It started during Top 8 week.
The contestants were chilling out in the living room, listening to Allison gossip about the recording contract her parents had made her turn down after winning that Telemundo talent show when she was 15. Kris was only half-paying attention, eyes focused on Adam's feet propped up on the coffee table in front of them, a black-painted toe poking out the top of the torn sock. He could smell Adam next to him, the cologne and hairspray that scented their shared bathroom and was determinedly infiltrating Kris's closet.
He was half-listening to Allison and half-keeping track of these little details when Adam reached past Kris to grab a blanket off the other side of the couch.
Adam's face was suddenly right there, his lips right there, just a breath away from his own. Kris went nearly cross-eyed staring at the freckles on his mouth, the pink tongue bit between Adam's teeth as he grimaced and tugged the fleece blanket from under Kris's shoulder. And for a few, heart-stopping seconds, Kris's whole body flushed at the memories of Adam's crazy stories, the sexual escapades that sounded preposterous, ridiculous, but that Kris couldn't help believing anyway.
And then Adam pulled back, blanket in hand, completely oblivious to the way Kris was still frozen and—somehow, impossibly—disappointed.
December 26, 2010
Adam could find a party. Any time. Anywhere. It was his self-professed superpower. Kris and the others had doubted the boasts during their months in the mansion, but once the Idols Live Tour got on the road they witnessed the impossible firsthand: Adam finding them an underground dance battle in Reading, Pennsylvania; a rave in Tacoma, Washington; even a gay bar in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Kris had spent most of his life not 30 miles from there and he'd had no clue there was a gay community in Little Rock. How the hell could Adam have known about it?
So when Anoop had spammed everybody looking for a low-key night out during the holidays in Los Angeles, Adam had answered the challenge by throwing Anoop a belated birthday party. He dubbed it the Anti-L.A. Birthday Party; no paparazzi, no fans, and no videos on YouTube. It should have been impossible with someone as famous as Adam involved…but that's where Adam's superpower kicked in.
"Wow," Cale said as they cruised past what should have been The Mojito Café at 5 mph. "That is not what I was expecting."
Kris kept looking from the address in his iPhone's e-mail, to Cale's GPS monitor, to the street number on a one-story stand-alone cement building with boarded up windows and a half-burned-out neon sign blinking "OP" in the glass door.
"Seriously," Cale continued as he took a slow right-on-red onto South Inglewood Avenue, "I'm supposed to park in this neighborhood? Adam's never been to Lennox, has he?"
"Like anyone's gonna steal a 2002 Nissan," Kris rolled his eyes, trying to ignore the bad vibes he was getting from the badly-lit streets, the low, crowded buildings with curved Spanish shingles, and filthy sidewalks. "Just park already."
Cale pulled up along a meter-less stretch of curb and yanked the GPS plastic mount off the glass.
"What are you—"
"I'm putting this in the trunk. You're putting your suitcase in there, too." He licked his thumb and smudged at the telltale circle the suction cup left behind.
Kris's shoulders ached from the three flights to get from Little Rock to LAX. But he wasn't about to argue with common sense. When Cale popped the trunk, Kris dragged his rolling suitcase out of the backseat, grunted and heaved, and landed it in the trunk. It was at least 15 pounds heavier than when he'd left L.A., weighted down now with presents and linens for his new apartment.
"Is this Anoop's scene?" Cale asked as they walked quickly past graffitied stucco walls and turned the corner onto Lennox Boulevard. "The way he acted on Idol, I thought he was all letterman prep."
Kris shook his head and buried his hands in his jacket pockets. December in Los Angeles wasn't cold, exactly, but the breeze and the neighborhood left him chilled. "I don't know whose scene this is." It wasn't Adam's, that was for sure. If these were the lengths Adam had to go just to dodge the paparazzi, things had gotten even worse in the last two weeks.
Cale stopped in front of the door to the restaurant and gestured with both hands, uncharacteristically polite. "After you."
"You scared?" Kris teased.
Cale puffed his chest out and growled, "No. Just the 'plus one.' You're the one he invited."
"Coward," Kris smiled and nudged Cale out of the way to grab the handle.
The door swung open on surprisingly well-greased hinges, and warm, aromatic air wafted out, along with the tinny strains of bachata guitar. Kris ducked under the fake-palm trees crowding the door and found a long room of small wooden tables and chairs, a few families sitting and eating near the door, and a loud group in the back corner. And a familiar figure standing at the small bar on the right.
Kris grinned and forgot about the sketchy neighborhood, the bad layover in Houston, the awkwardness of his first Christmas without Katy. He tackled Adam from behind, dodged a flailing arm when the taller man yelped and spun around to see who was wrapped around his waist.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Adam demanded, squeezing him back in a big hug. Arms wound around Kris's shoulders, pulling Kris's face in to press against necklaces and skin.
In Adam's too-tight grip, Kris felt himself relaxing for the first time in days. He breathed deep, smelling the cologne Adam had worn for the last two years, the scent that always reminded Kris of hugs after he came off stage on Idol and the tour, Kris thrumming with adrenaline, jittery in his own skin. Adam's body was lean and strong, and Kris couldn't help closing his eyes and sneaking a few seconds to enjoy the physicality of it, the press of Adam's thighs against his, big hands fisting in his jacket over his shoulder blades. Until the urge to open his mouth and taste Adam's skin again became an overwhelming pounding in his blood and Kris forced himself to pull his head away, to lean back against Adam's arms until his friend let go.
"I can't even believe it. You're not supposed to be back 'til Wednesday, what the hell?" Adam repeated, beaming down at him with purple-lined eyes, his hands kneading Kris's shoulders like he needed tangible proof Kris was real.
"Um," Kris said, racing pulse making him uncharacteristically flustered under Adam's intensity. "Long story?"
"Like that's ever stopped you. Or me."
"I told him he'd get bored," Cale drawled.
Adam finally tore his eyes away from Kris's face and noticed the guitarist. "Hey! Cale, right?"
"Good guess," Cale smiled, sticking out a hand.
Adam tugged Kris to his left side so he could keep an arm around his waist while he shook Cale's hand. "Please. I totally met you at the Miami Tailgate. You thought I wouldn't remember."
Cale looked surprised and more than a little embarrassed. "That was over a year ago."
"What kind of Kris Allen fan would I be if I didn't stalk his band mates, too?"
"The non-scary kind," Kris offered. His body leaned unconsciously into Adam's grip, keeping them pressed together.
Cale quickly changed the subject, glancing around at the wooden walls and tacky, twinkling pink and green lights stapled to the ceiling. "So. This is the best the legendary party-planner could come up with? I mean, Christmas weekend, your options were limited; I'll give you that. But Lennox?"
Adam's smile got impossibly brighter. "Oh, the party hasn't started yet. You're gonna eat your words by midnight, I promise. Now come on, Anoop's in the back, and the kitchen closes in 45 minutes."
They helped Adam collect the row of drinks lined up on the bar and let him lead the way, weaving through the roomful of tiny tables toward the group in the back corner. Kris recognized Anoop's hair and popped, pink collar, and, across the table from him…was that Matt's hat….
"Hey, Noop-Dog, look who I found!" Adam called as they got close.
The group looked up: Anoop, Matt, and some girl and guy Kris didn't know. Anoop craned his head to see and then stood up so fast he wobbled the beers on his table. "Kris! Holy crap, I thought you were still regressing with your redneck peeps!"
"Hey, man," Kris set down his drinks and grabbed Anoop's hand, met him in a chest bump. "Happy belated. And Matt, man—"
Matt smiled and tipped his fedora, then reached over the pushed-together tables and slapped Kris's hand. "Arkansas, good to see you!"
"Yeah," Kris agreed, his throat going tight around a nostalgic lump. Anoop was still based in Atlanta, and Matt was back in Michigan, but even still; how had it been eight months since he'd seen either of them? New Year's resolution number two would be reprioritizing his schedule to see his friends more often. He glanced at the other two members of the party and then at Adam, who straightened his shoulders and made a grand gesture.
