Scratch Track (Escaping Indigo, #3)

Scratch Track by Eli Lang
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This title is #3 of the Escaping Indigo series.

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Being a roadie isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream job, but it’s all Quinn wants. He loves touring, loves getting to hear amazing music every night and, more than anything, loves being someone the band members of Escaping Indigo can lean on.

When Quinn joins the band in the recording studio, it’s supposed to be fun, but it only seems to remind him of doubts he thought he’d left behind—doubts about his brother’s death, his place with the band, and his ability to care for and support his friends. So when his ex, Nicky, tumbles back into his life, Quinn’s completely unprepared. 

The failure of his past romance with Nicky is yet another strike against Quinn’s confidence. But Nicky’s unassuming kindness makes it hard for Quinn to resist a new entanglement. Quinn isn’t sure they won’t make the same mistakes again, but he wants a second chance, even if that means facing the past, learning to let his friends support him, and proving to Nicky that, this time, he’ll be someone Nicky can rely on.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Sometimes, when I’m listening to music, it’s like I’m standing in the middle of this whirlwind of sound, and it washes over me. Like I’ve fallen into the melody and it’s everywhere, surrounding me and inside me. And it clicks something on, some switch in my mind or my heart, and for those few minutes, everything is right. Good. Like it makes sense. And nothing else matters.

Watching Escaping Indigo play was like that. I felt the same way about Rest in Peach, the band I was watching now, too. I’d seen them play live before, but this was different—now I was seeing them through the thick glass window of a recording studio, while they tracked a song and I stared from the other side of the soundboard. And I hadn’t expected this—I hadn’t known they were going to be here, and I hadn’t been prepared to see them, any of them, again.

I turned to Bellamy, who was standing behind me, nodding along to the song. He had this contemplative look on his face, and I knew he wasn’t only enjoying the music. He was picking it apart, figuring out why it had been put together that way, what was working and what wasn’t, why those musical choices had been made. Bellamy was great on stage, better than almost any performer I’d ever seen, but putting songs together was where he was at home. He was made for recording. It was why he’d decided to try his hand at producing this album himself.

“You didn’t tell me they were going to be here.” I tried to keep my tone casual, like it was a nice surprise, but there were cracks in my voice, where the words came out tight.

Bellamy didn’t seem to notice. Beside him, his boyfriend, Micah, took his hand and gave it a shake, bringing him back down. Micah was carrying on his own conversation with Ava and Tuck, but part of his mind was always focused on Bellamy. It took Bellamy a minute to blink and come back out of whatever music-induced haze he’d been in.

“I didn’t know.” Bellamy turned to face me. “I knew we probably wouldn’t be the only band here. It’s a big studio. I didn’t know who else it’d be, though.” In the other room, the song came to an end. The band’s singer, Ty, leaned into their mic and said hello to us. We waved and the rest of the band waved back.

I waved too, to the whole band. But my focus was on one person. Nicky. Sitting behind the drum set, his sticks held loosely in one hand on his knee. He was wearing a black tank top, and the tan skin over his collarbones and throat glistened. They’d been playing hard for a while. He was barefoot, and through the tangle of chords and stands, I could glimpse his long toes, where he was curling them into the plush red-and-gold rug. He always played barefoot. I remembered that about him from when we’d toured together. He’d had a pair of flip-flops he’d kick on and off, so he wouldn’t step on anything sharp on the way to the stage.

He was watching me. Not trying to pretend he was simply looking in our direction, like I was trying to pretend I was casually looking in his. He wasn’t casual about it at all. This was blatant. He kept staring, waiting for me to stare back. And when I did, he held my eyes, until I had to glance away again because I couldn’t be so connected to him, even through two rooms and a sheet of thick glass.

Because when I saw him, I remembered how he’d looked when he’d been poised over me, my palm at the small of his back. Urging him on, rising up to meet him. The sound of our breaths, heavy and harsh in the dark. I remembered what it was like to be inside him, to be so close to him that, for those few hurried minutes, I’d forgotten where my body ended and his started, muscles and bones melting one into the other.

