I guess, when all is said and done, I shouldn’t have gone to the bar.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been warned to stay away from complicated relationships, especially after how terribly my last one ended and how raw and bitter I felt for months after that.  I was perfectly content, I told myself, to just play the field.  Enjoy the bevy of women at my beck and call.  Loosen up and live life for a change, instead of always worrying about what would come next.

 

I think that’s what brought me to the bar in the first place.

 

I needed to get out, first of all.  The day hadn’t gone well and our show went even worse; the crowd was half-hearted at best and I wanted to throttle Justin as he preened on the catwalk.  That wasn’t even the worst of it.  Chris decided to get on me about my hair, and during the whole “goofy banter” section of our show he wouldn’t leave it alone.  At first I was okay with it, but then I got pissed…and he knew it.  And of course I couldn’t do a damn thing; I had to sit there and offer a tight-lipped smile and half-hearted laugh and let him drive me up the fucking wall with his childish lunacy.

 

I was so ready to get out.

 

When we got back to the hotel, the others offered to take me with them to some dance club.  How nice, right? 

 

“JC, you’re welcome to come.  You don’t have to sit in your room.”

 

As though I didn’t have any other options.  As if I would just sit around and stare at the wall.

 

Well, maybe I did…for a little…but after an hour and a half I was going stir-crazy, and I made up my mind to get out of the hotel.  I was determined to enjoy myself that night, damn it, and if that meant bothering Arthur the gay concierge who constantly stared at my ass and thought I didn’t notice, so be it.

 

“It’s on the North Side, Mr. Chasez,” He said merrily, when I asked for bar suggestions.  “Just what you requested.”

 

“No flashy lights?” I said anxiously.

 

“No.”

 

“No dance music?”

 

He looked aghast.  “No.”

 

“Sticky floors and filthy restrooms?”

 

“Trust me, Mr. Chasez.  This bar is the pinnacle of depravity.”

 

Somehow, strange as it sounds, I took comfort in that assessment.

 

I didn’t take a limo to the bar.  Lonnie tried to talk me into it but I shrugged him off and pulled a few strings to get this beat-up old Mazda that the hotel operator owned.  The only catch was that she had to drive me, which led to about fifteen minutes of the dullest conversation I’ve ever had in my life.  But…I got there…and Arthur was right.  The neon sign outside the door said “rat hell,” but only because the S, K, A, and R were all burned out.  It was endearing, in a fucked-up sort of way.

 

I paid the five dollar cover and ignored the knowing smirk of the bouncer as I walked in the door.  Already the bar was teeming with patrons; it was obviously a hangout for the city’s seedy underbelly.  At the small stage a band was cranking out cover tunes with surprising agility, and as I crept closer to the stage I saw her, perched behind the drum kit.

 

It wasn’t that she was overwhelmingly beautiful or anything…I mean, her hair was red and I couldn’t tell the shade of her eyes because of the way the stage lights flickered, but there was something in her face…something about her stance.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just one of those hopeful/hopeless romantics who believe in an inner spark to light my way to love-laden bliss.

 

Anyway, I watched her for awhile, saw her wrists flick smoothly against the taut surface of the drumheads, saw her head bob in time to the song’s rhythm, even heard her voice occasionally on a soaring harmony.  I liked it.  I liked her.  And she was fun to watch.

 

The guy next to me must have caught me staring, because I felt a bony elbow press into my ribs a few minutes later.

 

“She’s a feisty one, ain’t she?” He asked, leering.

 

I usually choose to acknowledge all unsolicited attempts at friendship with a blank stare, but something told me this guy could twist me into a pretzel if I ignored him, so I smiled weakly and nodded.

 

“You should send her a beer,” He said pointedly, and waved his hand to get the bartender’s attention.  A burly man whose nametag said “Rick” appeared a second later, and the first man said, not-so-quietly, “this pretty young man would like to buy our lovely drummer a beer, Richard.”

 

Rick smiled a nearly-toothless grin and laughed, leaning heavily on his elbows.  “’Zat so, boy?  What were you lookin’ to buy?”

 

I squeaked “Heineken,” embarrassed at my obvious nervousness, and the two of them laughed in tandem.

 

“Heineken?!” They screeched.  “We got Budweiser and Corona, boy.  Take your pick.”

 

I quickly indicated the Corona and left a healthy tip for my two new “friends” before making my way to the front of the stage. 

 

The band was between songs and I saw her fiddling with her equipment, sure fingers slowed by—my God—was that nervousness?  I caught her stealing a glance at me in the next moment and a slow smile spread across my lips.  It appeared that our admiration was mutual.

 

A moment later and she was heading my way, beer in hand, sultry smile curving her lips and sending sparks of heat to my belly.  Gingerly she squeezed the wedge of lime between her fingers and then pushed it into the bottle.  A second later she brought those fingers, still wet from the lime’s juice, to her lips…and slowly licked it up.