"As your host for this evening, please allow me to make the humiliating introductions." He raised up one of the fresh beer bottles and pointed with it. "On Anoop's right we have William—Will—Anoop's classmate from UNC, who moved out here last year to suck the dick of Hollywood—"
"Oh for fuck's!" Will protested, flushing bright red. "I said teat! Suckle the teat of Hollywood!"
Anoop threw his head back and cackled, "Didn't I tell you he's a trip, man!" He grabbed the beer from Adam and passed it to his friend, then claimed another two bottles for himself.
"Uh uh, language," Adam admonished, indicating the three little kids sitting forty feet away.
"Sorry," Will muttered.
Adam grinned and continued, holding out a vodka tonic to the thin blonde wearing even more eye makeup than him, "On Matt's arm is the beautiful Beth, a flight attendant for Delta Airlines. Originally from Oklahoma, Beth & Matt hooked up two weeks ago on a flight from Detroit to New York. Literally. Odds on how many times they've hit the Mile High Club since then? Anyone?"
Matt accepted his girlfriend's drink and shook his head, "You're leaving out the most important part."
"Oh forgive me. The most important part," Adam held up a warning finger. "If any of you straight men hits on Beth, Matt will kick your ass." He passed another beer over to Matt.
Matt nodded and Beth giggled, cuddling close and ducking her eyes modestly. Kris didn't really buy it, but the perennially-down look was missing from Matt's eyes.
"And finally, attempting to hide behind the diminutive form of our very own Pocket Idol," Adam leveled his finger at Cale, who stepped around Kris and stuck his jaw out in challenge. "Here we have Mr. Cale Mills, Kris's childhood friend and band mate. And um…" Adam frowned at him as though trying to remember. "Broke his arm the summer after 5th grade when he rolled down a hill in an old tire—how adorably cliché is that?—likes sitcoms but hates network television, drinks light beer, and thinks Ultimate Frisbee is a real sport."
Cale stared at Adam, and so did Kris. All that from just one meeting in Florida? …and from listening to Kris talk about his friends for the last two years, he realized.
Adam sipped his own drink—Bacardi and Diet Coke, if Kris remembered right—and looked around. "How'd I do? Everybody suitably brought down to earth? Cause I can go another round if you all—"
"You've done enough," Anoop cut him off with a desperate laugh, tugging Adam down into the seat next to him.
Adam sat, but he pushed his chair back from the table and beckoned for Kris and Cale to drag over another table.
"Menus, here you go." Adam slid two onto their table once they'd gotten settled.
"You've gotta finish, man: how'd you get the snake through customs?" Will asked Adam, picking up a conversation that had been interrupted.
"Lemme guess—you hid it in your pants," Anoop said.
Matt and Beth were giggling into each other's ears, one of Matt's hands conspicuously invisible below the table.
"What kind of food is this?" Kris asked, flipping the two-sided sheet over. It was in Spanish, but he didn't see burritos or tacos anywhere.
"Cuban," Adam said.
"Cuban? Is that like…Mexican?"
"Dude, the croquetas!" Will said, leaning past Anoop. "To die for. Totally."
"So that's a 'no.' I don't even…" Kris said, looking first to Cale, then to Adam for help.
Adam took the menu out of his hands. "I'll order for you. You'll love it, trust me."
"Mas-i-tas de pu-er-co fri-tas…" Cale drawled dubiously, squinting at the laminated page he held at arms length.
"Oh my god," Adam laughed. "I'll order for you, too. Just tell me what you like."
"I'll be good with whatever Kris gets," Cale shrugged, passing over his menu.
Adam shot Cale a measuring look and then shrugged and said, "Cool, got just the thing. Still light beer though, right?"
Adam stood up and headed for the bar to order, and Kris's right side felt inexplicably colder.
"So?" Anoop said, leaning a hand on Adam's empty seat to get closer to Kris once Adam was a discreet distance away, "Have you made your move yet?"
"On Adam. The move. You know." Anoop waggled his eyebrows and Kris felt a guilty flush start to creep up his neck.
"I don't know what you mean," he lied.
"What are you talking about?" Will asked.
Matt put down his beer and smacked his lips before explaining, "Kris's had a hard on for Adam for the past two years."
"No, I haven't!"
"Aren't you married?" Will asked.
"Dude," Anoop turned on his friend and slapped his arm. "Not cool."
"Divorced. Since October," Kris admitted.
"Oh, damn. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be a dick. I don't really keep up with you guys. I watched the show 'cause Anoop was on, and since then, like, blinders." Will held his hands up to demonstrate.
"It's cool; Katy and I are still friends."
"Oh come on," Kris protested. "Why does nobody believe it when we say that? We are."
"The kind of friends who pay alimony and split the assets 50/50?" Beth asked, feigning curiosity while Matt played with the skin under her ear.
"The kind who still talk on the phone every other day," Cale said firmly, backing Kris. "You should hear him on the bus. He talks to Katy about his crush on Adam."
"Oh my God," Kris groaned, sinking lower in his chair. He should make them stop talking like this. He should tell them they were wrong. But they all seemed to know, and he hadn't gotten divorced just to keep lying to everybody—including himself—about his feelings for Adam.
Will said quietly, like he'd only meant for Anoop to hear, "Wait, he's gay?"
Anoop shrugged, "That's for Kris to decide."
"But Adam's kind of…flamboyant."
"Adam's awesome," Matt said firmly, giving Will a hard look. "And he and Kris've been a couple since the very beginning. They don't even have to fight over sides of the bed."
The embarrassed smile on Kris's face was starting to hurt. It sucked to be reminded of his behavior early on. The flirting had always been so innocent, at least that's what he'd thought at the time.
"They are so that couple," Cale agreed, leaning on his elbow like he was bored. "Put the two of them in a room together and they'll completely ignore everyone else."
"Can we please not talk about this?" Kris begged.
"Dude, what are you waiting for?" Anoop pressed. "You're in L.A. now. Adam's in L.A. You're single, he's…wait, is he single?" Anoop looked around the three small tables for an answer. "Somebody Google that shit."
"Kris knows," Matt suggested.
"Not really." Kris shook his head, aware his cheeks were glowing. How was it possible he was having this conversation in public, with Anoop and Matt and Cale and two complete strangers, when he hadn't even gotten up the courage to talk to Adam yet? Kris finally gave up and allowed himself to be honest with his friends. "I've tried to get him to talk about who he's dating, since October, but he just…says he's too busy, what with the tour and then the New Year's Eve show. Which isn't really an answer, so."
"Oh yeah. I totally need a ticket to that gig," Matt said, distracted from the point Kris was trying to make.
Anoop snorted. "Good luck. Those were fan-club only, and they sold out in, like, July."
"For reals? That's so unfair."
"He can probably get you in backstage," Kris offered, encouraging the new topic. "I mean, I don't have a ticket, but I'm practically required to go." He bounced his heel off the rung of his chair, making his and Cale's table rock back and forth under his elbows.
"If he's getting you in, he has to get all of us in," Anoop decided.
"Hey, where are you for New Year's?" Matt asked his girlfriend.
"I'm on the East Coast," she pouted prettily. "But it sounds like fun."
"Are you a fan?" asked Will, surprised.
"No, but Adam's fun. So his show would be fun, right?"
"You have no idea," Anoop grinned, and a brief moment of silence swept the table as the three Idols smiled at Tour memories from the previous summer.
"So wait," Kris said, finally asking the question that had been on his mind for the last 10 minutes, "why are we here? This doesn't seem like Adam's kind of place."
"He said he knows the DJ," Anoop shrugged.
"The food was really good," Will added, but Kris ignored him.
