Romance

First Chance

Andrea Wood

For Natalie, music is more than just something to dance to—it’s an escape, the one thing that brings her peace in an otherwise chaotic and painful life. For Ryan “Steele” Hurst, lead singer of Steele’s Army, music is just about making him seem like a cooler-than-you bad boy. Putting them together for a night would be enough trouble…but what about for an entire summer tour? Things are about to get explosive!

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Suicide, Self-Harm, Drug use/overdose Sexual harassment)

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First Chance - Book cover
Romance

First Chance

Andrea Wood

For Natalie, music is more than just something to dance to—it’s an escape, the one thing that brings her peace in an otherwise chaotic and painful life. For Ryan “Steele” Hurst, lead singer of Steele’s Army, music is just about making him seem like a cooler-than-you bad boy. Putting them together for a night would be enough trouble…but what about for an entire summer tour? Things are about to get explosive!

Age Rating: 18+ (Content Warning: Suicide, Self-Harm, Drug use/overdose Sexual harassment)

1: Chapter 1

“It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It is the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance.

It is the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give. And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.”

— Bette Midler

Natalie

“I think I just fell head over heels in love!”

That’s what my best friend Layla squeals aloud to me.

She’s staring at an album cover, drooling over the lead singer of a rock band I have never heard of.

Don’t get me wrong—I love music, I breathe music. It’s a part of my soul. I just have no interest in a mainstream rock band sellouts, really.

Layla tells me the band’s name is Steele’s Army; their lead singer Steele is her dream man. The man she would give everything up for. A man she would follow anywhere.

She mentions they are coming to our college in Boston. Our college, the Berklee School of Music, entered some radio contest, and we won.

I don’t want to go, but I’m preparing myself to. I know Layla is going to use the friend card to get me to agree to attend this sorry excuse of a concert.

What’s one night of putting up with shitty, soulless music for my best friend?

I’ve known Layla my entire life. Our parents were best friends, until tragedy struck.

I hate remembering those days. It always hurts. We celebrated every birthday and holiday together as a family.

Living across the street from each other our entire lives, our parents being so close to one another, we would have dinner together every night. As a family. Rotating who would host.

Until five years ago, Layla and I were staying at my house having a movie night while our parents went to a sit-down fundraiser dinner raising money for abused children.

Our parents were always supporting charities. They were fortunate to have money beyond their wildest dreams.

I also donate quarterly, mainly to charities for children or music programs, in memory of them.

I still don’t know all the details, nor do I want to. I think it would fuck me up even more if I did.

Recalling that night… It was late, way past our supposed bedtime, when we heard a knock at the door. I paused the movie we were watching and answered the door.

It was a police officer. He introduced himself as Officer Petty. He asked if I was Natalie Wright. That being me, of course, I said yes. He then asked if Layla was there and if we would come with him.

I should have known something was wrong when he wouldn’t tell us why we were on our way to the hospital. In fact, he wouldn’t tell us anything at all.

When you tell someone that their parents are deceased and that her best friend’s parents are in surgery, you don’t want them to be alone.

When we entered the ER, he asked me if I wanted to see my parents’ bodies. That’s how he broke the crushing news.

There was no way I could handle something like that, and I really didn’t wish to remember my parents that way, so I hastily declined.

Firstly, I was angered by the officer, then at the doctors for not being able to save them. Then angry at the cruelty of it all.

What kind of person informs a fifteen-year-old that she is now alone in the world like that?

Later, I found out that the officer did try to find out if I had any next of kin, preferring that they broke the news.

I remember him asking if we would like to wait in the waiting room while Layla’s parents were in surgery. Where else would we have gone?

While we sat in that waiting room nervously awaiting news from the doctors on Layla’s parents’ condition, what was happening slowly sank in.

I became numb, just feeling a wave of emptiness wash over me, my heart detaching itself from my emotions, no longer there. I was alone. They were my only blood family.

My parents were both products of one-child families, and my grandparents on both sides passed way before I had made my way into this world.

Apparently, our parents had a few drinks and, thinking Layla’s father was the least drunk, he drove them home.

Speeding down the road, he lost control of the car, causing the vehicle to crash into a guard rail, and my parents were then thrown from the car.

EMTs found my parents’ bodies about fifty feet away from the car. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

Layla’s father, Brian, had been going at least seventy miles an hour, and not one of them was wearing a seat belt.

