“You’re my best friend, Hazel Stone.”

“Go make your music, and then come back to us, okay? Don’t worry—we’ll leave the porch light on for your return,” she said, kissing my cheek.

I put the box into my rental van and said my final goodbye. I stopped by the other guys’ places to pick them up, and then we headed for the airport. As we sat in the terminal waiting to board our flight, I kept flipping through the pictures that Hazel had given me. It was clear as day that home wasn’t a place—it was people, and I was the lucky asshole who’d never be homeless ever in my life.

“Is that from Hazel?” James asked, nodding toward the photographs.

“Yup, she made me a comfort package, and you know what?”


“I’m going to marry the hell out of that girl someday.”

When the guys and I got back on the road, it was a nonstop swirl of performances. We’d been given the opportunities to open for megastars across the country and then still work on preparing for our official album drop coming the following year.

Oftentimes, I thought Eric was going to have a heart attack as he watched our social media numbers climb to surreal heights. “One fucking million Instagram followers!” he shouted on the tour bus as we were on our way to Richmond, Virginia, for a show. “We just reached over one million followers!”

We all celebrated as if we’d won a damn Grammy. It felt good knowing that people were taking notice of us. That was the biggest reward to me—having people connect to the work we were putting out.

It felt as if we were in an avalanche of success. Each show we performed, more and more people would show up chanting our names. Fans would find out which hotels we were staying in. It became harder and harder to walk the streets without being recognized.

We were becoming everything Max Fucking Rider had promised to us—we were becoming famous, and it was all happening in a blink of an eye.

I was thankful for the connection I still had back home. I was thankful for my calls with Hazel because she kept me grounded.

After a mind-blowingly good show in Richmond, I tossed on a winter coat and walked outside late into the night for some fresh air and a conversation with Hazel.

“I can’t believe you opened for Shawn Mendes and I wasn’t there to see it,” Hazel sighed, probably sadder about missing Shawn than missing me.

“I’m kind of glad you weren’t here, because he looks better in person and sings better in person, and he’s just a good fucking person. I don’t need you leaving me for Shawn.”

“You’re right,” she agreed. “I would’ve been begging him to have my babies.”

I smirked. “The only one ever putting a baby in you is going to be me.” My phone got quiet, and I realized what I’d said. “I mean, someday far, far away. I mean, shit. That came out pretty heavy handed. Pretend I didn’t say that.”

“No, it’s fine. Really. I just didn’t know you wanted kids someday.”

I rubbed my forehead. I supposed that wasn’t something we’d talked about before. “Well, yeah. Someday. Not anytime soon, of course. But I could see a few Ian Juniors running around. I think seeing Rosie really enforced that for me. She’s cute as ever, and it got me thinking about it.”

“She has that effect on people.”

“What about you?” I asked, with a knot in my stomach. “Do you want kids down the road?”

“Oh yes. Two or three, at least. Even four or five. I want a big family filled with laughter. I grew up with not a lot of connections, other than my mom. I want to build a big family.”

Me too, Haze.

I want to build that big-ass family with you.

I didn’t say that, obviously. It seemed a little too forward.

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Are you Ian Parker?” a voice said from behind me.


I kept walking. Max had instructed us that if we were ever seen in public and not interested in being approached, we were to keep walking at a normal speed and act as if we weren’t who we were.

“Did someone spot you?” Hazel asked.

“Yeah, but I’m going to play it cool and loop around back to the hotel. It’s fine.”

“Excuse me! Please! You’re Ian Parker, right?” another voice said. This time it was a male’s voice. Most of the time it was women who called out to us, so the deep manly tone threw me for a loop.

“Nope, not Ian,” I called out, keeping my pace.

“It is you!” the woman said. “It’s Ian! I can tell. Ian Carter, it’s us.”

I paused my steps as my middle name rolled off the woman’s tongue.

That was a new one to me. The last person who had called me Ian Carter was my— I turned around to see the two people following me, and I felt as if I’d been sucker punched the moment I locked eyes with them both.

“I’m going to have to call you back, Hazel,” I murmured, hanging up the phone. My lips parted as shock rocked throughout my whole body. “Mom? Dad?”

They looked broken down and tattered, but it was them. Her eyes matched my eyes; his frown matched my frown.

Mom raked her hands through her thinning hair, gave me a bright smile, and said two words as if she hadn’t been missing from my life for the past fourteen fucking years. “Hey, baby.”