"One of Cass's runway shows," Adam answered, setting two beer bottles down in front of Kris and Cale before sitting in the chair next to Kris.
Kris picked up his beer and looked straight up at the small round speakers embedded in the popcorn ceiling, playing another nondescript bachata tune. "What DJ?"
"He hasn't started yet," Adam said blithely and flicked the glass bottle in Kris's hand. "Bottoms up. You're two rounds behind."
Cale picked up his own bottle and nudged Kris's ankle under the table, so Kris did as bidden, taking a few long swallows while the conversation settled on shop talk.
Despite selling 400,000 copies of My Name, the first single off his debut EP, Anoop was still tied to the same Atlanta label for the distribution of his upcoming full-length, and Anoop suspected they were skimping on the promotional plans. "Truth," Anoop announced as Kris was finishing his first beer, "I asked for a party so I could pick your brain." He was talking to Adam.
Of course he was. For Your Entertainment had gone double platinum, he'd sold out his first solo tour, and he was nominated for a Grammy; Adam was the real winner from their season. When Kris got up to get another beer, Cale gave him a sympathetic look that Kris pretended he didn't see. Nobody believed him when he said he wasn't jealous of Adam's success, just like they doubted him about staying friends with Katy. He'd gotten used to ignoring the haters somewhere in the last thousand interviews.
"But they bend over backward for you all the time," Anoop was saying when he got back.
Adam tipped his glass back and took a long moment to answer. All eyes were on him when he said, "That's 'cause they know a good thing. They don't have to do me any favors; my contract probably looks a lot like yours. 19E's just smart enough to know what they've got. Yours—they're fucking idiots if they don't wanna promote you."
"I think what Anoop's really angling for is an opening slot on your next tour," Will suggested, arm preemptively raised to block Anoop's retaliation.
Adam made an apologetic face. "Allison's still got me sewn up for the next three tours. Never try telling that girl 'no.' She'll go all Glenn Close on you and kill your bunnies."
"Matt's album's coming out in February," Beth said.
"Shit, really?" Anoop said.
Matt ducked his head just enough to hide his eyes under the brim of his hat. "Yeah."
"Dude, that's awesome! Why didn't you say you were recording?"
"It's not like we've really kept in touch all that much," Matt said.
"Come on, I've read everything you've ever posted and you never once mentioned recording."
"Facebook stalking doesn't count as keeping in touch," Matt scowled at Anoop. "And following someone's Twitter doesn't mean you're still friends." The mood at the table suddenly took a dive as Matt reverted to his moody headspace.
"And that's what tonight is all about," Adam interrupted gracefully, "hanging out so we can actually talk. So dish; is it your own stuff or did you buy anyone's?"
Kris took a long swallow and watched how easily Matt responded to Adam, marveled at the way Adam set the whole table at ease. And then Adam wiped at the corner of his eye, rubbing away fallen mascara, and Kris noticed the beads of sweat up along his hairline. An inappropriate memory of Adam sweaty and flushed, gasping his name, flashed before his eyes in vivid color, and Kris suddenly felt the heat of the room.
Cale was giving him a knowing look when Kris jerked his gaze away from Adam.
The food arrived on two platter-sized plates bearing chicken smothered in a lumpy red sauce flowing into piles of yellow rice and black beans. It smelled like garlic and tomato and something Kris couldn't put his finger on, but it was mouth-watering. A smaller plate of plantains landed in the middle of the tables for everyone else.
"This looks amazing," Kris said and dug in. The chicken tore apart like pulled pork, dripping thick, steaming sauce as he lifted the fork to his lips.
Adam's eyes were glued to Kris's mouth as he took his first bite.
"Mmph," Kris moaned, setting the fork down and savoring the rich flavors. He licked his lips, finding another explosion of sour-sweet sauce that had dribbled toward his chin.
"Great, now I know what Kris's orgasm face looks like," Matt muttered.
"Hey!" Adam protested. "That should be my line."
"You're welcome," Kris grinned. He discovered a small potato in the sauce and scooped it up with some of the rice. "Now let me have my orgasm in peace."
"Told you you'd love it. Do I know that tongue of yours or what?" Adam asked loudly, a twinkle in his eye.
Kris almost choked, but everybody else cracked up.
"How 'bout you, Cale?"
Kris looked up from his dinner and noticed Cale scraping at the sauce, trying to shove it to one side of the huge plate.
"It's okay, I just…don't really like olives."
"Oh man, I'm sorry," Kris apologized.
"I thought you liked…" Adam said, his smile fading.
"Usually, yeah. But Kris never gets 'em, so it was never a thing."
"Kris loves olives," Adam said, looking confused. He looked to Kris for confirmation and Kris gulped down a mouthful of beer and nodded.
"Adam, you're getting us into the New Year's Eve show, right?" Anoop interrupted, apparently being egged on by Will.
Adam turned away, and Kris looked at Cale's plate, feeling guilty. "Sorry about that, man. D'you wanna get something else?"
"It's fine," Cale waved him off. "I'm a grown up, right? I can handle a few olives." Then he cleared his throat and leaned toward Kris's ear. "But dude. If you don't ask him out tonight, I'm totally gonna do it for you. 'He knows your tongue.' Jesus Christ, what are you waiting for?"
Kris's shoulders inched up defensively. "You wouldn't."
"Just watch me," Cale said, and grinned into his bottle.
Cale ended up eating most of the plantains, and Will and Anoop picked at Cale's chicken, rice, and beans. Adam kept watching Kris take bite after bite until Kris handed him a spoon and told him to help himself if he was that hungry.
Adam smiled and took a few polite bites, but quickly lost interest in the food and started gossiping about the secret language of flight stewards' ties with Beth.
And then there was a series of loud bangs and scraping noises and they all turned and stared as two busboys shoved a row of wooden tables up against the long wall, forcing the tops to run up on each other carelessly. All the other diners were gone.
"What's going on?" Anoop asked Adam.
"Your birthday party," he explained mysteriously.
Row after row of tables got pushed out of the way until it was just their corner left, but nobody asked them to move or told them the restaurant was closing.
Cale noticed the change in the music first and looked around. "Oh, there's the DJ."
There was a bass drum beating deep in Kris's gut that had nothing to do with the little speakers overhead. The volume was slowly inching up.
They all turned to follow Cale's gaze to the back of the restaurant, where a wicker screen had been folded to the side and now a table and two huge speakers were visible. A tattooed guy in a red wife-beater and leather pants was bent over a pair of turntables with a huge set of headphones cupped to one ear. The sound he was making was smooth, down-tempo salsa, with trumpets and bongos and that thumping bass.
"Dude, I love lounge!" Anoop gasped, shaking Adam's shoulder.
Adam leaned back with a satisfied smile. "Gentlemen—and lady—it is officially time for the hard liquor. Who's having shots?"
Mojito Café transformed completely over the next half hour. The lights dimmed, the music cranked up to a teeth-rattling volume, and locals streamed in. Their clothes looked cheap, but not in the way Adam and his WeHo friends paid a lot to look cheap. It was all tight t-shirts and even tighter jeans, short skirts and high heels, and everyone knew how to dance. None of them spared a second glance for their table.
After the third round of tequila—each of which Cale had declined—Adam grabbed Matt's hat and put it on, announced, "Now iz ze time on Sprokets vhen ve dance!" and headed out onto the wooden floor.
"What did he say?" Beth yelled over the music.
Anoop slid into Adam's abandoned chair. "So you and Adam, right?"
"What?" Kris jerked back.
"You're gonna hook up, right? I always assumed…."
"Assumed what?" It was driving him a little crazy, the way everybody was trying to throw them together. The pressure was making the night an emotional roller coaster he hadn't planned on riding for at least another week.
"Well, that you could actually do it. Make a go of it. I didn't want you to cheat on your wife or anything, none of us did, that's why we left it alone. But you're single now. So…you still wanna get with him, right?"