Ty was leaning toward the rest of their band now, waving back and forth between the drum set and the bass. I couldn’t quite hear what they were saying—snippets came through on the microphone, but they were facing the wrong way. Nicky laughed and shook his head. He’d cut his hair—the last time I’d seen him, he’d constantly been pushing his brown bangs out of his eyes, but now it was too short for that. He was the same, otherwise, though. Tall and fit, smiling, confident. I could still picture the same smile on his face, when he’d curled up next to me in my bunk bed on the tour bus.

That was the last time I’d seen him. Rest in Peach had split off to start their solo tour right after, and we’d picked up different opening bands in each of the last few cities, to close out Escaping Indigo’s tour. Nick and I had made vague plans to see each other again, to get together and maybe see where things went, but we never had. Or I never had. He’d called a couple of times, but by then everything around me had been falling apart, and I hadn’t been in any place to call him back. I hadn’t wanted to. I hadn’t wanted anything like that.

Micah had left off his conversation with Ava. He still had Bellamy by the hand, but I didn’t think either of them noticed they were doing it. Micah turned to me and raised his eyebrows. “You okay?”

“Uh-huh.” I pushed my fingers back through my hair. It was a nervous gesture, but Micah wouldn’t see that. We didn’t know each other well enough to recognize each other’s habits, even though he’d been my brother Eric’s best friend for years.

I glanced back at Nick. He’d gotten Ty to laugh, and it looked like they were about to start up another song.

“They sound great,” Bellamy mumbled, more to himself than anyone. I nodded back anyway.

I’d thought of Nick over the last year. I’d thought of him as the last truly good, free, easy thing to happen to me. Sometimes I’d gone back in my mind to that one night, had relived it and held it close as a comfort when things got too hard, too painful. But I hadn’t ever thought of calling again. That time was past. I hadn’t actually ever thought I’d see him again. I wasn’t sure why—Rest in Peach and Escaping Indigo played the same venues, toured the same circuits. We were bound to run into each other. Maybe I’d figured I’d avoid him and that would be that. Or that maybe seeing him wouldn’t feel like . . . so much. So much left unsaid and undone.

But now here we were. Watching each other. Or he was watching me. I could still feel his eyes on me, even though I was looking away. I hadn’t expected this or been ready for it in any way. And no one else knew anything was wrong.

Maybe Micah did. He’d always been observant. He leaned over to touch his hand to my arm and said, “Ava said the rooms are ready for us upstairs, if we want.”

I nodded. It hadn’t been a very long trip—only a few hours up the coast. But getting all the gear packed and getting everybody ready to go—that, especially—had been exhausting. Tuck and Ava and Bellamy were good people, smart and talented, but getting them all to do one thing on time was like pulling teeth. And I was the one in charge of doing it, whenever it involved the band as a whole. Gently prodding and then cajoling until they got themselves together. I was glad now that they were staying in the house attached to the studio. It would make everything simpler.

I went with Micah and Tuck, and we gathered up suitcases and bags, and started hauling them upstairs. There wasn’t actually any reason for me to be here, so I wanted to make myself as useful as possible. I’d driven the van with the trailer attached up to the studio, but that was it as far as my job went, really. I didn’t have anything else to do, now that we were here, except make sure everyone was fed and in the studio on time. We weren’t on tour, and this wasn’t supposed to be work for me, so my duties were fuzzy.

The band was making a party out of it, in a way. Micah was here with Bellamy, and Ava’s girlfriend Cara was flying out for a weekend to see her and sit in on the recording. Micah had asked, guilelessly, if I wanted to come along too, since they were planning it as more of a get-together than a serious job, and the rest of the band had jumped all over that idea. Saying it wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t there. I hoped it was a good idea—I liked seeing them all happy, but recording was notoriously stressful. I’d be here to witness it firsthand, now.

I knew they could get along without me just fine, and having me tag along was mostly kindness. But I wanted to be with them instead of going home. Besides, I was curious.

While we walked through twisty hallways and up a couple of steep stairways to the main floor of the house, I was able to push Nick and Rest in Peach almost to the back of my mind. Tuck was grumbling about how heavy Ava’s bag was—“I know she’s not really into shoes. What the hell does she have in here?”—but I was distracted by the studio itself.

