TRICK PLAY BONUS SCENE FROM JET’S POV.
**Please note, it is recommended to have read Trick Play before reading this as it does contain spoilers to Matt and Noah’s story.**
Deep breaths. It’s just another gig.
Sure, it’s for my brother-in-law’s LGBTQ charity, they need to raise money, and there’s a lot of important people here, but it’s just another gig.
Fuck, I need another deep breath.
I steal Freya’s drumsticks off her and start tapping away on the bench inside our makeshift dressing room. The hotel gave us their employee lounge to change out of our penguin suits and grunge up. I’m way more comfortable in my ripped skinny jeans and plain gray T-shirt than the tailored suit Noah made me wear for the red carpet.
Yep, this benefit is a big enough deal to have a red carpet.
I’m probably going to start hyperventilating with the heavy breathes, but I need another one.
I bang the sticks against the bench harder.
“Heeey,” Freya complains at the assault on her drumsticks. “Don’t hurt my babies.”
I throw one in the air and catch it and give her a wink. The playful goofball is a role I can play well, but I reckon my bandmates can tell it’s all a front tonight.
Benji throws his bass strap over his shoulder. “Put a sock in it, you two. We doing this or what?”
I sigh. It’s a complete travesty that accent and muscular body is attached to someone who’s straight, but even his hot Australianism ain’t enough of a distraction for my nerves tonight.
I throw the sticks back to Freya and shake out my hands. “Ready.”
“You look like you’re gonna chunder,” Benji says.
I flip him off, but not because he doesn’t have a point. The fancy-ass bite-sized appetizers I ate earlier threaten to come back up.
“What’s with the stage jitters? We’ve done this a billion times.”
It’s not my first experience with stage fright, but it’s usually caused by adrenaline pumping through me at a rate my body can’t handle. Tonight’s anxiety is because of a completely different reason.
Once I’m out there in front of the crowd, I’ll be fine. It’s the place where I belong, and I live for this shit. Being on stage is the only thing I’ve ever cared about. Everyone has their dream; music is mine.
“It’s the song, isn’t it?” Benji asks.
My non-answer is everything he needs to know. It’s our new song’s debut tonight, and it’s one of those projects I wrote for myself. I’m not sure if it’s ready to be released into the world. I’m not sure if it ever will be.
My brother Matt and his husband, Noah, saved me eight months ago when I had nowhere to go. After getting kicked out for being gay, I jumped a bus from Tennessee to New York and found Matt, who’d suffered the same fate a few years ago.
The song encompasses everything we went through growing up in a house full of hate and Matt’s fight to keep his career in the NFL, but the main theme is about his relationship with Noah. It’s the most personal piece I’ve ever written, and I dunno how they’ll react to the song.
Worse yet, I’m dreading how our fans will react.
Every artist faces scrutiny, and since joining Fallout, I’ve had my fair share. Fallout has a few thousand followers—not many in the big scheme of things—but are well-known for gigging at Club Soho. Their original lead singer signed with a label, ditching Freya and Benji. Then I came along. Opinions were mixed when I took over. A lot were supportive, but there were some comments online telling me to cut my vocal chords out. My favorite, though, would be the one which said my voice sounded like a group of cats choking on gravel.
Now that’s talent.
I can handle all that, but I don’t know how I’ll handle negative reactions to this song. I’m too close to it. I’m about to go on stage and bare my soul more than I ever have, and that’s fuckin’ scary.
“Maybe we shouldn’t set it free tonight.”
“Jet, it’s the perfect night to do it,” Freya says. “And it’s a great song.”
“It’s the best one you’ve written,” Benji says.
I scoff. “That doesn’t mean a whole lot to me considering you tell me all my other songs are shit.”
Benji laughs. “They all have potential, but this one? It’s gonna be our first single on our multiplatinum album.”
“Someone’s optimistic,” I say.
He claps my shoulder. “We’ve got this. Just do that trick where you pick one person in the crowd and focus on them. Block the rest of the noise out.”
“At least in this crowd I might be able to find someone who bats for my team.”
“There’s the spirit,” Benji says. “Let’s get out there.” He turns to leave but catches his reflection in the mirror. He assesses his dark faux hawk, and I shove him.