 

God.  When that pink tongue escaped it was all I could do not to moan aloud.  I could almost feel the soft flesh sliding up my thigh, tickling my cock, tasting my…

 

“Hello?” She said, pure amusement in her voice.  I cleared my throat in embarrassment and muddled my way through the rest of our conversation, libido surging yet again as she wiggled her chest in front of my face while showing off her custom t-shirt.  (*NSTYNC.  Clever.)

 

It was crazy, the way we talked so easily.  I mean, I have so much to lose, so many walls to break down, that it was amazing I was giving so freely to our conversation.  Usually, I just mutter a few endearments and offer a smile or two and whomever I’m talking to is satisfied, but with her I wanted to give as much as I could, without any sort of thought as to what I might receive in return.

 

Well.  That’s not completely true.  I didn’t think about returns until she started that fucking Divinyls song.  Yeah.  That one.  The only one.

 

She had me wrapped around her little finger, with her hip-shaking, hair-tossing, slow-stroking sex-tease rendition of that dirty little masturbation anthem.  Ooooh, she had me hot. 

 

And I wanted her.

 

It’s odd, being able to pinpoint the exact moment I fell for someone.  Usually I’m in my own little cloud of self-importance, content to leave the heavy flirting to Joey or Chris and let the girls come to me…but…this time…this time it was different.  I was gonna have her.  That night.

 

I just had to bide my time and drum up some courage.

 

I waited until their set was over before approaching again.  I introduced myself and offered to help her break down her drum kit, even though I didn’t have the first clue how the things worked.  I figured it would be an excuse to get close to her, maybe even touch her a little, and learn something in the process.  What could be better?

 

My plan didn’t exactly work out that way—her bandmate let her off the hook—but we still ended up outside, looking at each other expectantly, and suddenly my bravado, the act I had clearly copped from Justin, was gone.  I felt all of fifteen years old again, standing on my front porch, trying to figure out what to do on my first date.

 

Would you believe she saved me?  She suggested we return to her place so she could shower and change, and I could barely cage my excitement as I thought of all the fun activities that fell under those two headings.  I let a smile steal across my lips, and involuntarily I felt my cock twitch.

 

Yes.  It would be a good night.

 

The ride to her place was soaked with tension of the best kind.  We sang a little here and there—some Incubus, the new Staind single, whatever came on the radio.  In the darkness of her car I could be more casual about my staring, and I licked my lips slowly at the way her fingers absently caressed the steering wheel.  My mind was on sexual overdrive, I’m ashamed to admit, and I thought more than once about those fingers sliding over places of interest on my body…the hot spots behind my ears, down the center of my chest, just below my navel…mmmm…yeah.  She had me going before we even walked in the door.

 

I guess, prior to getting inside her apartment, I never really thought about her as a serious musician.  I mean, I knew she played drums, and I knew that musically she had talent, but I sort of wrapped that up in everyone else I’d ever met in the music business.  In my genre, if someone says they can “play,” it’s usually an indication that they know a few chords or a riff or two, nothing substantial.  So to see those sticks and drum heads everywhere…unbelievable.  Everyone.  Neil Peart.  Larry Mullen Junior.  Carter Beauford.  All your standards, and even a few obscure ones here and there.  I must have had a look of utter awe on my face when I turned back around to see her, because she was grinning from ear-to-ear and struggling to stifle a laugh.

 

“Wow…” I muttered, and she blushed prettily, shrugging it off like it was nothing. 

 

“Well, why you worship my totally ass-kicking collection of drumheads,” She began, “I’m gonna shower. Make yourself at home.”

 

I smiled, and was about to make some off-the-cuff, witty remark, when I turned to see her pulling her shirt over her head.  My mouth went dry.  Bare back.  No bra.  Breasts just peeking around her slender sides. 

 

I’ll be honest: it’s been awhile since I’ve really looked at a woman.  Really.  Oh sure, I’ve had the requisite crazy sexcapades, and I’ve given cursory looks to the young female fans who flock to our shows, but in terms of in-depth studying, I hadn’t had a chance since my last girlfriend left me.

 

She never really liked to be looked at.  Granted, she knew she was gorgeous…she had a sinful body with curves in all the right places, etc, but when I tried to really look at her, she’d get miffed and push me away.

 

“I am not an object, Joshua,” She’d sneer, and then pull on that infernal terry-cloth robe.  “If you want to stare at naked women go buy yourself a copy of Playboy.”

 

Never mind that she’d have my ass in a sling if I actually did it.

 

But…yeah…when this girl, this musician-sprite with the charming smile and capable hands, threw her shirt casually in the corner of the room and sauntered off to shower…I couldn’t even move.

 

She left the bathroom door open, practically an engraved invitation.

 

Go and GET her, Chasez, I scolded myself, but still I stood in her living room with all the memorabilia, trying to figure out what to do.  At last I heard the water turn on and with a deep, nervous breath, I headed toward the shower.