Escaping Indigo had recorded here once before, and Tuck had tried to tell me about this place, but words hadn’t done it justice. I’d been in recording studios before, briefly, but Ben Ammondine Studios wasn’t like any of those places. It was built into an old house, smack in the middle of a neighborhood outside of Los Angeles—that in itself wasn’t odd. Lots of studios started out life as old houses. They grew out of necessity. But this one was mostly underground. The house was built into the side of a hill. Part of the back, the basement, and parts of the old garage were the studio, and it had been expanded so it extended for rooms and rooms, under the house.

That, and the two soundboards, meant there was plenty of room for more than one band to record an album at a time. Enough space that maybe I really could avoid Nicky while we were both here.

As soon as I thought it, I knew it would never happen. Escaping Indigo and Rest in Peach were all friends. They’d want to get together. And it would be weird if I avoided them.

Coming up from the closed-off, windowless recording studios into the brightly lit, many-windowed house was like emerging from another world. The hallway we stepped into was narrow, but it expanded into a decently sized kitchen, which was open to a large living room stuffed with couches. There was another hallway off the living room, and I could glimpse open doors, some leading into bedrooms at the back of the house.

I was pretty sure there weren’t enough rooms in the actual house part for two bands to stay, though, despite the size of the studio underneath, but I asked Tuck, to double-check.

“No, it’s just us staying here,” he said, dropping his huge bag beside him. I couldn’t imagine what he had in it. He was staying by himself. His girlfriend, Lissa, had decided to drive up for a few days later on, when Cara was here, instead of spending the whole time with us. “Most of Rest in Peach lives around here, so it’s no big deal. I think Danni’s staying with Ty. Or maybe she’s getting a hotel.”

“Expensive,” I said, mostly to myself.

“Recording’s expensive,” he replied, and I couldn’t argue with that. Everything about music was expensive. Worth it, though.

The owner of the studio, Ben, had given us three bedrooms. Ava had her own, there was one for Micah and Bellamy, and Tuck and I were sharing. I wasn’t sure what we’d do when Lissa came for the weekend, but I figured we’d make it work. The bedrooms were small but airy, the white walls and comfortable, modern furniture making the space seem as big and open as possible. And since they were at the back of the house, they had the illusion of being up high. The view was amazing: houses and little patches of yard, and streets in a tight grid pattern, laid out for miles and miles.

Tuck claimed a bed and flopped right onto it, his hand going immediately for his phone. I figured he was texting Lissa, but Ava was probably next on the list, even though she was right down the hall. Those two couldn’t go five seconds without talking.

I left the room quietly, but Tuck probably didn’t notice. Snooping wasn’t really my plan. I just . . . wanted to look, wanted to see this place. So many records had been made here. So much creativity under one roof. So much modern history. I wandered my way down the hall. There were pictures on the walls. Like family portraits, in plain, boring black frames. I stopped and studied them, and saw that they were that history, captured and contained. Photos of musicians, with Ben or standing inside one of the several recording rooms. Bands I’d grown up listening to, bands I’d heard on the radio, bands whose albums I’d bought and played, over and over.

I kept walking, not paying as much attention to where I was going. It was . . . overwhelming. In a good way. But it was a lot to take in.

My wandering took me to the kitchen, which was as clean and white as the rest of the house. I hadn’t expected all this . . . cleanliness, in a place where rock stars routinely hung out. The only concession to rock the bright-purple toaster that sat on the counter. And the pictures pinned to the fridge. More bands, and flyers, and ticket stubs, and reminders about who was flying in when to record, and notations for which instruments to set up.

I wandered over to the kitchen window and gazed down, past the small garden in the front yard and the driveway gate to the road beyond. From the outside, this place didn’t look like anything special, wasn’t much different than any other house on the block.

Would Eric have liked it here? I wondered if it would have been what he’d expected, what he’d have wanted. I couldn’t picture him here, or anywhere like it. Not in this upper part, these neat rooms, with these neatly framed pictures all through the house. I could imagine him in the basement rooms, though. I could picture him under those pale lights, guitar in his lap, talking with Ben about how a song should sound. When the drums should come in. How the vocals should be mixed. I could picture him bent over a notebook, scribbling down lyrics, getting inspired by everything he talked about with Micah. He would have loved that part.

Someone made a noise in the kitchen behind me, and I turned around to see Bellamy standing there. He stood almost awkwardly, his arms crossed over his chest, hands cupping his elbows tightly. It should be unusual to see that on him, uncertainty in a man who made his living being as bold and loud and extroverted as humanly possible. But when he wasn’t on the stage, Bellamy was more reserved. This was his normal.

