Rockstar Bay Academy: Part 2
After freshening up in the bathroom and fixing my makeup, Kennedy introduces me to her new friends. Kai and Jacob are as hot as Kennedy promised, and they’re also funny, kind and attentive. I can easily see Kennedy and I double dating with the hot blonds except for one thing: they’re brothers. And I still have baggage over the way my last relationship ended because of one brother’s opinion of me.
At least, I finally have the opportunity to practice my flirting skills that are rusty from lack of use.
“I can’t believe Michael McManning lets you drive his Lamborghini,” I say, doing my best to sound suitably impressed that Kai has been behind the wheel of one of the movie star’s prized possessions.
Kai nods. “Michael has us over all the time. The last time we were there, we watched The Hangover.”
Jacob grins, showing off two incredibly cute dimples. “You two should come with us next time we visit.”
“We’d love that, right, Lilah?” Kennedy asks me.
I open my mouth to agree but freeze when I see Asher stalking across the grounds towards us, his gaze locked on me. I nod and turn my attention back to Kai and Jacob, trying hard to concentrate on what they’re saying. A moment later, however, Asher comes to a stop beside me, startling me by laying his arm across my shoulders and invading my space. I can count the number of times he’s touched me on on the one hand, and never has one of those times been like this – a mock affectionate gesture.
I try to shrug his arm off me, but if anything, my action makes his hold on me firmer, his fingers skimming over the shoulder near my dress strap, causing me to shiver. From repulsion, of course. Kennedy glares at me, demanding with her eyes and a slight shake of her head that I move away. Ah, can’t she see that I’m trying?
Just as I think I’m about to break free, Asher hauls me against him, pressing me against his side, making my stomach lurch.
“Kai. Jacob. How’re things?” Asher asks.
Kai and Jacob are the sons of another musician friend of Jesse’s, so it makes sense that Asher knows them.
“What’s up, Ash?” Kai asks, fist-bumping Asher.
“Not much. I just need to borrow my new stepsis here for the family photos.”
“Oh, yeah. No worries.”
Jacob, the brother who seems to be most interested in me, winks at me. “Save me a dance later?”
Before I can respond, Asher replies for me. “She’ll be busy later, but she’ll call you.”
“She doesn’t have my number,” Jacob says, frowning.
“Give it to her now then,” Kennedy prompts.
“Sorry, no time,” Asher states, swinging us around and marching away with his arm still around me.
As soon as we’re far enough away for Asher to loosen his grip, I shake him off and whirl around to face him.
“What the hell was that!” I demand, rubbing my shoulder as if I can scrub his fingerprints off me.
Darkness flares in his eyes as he smirks and takes a step closer to me. “You were the one insisting it’s my duty as best man to be in photos. You do realise the same applies to you as Maid of Honor, don’t you?”
I glare at him. “Don’t touch me again. It makes my skin crawl.”
“Really?” he challenges, taking another step closer to me. “Doesn’t touching the son of a rock legend get you all hot and bothered? Don’t tell me it only applies to Ethan.”
“You’re disgusting,” I hiss, adrenaline racing through me and my heart suddenly thumping hard in my chest.
He drops his head and whispers. “My music pedigree isn’t in the same league as Ethan’s, is that the problem? My mother is a groupie and not Carin Dalton.”
His flippant tone is at odds with the disgust in his eyes as he stares down at me.
“I wouldn’t touch you if you were the last person on earth, Asher. And not because of who your mother is or isn’t, but because you’re an arsehole.”
Asher snorts. “I don’t believe you.”
I cross my arms and hold my position even though everything in me screams to take a step back. “I don’t care.”
“You wanted Ethan because of what he could do for you – because you thought he could help you get a leg up in the music industry.”
It is so untrue and so damn unfair, but I’ve argued my case repeatedly with him. He made up his mind about me, and nothing will change his opinion. When I first realised that, I was crushed. Now I’m just angry.
“Even if you were right, which you aren’t, I don’t see why you’re still going on about it. You got your way. Ethan dumped me, and he’s dating Ainsely – someone you’ve made it clear you approve of. You won.”
“Did I? You still talk to him. Still hang out with him, still spend so much time desperately hoping that he’ll crawl back you to on his hands and knees and tell you he wants you back, which he won’t. Not ever.”
