Never Fade Away

Until death does us part, but it's knocking on our door…

 

I'd had enough. That's how I found myself in a dingy alleyway with my revolver in my hand. I was sick and dying anyway, and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing except maybe taking back some shred of control by going out on my own terms.

 

One deep breath. Two… Three… Four…

 

Surrounded by the darkness of my own mind, this was the only solution I could see, but before I could do something I’d regret, rock star Anno Goodkind crashed into my life and flipped it upside down.

 

It was supposed to be one casual hookup. No complications and definitely no feelings. No, the most logical thing to do would be to stuff my emotions down so nobody got hurt. Especially not him. But nobody told me that love didn’t give a damn about logic.

CONTENT WARNING: This story has a HEA but deals with heavy themes of illness, suicide, anxiety, and depression. Reader discretion is advised.

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Book Themes:

- Mental health

- Hurt / Comfort

- Coping with tragedy

- Rock star romance

- Moderate steam

Excerpt

One deep breath. Two… Three… Four…

The alleyway I found myself in smelled terrible, like dead fish and sour milk. I didn’t know what the building was on my right. An apartment? What could the tenants possibly have been throwing out in their trash bags that smelled that awful?

I closed my eyes, trying to steady my heartbeat. Punk rock music blared in the distance. I felt it in the pavement under my boots, reverberating through my legs. I let it soak into my body, drowning out everything around me. Ever so softly I bobbed my head to the rhythm, letting the sound take away the stench of the trash bags, the cold of the alleyway, and the almost unbearable weight of the revolver in my hand.

Still nodding to the music, I brought the gun to my mouth. As I mouthed the lyrics, I pursed my lips around the barrel. One deep breath. Two… Three… Four…

“Hey, guy!”

I snapped open my eyes and instinctively returned the gun to my side. Before I realized what was happening, a man barreled into me, shoving me into the brick wall at the back of the alley. We tangled together for a moment with his chest pressed squarely to mine before I caught my balance.

Another man raced by the alleyway moments later, cursing and swearing in a way that would’ve had my father shoving soap in my mouth even though I was an adult.

“What—”

Sh.” The man held a finger to my lips.

His body was still pressed tightly to mine, almost like he was afraid to move. His warmth seeped into me, and I unconsciously found myself leaning into him. I hadn’t realized just how long I’d been standing in the alleyway until now, for the first time feeling the night’s chilly breeze on my skin. Though spring had technically begun last week, the nip of late California winters still clung to the night air.

“Okay, I think he’s gone.” The man stepped away. The heat of his body left me quickly, and I shivered.

But I quickly forgot the cold when I saw his face. “Anno Goodkind?” I tried not to gape like an open-mouthed fish. The Anno Goodkind was the man who’d just crashed into me in some rundown, smelly alleyway? No way…

“Hey, sweetheart. You a fan?” He winked.

A fan? I mean, I listened to his music. Was I a die-hard Goodkind devotee? Not even close. But even if I didn’t own all his CDs and posters, I still knew what a big deal it was to be this close to him. He was a national treasure and a local one since he lived and produced his albums right here in the city.

“Yeah.” I nodded. “I was at the concert just now.” Well, that wasn’t entirely true. I had been at the concert, sure, but not for the last hour. I’d spent that time pacing the block outside the venue, round and round until I’d finally come to the decision to go through with it. Then I’d made my way to where my friend Lyra had parked and retrieved the gun I’d hidden under the passenger seat of her car earlier.

Stashing the gun hadn’t been something I’d planned to do. It had just sort of… happened, as though all the times I’d thought about ending my life had finally culminated into action. I hadn’t considered how stupid or selfish it was to hide the gun in Lyra’s car. All I’d been thinking about was having one last hoorah with my best friend before I let everything go. Before I finally found release from all the anxiety and pain that’d been consuming my life for the past six months.

Release—it had been the only thing on my mind when I’d retrieved my revolver from the car, grateful to find it unlocked in case I lost my nerve, and it had been the only thing on my mind when I’d headed down the street and found the secluded alleyway I stood in now, somehow face-to-face with famous rock star Anno Goodkind.

Now there was much more on my mind as I swallowed and looked Anno up and down as if seeing him for the first time all over again. “What the hell are you doing out here?” I forced out, suddenly struck by the absurdity of our meeting. Shouldn’t he be backstage meeting VIPs and signing albums or a girl’s tits or whatever it was rock stars did after a gig?

It was almost as if he’d intercepted my thoughts when he smirked. “I ducked out. My manager’s going to be pissed when he has to refund all those meet-and-greet tickets. Even tried to catch me when he saw me bailing out of the venue. He was the guy chasing after me a moment ago.” His grin faded instantly when he looked down at my side. “Whatcha doin’ with that?”

I followed his gaze to the revolver in my hand. “I’m… not sure,” I answered honestly.

Without asking, Anno snatched the weapon from my hand. I was almost surprised at how easily I’d let him have it, but my fingers had cramped so badly from the cold that my reaction time was absolute shit.

