After what seemed like the longest pause in the history of her life, Poppy exhaled. She rocked backward on her heels, heart split down the middle. Part of her wanted to be thrilled. Going on a national tour was everything that South of Forever—and she—had been working toward. That kind of success would surely put them on the map, and probably give her the kind of job security that her generation so rarely saw. Still, it was too soon.
She’d hoped that South of Forever had a good few years before they hit that kind of critical mass. Most people wanted their success in a hurry, but Poppy wanted to finish school. She needed to, she thought as she twirled a strand of hair around her finger. Frizz lined the strand, her natural, tight coils threatening to escape her sleek waves. Pretty soon she’d need to get it relaxed again.
She bit down on her lip. The last thing she needed to be thinking about was her hair. Griff eyed her with something between concern and suspicion. For a moment, it was as if he could see straight through her. She swallowed hard.
“That’s amazing,” she croaked. There was no way that she would be able to go on tour and make it to her classes. If she went with the band, she would inevitably flunk out. If she stayed in Boston, though, she would be giving up everything she had ever dreamed of. Glancing at Griff, she lifted her chin. She needed to say something more positive than that. She was his manager, after all. “When?”
The question flew out of her mouth before she could catch herself. Once again, she was speaking without thinking. Her mother would say that she invited trouble just by opening her mouth.
Griff seemed not to notice the struggle clawing at her heart, though. He put his hands in his pockets and turned back toward her mother’s house, keeping his pace slow and leisurely. If things were different, she might be able to pretend that they were on a romantic walk, digesting their Thanksgiving meal. His next words burst that particular bubble instantly. “This is kind of springing it on you, but Saul said that they’re leaving Monday.”
Her eyebrows flew toward her hairline. “This Monday?” she squeaked.
“I know it’s super last minute, and I wouldn’t normally ask you to take off in the middle of a holiday.” He spread his hands, chagrin lining his face in a grimace. “But I need you.” He cleared his throat. “We all do.”
She took a moment to collect herself. “Who’s Saul?” she asked, changing the subject. Her mind roiled. There was no way she could juggle school and a tour. A national tour meant that she would be thousands of miles away from Boston at any given time, hours away from class.
As they neared her mother’s house, Griff slowed even more. She wondered whether he was prolonging their time alone together, or if he was just naturally a slow walker. Or maybe, she mused, he just wanted privacy to discuss band business.
“He’s like the Jett of King Riley.” Griff lifted a shoulder, an amused smile playing on his lips. “He definitely seems to be in charge, but he’s also their lead singer.”
“Oh.” She looked down at her toes. Despite the chill in the air, she was glad that she had worn her wedges. They made her legs look great, her floral printed skinnies practically painted on her. She put a finger to her lips. If she went on tour with South of Forever, she was going to have to learn King Riley’s band members’ names. Arguably, she should already know who they all were, considering she was a band manager and they were part of the Boston scene—her band’s stomping grounds. Technically, they were competition. She rocked back as she remembered a conversation that she had overheard between Perry and Max not so long ago. “Didn’t Perry used to be King Riley’s bassist?”
Pressing his lips together, Griff nodded.
“Is that going to be an issue?” She crossed her arms over her chiffon blouse and raised an eyebrow at him.
He lifted a shoulder. “I hope not.”
“Perry is a guaranteed problem,” she reminded him. Though he had mellowed out considerably since she’d met him that summer, he still made half-hearted passes at her and drank too much during shows. Even if he could tame his womanizing and borderline alcoholism, she could see him being the first to pick a fight with the other band. “Is this even a good idea? What did he get kicked out for?”
Griff chuckled as he angled back toward the house. “You think he got kicked out?”
“This is Perry we’re talking about.” She slowed, glancing at the front porch. It was empty. Breathing a sigh of relief, she put a hand on Griff’s arm. “Did he ever mention why he isn’t part of King Riley anymore?”
“Jett got the impression that he left on his own terms,” Griff said. “You’re right, though. No one asked, and he never said.” His eyes met hers, and a tingle zipped through her. Though her hand was still on his arm, he made no move to pull away.
Her breath caught in her throat. Blinking, she forced herself to focus. Griff was ten years older than her—at least, her true age. Everyone in South of Forever thought she was twenty-two, but she was eighteen. All of the guys she’d dated in high school had been her age or a couple years older. There had never been a need to lie.
“So, barring any Perry incidents, are you up for this?” He grinned at her and, for a moment, she thought she might faint.