His desire to paint me as desperate and pathetic and a user isn’t at all out of the ordinary, but I hadn’t counted on dealing with this much animosity and hatred from him today. Stupidly, I believed he would be able to put our differences aside and focus on how important this day is for his dad.
“I don’t want him back,” I say tiredly, knowing I’m wasting my breath. “But we are friends, and you can’t stop that.”
I hadn’t been able to stop that.
Months of Ethan sitting next to me at lunch after we broke up, joking with me, trying to talk to me while I did my best to ignore him eventually took its toll on me. I gave up trying to freeze him out a few months ago. Even though my heart had still been broken, and I’d been beyond devastated when he started dating Ainsley, Ethan proved persuasive, charming and impossible to ignore. Before we dated, we were friends, and with his kind and caring attitude, he reinserted himself in my life despite my reluctance to let him back in.
“We’ll see about that,” Asher bites out.
I huff out a breath. If he gets his way, he’ll make sure Ethan never speaks to me again.
“You’re the poison running through his veins,” Asher says.
“That would have been poetic if you hadn’t stolen the lyrics from Alice Cooper.”
“I didn’t steal them. I borrowed them. My songs are one-hundred per cent original,” he says with an arrogant smirk. “That’s why American Records offered us a contract.”
Jesse’s contacts in the industry also played a part, but yes, though I will never admit it out loud, Asher is a musical genius. He is a brilliant lyricist and guitar player, and his and Ethan’s band, Masters of Destruction – M.O.D – are going to take the world by storm when Jesse lets them off his tight leash.
“Whatever. Ethan is my friend, and I’m not going to ignore him because you tell me to.”
“Even though it cuts you to see him with her,” Asher says, shaking his head.
Ethan is supposed to stay away from me when he’s with Ainsley. Unfortunately, at events like this, it winds up being impossible. And Asher is right. It does cut me to see them together, which is why Asher keeps trying to shove their coupledom down my throat.
“I’m trying to move on. If you stay out of my dating life-“
“I don’t give a fuck what you do as long you don’t do it with people I care about. Kai and Jacob are good guys,” Asher continues. “They don’t need an ambitious, control freak, gold-digging daughter of a-“
My hand moves fast with the itch to slap him, but his hand moves faster. He grabs my wrist and holds it in mid-air. There is no satisfying slap that follows, no red mark left on his face, just his hatred and mine wrapping us in a blanket that blocks out the rest of the world.
Asher’s eyes are wide, his expression mocking. “I guess I also need to add violent to the list.”
That’s when we hear it, the shutter and click of the paparazzi taking our photo. Asher drops my hand immediately, and we both take a step back from each other, trying to look as if we don’t want to kill each other, but it’s too late. The photographers have caught an impressive shot.
“Lilah, Asher!” Jesse calls out to us.
My stomach sinks as Jesse walks towards us, past the photographers, disappointment swimming in his gaze. Even though I’ve been an only child all my life, I now understand how siblings must feel. I want to jump up and down, point to Asher, and scream that he started it. Which he did. Asher should never have been sent to collect me for the photos in the first place. Jesse, Ethan, and my mother all know we can’t be in the same space together without fighting.
Putting an arm around Asher and myself, Jesse marches us away from the paparazzi who are still snapping pictures. My stepfather is silent as we walk, but his discontent and disappointment are overwhelmingly loud.
From the start, I said the press shouldn’t be allowed at the wedding. Yes, inviting them meant we didn’t need to avoid having them trying to sneak in, or worry about them waiting in droves by the gates, ready to pounce. Nothing is ever a truly private affair when your mother is marrying a celebrity, I get that. And since I plan to be famous someday, I should get used to the attention sooner than later. Still, I’m furious they were here to witness me lose my shit at Asher. Nearly as furious, even, as I am with myself. My stepbrother set out to press my buttons, and I let him. I shouldn’t have allowed him to goad me into violence. Mum raised me better than that, not that anyone would believe that today. My mother and stepfather have been married for less than an hour and I’ve already managed to embarrass my stepfather.
Shame burns through me as we reach Ethan, my mother and the photographer.
“Is everything all right?” Mum asks, taking in the expression on her new husband’s face.
Asher steps away from Jesse and me, crossing his arms. “The paps just managed to get a photo of your daughter trying to hit me.”
“Asher,” Jesse growls a warning.