He still looked like something ethereal, standing in the golden evening light coming in through the window. All the blond highlights in his hair shone, and his skin glowed. He’d painted his nails a dark purple, almost black, and when he tapped the fingers of one hand against his elbow, the nails sparkled, the dull paint catching the sun. He would always look like a rock star, no matter what he did or how he dressed, or how introverted he got when he wasn’t in the public eye.

I turned all the way around, putting my back to the window, and crossed to the island in the middle of the kitchen. He came over and pushed himself up onto one of the barstools lining one side. “I forgot. About you and Nicky. I’m sorry.”

I shrugged and leaned forward, letting my elbows rest on the countertop. “You said you didn’t know they’d be here.”

“I didn’t.”

“So what are you apologizing for?”

He glanced down at his fingers and picked at a corner of one nail. “I asked you to come here with us.”

I sighed. “Micah asked me, actually.”

His eyes flicked up to meet mine. “We all wanted you here, Quinn.”

“And I want to be here,” I said, struggling for a casual tone. That was the thing. I did want to be here. And I knew they wanted me here too. I wanted a few weeks of listening to my friends make music, a few weeks where I got to see and hear the process of recording an album in the most intimate way possible. A few weeks where we partied and hung out and got excited about songs and the next tour. That was my normal.

But Nicky had thrown me off. I’d seen him and felt . . . so out of place. Like my world had tipped on its axis. Like I’d found myself on the outside, peering in, and everything I saw was just slightly distorted. It was ridiculous. We barely knew each other. We’d spent a few weeks touring the same venues, flirting endlessly, and then we’d spent the one night together, the culmination of all those heavy stares and brief touches. And that was it. It hadn’t meant anything. It was only . . . that I’d liked him, and that the end of the tour had marked the worst and most important moment of my life. And now it was all tangled up in my mind.

“It’s supposed to be fun, though,” Bellamy said, bringing me back to the here and now. “Not . . . It’s not supposed to be you trying to avoid an ex.”

“He’s not an ex,” I replied, as gently as I could, trying not to snap out the words. “He was . . .” A fling, I wanted to say. A fuck. But I’d liked Nicky too much for either of those words. It had only been the one night that we’d slept together, but we’d also had all the days and nights before that too, when we’d gotten to know each other as people, maybe as friends. I didn’t want to minimize that. “It didn’t end up going anywhere. So. It’s fine. It’ll be fine. I’m not going to avoid him.”

I hadn’t quite made up my mind until I’d said it out loud, but it was true. Like I’d thought before, there was no real way to avoid him, anyway. And I didn’t want to. “I’m going to pretend it didn’t happen.” I ran my hand back through my hair. “God, it was only one night. I didn’t think you even knew about it.”

Bellamy smiled. “I’m pretty observant.”

I huffed out a laugh. That was true. But maybe I hadn’t been very discreet, either. It wasn’t that I’d been hiding it, exactly—either my attraction to Nicky, or who I was attracted to in general. It was that I didn’t talk about it. There wasn’t a ton of point. I didn’t fall into lust for too many people. So it had always seemed simpler to keep it quiet. Until . . . I figured it all out for myself, maybe. Until I had labels I liked to describe it, so I could put it into words and not have to fumble around with it in front of my family or my friends.

But Escaping Indigo was family and friends wrapped up into one, and being on tour was . . . freeing. Like I’d been let loose, and everything we did had this edge of unreality to it. So when we were out on the road . . . I let go. I let myself . . . want things and need things; I let myself be myself. And for a few weeks, a year ago, that had meant trying to seduce Nicky of Rest in Peach. And it had worked.

“Are you sure?” Bellamy was drawing a circle on the countertop with the tip of his finger now, but his eyes were on me, studying me.

“Sure of what?”

“Sure you don’t mind? Sure you can pretend everything’s fine?”

I didn’t know what he was going to do about it if I said no. He couldn’t exactly make Rest in Peach leave. If I wasn’t sure, the only option I had was to leave myself. Or hide away in the room I was sharing with Tuck, but what would be the point?

