’s why they love you. You’re acting like a normal person, not some larger than life Hollywood type. When they look at you, you give them hope. People like you are rare. Remember who you are and you’ll be happy for once. You won’t have to scrounge for food or worry about where you’re going to sleep.” I lean into his arm as I say these things. Trystan has no idea what people see in him. I can hear it in his voice.

Trystan stops and slips his arms around my waist, before leaning in and giving me a peck on the forehead. Smiling, he takes a lock of hair in his hand and plays with the curl, wrapping it around his finger. “You have too much faith in me.”

“You need people that love you for you and believe in you, Trystan. You’ve been denied that basic right. And by the way, this isn’t too much faith at all. I know what you’re capable of, and I expect you shine bright and rock this Day Jones thing better than any play you’ve ever done. You’ve been handed the performance of a lifetime, and you’re going to amaze us all. Wait and see.” It’s hard to say stuff like that to someone when it isn’t true, but with Trystan I have no shortage of words. He’s amazing and the whole world is about to know for certain that Day Jones pales in comparison to Trystan Scott.

“Mari,” Trystan’s lips are parted like he’s searching for words, but nothing comes out. He shakes his head with laughter on his lips. “I love you so much. You see this,” he points to the ring I gave him, “I’m never taking it off. You’re my everything, Mari.” He wraps his arms around me and holds me tight.

Katie’s voice echoes up to us. “Stop making out and get your asses down here before someone sees you!”

Trystan takes my hand and we run down the metal stairs and into the basement. Katie yanks the door shut behind us and looks up, grinning. “You guys are going to get married and have little rock star babies!” I elbow her in the side, but she keeps laughing anyway. “They’re going to have little tiny guitars and chains on their diapers!”

Horrified, I look over at Trystan wondering how much Katie just spooked him. The look of terror that I was expecting isn’t there when I glance his way. Instead, Trystan is laughing with her and adds, “Don’t forget baby mohawks.” He looks over at me. “What? You never thought about what’s next for us?”

Shyness pulls my face to the floor like an anchor to the bottom of the ocean. I can’t look up if I try. “A little, but not that far.” Trystan is still laughing when he yanks me toward him.

“Yeah, I have to go save Seth, otherwise I would love to hear this. Tell him that you want two babies and a little house upstate with a picket fence and a cow that eats your pansies.” Katie runs off before I can kill her.

Trystan rests his forehead on mine. “Why does she know that stuff and I don’t? And what’s with the cow?”

I shrug and look up at him. My stomach dips and I can barely find my voice. “Most guys don’t want to hear that stuff.”

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