“Bullshit,” Dad—no, Ray—snapped. “You’re a damn superstar. You can give us more than that.”
“What in the hell makes you think I owe you anything?”
“We’re your parents,” he said, his voice dripping with anger. He was probably high out of his fucking mind.
“You’re not anything to me. Here’s the thing. You take the five hundred dollars now, or you take no money, and we can figure out if we can have a relationship down the line. But if we do, I’m not giving you a dime ever. You take the five hundred dollars, or you get your son back. The choice is yours.”
I felt like a damn idiot.
As the seconds ticked by, my heart, my stupid bruised and battered heart, was crying out like the eight-year-old child I used to be, asking—no, begging—his parents to pick him. I wanted them to pick me, to choose me, to want me.
They glanced toward one another, then to the cash, never looking back toward me. In one quick movement, Ray scooped up the money and stuffed it into his pocket.
And my stupid bruised and battered beating heart?
It fucking shattered.
They left that night with $500 in their hands to continue to chase their high as I was left alone in the diner, looking like a damn fool.
“What’s going on? What happened?” Hazel asked as I lay in the hotel room with the phone pressed against my ear. She’d left me dozens of text messages and called multiple times, leaving me voice messages filled with worry.
I’d finally built up enough nerve to call her back around one in the morning. “Just some bullshit,” I murmured. It took a lot for me to break out the whiskey, but I was sipping away at a glass as I sat in bed. I was drunk by the time I’d called her, and that probably wasn’t a good thing.
Whiskey normally made me sad, but that didn’t matter—seeing as how I was already crushed.
“Was it someone who ran into you? A fan? Paparazzi?”
“No.” I shook my head as if she could see me. “Even worse. It was my parents.”
Hazel gasped through the receiver. “Oh my gosh, what?”
“I guess they saw me on TV. Wanted to catch up, and by ‘catch up,’ I mean they wanted money.”
“Oh my gosh, Ian. I can’t believe that. What did you do?”
“I gave them an option—five hundred bucks or a relationship with me.”
She sighed, almost as if she knew what they’d chosen. “They took the money?”
“Yeah.” I chuckled, the back of my throat burning from the whiskey and the pain of the night. “They took the fucking money.”
“Idiots,” she whispered. “I hate them. I know I shouldn’t hate your parents, but I do. I really freaking hate them.”
“Yeah. It’s not like they made the wrong choice,” I drunkenly said, tossing the whiskey back, before walking over to the bar to pour myself another glass. “I wouldn’t have chosen me either.”
“Don’t say that. You aren’t the mistake in this, Ian. They are. They are the flawed ones, not you.”
I stayed quiet and placed a hand on the bar to stabilize myself as my mind spun from the whiskey and the heartache.
“What do you need?” she asked, her voice alert and stern. “Tell me what you need.”
I swallowed hard and cleared my throat. “My best friend,” I muttered. “I need my best friend.”
“Okay. I’m on my way.”
“What the fuck is this?” Max hollered as he stormed toward me in the hotel lobby the next morning. We had two more shows in Richmond, and I couldn’t help but want to go home. But as they said, the show had to go on.
The guys and I were waiting in the lobby to head off to a few interviews, and the sound of Max’s high-pitched voice felt like nails on a fucking chalkboard to my hangover.
I pinched the bridge of my nose as he stopped in front of me. I was sporting the nice sunglasses and dark apparel, and all I wanted was a few ibuprofen and deep-fried foods.
“What’s what?” I grumbled, not wanting to deal with my manager that morning. Did he make our dreams come true? Yes. Did he drive me insane at times? Double yes.
“This,” he said, shoving the phone into my hands.
I stared at the screen, and a knot formed in my stomach. It was a tabloid image of me sitting in the diner with my parents, and it captured me handing money over to the two of them. From the outside looking in, it looked shady as fuck.
Okay, regardless, it was shady, but the tabloids made it look fucking awful. Now I understood Max’s panic.
“What is it?” James asked, taking the phone from my hand. The moment he saw it, his mouth dropped open. “Holy shit. Is that . . . ?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yup.”
Max snatched the phone back from my hands, completely unaware of who I was sitting across from in that picture. And he obviously didn’t care.
He sat on the coffee table directly across from me and clasped his hands together. “Are you on drugs?”
“What?” I blurted out. “No, I’m not on drugs.”
“Don’t fucking lie to me, Ian. If you are, I just have to know what kind. Cocaine? I can do. Molly? Sure. A few pills and cough syrup on a Saturday night? Sure, why not? But this—this picture looks like two people on fucking meth. And I don’t fuck with artists who are doing meth,” he bellowed with his nose flaring. “So did you meet up with those meth heads to join their party?”