“It’ll be fine,” I answered, and I tried to say it so we’d both believe it. “Everything is fine. What Nicky and I were doing together . . . it’s over.”

He narrowed his eyes at me but nodded, and I hoped that would be enough.

I was saved from having to reassure him again, or explain anything, by the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. A second later, I heard the door open, and Ben and all of Rest in Peach was coming into the kitchen to meet us. So it seemed I’d be testing that resolve right away.

There were hugs and handshakes all around. Bellamy knew Ben, of course, from when they’d recorded here before. He introduced me. I liked him pretty much immediately—he was intriguing, even in appearance. He was short and almost weedy looking. He had on a pair of glasses he kept pushing around his face, down his nose so he could peer over them, or right up onto his forehead when they got in the way. His hair flopped around his ears, and he was wearing a faded pair of unfashionable jeans and a short-sleeved button-down shirt, open over a plain black T-shirt. He was geeky in the best way, the exact type of person who’d put every technical aspect of your music right. But he was also covered in tattoos, which were a sharp contrast to his otherwise nerdy appearance. They snaked over his arms and down his hands, and there were some poking out of the collar of his shirt, climbing up his neck almost to his jaw.

Ben greeted me like I was another member of the band, not a hanger-on, and it endeared me to him. Then Ty came over with a huge smile on their face. I went to take their hand, but they shook their head and wrapped me up into a hug, rocking me back and forth. I laughed and hugged them back. Danni, who played keyboards, and Elliot, the bassist, said hello next. It was surprisingly good to see them again. I’d thought about them, sometimes, after that tour together. We’d played with a lot of bands, traveled with them, lived together, really. And we’d made quite a few friends. But Rest in Peach had been the most fun, the people we had seemed to click with, right away. I’d been following their music, listening to their newest album, but I’d missed them.

Nicky hung back. Ty herded Bellamy, Elliot, and Danni over to one side of the island. I wasn’t sure if Ty knew, like Bellamy did, that Nicky and I had had a thing, or if they were simply that perceptive. They did it so smoothly it didn’t seem manipulative at all, but it definitely gave me and Nick a little space.

“Hey.” His voice was husky and rough, like I remembered.

“Hey.” Oh, fuck me. I was definitely not who anyone went to for easy conversation at the best of times. It wasn’t my skill, and right now, I was . . . nervous, I was pretty sure. I didn’t usually get nervous—I was the guy who held it together for everyone else—and it had been a long time since I’d felt that emotion. It took me a second to figure out what it was. But it was tangling my tongue up and putting in some block where clever conversing skills were supposed to be.

But Nick smiled at me. Gently and vaguely self-deprecating. “This is going to be awkward, huh?”

It was almost the same thing Bellamy had asked, but it was different coming from Nicky while he was wearing that expression. It made me relax.

“Well,” I said, reaching for a smile of my own, “the last time I saw you, you were . . .” I waved my hand through the air.

His eyes widened. “Oh, I remember. It would be hard not to.”

That made me blush. I looked ridiculous when I blushed. I was too big and bulky for it. Blushes were for delicate people, like Bellamy or Micah. Or Nick. Then again, he wasn’t exactly delicate. He was . . . willowy. Tall and tough and wiry from all the drumming. Like sea glass, polished to a fine roughness.

I was just rough.

Standing there, in the bright kitchen, feeling slightly grimy from all the loading and unloading of gear, and the travel, I wondered what it was Nicky had ever seen in me to begin with. I hadn’t questioned it at the time, except to think that I was lucky to get his attention. But on the other hand . . . Nick had seemed to like what he saw. Like me. And that was all I’d wanted to focus on.

“I thought . . .” He took a deep breath, enough that I could see his chest rise and fall with it. That smile flickered, and instead of being slightly teasing, it looked almost pained. “I thought I might see you again. After, I mean. After that tour.”

We’d talked about it. After we’d finally gotten over the flirting and into bed, and the panicky relief of finally having him so close had faded slightly, I’d realized I just liked the guy. We’d gotten along. He’d been fun to joke with and hang out with, and I’d enjoyed being around him. Rest in Peach had been going their own separate way for their tour, and Nicky and I had both known we hadn’t had anything serious between us. Not then, at least. But I’d said I’d like to see him again, maybe call him up when we all got home.