He popped open the cylinder, and I felt my entire body grow very weak. Despite the cold, the back of my neck became unbearably hot and my palms clammy. I wasn’t sure if Anno had seen the gun in my mouth when he entered the alleyway, but the single bullet in the cylinder was just as damning.

Without a word he emptied the bullet onto the ground, closed the cylinder, and held the gun back out to me. I tried to take it, but my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t get a proper grip and it clattered to the pavement. I bent and retrieved it, putting on the safety and concealing it under the waistband of my jeans against the small of my back.

“Hey, you wanna do something crazy?” A wild, mischievous look came over Anno’s face. Not waiting for my answer, he grabbed my forearm and dragged me out of the alleyway.

In the fuzzy yellow light of the streetlamps, I could see him more clearly now. I knew what he looked like—hell, it’d be hard to find someone who didn’t—but he was even more gorgeous in person than in any poster or photo. His eyes were almond shaped and deep brown, almost black. It was the first thing I noticed since they always looked much lighter on magazine covers. He’d dyed his hair again since I’d seen his picture last too, but I’d known that from seeing him in the concert earlier. He’d buzzed it on the sides but left it long on top. The dark blue-black suited him and somehow still matched his lighter stubble.

“Get in.” Anno held the front passenger door of an SUV open for me. “And don’t worry—I’m not kidnapping you. I’m too much of a public figure for that.”

I hadn’t realized I’d followed him to an SUV back in the parking lot near the concert venue and not far from the alleyway. What possessed me to actually climb into the vehicle, I’d never know. Maybe I did know, though, and it was because I didn’t really care what happened to me. I hadn’t cared about much of anything recently.

So it was with a bit of forced concern that I asked Anno, “Where are we going?”

“I got beers in the back. You look like you need one, and I need to get away from all this fan service bullshit.” He hopped in the driver’s seat and inserted the key in the ignition.

I swallowed hard, watching the muscles in his neck tighten as he craned to check behind him before pulling away from the curb. He really was a wonderful specimen of a man. I remembered the feel of his chiseled chest pressed to mine back in the alleyway and blushed. The media might have doctored his eyes for their magazines, but the articles about his workout regimen earning him a spot as one of the hottest men of the year didn’t seem to be falsified in the slightest. Hell, I could see the hills and valleys of his abs through the skintight tank top he was wearing. And if it hadn’t been for his leather jacket, I could have seen if his arms were equally toned. He wasn’t a bodybuilder or anything like that; he was actually rather slim. But those muscles combined with that lithe frame… God, it was no wonder people drooled over him. His figure reminded me of a lion—nimble but powerful.

“You okay over there? Starstruck?”

Oh shit. I’d been staring at him the whole time in silence. Luckily, I didn’t think he’d noticed, too focused on the road.

 

“Yeah, fine.” I nodded. “Just can’t believe I’m in Anno Goodkind’s car, I guess.”

           

“You guess?” He furrowed his brow.

           

“I have a lot going on upstairs right now.” I forced a smile.

           

“I hear that.”

           

“Is that why you ditched after the concert?”

           

“Eh.” Anno shrugged. “Sometimes you just can’t deal with that shit. I needed some space to breathe.” That devilish grin from earlier plastered itself across his face again. “And that’s why I stole the keys to my manager’s car and got the fuck out of there.”

           

“This isn’t even your car?”

           

“You kidding?” He looked appalled. “I wouldn’t be caught dead driving this. Ugly as sin.”

           

For the first time in a long while, I laughed. “No wonder he was hot on your trail.”

Suddenly my cell phone vibrated in my pocket, and I nearly jumped clean out of my skin. If it wasn’t for the seat belt locking, I probably would have smashed my head on the roof of the SUV.

Even Anno started. “Jesus, man. I’m driving.”

“Sorry.” I swiped on my phone to the mountain of text messages I’d been ignoring since the concert ended, all of them from Lyra.

Where the fuck are you?

Hello?

Not funny, Vincent. I lost you after the concert let out.

If you don’t answer, you’re getting a cab to go home.

The list went on. I sighed and opened a message to reply. I stared at the cursor blinking in the empty message box for a long time. Honestly, by this point in the night, I hadn't thought I’d be able to reply.

The phone vibrated again in my hand.

I’m really starting to worry, asshole.

“Jesus.” I sighed without meaning to.

“You good?”

“Yeah. I kind of disappeared from a friend at the concert. She invited me. Guess that makes me an ass.”

“Girlfriend?”

I laughed. “God, no.” I realized how that sounded and cringed. “Not that she’s not perfectly pleasant or anything. I just… uh…”

 

Why the fuck did I talk so much sometimes?

 

“You know who you’re talking to, right? I get it, man. You don’t have to say anything.”

 

“Thanks.” I rubbed the back of my neck, knowing exactly what he meant. “I’m actually not a die-hard fan or anything. I only came to the concert because my friend was trying to get me out of my house. Ah, I do like your music, though.” Just… please stop talking, Vincent. For the love of God.

