Chapter One - Keys
How had Keys’ life sunk to such a festering, pus-filled low? He sank down on top of the young, milk-chocolate-haired woman’s sweaty torso in the cluttered hotel room in—where are we…Chicago? Yeah, that’s it. We played to a packed house tonight in the Windy City. The haze of too much whiskey and weed, not enough sleep, and extremely unsatisfying sex made it hard for him to think straight.
He’d already forgotten the woman’s name. Daisy. Or, maybe Kenna. Or, perhaps Cassandra. It didn’t matter what she was called. He never remembered their names. She was just one of a faceless sea of bodies. None of them stood out from the next.
They all wanted to have bragging rights to share in their next Beachbody Babe class or Pilates, or whatever fad workout class women did to keep in shape these days. “Ooooh, girl, last night, I got down with the keyboardist of Marked Love!” None of them cared about him, beyond what his stage persona could give them.
He wanted to forget about the detritus that was his life, seemingly stretching in every direction like dried carcasses in the desert. Only one bright dream twinkled on his horizon, but it kept getting blurred by all the dust, wind, and noise of his personal desert.
His bandmate, Trevor, whom everyone but Keys called Heat, lay next to him, still banging the butter-blonde babe he’d scored. Trevor grunted as he ground into the woman.
Keys began to mentally rehearse a complex keyboard riff he’d been working on, using Trevor’s grunts to mark time, like a metronome. Propped on his forearms, with his forehead pressed into a pillow and his body still smashed against the babe’s breasts and belly beneath him, his fingers drummed the damp sheet, moving in the elaborate rhythm he hadn’t quite mastered. Damn. He lifted his head to stare his fingers into submission, completely ignoring the woman he rested upon.
His favorite piano teacher, Harper, whom he lost his virginity to at age fourteen, started nagging him in his mind. It’s F sharp, not flat, James. And the dynamics are fortissimo, fortissimo!
The gold rings adorning each finger glinted and sparkled in the diffuse light, which permeated the room. The jewels embedded in some of the rings—a massive ruby, two diamonds, and a rare, richly viridescent emerald—were the only touches of color in his world these days. The rest of it seemed to be a dull brown, like swamp water.
“Get the fuck off me. I can’t breathe,” the female beneath him complained. She wriggled her hands beneath his shoulders and pushed, using her pointed fingernails to drive her message home.
Wordlessly, Keys rolled to the side. He removed the condom from his slightly hard, completely unsatisfied dick, tied a knot in the end and tossed it with an overhand throw, managing to snag it on the lip of the black and gold trashcan in the corner. Score! Then, he scanned the mash-up of clothes littering the floor, trying to find the pants that belonged to him.
“You’re not as good a lay as you’re reported to be,” Milk-Chocolate whined in a high-pitched howl, sort of like the sound a chimpanzee might make.
He gave her a side-eye and reached down to retrieve a pair of jeans that looked like his. He bit back his own commentary of words like, “you just lay there like a dead fish,” or, “Your breath stinks,” because, well, manners and all that. No need to hurt her feelings.
“Did you hear me?” she chirped.
“Yeah, I heard you,” he said, sorting through another clothing pile to find his shirt. “You’re dissatisfied. I’m dissatisfied. And yet you just had sex with one of the greatest keyboardists in the world, in the best rock and roll band of all time, Marked Love.” He pivoted, tapped the end of her nose with his fingertip, and smirked. “Think of the bragging rights.”
Her mouth turned down in a frown. “I’m going to tell everyone that you suck as a fuck buddy.”
He shrugged. “Who are they going to believe? You? Or, the thousands of satisfied customers before you?” He regretted the words the minute they launched from his mouth. Lately, Marked Love’s drummer, Gia, had been getting all up in his grill about his arrogance and lack of empathy. When he looked over at Milk-Chocolate and saw her chin quivering and her eyes getting all shimmery, like she was about to burst into tears at any moment, he wished he’d listened to Gia. Fuck. He stood to tug up his pants and pull his shirt over his body, ignoring her.
“Ainsley, don’t cry. Did you make her cry?” Butter-Blonde said. “Sweetie, stop,” she said.
Keys wasn’t sure which sweetie she referred to—Trevor or Milk-Chocolate. Intent on ignoring the drama he’d just ignited like a Molotov cocktail, he strolled toward the coffee table in the spacious suite, picked up the half-empty bottle of Jameson, and took a swig. Then, he plucked the half-smoked joint out of the ashtray, stuck it in his mouth, and lit it with the blue plastic lighter, which sat near the ashtray. He closed his eyes and inhaled, holding the smoke in his lungs as long as possible. He longed to feel something, anything, besides the deadness inside.
“Fuck, Keys, I didn’t even get to finish. You’re a royal fucktard sometimes, you know that?” Trevor called from across the room.
“Not my circus, not my monkeys,” Keys said, blowing out the smoke, not bothering to open his eyes. Taking another hit of the joint dangling from his lips, he stretched his legs out and spread his arms on the back of the sofa. “I’m going to jet, anyway. You can stay.”
“What? No, I’m not going to stay if you don’t stay,” Trevor said.
Keys removed the doobie from his lips and stubbed it out in the glass ash receptacle. “Nah. I’m not into it,” he said, lifting open one eyelid to glare at his friend. “You stay and finish. Have a threesome. I’ll meet you somewhere later on.”
“No way, Keys. It’s not as fun if you’re not here.”
Ainsley began to sob. Her black mascara streaked her face.
“Shhh, sweetie, shhh. He didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, did you, asshole?” Butter-Blonde soothed, directing the words at Keys.