"Yeah, he does," Cale answered, throwing an arm over Kris's shoulder to talk to Anoop. "But he's putting it off. He said it's his New Year's resolution, so that means," he shrugged, "some time in the next 12 months he might get around to it."
"Bullshit," Anoop said.
"You're not supposed to—" Kris tried to interrupt his best friend.
Cale shoved Kris's head out of the way and overrode him. "It totally is. It's a question of balls at this point."
"Guts," Cale amended with a laugh, his beard scraping against the back of Kris's neck.
"Does he need more liquid courage?"
"No, he doesn't," Kris said loudly, elbowing the two of them to get them to back off and stop talking over him.
"And looking at that isn't enough to spark some action?" Anoop gestured over his shoulder and Kris saw Adam dancing with two heavy-set Hispanic girls, grinding between the two of them, his hands running over the hips of the one in front of him.
Kris's mouth went dry but he didn't answer the question.
Anoop stared him down for a long moment before snorting, "Whatever. I'm gonna cut in, get my groove on. You just sit there and think about what you're missing out on."
Kris shot Cale a warning look to prevent more meddling and twisted one of the dozen empty shot glasses on the table.
"Oh shit, how drunk is Anoop?" Matt suddenly shouted, surfacing from an argument with Will on the merits of sampled hooks.
Will glanced up and squawked, "Holy shit, dude," and Kris checked to see what Anoop was doing with the girls.
Anoop wasn't with the girls.
Anoop was, in fact, grinding with Adam, a hand on Adam's ass as he bounced with the beat, knees bent and looking totally into it. Adam had a loose arm around Anoop's waist and Kris could read his laugh in the way he held his head, shoulders curved inward.
"Is he insane?" Will demanded.
"What, nobody cares," Cale yelled over the music, pointing at the other patrons, none of whom were watching, or frowning, or taking photos. "Nobody knows who we are or would even give a fuck if they did."
Beth said something Kris couldn't hear and dragged Matt out of his chair, out onto the dance floor. They squeezed into a spot next to Anoop and Adam, and Beth grabbed the fedora off Adam's head, cocked it on her own. Matt licked a kiss onto her neck just as Adam dipped Anoop behind them, and Anoop squealed and laughed.
"I love this place," Will decided loudly from the far side of the tables. He started grooving in his chair as his eyes roamed the room.
"Kris," Cale said in his ear.
Kris ignored him and ducked his head again, determinedly not watching his friends dance.
"The idea here," Cale persisted, "is to get out there and defend your turf."
Duh, Kris hadn't missed Anoop's bait. And Cale was right, he was jealous. But not of the way Anoop was touching Adam; the dancing meant nothing to Anoop, nothing to Adam. It was the clean slate he envied. No matter what they all assumed, Adam's interest in Kris was actually a really big question mark. Especially since Kansas City.
So Kris kept his head down, kicking himself even as he let his doubts psych him out until Cale gave up and dropped the subject.
A few songs later, Adam threw himself, gasping, back into his chair. "That boy has lost his mind," he laughed, raising a bottle of water to his lips and tipping it straight back.
Kris's eyes drifted over to watch Adam swallow, and now even Kris's cock was getting impatient with his stalling. How hard would it be to ask him to dance? Anoop had just done it, and it didn't have to be anything more than a joke if Adam wasn't interested. Kris opened his mouth, praying the right words would come out, and then the music suddenly dropped down to a faint thumping.
A voice boomed through the speakers, "I'm gonna change it up for just a few seconds, 'cause we got a birthday boy in the house, and there's a special request for him. Let's see if you can handle this beat."
And Anoop's hit single started up and Kris's jaw dropped.
Anoop appeared out of the dancing crush to stand by the tables and point at Adam, shouting, "Oh my god, you fucking rock star!"
Adam laughed back, "You're the rock star, baby!"
Matt barreled off the dance floor, Beth on his heels, and ran smack into Anoop. "This is your song," he shouted in Anoop's face, shaking his shoulders, a huge, drunk smile smeared across his lips.
"I know!" Anoop yelled back. He grabbed Will out of his chair and the two of them broke out some old school Usher moves, singing along to the track.
Behind them, the crowd was dancing to Anoop's beats and honey-smooth voice, completely oblivious to the artist in the room. Kris couldn't believe they were allowed to have this kind of anonymity in Los Angeles. It was possibly the best birthday present any one of them could have asked for.
When it hit the bridge, Anoop arched his back, pointed at the ceiling, and called, "I wanna hear my name!" The entire table sang back, "Anoo-oop!" and he whooped and jumped on Will's back, forcing his friend to stumble out onto the dance floor with him.
When the song ended, Adam nudged Kris and said, "I'm gonna get some more water, you want?"
Kris nodded, but the second Adam was gone, Cale shoved Kris out of his chair and ordered, "Go!"
Kris looked from the table, to the dance floor, to Adam walking toward the front of the restaurant, where the lights were dimmer and the music was a little quieter. And he knew where he most wanted to be.
Kris slotted in next to Adam at the crowded bar, grateful for the way the mob gave him an excuse to press close, let the back of his wrist rub against the front of Adam's sweat-soaked t-shirt when Adam turned to smile down at him.
"Hey, you," Adam said and wrapped an arm around Kris's shoulders for a quick, happy hug. "Having a good time?"
"Yeah," he said emphatically. "What you did here is just—it's perfect. I can't believe I would've missed all this."
"Me, too." Adam set a bottle of water in front of Kris and looked at him closely, the smile still lingering on the corners of his mouth. "I got time for that long story now if you wanna talk…."
It wasn't what he wanted to talk about with Adam just then, but he was still too nervous about asking, about having to shout his feelings in a crowded club, so he took Adam up on his offer. "It was okay, for a while."
"Things were mostly just…awkward for the first few days. Everybody was glad to see me—they always are—but it was like they were afraid to talk about Katy. Like she'd died or something. Any time marriage came up, or the pies Katy's mom used to bring to Christmas dinner, or how Katy had shown my cousins how to make popcorn-string garlands, everybody froze up and changed the subject really fast."
Adam nodded, a sympathetic frown on his face.
"Like they thought I would get upset. Because they don't get that we're really okay; that we made this decision together and we're still friends."
"I know," Adam nodded some more. "So it got to be too much after a while?"
Kris shook his head. "No, it was Christmas. When we agreed I could have Conway for Christmas, I didn't think about having all her people at our church. And when my family met her family at Service yesterday…"
Adam sucked a breath through his teeth. "Cat fights?"
"Southern Lady style," Kris agreed. "The coffee social was vicious. They were mean to Grace. She's nine!"
"And afterward, that's all my family could talk about, like the O'Connell clan's behavior reflected on Katy, and that's why I must have divorced her…." The urge to tear his hair out was building again so Kris unscrewed his water and took a long sip. "So I booked the first flights I could get. I told them it wasn't them," he half-laughed.
"Sorry," Adam said. "I know how much you love Christmas."
Kris shook his head. "I still love Christmas, I'll just be spending it in L.A. next year."
"Hey, me too! Tell you what, I'll throw you an Anti-L.A. Christmas Party."
Half of Kris's mouth twitched into a smile. "I'll bring the SoCo and mistletoe."
"You've got yourself a date," Adam promised, tipping their water bottles together for a toast.
"About that," Kris blurted, and then shut his mouth, no clue where that sentence had wanted to go.
Adam's eyes narrowed. "About what? Dating?"
"You just got divorced. There's no rush to get back into the dating scene. I mean, by next Christmas, yeah, you'd better be dating somebody, but nobody's putting any pressure on you."
And Kris laughed because Adam was so epically, staggeringly wrong.
Adam tilted his head and asked softly, so soft Kris could justify leaning in a little closer to hear him, "You're not already seeing somebody, are you?"