But of course, I hadn’t. Nicky had tried, and I guessed he’d asked Bellamy about me. But Bellamy wouldn’t be sharing secrets if I didn’t want those secrets known. And at the time, I hadn’t been in any place to tell Nick—a guy I liked but, honestly, barely knew—all the things that were going wrong in my life.

“I’m sorry,” I said now. “I didn’t . . . I had stuff . . .” I still couldn’t tell him. Not like this. Not here, in front of these people. It had taken me so long to tell the band. There was no way I could say it with all of Rest in Peach here. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell Nick himself.

He waved his hand again. “It’s fine. Really.”

It didn’t sound quite fine. His voice was a little tense, tight, like he was forcing the words out. But it was only a hint. And there wasn’t anything I could do about it, as much as I’d like to.

Ty, who was apparently Captain Perceptive, drew us into the conversation then. A few minutes later, Ava, Tuck, and Micah came out to the kitchen, and the atmosphere went closer to party-like. Tuck suggested we all go out for something to eat, then come back and listen to the stuff Rest in Peach had recorded that afternoon.

It was a good idea, and it made everything easy, for me at least. We went out as a group, and there was always someone else to talk to, instead of only Nicky. Not that I didn’t want to talk to him, but we didn’t have to be alone together and making up conversation. I was surrounded by my friends, and they made everything simpler. Simpler and fun. That was how I wanted it. That was how I wanted this whole thing to go.


Chapter Two

The first day of recording for Escaping Indigo was a weird mix of excitement, giddiness, and grueling work—for the band, not me, although it was hard not to float on whatever emotions they were putting out. I tried to savor it because I figured by the next day, the initial excitement would be wearing off and the grueling part would be what was left. The band would find its rhythm eventually, before our recording time was up. But they hadn’t done this in a while, and it was all new, all over again. It was probably different for every album too.

“We agreed we’d do a double chorus there, instead,” Tuck was saying. I was sitting on the couch in the back of the room, my legs curled up under me, watching them hash out the songs.

Bellamy shrugged. “I decided it doesn’t work as well. We should go back and do a half bridge, then a chorus.”

“That’s insane. No one writes songs like that, Bellamy.”

“We’re not everyone else, Tuck,” Bellamy retorted, voice just as dry.

Ava laughed, making the pinched lines of Tuck’s face soften. I shook my head at all of them, but they weren’t paying me any attention. Bellamy and Tuck had been writing songs for the new album for a while, since the last tour. Slowly—Bellamy was a perfectionist, and Tuck was always telling him to take it easy, so the process of writing had been . . . not leisurely, but mellow. Plus, Ava had spent a few weeks away with her family, so most of her drum stuff for the songs had been done across the country. I knew Bellamy wished they’d all had more time to practice the stuff together, but it had been good for Ava. She’d somehow found time to fall in love with a really awesome girl, and she seemed . . . more settled in herself. Like pieces of her had been loose and out of place before, and now they weren’t.

But all of that meant the songs were still being created. The bones were there, but not the polish, so the band ended up pausing in the middle of songs and working stuff out. It was good, in a way—it would help them figure out exactly how they wanted things. Escaping Indigo was lucky—having a record deal meant the label paid for more recording time than the band could ever have afforded on their own. So there wasn’t a huge rush to get everything done all at once. But time was still limited, so there was a lot of pressure for everyone.

I didn’t have much to do, though. I’d helped them unload all the gear—and there was a lot. More than we toured with, it seemed. We’d piled the trailer and the old van high with guitars and drums and about ten thousand cymbals and keyboards and effect pedals, and anything else the band could think of. Ava had brought four snares, and I couldn’t imagine that they all sounded that different from each other, but she swore they did. We set up a few things, and left the rest of the stuff in its cases for when they needed it. And then my job was basically done.

Ben, who was serving both as recording tech and semiproducer, said something about the guitar sound to Bellamy. Bellamy’s face went tight while he tried to absorb the feedback, but he nodded. “We can try that,” he said, swinging back around to Tuck and Ava. “Let’s do it again.”

Tuck nodded and started playing the intro. He was floating in music space, blissed out on the possibilities of what they were doing. Ava seemed to be drifting between that state and complete worry. She checked her phone a lot—Cara was probably texting her, to help her stay calm.