My mother gasps and Ethan’s eyes widen, bouncing between Asher and myself.
“Lilah, you tried to hit him?” my mother asks, sounding horrified.
I suck in a breath and will myself not to divulge every horrible thing Asher said. “I’m sorry, Mum. Jesse. I lost my temper. It won’t happen again.”
“You’re part of the Cassidy family now, Lilah,” Jesse says softly and firmly. It is a voice I’ve heard him use on Asher before. “Your actions will be watched, reported, measured.”
Jesse has always been so kind to me, and we got to know each other well while I dated Ethan. It’s easy to see him as the father I’ve never had, and I’ve already let him down.
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll do better, I promise.”
Finally, Jesse’s stern gaze shifts from me to Asher. “Asher, I don’t hear any apology from you.”
“I wasn’t the one lashing out with my fists.”
No, he lashed out at me with his words instead. Like he always does. And I let him get the better of me. I allowed his words burrow under my skin, and then I simply reacted.
“Let’s get on with this, shall we?” Mum suggests. “You two could use some time away from each other for the rest of the night, I think.”
“And for the rest of our lives,” Asher mutters.
For once, I agree with him.
“Is this seat taken?” Mum asks, looking down at me with a smile.
The reception is in full swing, and Mum has been busy making her rounds for the past few hours, meaning I’ve barely seen her. As soon as dinner finished, I left the bridal party table and took the empty seat next to Kennedy – a seat that was purposefully left vacant during the planning so that I could do just that. Kennedy, however, started dancing not long after I sat next to her, and she hasn’t been back to the table since.
Plonking her butt in Kennedy’s empty seat, Mum slips her shoes off and curls her feet under her. “My feet and legs are killing me.”
“You’re having a good time, though,” I point out.
Her cheeks are rosy, and I don’t think I’ve seen her stop smiling all night.
“Second best day of my life.”
She winks at me. “Nothing will top your birth, Lilah.”
Her comment makes me want to hug her so badly.
We sit together in silence, watching the dancing. “You haven’t been out there much,” she says, motioning to the dance floor.
I run my finger over my champagne glass. “I don’t feel like dancing tonight.”
At seventeen, I’m still months away from being legally allowed to buy alcohol, but I’ve been allowed champagne for the toast. I’ve sipped it, nursing it, not overly enjoying the taste. Now it is warm and gross, and I probably won’t end up finishing it.
“Did anyone ask you to dance?”
Mum purses her lips together, looking disappointed. “No one else?”
Not that I need anyone to ask me. I danced with Kennedy for a couple of songs, and Jesse insisted we dance a stepfather-daughter dance, but after that, I quickly tired of the pop music. Jacob approached me on the floor, but when I kept noticing Asher staring daggers at me, I lost my desire to keep dancing. Any other day I would have had fun pissing Asher off, but today I want to keep as much distance between my stepbrother and myself as possible, and that means avoiding any situation that might make him seek me out again.
Currently, he’s sitting on the other side of the reception room, facing the famous teen singer, Maddison Taylor. He leans in towards her, elbows on his knees and a smile on his face as she says something to him. I’ve lost track of how many girls he’s hooked up with since I met him. Before I started dating Ethan, I was on the receiving end of his charm, so it isn’t as if I don’t understand the effect he has on girls. If anything, it’s the reason I batted off his flirtations; he’d been notorious for his playboy ways. Then I started dating Ethan and that charm turned into something toxic, hateful and angry.
Seeing the direction of my gaze, Mum asks, “How are you holding up?”
“Can I have the truth now, please?”
I tear my gaze away from Asher and offer her as much of a smile as I can. “I’m great. Honestly.”
“Is that why you tried to slap Asher earlier?”
I say nothing.
Her mouth pulls tight at the corners, making her look sad. “I know how hard this is for you, Lilah. Don’t lie to me. We don’t do that to each other. You’re miserable.”
“I’m trying not to be, Mum. After all, I have no one to blame but myself. I’m the one who told you that you should marry Jesse, remember?”
When Jesse asked me for my mother’s hand in marriage, I wanted to tell him no because of what it would mean for me – one of his sons broke my heart, and the other is my enemy – but that would have been selfish. The love he felt for my mother shone in his eyes as he talked to me about her. Plus, Jesse has always been kind to me, and I know he will be good to my mum. Even when he was at the height of his career, the tabloids never reported anything untoward about him. If the rumours are to be believed, it was his ex-wife, Carin, who lived up to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle while Jesse remained faithful.