Kris took a deep breath, his chest pressing closer until he could feel Adam's pentagram pendant between them. "I'm trying," he admitted. "But it's…really hard."
"What does that mean?"
"You know that Katy asked me out, right?"
"Senior year," Adam confirmed, voice rumbling against and through Kris's body.
"And that she started describing her perfect wedding ring before I'd even thought to propose."
"She's…she's the only girl I've ever dated, and it was…. I never realized 'til recently how much I never took that risk. I already knew how she felt about me, so I wasn't putting myself out there, you know?"
Adam nodded slowly. "So you haven't asked her out yet?"
"The girl you wanna date."
And Kris could leave it at that, could nod and change the subject and wait until the timing felt better, procrastinate all the way until next New Year's. Or he could take that risk, cowboy up and be a man like everybody wanted him to be.
Like Kris wanted to be.
"Him," he corrected Adam.
"I haven't asked him out yet."
Kris caught the sharp inhalation and the way Adam's head jerked up, Adam's eyes seeming to cut toward their table—toward Cale, Kris guessed, confidence faltering. If Adam didn't know Kris was talking about him, still wanted him…. So he reached out before he could have second thoughts, put his hand on Adam's waist just above the line of his jeans.
Adam's gaze shot back down to his, eyes reflecting the pulsing yellow spotlights over the DJ table. "Hey," Adam said, the sound of the word lost in the voices around them, but the shape clearly legible.
"Hey," Kris said, swallowing past nervousness and leaving his hand in place.
"You wanna date a guy?"
"Yeah," Kris breathed, his eyes dropping to Adam's chin, his throat.
"That's a. That's a big step; from married to out."
"I think it could be worth it. If—if it works out."
"And what if it doesn't?"
Kris risked a glance up and caught Adam biting his lip, but there was a big hand inching closer along the bar, Adam's rings catching the light. Kris felt a small flare of victory. He brushed his thumb over Adam's t-shirt below his ribs and said, "We won't know 'til we try."
"I really—" Adam said and then stopped, going very still under his hand. "How drunk are you?"
Something in Adam's expression reminded Kris of Kansas City again and he frowned, said, "How drunk are you," and shoved against Adam's chest even though he didn't want him to go anywhere. The crowd at the little bar kept Adam pinned in place, pinned against him. "Adam, trust me. I know what I'm saying," he said, gentle but firm.
"Dear god, I hope so," Adam said, some of the tension leaving his body.
"Look at you, praying."
"Yeah," Adam said. "You're a terrible influence on me, Allen."
Adam's hand finally made it across the bar, ghosted over the hairs on Kris's forearm, sliding against the grain. Kris licked his lips and closed his eyes, felt the hand slide higher to frame his elbow, just the faintest suggestion of touch.
He made the next move, slid his hand lower to catch the hem of Adam's t-shirt, lifted it up a few inches to slide his palm onto hot, damp skin.
"Oh," Adam said somewhere near his temple.
"We could dance, if you wanted," Kris said, pressing closer, his lips just an inch from Adam's throat.
"We could," he agreed, shifting to slide a thigh between Kris's legs.
Kris choked on a breath and clutched Adam's waist for balance as that lean thigh rode up against him and Kris's back arched against whoever was standing behind him. Adam growled and dragged him even closer, hand firm on his lower back, coaxing Kris to lean against him.
"This isn't how you danced with Anoop," Kris managed to say, distracted by the sensory overload of the music, the lights, the crowd, the smells of sweat and garlic and cologne, and Adam searing every nerve-ending in his body with heat.
"No," Adam agreed, rolling their hips together with the beat, Kris's cock getting hard to match the bulge under Adam's tight jeans. "I don't think Anoop's ready for moves like this."
"I am," Kris promised, leaning up and brushing his lips against the edge of Adam's jaw.
Adam eased back a fraction and smiled just out of reach, his lips just a breath away. Kris could pull him down, could grab the back of his head, tug him down for a…
Somebody shoved through to the bar behind Adam, knocking them both off balance. Adam caught himself with one hand against the rail, but Kris had to turn and grab the woman behind him to stay upright. She knocked his hands away and yelled at him in rapid Spanish he couldn't hope to translate, and then Adam was pulling him away from the bar, toward the chill breeze of the door.
"God," Kris panted, his head buzzing from the sudden movement, tequila blurring his vision for a few seconds before he realized they were standing by the plastic palm trees.
"There isn't a lot of privacy here," Adam said, pointing out the obvious.
Kris snorted, focused his eyes on the twenty inches separating them. Adam's hand was bridging the divide, holding onto the sleeve of Kris's t-shirt, but something had changed in Adam's body language; he was almost holding Kris away. Kris couldn't imagine what was wrong, and he wasn't sure how to close that distance, to get to where they'd just been.
"I think, uh. This isn't the place for this conversation," Adam said, looking at the dancing mob in the back half of the restaurant.
"Are we still having a conversation?"
"Yeah. And I think there's a lot more we need to discuss. Just not here."
Kris frowned at Adam's euphemism. It was a euphemism, right? Because Kris was quite proud of how much they'd just accomplished with very few words, and he didn't see the need to start making risky, declarative statements now. "Okay," he said.
Adam let go of his sleeve and twisted away, digging into his back pocket. He produced a white plastic card and held it out, pressed it into Kris's hand when he reached for it. "If you wanna talk later." He looked uncharacteristically nervous.
Kris held the white card up to see it in the flashing lights and recognized the familiar triangle pattern on one end. "Where?" he asked in a rush.
"The W in Westwood. Suite 1401."
Kris slipped the room key into his own pocket and took a half-step closer. "Later?"
"Tonight would work," Adam said, sounding breathless, a smile stealing over his lips.
"That sounds good," Kris nodded, inched even closer.
And Adam smiled wide and hot, his body leaning toward Kris for a slow, exhilarating moment, but then he stepped around him, left Kris standing by the exit watching Adam's long strides carry him back to the table.
Kris ran his hand over his own forearm, imitating that ghost-touch Adam had used, and his whole body shivered in response. He needed later to be now. Kris took some centering breaths to clear his head so he could face his friends again and sit next to Adam without touching him under the table for however long Anoop wanted to keep his party going. He bought himself a little more time, stopping by the bar and picking up waters for the table, but when he finally took his seat ten minutes later, Adam was getting up and pulling on his black leather jacket, the silver lining flashing.
"No, I'm not kidding. 9 a.m. rehearsals all week for this thing. The costumes aren't done yet, we haven't even gotten into the venue for dress rehearsals or sound checks—"
"But the tickets," Anoop demanded.
"Yes, cross my heart and hope to die, I will get you all VIP tickets," Adam grinned, making an X over his chest.
"You're leaving?" Kris asked, trying not to twitch with excitement. Later had just become soon.
Adam looked him over with a barely-concealed smile. "Yeah, early rehearsal. But these losers are giving me a hard time about being a working professional."
"Then we should let you get some sleep," Kris said, supporting the lie even as his eyes promised Adam he'd be right over.
"Yeah, sleep," Adam agreed. And then he wrenched his eyes away, promised to call Anoop tomorrow, waved to Will and Cale, and headed for the door.
"I can't believe he's bailing," Anoop muttered, wet beer bottle cradled between his collar and the side of his neck to cool his skin. "That's like taking the party away."
"The show's really important to him," Kris explained innocently.
Six eyes suddenly turned on him. "And where the hell have you been?" Anoop demanded, one eyebrow raised.
"Well," Cale prodded. "Did you talk to him?"
"We talked," Kris allowed.
"Did you ask him out?"
"Um. Kind of? Not…exactly?"
Cale slumped back in his chair. "Damn it, man."
"No, no," Kris protested, amazed by his own shamelessness for what he was about to reveal. But he was at the top of the roller coaster now, bursting with excitement, and he couldn't hold it in. "We're…we're gonna talk again. Later. About…that." Technically, there would be some talking, even if it was just 'yes' and 'more.'
