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Chapter One

The first time Nick had met Amanda was in the back parking lot behind the hotel where they’d held the initial press release about the cancelled tour. He’d snuck out through the kitchen to sneak a smoke. The other guys thought he’d quit a long time ago, and he had, really. He had gone through probably twelve bags of Tootsie Roll pops to do it, picking out only the brown ones, but he’d done it. However, the stress had made him dig through his backpack for the “emergency pack” he’d stowed away in a paper bag.

Amanda had been back there already when Nick burst out the kitchen door, clutching his backpack and glancing over his shoulder like an escaped convict as it closed. He didn’t notice her at first, but sat down on an overturned milk crate and dug through the bag until he’d extricated the Marlboros and a lighter. Kicking the bag aside, he’d clicked the lighter and the flame ignited the end of the cigarette, which he raised to his mouth and breathed in with a sigh of relief.

“Damn, that feels good,” he muttered, closing his eyes and relishing the feeling of the tobacco soaking his lungs and throat, chasing his brainwaves around in his head and releasing the stress. He imagined the feeling when AJ did that egg-cracked-on-your-head thing, and that ticklish, dripping feeling was the stress pouring out of him.

“Quit, too, huh?”

The voice startled him, and he looked around with frantic motion. His eyes landed on Amanda and he went to put out the light, ashamed that a fan had caught him.

“You don’t have to put it out,” she said, holding up her own Marlboro adorned hand.

“Thank God,” Nick replied. He took another drag. “I try not to smoke in front of fans,” he explained.

She looked around at the empty lot around them. “Um, sorry?”

Nick shrugged, “I dunno, it just seems like bad role modeling or something when I do.”

“Well, lucky for you, there doesn’t seem to be any fans around,” she answered.

Nick flushed, catching what she meant. “Sorry, I just assumed…”

“You know what they say about assuming right?”

“It makes an ass out of you and me,” Nick replied.

Amanda nodded, “Other than the part where I’m an ass, too, that is very true.” She stood up from the place where she’d been sitting on her sweatshirt on the ground.

Nick gave her a once over. She was nice looking, he decided, and unique. She had brown hair that hung to her shoulders in loose curls that he imagined her rolling out of bed with. Her arms were covered with those black plastic bracelets that teens wore these days but that had just been cool in the late 80s and early 90s. Come to think of it, the whole of her looked like she had just stepped out of Seattle in 1992, from the black Doc Martin boots to the flannel-over-a-tank that she wore over ripped-at-the-knee jeans. “I’m Amanda,” she told him, striking out her hand.

“Nick,” he said, taking it.

“Duh.” She sat down next to him on another overturned milk crate and the messenger bag she carried over one shoulder slumped beside her on the ground. “I may not be a fan, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lived in a cave since the whole BSB thing exploded. So you’re uber famous, but you’re sneaking out the back door for a smoke?”

“Like I said, I don’t like smoking in front of fans,” I said.

“Because they’re all like twelve?”

Nick laughed. “Nah. Not all of them anyways. Some of them are, you know, legal, at least.”

“Must make groupies more fun,” she said.

He didn’t answer. It was a subject that the Boys had always tried to avoid in conversations and interviews.

“So the buzz of the hotel is that you guys just cancelled your like million dollar sold out tour,” she said. Nick watched the smoke stream from her mouth, and imagined that she was part woman, part fire-breathing dragon. Somehow imagining her being a mythical creature of this sort made Nick desire her even more than he was already before the thought had occurred to him.

He shrugged in response to the statement about the tour.

“Why’d you cancel it?” she asked.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” he answered, flicking away ash from the tip of his cigarette. It was the worst thing that had ever happened, ever. It was the reason he was out here smoking again.

Amanda pulled her pack out of a pocket on her hip and a lighter that had been clasped to her pulse point by the bracelets around her wrist. She flicked the lighter and the cigarette lit. Her black-polished fingernails reminded him of AJ and made him feel sad that the tour wasn’t going to happen. He’d been looking forward to it for months.

Unlike the other guys, Nick had no one waiting for him at home. He’d ended a long-term relationship the year before and blasted his way through a string of girls so fast that even the fans hadn’t seen half of them in paparazzi photos. The last one had stolen a bunch of stuff from his apartment, and the one before that shattered three out of four rare Star Trek coffee mugs that he’d collected. So all that was waiting for him at home in Los Angeles was the heat and indigestion from too much take-out.

Tours were Nick’s sanctuary. The other guys complained while they were on tour because they were homesick, but Nick was homesick in between tours. The bus that the Boys shared for months at a time as they crisscrossed the States was his true home, had been since he was thirteen and trying to get the hell away from his parents. He had never told anyone, but during the hiatus, when they’d cancelled the tour for AJ’s stint in rehab, Nick had yearned to just visit the bus, sleep in the bunk in the dirty sheets and his Spiderman comforter, and smell the stink of five guys sharing a small space.

Now, it was very possible that he’d never spend time on the bus again. Ever.

He pushed the thought from his mind.

“So if you aren’t a fan, what brings you here?” he asked Amanda in an attempt to change the subject from himself.

“Business,” she answered dully. “My boss sent me out here to do some stuff and I just snuck back here to get a smoke.”

“What do you do?” Nick asked, curious.

Amanda smiled. “Well, in my heart I’m a writer, but nobody wants to publish the crappy poetry I write, so I do what I can to get by and that’s enough. My boss owns a bunch of publishers and he needed me to come out to pick up some stuff for one of them.”

“So he paid for a swanky hotel and you get to hide out back and smoke cigarettes on your free time,” Nick laughed. “He didn’t even get you a smoking room?”

Amanda shrugged, “Well, he did, but my co-worker’s up there and he doesn’t like it when I smoke.” She took a drag and glanced up the side of the building toward the window of her room.

“Control freak?” I asked, frowning.

“Just a freak,” she replied. She stood up and dusted the dirt from the ground off her butt, tossing the last of her cigarette onto the floor and putting it out with the toe of her boot. “It was nice meeting you, Nick,” she said.

He hesitated a moment, unsure if he was over-stepping his bounds – but he decided that he didn’t really care even if he was. “When are you leaving?”br>
“I’m here awhile,” she replied, shrugging.

Nick nodded. “Cool. Maybe we could do coffee sometime?”

Amanda nodded, a half-smile curling the left side of her mouth only. “You know where to find me. I’m a chain-smoker.”

Nick watched as she disappeared around the hotel and contemplated her a moment before putting out his own light, and heading back inside, stopping in the lobby bathroom to speed-chew a piece of gum before going to face the coyotes that were his band mate brothers.