Layla’s father and mother recovered. They had scars from the injuries, easily hidden underneath clothing, but there was more scarring.

Less visible to other people, but that I could see in their eyes every time they’d looked at me for the past five years.

I think that was why they took over guardianship of me, out of obligation to my parents. I could have gone to a foster home.

The money would have been put away in a trust, and when I turned eighteen, I would have been discharged from the state and handed a loaded bank account.

I know they love me in their own way, but I also think the guilt ate at them so much that they did things out of both guilt and love.

My parents were rich. Layla’s are as well, and because of that, my life is set. I’ve never had to worry about anything. I can do whatever I want with my life.

I chose to go to college many miles away from home. Away from the pitying stares of everyone in my hometown. With Layla.

We rented an apartment instead of residing in a dorm on campus. You never knew who you’d be rooming with, and we would rather be with each other.

She’s the only person who never treated me differently after my parents died. People think I should hate her. Hate her parents. How could I?

They were all drinking—I’m sure it wasn’t the first time they risked their lives seeing who could drive instead of calling a taxi or another friend. It could have been my parents driving.

Brian didn’t mean for it to happen. It was an accident, a forever life-changing freak accident.

“Nat? NATALIE!” Layla snaps her fingers in front of my eyes and yells at me.

She’s telling me we have to go shopping for new outfits for this concert. I tell her she’s buying since I don’t even want to go in the first place.

I must have spaced out thinking of the past. It doesn’t happen often because I don’t let it. I try to package it in a neat little box and shove it to the back of my mind.

I can afford it, but attending wasn’t my idea, and I don’t go around broadcasting the total in my bank account by spending it on frivolous materialistic items.

I only spend money on necessities. Things I need to get by, such as college tuition, books, materials for class, shampoo, bodywash, and food.

I don’t believe in luxuries because there are so many people in this godforsaken world who aren’t as well off as I am.

The first clothing store Layla sees, we enter. It’s not a high-end shop. Generally, that’s what Layla usually goes for, always eager to buy the latest in designer brand clothing items.

I walk around casually, glancing at clothing racks. I look behind me to see if Layla has spotted anything of interest.

She’s looking at some purple minidress, which I know will show all her worldly assets. There is no way I would be dressing like that. I’ll take the comfortable T-shirt and jeans any day.

While Layla is in the dressing room, I start going through the sales racks, hoping to find a shirt with some kind of coverage. At about the tenth shirt I look at, I finally find the one.

I pull it off the hanger. It’s a vintage-looking Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 1978 “Long After Dark Tour” T-shirt. It’s ratty and tattered, but it’s my style all the way.

Placing the now empty hanger back onto the clothing rack, I go find Layla. She’s standing in front of a mirror checking herself out. I too examine her.

She’s beautiful, not in the cheap “I spent four hours doing my hair and makeup” way, but the classic natural beauty. She doesn’t need makeup.

Her hair is always perfect, long and black, reaching the middle of her back.

Her beautifully tanned skin makes her features more noticeable, eyes that are an emerald green, big and round and shaped like almonds, with long, glorious eyelashes anyone would be jealous of.

She has a small nose and high cheekbones, her mouth pink and pouty, and she’s a size two with close to no curves. She doesn’t need anything artificial to make her beauty stand out.

Needless to say, we are polar opposites. I look at myself in the mirror over her shoulder.

I never wear makeup on my pale face. I have never felt the need to, and I have no interest in calling attention to myself.

I threw my hair up in a big, scraggly bun; I have pieces of hair sprouting out all over. It’s a golden brown, curly with a hint of frizz, and long—it reaches the top of my ass.

I have round, rosebud-colored lips, and my small nose has a slight bridge, drawing my coppery brown eyes out. Size two I am not. I have wide hips and curvy love handles.

I’m not noticeable, and I plan to keep it that way.

Layla has decided on the purple minidress. I glance up, thanking the stars in a whisper. I was counting on spending at least two hours in here before she made her mind up.

The minidress is more a piece of cloth, just there to cover the intimate body parts, but enough for anyone to make out exactly what she is hiding.

Thinking of the shirt I chose, I happen to have a kick-ass pair of jeans in my closet to go with it.

I will never understand people like my best friend Layla. Why would you want to spend all night at a concert in uncomfortable clothes? For a chance with the band? So not worth it to me.

She’s going on and on about Steele. Apparently, he came from nothing, they started a band, and BAM! Rock star of the charts…

I drown her out. I have no care for a band who makes their money by selling bad-boy images and sex, making mediocre music that means absolutely nothing.