"Sure. Maybe in a few months…."
"Or maybe tonight." And Kris flushed bright red and held up the room key between two fingers, like a trophy, like proof.
Will's chair thumped down onto all fours and he leaned in to take a look. "Hey, that's—"
"No way," Anoop gasped. "Kris Allen, did you just proposition Adam Lambert?"
"I think? Or it was the other way around?"
Cale grabbed him in a hug and rubbed the top of his head, sniffed, "I'm so proud of you little buddy. You're all growed-up."
Kris pushed him off and slid the key back into his pocket, wedging it as deep as it would go to make sure he didn't lose it.
"So that's why he suddenly bailed?"
"How come it's my party and Kris is the one getting laid tonight?"
"Cause you didn't fly Rachel out here, and she'll skin your dick if you sleep with another woman?" Will suggested, snagging one of the waters off the table.
"So uh…how long do you wanna keep him waiting?" Cale asked. "Should we go now, or…"
"I'm good to drive. And you don't want some loud-mouthed cabbie blabbing how you lost your gay-virginity all over L.A. tomorrow, do you?"
"Why would I even need one, when I have loud-mouthed you to blab about it?"
"Hey, I'm wounded! I'm offering to drive you to your booty call, and you're calling me names!"
"Cale can even drive you around back to keep your cover," Will offered. "Adam likes to use the back door, right?"
Anoop whooped, Kris died of mortification, and Cale gave him another shove and said, "Look, go take a piss, buy some condoms from the machine, and let's get out of here already."
Kris gave all of them the finger and took Cale's advice.
He tried to catch Matt's eye on his way out a few minutes later, but Matt was slow dancing and necking with Beth, so he just hugged Anoop and fake-punched Will and headed for the door, Cale a few steps behind.
The air outside was colder than earlier, near 50 degrees, but Kris was warmed from the inside now, tequila and anticipation burning in his chest. When the blaring of a car alarm assaulted his ear drums, he winced and marveled again at what a ridiculously bad neighborhood this was for such a great time. Kris could almost look at Lennox fondly considering all the good it had just done him tonight. Squinting up Lennox Boulevard at the car with the flashing headlights, he was already picturing what he wanted to do to Adam, starting with his clothes and a closed hotel room door.
Cale nudged him and Kris stumbled a little. His friend caught his arm, tugged him to the right. Kris resisted and took his arm back, suddenly disoriented. That was a suspiciously nice car for this neighborhood. It kind of reminded him of…
Kris took a step to the left, and Cale tugged his sleeve again. "Hey, we're parked this way, lover boy."
Kris kept walking, getting halfway up the block before he was certain; those were Audi headlights. But was the paint black or purple?
"You're keeping Adam waiting," Cale reminded him, catching up and walking alongside.
"Adam drives an Audi," Kris said.
They were almost to the end of the block. The streets were empty, so Kris jogged across four lanes to the opposite sidewalk.
"Kris, seriously. I'm not gonna let you pussy out on this."
"A purple Audi." There it was—the glint off the hood. It wasn't black at all. Kris moved quicker, hopping over a cardboard box in front of some trash cans. "Adam?" he called, not seeing anyone else on the streets.
"Wait," Cale said as Kris reached the car.
The interior dome lights were on, illuminating empty seats. Kris circled back onto the street and noticed the sparkle of glass on the asphalt just before he saw the frame of jagged glass shards that used to be the driver's side window. "He isn't here," Kris said, his equilibrium shifting like three more tequila shots hitting at once.
Cale came around the back and saw the busted out window and swore. "Somebody broke into his car? Man, that sucks. They'd better not have touched mine."
"He isn't here," Kris repeated, whirling around to scan the streets again. There was no one.
"Obviously. He probably called the cops or a cab or something."
"His jacket's in the car."
Cale ducked down and looked through the smashed window. "Oh. Shit."
"Where is he?" This was a really bad neighborhood. He'd had a bad feeling about it when they'd first pulled up, and Adam had only been maybe seven minutes ahead of them, and he wasn't here anymore. "What the fuck, Cale?"
"So he went back inside to call the police."
Kris shook his head. "He wasn't in there. He—" Kris fumbled his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. There were no messages, so he hit speed dial 2.
"Well?" Cale asked after a long pause.
"He isn't picking up." It kicked over to voicemail and Kris cleared his throat, "Hey, where are you, man? I found your car but you're not here. Call me back and let me know what's up, ASAP."
Cale was apparently done making cracks about Kris's hookup. "What's the name of the hotel?"
There was no way Adam could have made it across town that fast, but Kris didn't fucking care. "W in Westwood. I'm gonna call his agent. Um, suite 1401." Kris scrolled through his contacts until he found Donald's number and pressed dial.
It took four rings before he answered. "Hello?"
"Hey, Donald, it's Kris Allen. Do you know where Adam is?"
"Allen? What time is it?" There was the sound of sheets rustling. "It's 1 in the fucking morning!" the agent yelled abruptly.
"I know, sorry. But do you know where Adam is? Right now?"
"How the fuck should I know! I'm not his fucking PA!"
Next to him, Cale was on his own phone, asking the W's receptionist to transfer him to suite 1401.
"He was just here a few minutes ago and now he's gone."
"Why the fuck are you calling me about this shit—"
"Donald, I'm standing next to his Audi, and the driver's side window's been smashed."
Donald took a loud breath and then yelled again, "Son of a bitch! That car was on loan from the dealership! He can't keep treating sponsors like this—"
Cale shook his head at Kris and his gut tightened up.
"Donald, we're in Lennox. Adam left the club just ahead of us, but when we came out he was gone and his car's been broken into. I think…something may have happened to him. I think you should come down here and help me figure this out." Kris strained his ears, listening past the irregular honking and whooping noises of the car alarm and the distant thud of the bass inside the restaurant for the sounds of approaching emergency vehicles, but there weren't any.
A night in L.A. without sirens. Merry fucking Christmas.
"Don't be so dramatic," Donald was saying, "he's probably in the next club already."
Kris's gut thought otherwise. Kris's gut thought it was time to become violently sick all over the sidewalk. "Cale, call the cops."
"Oh, for the love of god, Allen, do not call the cops!" Donald yelled, even more shrill.
"There aren't any other clubs around here! He isn't answering his phone, he hasn't gotten back to the hotel yet, we don't know where he is. We're calling the cops."
"Fine, fuck it, fine, I'm coming down there. Text me the address. Do not talk to the press before I get there, do you understand me?"
"Yeah," Kris said and hung up, forwarded the address to Donald's phone and listened in on Cale's 911 call.
Over the next few minutes of pacing, Kris called Adam a dozen more times. He even called Anoop to check if Adam had gone back inside. Anoop hadn't seen Adam and sounded curious about Kris's fuss, said he would come outside to check it out for himself. Kris warned him to stay inside unless he wanted to get questioned by the cops while drunk, and Anoop didn't end up making an appearance.
Ten minutes later, two black-uniformed officers looked over Kris and Cale, looked over the Audi, punched the license plate number into their system to confirm the owner, took their statements, and refused to listen to any of Kris's wild speculations. They seemed unimpressed with his concern and growing anger. Even Cale was getting pissed at them, Kris could tell. And then one of them shined a flashlight into the car and spotted the keys in the ignition, reached in and retrieved them, double-pressed the panic button to end the intermittent alarm. Silence washed over the street.
Adam's keys. Kris's breathing boarded on hyperventilating.
The cops became noticeably more interested after the discovery of the keys, calling for a crime scene tech to drive out. The paparazzi arrived first. The officers forced the photographers to the far side of the street, from which they had a perfect shot of the smashed window, Kris and Cale, and the now-agitated cops. Kris started pacing all over again, wondering if he should call Adam's family with the unknown—certainly bad—news.