 

I watched her.  Lord, did I watch her.  Behind frosted steamy glass I watched her move those hands all over that body, just enough to tease, not nearly enough to satisfy.  I could feel the heat rushing to my groin and I gripped the edges of the counter with white knuckles, willing my body to regain control.  I almost had it…and then she opened the shower door.

 

No embarrassment, no awkwardness about being completely and totally naked in front of me.  No attempts to cover herself, no shy excuses for this fault or that one, she just smiled beautifully and took my hand, leading me out of the room.

 

If I was a perfect gentleman I would leave out all the details of what happened next, but I can’t resist sharing just a little bit…

 

She liked to kiss.  Mmmmm…slow and soft and hot and wet…tongues sliding together, hips gently thrusting in time to our mouths’ furtive dance.  I could barely feel the texture of her skin through the thick material of my jeans, but my t-shirt registered her heat, and I pressed my body closer to hers.

 

She slid down my body, lust in her eyes, innocence in her face, and very gently took my cock into her mouth.  I swear to God I almost passed out…it had been so long…and it was so, so good.  When I finally entered her it was all I could do not to fall into a frantic rhythm, but I held onto what few shards of control I had left and tried to make it last as long as possible.

 

I knew, in the morning, I would have to leave…but in that moment, leaving was the farthest thing on my mind.

 

That seems to be my problem.

 

I like to tell myself that I don’t really believe in love; that I’m married to my career and my mistress is music, and we court constantly under the strongest spotlights.  Truthfully…I just want a companion.  She doesn’t even have to be “the one,” she just has to be “a one,” because at this point I’m so lonely I’d take a one-night-stand for the comfort of someone’s arms before spending another night lying alone, in bed.

 

I don’t want anyone’s pity.  I made my bed, metaphorically and literally, and now I must lie in it…but it’s on nights like that one, in a seedy bar with a fairy-tale woman, that I long for something more.  It’s nights like that one when I believe that I could indeed fall for someone, give myself to them completely, not be afraid of the inevitable hurt.

 

With those thoughts swirling around my muddled brain, I wrapped my arms around her tightly and went to bed, her scent still haunting my senses.

 

The next morning, the morning after, was awkward…awkward not because we had made a mistake, but awkward because neither one of us wanted to give up the moment.  Awkward because we both recognized the potential of what could have been…what could be.

 

She didn’t say much during breakfast…she just ate her cereal and asked me if I was enjoying my eggs, which would have made me laugh if it wasn’t so damn sad.

 

It finally got to be nine-thirty and I knew our check-out was in a few short hours, so reluctantly I rose from the table.

 

She knew immediately it was time.

 

“So…this is it, I guess?” She smiled sadly, and I nodded.  I searched her face, trying to capture the memory, to imprint it upon my mind to take out when I needed a fantasy of comfort and acceptance.  I wanted to thank her for the night we had shared, for the way she gave herself to me and accepted what I had offered…but…every thought I tried to create was marred by the tampering hands of cliché, and in the end all I could offer was the simplest of sentiments.

 

“I, uh…I’m really glad I found you,” I murmured, and quickly cast my eyes to the ground.  Somehow that statement seemed cheap, and she deserved so much more…but she smiled and traced my jaw with one slender finger, and my eyes fluttered closed at the touch.

 

Gently, tenderly, I kissed her.  It was a kiss bereft of the searing passion we had felt the night before…a kiss of remorse…a kiss of goodbye…a kiss of understanding.  It tasted as bitter as it did sweet, and with a last look to her watering eyes, I slipped out the door and into my waiting cab.

 

The ride back was silent save for the quiet sounds of the radio and the hum of the freeway.  I rested my forehead against the cool glass, trying to figure out how I ended up in situations like these, and why I didn’t just take the chance and go for something good when I saw it.

 

The reason is this: I am afraid.  Afraid of commitment.  Afraid of love.  Afraid of giving myself to someone.  Afraid of falling into old traps with relationships.  And absolutely, completely terrified of being alone.  I do these one-night-stands for those precise reasons: comfort without commitment, and no one gets hurt.

 

At least, most of the time.  That time, that night…she slipped through the cracks.  And it would be a long, long time before I forgot her.

 

The cab pulled up behind the hotel and I slipped in through the back door, amid accusing glances from my bandmates and knowing smiles from our security.  I passed Arthur in the hallway and made a mental note to send him a really big fucking fruit basket, despite my residual sadness, and didn’t even mind so much when he whirled around to get one last glimpse of my ass.

 

As I closed the door behind me, the memory of her body still etched so clearly in my mind, I sighed heavily, feeling overwhelmingly weary.  Looking out the window to the city’s great sprawl, I smiled sadly, and whispered her name with the deepest of apologies.

 

Somewhere, I prayed…she could hear me.