Keys huffed out a sigh, visualizing Gia standing before him with her hands on her hips, chewing him a new one. He got to his feet, dragged himself across the room and stood over Ainsley and her friend. “It wasn’t personal. You’re, uh, sweet. It’s me. I’m, uh, going through something right now—complete boredom with random hookups--and my head wasn’t in the game.” He did his best to smile.
Ainsley sniffled and wiped her eyes with the sheet. “Really? You can talk to me, you know. I’m a really good listener.”
“She is,” Butter-Blonde said, sitting on her knees. Her pendulous breasts hung heavy on her small frame as she emphatically nodded her head. “You can tell her anything, anything at all.”
“Thanks, but no, thanks. I’ll work it out.” Keys turned to Trevor. “You can stay and satisfy these two fine ladies, right?”
Ainsley started crying again.
Trevor scowled and shoved off the bed. He stalked around, searching for his pants. “No. I’m not going to have a threesome if you’re not here. Girls, we’re done here.” He found his pants, retrieved his wallet, and fished out a hundred-dollar bill. Handing it to Butter-Blonde, he said, “Here. Thanks for your time. Sorry, it didn’t work out.”
Butter-Blonde eyed the money, eyed Trevor, and pouted. “We’re worth way more than a hundred dollars.”
“Fine,” Trevor said, fishing out another hundred-dollar bill. “Here’s one for each of you.” He reached past Butter-Blonde to hand one to Ainsley.
Ainsley’s eyes lit up. She snatched the bill from his hand.
“That’s your cue, sweet things. Get your clothes and go,” Keys said.
“Bastard,” Ainsley said, her tears instantly drying. Clearly, she’d reached the fourth stage of his and Trevor’s personal philosophy of the seven stages of a dead hookup, namely anger.
“I’m not going to disagree with you,” Keys said, dragging his hand through his bright green and blond-roots hair, which was still loaded with hairspray and styling product to keep it spikey-cool. “Now, shoo.”
Both women rolled off the bed, donned their clothes and stomped out of the room muttering something about “total assholes,” and “hardly worth their good looks,” and “let’s see if we can find some better action elsewhere.”
Keys chuckled at their too-loud insults, which wafted through the room like smoke, fading into nothingness.
“What’s up with you? You haven’t been much fun lately,” Trevor said, making his way toward the couch. He picked up the Jameson and took a swig of it.
“I don’t know, man. I’m tired, is all. We’ve been touring hard all year. I think I’m just burnt out.” Keys strolled toward Trevor and flopped in the easy chair next to the sofa. “When we go to Cancun next week, I plan on doing nothing but sleep.” A pang of loneliness squeezed his heart. He picked up the lighter and flicked it into flame, wishing he could strike a match inside just as easily, in an attempt to rekindle his passion for living. “And, the band’s changing, you know? Dante and Kennedy are all cozy now. Gia’s got her giant ex-Marine, Marco, and you and I seem to be left out in the cold doing the same old routine we’ve done for a couple years—fuck a bunch of nameless faces.”
“I thought you liked our routine,” Trevor said, flashing him a wounded puppy dog gaze. “If you want to mix it up differently, I’d be down with that. What do you want?” He grabbed the pitiful remains of the joint and gestured for the lighter.
Keys tossed it to him and reached for the whiskey. He tipped back his head and glugged. Then, he set the bottle down on the coffee table with a thwack. His gaze slid toward the ceiling. “What do I want?” I want more than a one-night stand. I want to be able to remember the woman’s name for more than a hot second. I want to love her so hard I carve her name into my flesh. I want to write songs for my elusive muse, that’s what I want.
Trevor flicked the flame onto the end of the joint and sucked hard, burning his fingers. “Ouch! Shit!” He flung the roach remnants on the coffee table. “Fucking hell.” Scowling, he shook his hand. “Well? What is it that you’re looking for?” he said.
“I don’t know,” Keys said, shaking his desires from his mind.
“You’re going to the awards ceremony tomorrow night, right? Marked Love, six-time Grammy winner,” Trevor said, sweeping his palm in front of him. “Maybe we can find something different after that. Maybe a couple of black chicks, or Asian chicks, or…?” He shrugged. “Name your poison.”
“Yeah, I don’t want to go. Honestly, I’m sick of music life. I’m bored out of my mind with everything. Nothing turns me on.” Keys slung his leg nonchalantly over the armrest.
“What? You’ve got to come. I’ll be disappointed if you don’t come,” Trevor said, once more flashing puppy dog eyes at Keys.
Keys studied him for a second. “I’m not going to hold your hand if that’s what you’re hoping. You’re a big boy and can navigate through an awards ceremony without me, you know.”
“Fine,” Trevor said, staring at the coffee table. “Don’t come. I don’t care.” He lifted his hand over his head and let it fall in defeat.
Keys winced. Trevor, barely legal drinking age, was like his little brother. He hated to disappoint him. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll come. But no threesomes or foursomes afterward. I’m just going to go home and crash afterward, got it?”
A strange look crossed Trevor’s face.
Keys couldn’t quite discern what it was and didn’t bother trying. He had more important things to figure out, like, how to soothe this ginormous ache growing in his heart. Sure, he knew the band all relied on each other. They all loved one another in their own way. But, he wanted more.
Yet, he had to be honest with himself. Who could possibly love me the way I want to be loved? Gia’s right. I’m an arrogant asshole. So what else is there, if there isn’t love in my future? How can I find fulfillment? Am I destined to be lonely?
Sadly, this statement rang true, all the way to his two-million-dollar Lloyds of London insured fingertips. He would no doubt die a bitter, lonely old son of a bitch—unless he could make some changes, stat.