Donald, Adam's short, angry agent, finally showed up in his Cadillac, barely wearing a suit and hair a mess, and stomped over to meet the cops.
Kris sighed with relief and let the cops brief Donald on the 'suspicious' situation as they understood it.
And then Donald opened his mouth, smiled, and said, "I'm sure this is just a misunderstanding. My client is a very creative and resourceful young man. If he found his vehicle broken into and unsafe to drive, I'm sure he found alternate transportation. There's nothing here to worry about. I'll have the car towed to the dealer right away. We won't be filing an insurance claim, so there's no need to trouble yourselves with paperwork—"
"What the fuck!" Kris interrupted, shoving Donald's arm.
"Mr. Allen, if you don't mind giving me a little personal space?"
"Do you know where Adam is?"
"That is hardly an appropriate tone of voice for this hour of night."
"Do you know where Adam is?" Kris demanded again, belligerent.
"I do not know where my client is, but wherever he is I'm sure he's enjoying himself. Now, I think it's time for you and your friend to go home. You've obviously had a bit too much of a good time yourself, and I suggest you sleep it off before you end up all over the front page tomorrow." Donald jerked his chin across the street, where there were now seven paparazzi and a TMZ videographer lined up.
Kris didn't care. He wanted to punch Donald, and to hell with the consequences.
"Kris, come on," Cale said, grabbing his shoulder and forcing him away. "We'll keep calling him. He's bound to answer some time."
"Good night, Mr. Allen," Donald called, turning back to sugarcoat the police some more.
Kris's shoulders slumped and he let Cale drag him back to his car, knowing with every fiber of his being that he was walking away from the one place he most needed to be.
A hangover would've been better than the jetlag.
Kris woke up on Central Time and winced against the sunrise spilling across Cale's couch. He rolled out of the light and groped for his cell phone to check the time. And his messages.
Nothing from Adam.
Kris's stomach roiled but he swallowed the bile down and tried calling Adam for the hundredth time. And when that went to voice mail, too, he dialed Donald. Adam's agent didn't answer—probably screening Kris's call. Short of actually looking up TMZ on his phone—and risking seeing his own drunk face spread all over the screen, kill him now—Kris was at a loss.
Where the fuck was Adam? He wracked his brain, searching his memory for something he'd missed last night. But there was nothing new, nothing that had seemed off or out of the ordinary. Except one minute Adam had been inviting Kris back to his hotel…and the next he was just…gone.
Defeated, Kris dropped his head down on the arm of Cale's couch and tried to get comfortable, but it was no good. He was wide awake now; there was no way he could fall asleep with crazy conspiracy theories and concerns for Adam running through his head. So he shoved off the couch and sniffed his t-shirt, took the time to pull out a clean shirt and brown hoodie from his suitcase before staggering to the tiny bathroom, already texting the cab company.
The second time he woke up that morning, the cab driver was leaning over the back of the seat, asking loudly, "Hey, this is it, right?"
Kris blinked his eyes open and squinted into the sun, wished he'd thought to unpack his sunglasses before throwing the suitcase in the trunk. He pushed two twenties at the guy and didn't even ask for change. Sixty seconds later, he was crossing the street to his apartment building, suitcase in hand, thinking about calling his erstwhile PA to beg for coffee to magically appear, when he heard the shouts.
Whirling around and almost tripping over his rolling bag, Kris spotted half a dozen paparazzi springing from cars he hadn't noticed before, converging on his location like a pack of vicious rottweilers. Kris picked up the bag and sprinted for it, but he was too slow, and by the time he'd been cut off and circled, his heart was pounding like a frightened rabbit's.
Cameras shoved into his face, and somebody even had a video camera with no call signs on the sides, and everyone was shouting at once.
"Kris, Kris!" "What were you doing in Lennox last night?" "We heard Adam was trying to score drugs; is that where his dealer lives?" "How does your ex-wife feel about your drug use? Is that what caused the divorce?" "The FBI believes Adam's been kidnapped, what do you have to say about it?" "Adam's agent claims Adam's visiting his family in San Diego. Is this just a publicity stunt?" "What kind of car was it?" "Did you see the men who took him?" "What did you think of Mojito Café; is it the next big club scene in L.A.? Was anyone else famous with you?"
"They what?" Kris croaked, picking up on two key words. FBI. Kidnapped. Holy shit. The Adam-related panic Kris had beaten back this morning reared its head again. The cameras were click-click-clicking away. He thought about pulling the hood up over his head. God, why hadn't he done that in the cab? "This is the first I've—"
"The first you've heard of what?" someone demanded.
All of this was a first for Kris. Adam engaged the paparazzi all the time, laughed and joked with them, knew half of them by name. Kris had never spoken back, let alone tried to have a conversation. "You said 'kidnapped'?"
"Yeah, do you have a comment, anything you'd like to say to his kidnappers?"
"So are the drug stories true? He's lost a lot of weight recently! What was he using, cocaine?"
"Anything you'd like to say to Adam's fans?"
Kris couldn't get over the shock of it. Adam was— Why? Who the hell would want to hurt Adam?
"Kris, any comment? Come on, you've obviously got something to say."
What did people usually say when their loved ones were taken? "I'll pay anything," he blurted, hoping they couldn't see the terrified, devastated feeling growing in his chest. "Anything. To anyone who has information on how to get him back. I'll. Just call me, okay? Please."
"How much is the reward?" one of the faceless cameras demanded, and then the luxury apartment building's private security team was wading in, turning away the paparazzi with stiff arms. Kris let them shove him in the opposite direction, staggered into the lobby and let the desk clerk buzz him through to the elevators.
He'd just gotten out of the shower when he heard his cell phone ringing, and he got so excited he slipped and fell hard on the wet tiles, ended up cursing and grabbing his knee on the floor for a few seconds. The phone was still ringing when he finally yanked the bathroom door open and hopped out, naked and dripping wet, to dig through the pile of clothes.
"Adam?" he yelled as soon as he had the phone to his ear.
"Kris," Vanessa said sharply, "what the hell do you think you're doing?"
Kris's heart sank and he sat down on the plush carpet, leaned against the bed. "Oh. Hey."
"19E is throwing a shit fit! You're all over the news, offering some kind of reward for Adam. What the hell were you thinking?" She was so angry he could practically feel her frizzy hair vibrating through the phone.
Katy had taught him the only successful strategy for dealing with his agent: play along when she got angry, and then sneak around her when she wasn't paying attention. "I'm…I wasn't thinking?" he offered.
"And that's what you're gonna tell Robert? He'll love that. Why the hell didn't you stay in Arkansas like you'd planned? You had to go to a party in a ghetto and get involved in a high-profile kidnapping and blab to the press looking hung over and sounding completely out of your mind…. You're the American Idol! A goddamn role model!"
"I know, I'm sorry! I'm a big headache for everyone. And you can yell at me later, okay? But I just got out of the shower and I'm naked and freezing. Let me put some clothes on and call you back."
"No. No no no. You're meeting me downtown in 15 minutes so you can explain your behavior to Robert. London's calling for your head, so I suggest you start practicing your apologies."
"I can't get there in 15—"
"They wanted you there 10 minutes ago," she snorted. "I've sent a car for you. Just be in the lobby in 2 and we'll blame the delay on rush hour."
Kris hung up spitefully and buried his head in the striped duvet for more time than he had.
Vanessa's lie about the traffic wasn't going to fly. Two days after Christmas, the streets were still half empty, and the town car pulled up out front of The Sunset barely 25 minutes after leaving Kris's place. Luckily, Robert was too busy ripping Kris a new asshole to listen to traffic excuses. Kris looked out Robert's 12th story office window while the Vice President of the American Idol brand berated him for ending up at the center of a criminal investigation and daring to open his mouth in public without reviewing appropriate talking points.
Robert's executive assistant brought Kris a cup of coffee. He made sure to smile politely, and she smiled and winked before sashaying out of the room.