“Well, that’s good, at least.” Anno chuckled. “We’re almost to the spot, by the way. I’m honestly worried you haven’t made any comments about where the fuck we are.”

For the first time, I looked out the window and noticed that we… weren’t really anywhere. There were hardly any streetlights anymore. At some point we’d turned onto a dirt road, and all I saw now were trees. Was I about to be ax murdered and buried in the woods?

“Yeah, uh… where the fuck are we?”

“There it is.” Anno laughed. “And here we are.”

He pulled off the road abruptly and crashed through a thicket of bushes and small trees.

For a split second, I thought he’d gone off the rails and I should start saying my prayers, and then the SUV jerked to a stop.

           

Moonlight burst into the vehicle, glittering over a small lake in a woodland clearing. With the SUV shut off, the chirping of crickets and the light rustle of wind through the trees could be heard clearly.

Anno remotely opened the trunk and hopped out. “Now let me get the shovel out of the back…”

I followed him. “Ha ha.”

“Not believable?” He passed me a six-pack of beer. After shutting the trunk, he jogged back around to the front of the SUV and hopped up on the hood. He reclined back against the metal, folding his arms behind his head and letting the moonlight stream over his body. Seeming to realize I hadn’t joined him, he sat up and patted the space beside him. “Comin’?”

I joined him on the hood, setting the pack of beer between us. “So what’s this?” I gestured at the whole of the lake as Anno opened a beer.

“This is where I go to get away.” He took a long swig. A drop slipped free from the bottle and slid down his throat. I watched it trail past his Adam’s apple and down through the valley of his olive-colored chest.

“And why take me with you?” I asked. Had I simply become an accomplice in his escape from the concert when he’d ducked into the alleyway?

“Because you needed to get away too.” He said it so matter-of-factly, like he knew.

His words made me fairly certain that he’d seen the gun in my mouth. And then he reached around my back and pulled the revolver from where I’d concealed it, and I knew for sure.

I opened my mouth to say something, but no words came out. What could I possibly say? Especially to someone as famous as Anno Goodkind. Now I was certain he’d brought me along because he pitied me. Maybe he was just being a good guy, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

“I never asked your name, by the way.”

“Are you asking it now?” I never took my eyes from the weapon, watching Anno rotate it in his hands.

“Yes, duh.”

“It’s Vincent.”

“Vincent,” he repeated. “This is heavy shit, Vincent.” Anno tossed the gun into the grass. “You need a beer.” He pulled a beer from the pack, twisted off the cap, and held it out to me.

Pity or not, right then I didn’t care. I took the beer and drank. Anno and I sat in silence until we finished the six-pack, and then the other six-pack he’d brought on top of the first. We listened to the water of the lake gently lap against the shore, and to me everything felt comfortable for the first time in a long while. I lay with my eyes closed on the hood of the SUV, letting the warmth of the engine seep into my back. Sleep tugged at my consciousness, and I no doubt would have let it take me had the sound of a guitar being strummed softly near my ear not roused me.

I opened my eyes and turned toward Anno. He’d retrieved a guitar from the SUV at some point and was now plucking the strings gently with his fingertips. It was the same one he'd been playing at the concert.

“Haven’t heard this one,” I said.

The multicolored rubber bracelets on Anno’s wrists shook as his hands moved expertly in and out of notes. He rocked his torso to the tune as he played, humming softly. The soft light of the moon traced his face as he moved, accenting his nose and jaw. Looking at him, I felt happy. He seemed so content, so in his element that he radiated a contagious aura of tranquility.

But all at once he stopped, and then he swore. The aura dissipated.

“None of it feels right lately.” He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes. He offered me one, but I held up my hand in refusal. After a long drag on a cigarette, he sighed deeply on a puff of smoke.

“It sounded good to me.”

“Ha, thanks.” Another long draw on the cigarette and then he tossed it to the ground and stomped out any lingering embers.

“It was a nice riff. Comfortable, soft… sort of haunting. I dunno, I liked it. Made me feel good.”

“You really think?” He hopped back up on the hood of the SUV and turned on his side toward me.

Why did he sound so uncertain? He was a popular artist. People loved his music. Yet I could hear the quiver in his voice when he asked me if I really believed what I’d said.

“I do.” I nodded. “And I haven’t felt comfortable in a long time. But maybe that’s the booze.” I started to laugh, and then I noticed Anno leaning toward me.

His lips were inches from mine. I could smell the beer we’d been drinking on his breath. He tilted his head and our noses brushed ever so slightly.

Shakily, I slipped my hand around the back of his head. His hair felt freshly cut and prickled along my palm as I gently pushed to close the gap between us.

He took my advance as an invitation and kissed me hard and fast. Wherever I’d thought this night would go when I climbed into Anno’s vehicle, it wasn’t here. But as Anno straddled me on the hood of his manager’s SUV and stripped off his leather jacket, I had absolutely no complaints.

(excerpt from Never Fade Away ; Chapter One)

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