It was exciting for everyone. But it was also hour after hour of taking feedback on their personal creativity. While it was good for the band, and good for the music, it wore a person down. And since Bellamy was producing, he had to be in charge of final decisions. I knew he could do it, and he’d be good at it, once he got the hang of it. I wasn’t sure he knew it yet, though. He wasn’t used to playing that role.

In the middle of the afternoon, Ty and Danni came to see how it was going. They were recording with a different tech, and their own producer, but Ben kept running back and forth while the two bands worked, checking in, recording snippets, making sure everything was going okay. Rest in Peach must have decided to call it a day, though. I checked my phone for the time. It was later than I’d realized—closer to evening.

Ty walked over and flopped next to me on the couch, and leaned their head on my shoulder. With anyone else, it might be weird, a little too close, but Ty made it comfortable. There was a certain easiness to them that made you want to tell them all of your secrets and worries.

“They sound good,” they said, soft enough that I didn’t think anyone else could hear. They raised a hand to brush their hair back from their eyes. Bracelets sparkled on their wrist, clinking softly together, a cascade of color against their skin.

I held still so I wouldn’t jostle them. “They sound like they can’t agree on anything.”

The band had paused again as we talked. Ava had flung up her hands, then dropped her sticks down on her snare. Bellamy and Tuck were arguing again, truly this time, about the same doubled chorus. It was mostly civil so far, but I wasn’t sure how long that would last.

“It’s too long if you double it. It drags.” Bellamy’s hands had started to fly, catching on the microphone cord. His voice was rising the tiniest bit too. There was a tension in his shoulders that told me he was getting ready to storm off.

Tuck knew Bellamy even better than I did, but he seemed too wrapped up in his own concerns at the moment to notice. He held his hand up. “But the bridge doesn’t work, either. It sounds fucking weird. I don’t want it like that.” He leaned forward, poking his hand in the air to make his point.

I started to get up, not sure exactly what I’d do or say. Just knowing I could maybe handle this, that I was usually the person who stepped in when tensions were running high. But Micah, who’d been sitting with Ben at the soundboard, slipped out of his seat and into the other room before I could get off the couch. He didn’t call to Bellamy, or gesture for him to calm down. He didn’t need to. I’d seen him work his magic on Bellamy before, lots of times, and I still couldn’t figure out how he did it. Bellamy caught his eye, and they held that gaze for a minute. And when Bellamy turned back to Tuck, he still looked angry, but steadier too.

I sighed and relaxed back against the couch. I felt . . . odd. I was glad Bellamy had Micah, and watching them together was like watching magic. Seeing how they fit, how they seemed to be able to communicate with gestures and glances. But it made me feel like I was adrift too. Taking care of Bellamy had been my job. And now someone else was doing it.

“They’ll get it,” Ty said, bringing me back to the present and the couch. “It takes a little bit.” They gestured over at Danni. “I almost killed her today. Over a chord change, of all things.”

I laughed. “I doubt that.”

They raised their eyebrows at me. “Oh yeah? You underestimating me?” Their tone was joking, but it had an edge of seriousness in it too.

I shook my head. “Never.”

I glanced back at the other side of the divided room. Bellamy and Tuck seemed to have settled down a little, and Ava was leaning forward across her snare drum, listening to them. The microphone was picking up the quiet click of her sticks where she was rattling them against her knee. Micah had come back out and sat down, and he had his phone out. He was playing a game or something, totally calm, like he hadn’t just averted a crisis. Not that Bellamy was the type to throw a fit over anything. But he’d storm out, and Tuck would get angry, and then the next few hours would be wasted.

It looked like they weren’t going to be playing anything for at least a few minutes. I’d already heard them play a thousand versions of this song, anyway. I excused myself from Ty and Danni and went to find the restroom. When I came out, instead of going back to the studio room Escaping Indigo was in, I wound my way through the narrow halls, until I came out at the door that opened onto the wide driveway. I stepped out, careful not to let the door latch behind me.

I leaned back against the side of the building. It was rough rock, unfinished, like someone had hacked this side of the studio out of the hill. It was warm, though, and I closed my eyes and let the sun seep into me through my T-shirt. The studio was fascinating, but I didn’t quite know how I felt about being underground, without any windows, for so long.