I believe a song should touch you. Glide over your spine inducing goose bumps, with your heart pounding to the beat. Possibly bring tears to your eyes just by feeling the words.

Or make you smile and set your mood for the day ahead. That is the music I listen to, which I am a true fan of. Music I can only dream of making.

Growing up, my dad listened to all the greats, making me fall in love with them as well. It’s something I’ve carried with me, and I will always hold onto.

It didn’t matter where we were. With my dad, he was always playing music or humming the tune to a great song aloud. He is the reason why I decided to major in music.

I want to bring back that classic feel-good music, the songs that make you feel as if your heart has been torn away.

The songs that make you feel no matter what you have going on in your life, everything will be all right. Music is therapy—my therapy.

As we are leaving the mall, I tell Layla I will meet up with her for dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant. I need some time alone, so I opt to walk home.

These are the times I know she worries about me. She’d rather be my babysitter and know that I’ll make it through the day, so she knows I am okay and won’t harm myself.

I’ve never given anyone cause to believe I will, but I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. I stress myself out, over-the-top about everything. I worry way too much.

Mostly about things that are out of my control, my fear reaching unimaginable heights, but I still refuse to take any prescription medicine.

So I can feel numb? I would rather live in a constant state of fear and worry about everything than spend my entire life walking around like a zombie, unfeeling.

Anxiety started ruling my life not long after the accident. It’s a difficult thing to deal with, which I have never been able to shake.

When the attacks hit, I feel suffocated and unsure of how I am going to continue to keep living my life without people knowing how much it truly affects me. How debilitating it makes me feel.

I used to have nightly panic attacks. It would start with a light-headed feeling, then nausea would creep in, causing me to exert my breathing, then it would escalate to hyperventilating.

All the while, my heart palpitating and my fears climbing so high that these attacks seemed as if they would never go away.

I learned taking walks helped when I felt the familiar feelings clawing their way in. Something about the crisp, fresh air would calm me, help me rationalize my fears.

Now, the nightly demons are faint memories. I have been doing pretty well at keeping it at bay. Generally, the monster only reveals itself when I have an emotionally charged day.

As I wander outside, I wonder what the hell I was thinking telling Layla I would walk. I’m at least five miles from home. Luckily, the heat is bearable, and the sun is shining.

Boston is a beautiful city, full of preserved history, and more than once I have walked the Freedom Trail, retaining all the knowledge.

The Boston Harbor, only blocks away from me at all times, is a wonderful place to find peace when I am fighting the long-ago memories.

Two hours later, I walk into our apartment. Layla’s in the living room talking to some guy.

This is normal. She randomly picks up guys she meets. I tell her it worries me, but it’s her choice to make. This is how she deals.

Everyone has their own vice, something they go to. A habit or an addiction maybe, to save themselves from feeling. From facing the past.

I would never fight her on it because I do things too—things she doesn’t agree with. I decide to go to my room because I don’t want to ruin her night by my showing my disapproval.

Our apartment is a decent size. It consists of two bedrooms and three bathrooms. We both have our own bathroom connected to our rooms, leaving a bathroom for guests.

Adjacent from the living room is the eat-in kitchen, a large archway leaving an open floor plan.

There is a hallway off the living room where the guest bathroom is located, off to the right before our respective bedrooms. It’s all pretty compact and modern, with updated appliances.

I didn’t have a hand in decorating; I left it all up to Layla. She doesn’t have any extremely eclectic tastes. So, I trusted in her to make it feel like home in whatever way she wanted.

Layla and I moved in last summer, a few weeks before school started, so we could get a layout of the city and where everything was located.

The only room I have somewhat touched is mine. The walls in my room are an alabaster white and bare. I have two large bay windows at the top of my queen-size bed.

I usually leave the windows open, allowing the breeze from the harbor to roll in. Two nightstands adorn each side of my bed. A nicely framed picture of my parents is centered on top of the right.

On my left is the bathroom, and to my right is my six-drawer dresser, positioned next to my closet. It’s not a mansion-size room, but it fits my needs, and it’s mine.

I open my door and shut it while yanking my shirt and pants off. Layla’s favorite restaurant is kind of upscale, so I can’t go in looking like a teenage hipster.

I have a few pieces of clothing telling of my life before. Walking over to my closet, I pull the door open and grab a few items of clothing, not even checking to see that they match.