So, I pulled up my big girl panties and gave Jesse my consent. And I wouldn’t take it back now even if I could. If anyone deserves a fairy tale and a little bit of happiness in her life, it’s my mother.
She sighs. “Why didn’t I wait until you finished school this year before doing this?”
“You got this crazy idea that a summer wedding would be a good thing,” I laugh before adding seriously, “And you’re crazy in love with the guy and didn’t want to wait. You were spending every night with him, but you wanted to be there to support me during my final year at the Academy. This way, you get to be with both of us. Besides, it will only be for a year. Asher and Ethan will leave for the States when they finish school.”
“Yes, Jesse’s going to have his work cut out for him, managing M.O.D while they’re in America and he’s here with me.”
I put my hand on her arm when I see the look of concern on her face. “Jesse has it figured out. He’ll spend some time there and some time here. You guys will make it work.”
Jesse produces records now, but he’ll devote his time to managing M.O.D when Asher and Ethan finish school. As soon as the Cassidy brothers complete their senior year, their deal with American Records will no longer be on hold.
I’ve seen the boys play on many occasions, so I know just how good they are. Yes, they’ve received a foot up in the industry because of who their father is, but even without Jesse’s help, they would have made it. They have the talent, the genius, and the drive to take the world by storm.
Mum pats my arm. “We will. And you’ll get into the Australian University of Music.”
“I have the utmost faith in you.”
God, I hope her faith in me isn’t misplaced. Not only has my mother done the job of both a mother and father, taking care of me emotionally, financially, and physically, but she’s also my biggest supporter. She put herself through hell to move us to Rockstar Bay just to get me into the school with the best music program in the country. Then, she took on extra jobs like cleaning for the Cassidys, which is how she met her new husband, just to afford the tuition.
After Mum’s childhood of poverty and abuse, I know just how hard she’s had to work to turn everything around. She’s never tried to pretend with me that she hasn’t made mistakes, but I’m super proud of her. I want more than anything to succeed, to make all the sacrifices she’s made worth it. I like to think I have the drive. The talent part, however? There is a lot of talent at Rockstar Bay Academy, and even with all the effort I’ve put in since I started school there, I haven’t risen to the top of the talent pile yet.
“Are you still planning to spend the night at Kennedy’s?” Mum asks.
“Can you make sure you’re home tomorrow at a decent hour? We need to finish the packing.”
I nod. There’s still a lot to do before the movers come on Monday and we officially move in with the Cassidys.
“Good, then how about a dance, daughter dear?”
Nutbush City Limits starts playing through the speakers, and my mother stands up and toes her shoes back on.
“I don’t know…” I weakly protest as she holds a hand out to me. “I’m enjoying sitting down.”
“Just one,” she pleads. “You’ve danced with Jesse, surely you can dance with your mother.”
Reluctantly, I stand up and let her take my hand. The dance floor is already full of people dancing, but they make way for the bride. Kennedy catches my eye, grins, and pushes through the crowd to join us in the front line. I can’t help smiling as the three of us dance together, leading the rest of the dancefloor. It feels like, well, like the first thing that has been normal in far too long.
When the song changes to House of Pain’s Jump Around starts playing, Mum and Kennedy grab my hands and start jumping with such ridiculous expressions of joy on their faces, I can’t stop laughing as I join in.
Four songs later, we’re still dancing. Jesse’s Girl has started playing, and Jesse and Ethan have joined us. Ainsley isn’t with Ethan, so I don’t protest his presence. In fact, I laugh when he takes my hands and twirls me around and around until I’m dizzy.
Feeling the pinprick of the devil’s gaze upon me, I look over and see Asher glaring at Ethan and me.
I won’t be able to escape Asher or Ethan this year. Not at home and not at school. Asher is eight months older than me and should have been in the year that just graduated, but he missed a lot of school before he started living with Jesse and Ethan. Meaning, just like Ethan, he’ll be in my classes for my final year of school.
Turning my back on him, I continue dancing and try to forget about the future. I try to forget the fact I’m moving in with my stepbrothers on Monday – my enemy, and the guy who broke my heart. As long as I have my mum, Kennedy and my first love, my oldest love –music – I’ll be okay. At least, I hope I will be.