There was a slight scuffling noise from the other side of the building.

“Don’t let the door close!” Nicky said as he came around the corner.

“I didn’t.” I pointed at the rock that was wedged between the door and the frame. “I didn’t know you were out here.”

He sighed and came to stand next to me. He held up his hand, showing me the cigarette he had tucked between two fingers. “Bad habit.” He glanced sideways at me. “You want one?”

I shook my head, ready to say no. I’d stopped smoking a few months ago, but the habit of the short, private moments the cigarettes had provided was almost harder to break than the nicotine addiction. I’d been really good, though. I’d chewed gum and told myself I had willpower, and I’d done the stupid patch thing for a while. Mostly it had worked. But Nick’s cigarette smelled nice, peppery and green. And I liked the way he was holding it, so casual and comfortable.

“Can I just . . .?” I reached out.

He nodded and handed it over without a pause. I put it to my lips and took a drag. The paper was dry and warm, and I couldn’t help thinking, like a teenager sipping out of their crush’s soda can, that his lips had been right there. A smoky, secondhand kiss.

I handed the cigarette back. I figured one of us would make an excuse and go in then, but neither of us moved. Nick took a drag, and I watched him. Maybe it was weird, to stare at him while he smoked. But he was standing so close. And he looked so good when he did it.

He had tattoos all the way up his right arm. I remembered seeing those tattoos shifting with his movements, the colors muted by darkness. The feel of the skin when I ran my hand over it, slightly raised, velvety where the ink was. I gestured at his wrist.

“Did you get a new one?”

He turned his wrist over to stare at it, like he’d forgotten himself that it was there. I probably shouldn’t have noticed. But I’d liked looking at his tattoos, and I didn’t remember the blue bird.

He smiled. “Yeah. Do you like it?”

I nodded. It was pretty. A delicate thing against a well-muscled arm. Incongruous and all the more beautiful because of that.

There was a peach next to it, inked in pale colors and a thin outline. I remembered that one. I remembered running my thumb over it while he slept, and telling myself I’d ask him about it. I’d forgotten the next morning, though, and then he’d been headed off with his band, and I’d never gotten the chance.

I reached out and touched it now, featherlight. “I meant to ask you about this. Is it for your band?” When he nodded, I asked, “Where did you get that name, anyway?”

He laughed. He drew his arm away too. It was a subtle movement, so it wasn’t like he was yanking away from my touch. But that’s almost what it felt like.

“It was a typo. Some friend of a friend on Facebook. Her cat died, and in the comments on the post, someone had written ‘rest in peach.’” He laughed softly, the sound slightly melancholy, and I smiled back at him. “It was like this bit of ridiculousness.” He waved his hand through the air. “This super-sad post, and this person’s trying to be so serious, but I’m cracking up imagining this cat resting in peach.” He glanced at me, looking mischievous and a bit guilty.

Then he sighed and leaned against the wall, closing his eyes, his head tipped back so his throat looked long. “But I thought, ‘Isn’t it awesome that in this grief, something funny happens too? Something funny actually comes out of it.’” He blinked open his eyes and stared straight ahead, but I didn’t think he was actually seeing anything. “Like, life goes on, you know? And sadness and laughter can exist at the same time.” He shrugged. “So when we were trying to come up with a band name, I said it as a joke. But it stuck. And now I have a peach tattooed on my arm.” He flipped his hand over to see it, like he couldn’t quite remember what it looked like. “Every time I see it, I think of that.”

I nodded. I didn’t know what to say. I liked the story. I liked that their name had some meaning, at least to Nick. But what he’d said about laughter and grief, and life going on, hit me in the pit of my stomach, and for a moment, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think past the idea.

He dropped the last of the cigarette and stubbed it out under the toe of his sneaker. Then he turned to face me. “Look, Quinn. When I said I thought maybe I’d hear from you . . . I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. That wasn’t what . . .”

“You wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t want me to reply to it,” I said, before I could think better of it, or stop myself. Or both.

from Joyfully Jay

[A] good choice for a soft, intense start to a love story.

from That's What I'm Talking About

Romantic without being overdone, Scratch Track is one of my favorites in the Escaping Indigo series.

from Publishers Weekly

The story is sexy, thick with emotion, and satisfying to the last page.