I decide I’ll take a quick shower and change. I hope Layla will be ready when I am. Maybe she won’t take the guy with us.

Opening my personal bathroom door, I turn the shower on, choosing to let the water warm up for a few minutes. Usually, I face a strong shock to my system by getting in and just turning the shower on.

A stream of icy cold water is a fairly easy way to wake up quickly.

Not taking time lingering under the showerhead, I wash my hair and body with speed and step out of the shower, drying my body off then wrapping the towel around my hair. I walk back into my bedroom.

Having set my clothes out on my bed, I pick the black designer dress and examine it. It ends at the knee—acceptable. I throw on a pair of flesh-colored hosiery and black strappy high heels.

Unwrapping my hair, I run my fingers through it, combing out any knots I find. Then I grab my handbag and walk out into the living room.

Layla’s there alone. Thank God. I didn’t want to be the third wheel making an uncomfortable dinner. She’s ready, jacket and all.

“All ready?” Layla asks.

I nod, making my way out of our apartment while she locks up. A few seconds later, she joins me in the elevator, making our descent to the lobby of our building.

I question her about the new guy. She answers evasively. That’s how I know it’s another unserious fling. Exiting our building, we start walking to the car garage across the street.

Many college students who opt not to live on campus choose apartments here. Being in a secure and safe building, which offers a huge well-lit parking lot.

When we reach her car, she takes her keys out of her clutch and clicks the “unlock” button. I climb into the passenger seat, she into the driver’s seat.

I do not drive. Maybe someday, but for now, my fear is too overwhelming. Anytime I have ever tried to sit behind the wheel, I freeze, my hands unable to move.

When immobile, it’s impossible for you to steer, let alone start a car.

She whips the car out of the parking lot, making me thankful for seat belts, and we head out to dinner.

Throughout the drive, Layla blabs about the concert, how she’s elated the school won, and how she has always wanted to see Steele’s Army live.

“Their music has always been inspirational to me,” Layla says as I try to hold back from laughing.

She pays no mind to me and continues with her story.

“You know how much I love the band, Nat. As my best friend, you should just go along pretending you do as well. Try not to be a Debbie Downer tonight, all right?”

“I’ll try for you, Lals,” I say to appease her. I’ll try to pretend I am enjoying myself while we are there.

Layla then goes into her plan of how she’s going to sneak backstage and seduce the lead singer. This isn’t something I care to hear about.

I’m unable to hold my interest in her going on and on about a band like a proud groupie.

I stare out the window thinking of the past, the present, and the future, all the while mumbling generic responses to what she’s still blabbering about. I’m positive she doesn’t notice.

About thirty minutes later, we pull up to Layla’s favorite restaurant, Antonio’s. A valet attendant opens my door before I can. Stepping out, I gawk at the upscale decor.

Above me is a black awning with millions of miniature golden lights hanging about like vines, recreating the starlight in the night sky. Layla joins my side.

No sooner than the door is open, the smell of a mixture of garlic, basil, and pasta hits my senses in strong wafts. My mouth starts watering for a taste, and my stomach unintentionally rumbles aloud.

I look around at the restaurant I have dined at no less than fifty times. Many walls are made up of wrought iron wine racks holding some of the most expensive and diverse wines in the world.

Earthy Tuscan color tones are strategically placed throughout to give the atmosphere the feel that you’ve flown into the heart of Italy.

The hostess takes our coats and seats us at our preferred location, hidden in the back. The round, white covered table is set for two, wine glasses already overturned and ready to be filled.

Our waitress comes over to our table, telling us of the daily specials. We decline, already knowing what we are going to order. We get the same thing every time we dine here.

After placing our orders, I glance over at Layla and can tell she has something on her mind. She smiles a huge grin.

Fuck.

I knew this was going to happen. She’s pulling the goddamn best friend card again—twice in one day. This is uncommon, even for her. So, I automatically put my defenses in place.

“Nat, so, about this concert… The guy you saw earlier in our apartment, I invited him. Now, I know you won’t date, but—”

“It’s not going to happen, Layla. I really would rather not go, but if you insist, then I am going solo,” I say with much disinterest.

“Live a little,” she begs.

“Layla, you know I love you and I would do anything for you. You don’t ask for much, but I’m not doing that.”

She sighs, resigning her hope as she does so.

“By the way, when is this concert?”

“Don’t worry, Nat. You have two days to prepare yourself. It’s on Saturday.”

Fucking great.

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