He wasn’t the kind of smoking hot that made it on the covers of magazines or in underwear ads. He had a certain boyish charm that easily bent, fitting the rock star image. He could go back and forth between any look if he wanted to. She had seen pictures of him during high school, with hair grown out to his chin and the slightest hint of stubble on his face, thanks to Jett breaking out the scrapbook she kept. Poppy would have never pegged Jett for the sentimental type, but she had photos of Griff that even his own mother would probably never show mixed company. Poppy’s cheeks reddened at the thought of a photo of his bare ass. It was from his Perpetual Smile days, during a drunken night on tour. He’d mooned the entire band and Jett had snapped a photo that she later pasted front and center in her scrapbook.
Poppy realized that she had spaced out more than usual. Her cheeks blazed and heat pricked at the back of her neck. Clearing her throat, she started walking back toward the house. “I should really get back to dinner,” she said, avoiding his question.
“Of course.” Griff kept pace beside her. He ran a hand through his hair. He touched her arm as if he wanted to say something else, but then drew away.
Again, she couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if she went on tour with South of Forever for a few months. It could be like a vacation. Of course, she would be working, coordinating merchandise and hanging out backstage. She beamed at the thought of herself standing behind a merch table. She could wear one of the band’s T-shirts. Better yet, she could bring a real sense of fashion to their wares. So few bands even carried shirts for women and, when they did, they shrunk easily or were cut wrong. Then again, she wasn’t sure how much she could do in just a few days, especially with the holiday weekend.
She shook her head. She couldn’t go on tour with them, not if she wanted to finish school. Her mother and grandmother would kill her if she dropped out to go away with some band. She could only imagine the looks on their faces. They might even disown her. They’d come close enough when Jay announced his new career as J-SON, L.A.B. Records’s new face of hip hop.
She wanted to cry. A perfect opportunity was about to be wasted.
She realized that they were standing in front of her house. A sigh escaped her lips. “Well, I’d better get back to dinner.”
Griff nodded, shifting from foot to foot. “Yeah, sorry for interrupting.”
She wished that she could invite him in. If things were different, she would have no problem bringing a guy home. Her family would have a million questions, though. Jay knew the truth, but her mother and grandmother didn’t, and their curiosity about the man in their house would almost definitely blow her cover. Yolanda and Audrey didn’t understand tact or saving their questions until boyfriends went home. Poppy was pretty sure that they enjoyed embarrassing her.
Clearing his throat, Griff nodded toward the house. “I’m sure you have to discuss things with your family.”
Her jaw dropped open. It was as if he knew. Licking her lips, she shook her head. She wanted to tell him that wasn’t it, but she had no other excuse for not jumping at the chance to go on tour. “It’s just that I planned on being here for the whole weekend. They’ll be disappointed.” She gave him a smile, lifting a shoulder.
“Well, let me know what you decide.” He pulled keys out of his jacket pocket and pressed a button. The lights flashed on a glossy rental car that she had overlooked. She heard it unlock. He leaned in, as if to give her a kiss. Her heart stopped. She tilted her face, shock freezing her thoughts. Instead, though, he gave her a quick one-armed hug, then stepped away.
She watched as he climbed into the car, almost too small for his tall frame. Then, forcing her feet to move, she headed up the front walkway. By the time she got to the porch, he was gone. She wondered if she’d just imagined the entire exchange. As she eased back inside, though, she realized her entire family sat in the living room.
Her mother beamed at her. “I knew you had a boyfriend,” she blurted. “You’ve been so busy, I knew it couldn’t just be school.”
Grandma Audrey gave Poppy a knowing look. “He’s cute.”
“He didn’t stay long,” Jay remarked. He shot Poppy a questioning glance, but said nothing else.
She burned to tell Krista what had happened. She couldn’t think of a graceful way to exit the conversation or to ditch dinner, though. Krista was the closest thing she had to a best friend. She’d had friends in high school, but none of them had been super close, and they had all gone to different colleges around the country. Some were even overseas, traveling the world with the military.
Nodding toward the kitchen, Poppy indicated the food, probably cold. “Are we eating, or what?”
Her grandmother shot out of her seat on the couch and bustled into the kitchen, Yolanda close on her heels. Poppy heard Grandma Audrey swearing, and stifled a laugh.
“So what happened?” Jay whispered. “Everything okay?”
“Later,” she mouthed. She would tell him everything, but only after dinner—and only after she conferenced with Krista first. If anyone knew what to do, it would be Krista.
South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.
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