“You look badass and hot as usual.”
I roll my eyes. “Gay approved.”
Even though I’ve repeatedly told him I’m not into trends and fashion labels, he still takes my word as gay gospel. I’m tempted to make him dress like an idiot purely for my entertainment. He should tell by my wardrobe I know shit all about style. The only difference between my onstage presence and what I wear every day is the guyliner.
One of the volunteers from the Rainbow Beds event leads us into the ballroom and onto the stage.
The lights aren’t as harsh in this room as they are in the club we usually play, which means I can see nearly every face staring in our direction. I can’t make out expressions, but I know their gazes are glued to us.
With one last deep breath, I stare out into the crowd, and my eyes find him immediately. He’s toward the back of the ballroom, standing right near the exit. He’s a tall, giant of a guy. I can’t make out features or what color hair he has in the darkness, but his silhouette shows wide shoulders and a stocky frame. Like the build of an athlete.
Most likely he’s one of my brother’s teammates, but he’ll do for what I need him for. I just need a focal point to channel my energy and distract from everything else.
Noah talks to the crowd about this project—an idea he came up with after meeting me—and his love for the charity is obvious in the way he speaks. The inflection in his voice is as if he’s talking about his child. I guess the knowledge of being the one responsible for pulling homeless youth off the street will do that to a guy.
When he finally introduces us, my hands tremble with anticipation and nerves. While I’d normally try to warm up the crowd with a joke or at least say hi, this isn’t like our usual gig in a crowded and rowdy bar.
I open with the chords of an acoustic version of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.” I try to focus but I start to wish we’d decided to open with The Song so I can get it over with. When I start to sing, my voice is shaky at best.
My gaze finds my brother’s teammate at the back, and I focus everything I have on that guy instead of the lyrics falling from my mouth. He folds his arms across his impressively large chest.
As far as types go, I generally don’t find meatheads attractive. In spite of that, I’ve hooked up with my fair share. But that’s not what this stare-off is about. I need to switch my brain off and do what comes naturally to me which is music.
Somehow I make it through the set, and I only have Benji and Matt’s teammate to thank. They’re the only people I concentrate on. But when it comes to doing The Song, my hand shakes.
My eyes dart to Benji’s, and he gives a chin lift out into the audience. We’ve only been playing together for about seven months, but I know him well enough to read him.
Focus on your target.
First I have to get Matt’s attention. I’m still nervous about how he’s going to take the song, and maybe I should’ve spoken to him sooner instead of showing it off for the world, but I don’t think I’d have the nerve to do this to his face.
“Yo, Matt.” My voice cracks into the microphone. He doesn’t hear me anyway. Matt’s too busy talking to his friend Maddox. “Matt,” I try again. “Brother.” Still nothing. “Matt Curtis Jackson!”
Finally he turns, and his eyes widen as he sees the majority of the audience staring at him.
“Geez, just like when we were kids,” I say and the crowd laughs.
The tension in my shoulders eases with a joke thrown in, but I don’t push my luck by staring at them. The nerves threaten to come back full force, so I turn back to the guy I’m pretending to sing to and force my fingers to strum the right chords and my voice to hit the right notes.
The shake in my voice that disappeared in the middle of “I Want to Break Free” is back, but I push through it.
You don’t see me,
what I am,
Your ignorance is blind
The world ain’t ready,
But I don’t care
You can’t get rid of me now
He sees the light inside me,
Every part that’s good,
He loves me,
He’s still there,
He waited for a number,
A number that never came,
He wanted me out of his system,
But now I’ll never leave
He’s my soul
And I am his.
I find my groove when I get to the bridge and close my eyes as I belt out the words. The song is edgy and emotional, but when I get towards the end where I sing about Matt and Noah, I don’t have to concentrate so hard. They’re easy to sing about.
When I get the courage to open my eyes again and stare at my focal point, he’s gone. He left in the middle of the song.
My fingers continue to strum the right chords, and my voice manages not to waver, but that doesn’t stop the crippling disappointment that someone walked out. After standing there for my entire set, he walked out during the most important song. It might be a coincidence, but it’s definitely not the response I was hoping for. Serves me right for picking one of Matt’s teammates. Probably don’t even understand what I’m singing about.
Just like Benji’s put me in the gay and fabulous box, I’ve put all of Matt’s jock friends into the meathead box.
It’s better to think that right now instead of focus on the fact my song could be shit.
My gaze goes to the bar to see if he went there to get a drink, but my eyes catch on Matt and Noah. The awe in their expressions and glimmering eyes is enough for me to channel my focus to them instead. I want to see them as I sing about their life and how they’re better together than apart.
I experienced both of their shitty attitudes while they were broken up, and I wanted to slap them both upside the head. They couldn’t see what they had was the real deal, but I could.
They have something that some people search their entire lives for.
I swallow hard and push myself to block everything out as I finish the song. I pull my shit together, because I’m a professional after all, and sing my ass off. After the torturous song is over, it’s easy to get into the act, but the rest of the set feels like days, and by the time we’re done, I’m sweaty, edgy, and in need of a drink. Or a fuck.
The illuminated bar calls to me. Jumping off the stage, I head straight for my awesome brother-in-law who hands me a tumbler with dark liquid in it.
“Good job, brother.”
“Thanks,” I say breathlessly and throw back the glass. The liquor burns, but I welcome it.
“That better have been just Coke,” Matt says behind me.
“Of course, babe,” Noah says and winks at me.
“Hello, I have eyes,” Matt says. “I can see when you wink, dumbass.”
“Calm down. It was one drink,” I say.
Matt nudges his husband. “You’re a bad influence.”
“You’re only just realizing this?” Noah asks.
Matt pinches Noah’s ass, and I groan.
I love my brother. I love Noah. But their whole playful, lovey dovey crap drives me crazy. Not to mention my noise canceling headphones have been getting a work out now the happy couple is back in New York for a while since the football season is over. They go at it every damn night.
If the sounds were coming from roommates, that would be one thing—I could handle that—but one of them is my brother. Eww, eww, and no thank you. I don’t need to know what’s going on in that room.
Watching Matt and Noah makes me hopeful I’ll find what they have one day. Not that I’m in a rush—I’m twenty so fuck that—but what they have is fairytale shit.
Matt turns to me, suddenly serious. His mouth hangs open, and his eyes are soft, but I can tell he’s struggling for words. “Jet …” Then he glances away. He never calls me Jet. It’s always JJ.
Noah smiles. “What he’s trying to say is your song was awesome.”
“Really?” My voice is quiet, and I hate that I crave approval from Matt. Everything I’ve ever done in my life has been for me. Our parents certainly never earned our respect, and I’ve always known they’d never approve of me. Matt’s different. He’s always been the dependable big brother. He raised me more than our parents did, and I want him to be proud of me.
Instead of answering, Matt takes me in a crushing hug. Considering he’s a tight end, I’m pretty sure I have cracked ribs now. Holy shit, it’s hard to breathe.
“I’m so proud of you,” he whispers, and fuck, I might be on the verge of crying.
As far as brothers go, we have similar hair and features, but our physique? His muscles are insane. I’m not skinny, but I’m not ripped by any means. A pitiful little six pack where you need a magnifying glass to make out the shallow divots in my stomach and my unimpressive biceps are the extent of my muscles. Noah calls me a twunk. Whatever that is. Matt argues I’m a pup. Whenever it’s brought up, I flip them both off and walk out and then remind myself to read up on gay terms. There really should be a manual for this shit.
Coming from a small town in Tennessee where the shared local closet is filled with a hell of a lot more people than one would think, I learned everything from the closeted guys I hooked up with.
Needless to say, my experience has been limited to quick blowjobs, awkward sex, and not a whole lot of anything else. Since moving to New York eight months ago, I’ve certainly learned some stuff, but I still feel like a noob.
Matt finally pulls back and lets me breathe again. He does the uncomfortable guy nod—a single nod while avoiding eye contact—and as easy as that, the moment is gone, but the sentiment means everything to me.
Certain meatheads may not get my song and walk out halfway through, but my meathead brother understands, and that’s all that matters.
I know one day I’ll find my own Noah to dedicate songs to, but on my list of priorities, it’s right below get a record deal, become a famous rock star, and fuck my way through six continents.
Why dream small?