"I still don't even know what's going on!" Kris said, interrupting Robert's tirade about Kris's contract clauses covering self-representation. "Is it true the FBI is looking for him?"
Robert scowled deeper at the interruption but nodded. "Yes. As soon as we heard from Donald, we knew we couldn't just leave this up to the locals to handle."
"But last night Donald said everything was fine—"
"Donald knows how to handle the press in a crisis," Robert snapped. "Unlike some people." Vanessa shifted uncomfortably in the white art deco armchair. "You're not even supposed to be out in public yet! I thought we'd agreed you'd lay low until February."
Kris flushed and changed the subject back to Adam. "So who has Adam?"
"We don't know."
"But it's a kidnapping?"
"The FBI is considering the possibility."
"Oh my God," Kris said, not for the first or last time.
"And you had to go and offer a reward for him. Look, I know he's your friend. That's worked out fine; it's a good story most of the time, and a lot easier for tour scheduling than that damn Lee & Crystal nightmare. But you can't be offering a reward. Okay? That makes us look bad. Do you realize the position your little press conference this morning puts me in?"
"We have to offer a reward. And you have to retract yours; explain that you were speaking on behalf of 19 Entertainment when you said that."
"It's my money; why can't I pay if I want to—"
"Because it's the label's responsibility! The press think we owe it to our talent, and they're beating us up on this. So now I have to call headquarters and get them to approve a $100,000 reward that you've forced us into!"
"I'm—" Kris stopped himself before completing the instinctive apology, because fuck Robert if he was more worried about $100,000 than finding Adam.
"Kris," Vanessa whispered, tilting her head toward Robert to prompt him to finish. But a tall guy in a black suit burst through the door, stealing Vanessa's attention.
"Rob, it's getting worse. I've got Hopkins from The Crystal Club talking to legal, asking if we're terminating the contract. Apparently E! is reporting the New Year's Eve show's off."
"Son of a bitch," Robert hissed. He took a calming breath and gritted through clenched teeth, "Stall him as long as you can. We can hold out 'til, what, Wednesday? I have to talk to the accountants, look at the bottom line before we cancel."
"You can't cancel the show!" Kris blurted, but they ignored him.
"And find out who the hell told E! we're canceling!" Robert yelled as the suit backed out the door. He laughed brokenly, "Ticket refunds, and we still have to pay the dancers, plus the damn penalty clause and a reward…. We're gonna lose a small fortune. And we'll have to report it in this quarter…"
Kris sputtered; he couldn't believe they would actually consider canceling the New Year's Eve show, the concert Adam had spent the last three months organizing. Adam was obsessed with it, and they were going to take it away from him like a punishment for getting kidnapped or something. His hands actually shook with anger as he repeated, "You can't cancel. Adam needs this show!"
Robert raised his eyebrows. "If I have no star, how the hell do I keep the show on? People aren't gonna come to see an empty stage. No, I have to deal with this before it turns into Vegas—"
"I'll do it."
Vanessa made a hissing sound Kris ignored. His brain raced faster than he could spit the words out as he scrambled for a way to save Adam's concert.
"Don't cancel; make it a Season 8 night. Matt Giraud's in town, and Anoop, too; they'd do it. Or get some other 19E talent, call it a label showcase, whatever. You can still put on a show. We'll cover all Adam's music. Just don't cancel it, please."
Because Adam would make it back in time. And when he did, everything had to be exactly the way he left it. So they could pick up right where they'd left off.
Robert looked thoughtful. He tapped his lips with a pen and then opened a drawer, pulled out a tablet of lined paper. "This is interesting. This is interesting."
Vanessa shot Kris a quick look, as though checking that he was really serious, and then dragged her chair closer to the big glass desk. "Rob, if you wanna use Kris, we'll have to negotiate a full contract…." She had her best fake-smile on—the one that always came out when she smelled blood.
"Not if he's volunteering his time—"
"This isn't the Haiti fundraiser—that's not how this one works. Adam was getting compensated for this show, wasn't he? I think I should have a look at that contract before we make any decisions about Kris's compensation—"
Kris took a gulp of his hot coffee, wishing the headache behind his eyes would go away. It still seemed so surreal, like nothing had actually happened last night. They were talking business like they always did, when Adam was God only knew where, and in what condition.
Adam probably didn't have the warmth of a hot cup of coffee, or a leather chair, central heating. Food or water or…. He pushed his coffee cup away with a clatter on the ornate side table and covered his mouth with his hand to hide his mounting horror as his agent and his label deconstructed Adam's all-important show for their own benefit.
There had to be something more he could do for him.
"No way is that happening," Robert was glaring. He stabbed at the buttons on his desk phone. "Lisa Ann, could you get Ted Burke up here?" He smirked triumphantly at Vanessa. "You've worked with Ted before, right?"
"He's the one who tried to shaft Kris on the Nokia Theatre New York receipts, right? Yeah, I know Ted. And he's not pulling any fast ones on us this time. I want two points higher than the Rose Bowl contract or we're walking out right now."
Robert's smirk soured. "We can't decide anything until London weighs in on this."
Vanessa was already rooting through her briefcase. "I have a copy of Kris's 19E contract with me, and Section VII very specifically—"
Kris's cell phone buzzed in his pocket and he checked the phone with the same heart-in-his-throat hope, flipped it open to answer the unknown number. "Adam?"
"Mr. Allen?" a female voice asked.
The disappointment hurt just as much as the last time his phone rang. "Yeah, that's me." He stood up and walked closer to the vertigo-inducing floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the city. "Who's this?"
"Special Agent Foltz with the FBI. We'd like you to come in and give us a statement about what happened last night if you have time."
Finally, something that might actually help.
"Sure, yes," he said eagerly. "Where, the big building downtown?"
"That's right, 11000 Wilshire. Are you free to come in today?"
He looked at the two sharks fighting over the remains of Adam's concert and clenched a fist. "I'm free right now. I can be there in half an hour."
Kris shifted in the upholstered chair and checked his watch. It'd been an hour since they put him in the small interview room. It reminded him of a doctor's waiting room; bland carpeting, no windows, and a box of tissues on a side table. But the only reading material they'd offered him was a copy of the statement he'd made to the police last night.
He should have stayed at 19E; their coffee was better.
"Thank you for waiting, Mr. Allen," a familiar voice said, preceding a busty brunette into the room.
"You're Agent Foltz?"
"Yes." She perched on the edge of the chair across the table from him, unbuttoning her suit jacket. She held out her hand. "Diana Foltz."
"Hi," he said, shaking her hand.
"Hi," she echoed with a charming smile that rubbed him the wrong way. "So you've looked over your statement? Is there anything you'd like to add?"
"No, it's fine."
"You're sure? You said in the statement you'd been drinking before leaving the club. Your head isn't just a little bit clearer today?" Her smile was still perfectly charming, as though she weren't judging him for being drunk when his friend was kidnapped.
And fine, Kris was maybe judging himself for that, but that wasn't any of her business. Foltz and her innocent, razor-edged smile. "It's fine."
She slid the paper out from under his hands and turned it upside down, pushed it to the side. "So tell me what isn't in the statement. Tell me about Mr. Lambert."
"I understand you're one of his closest friends. Someone he partied with and hung out with. Someone he would confide in; share things he might not have shared with his family. Was anything bothering him lately? Anything new or out of the ordinary in his life?"
"Well, things haven't been ordinary for years, but…they'd gotten worse, after November," Kris admitted. "He's had to have bodyguards almost full time, and he totally hates it."
"What happened in November?"
"The show at the Luxor in Las Vegas."
He waited for her to nod. She just raised her eyebrows and smiled a little more, urging him to repeat things she obviously already knew.
He sighed in annoyance. "Fake-ticket scammers oversold the venue by almost half, and some fans got hurt in the crush at the gates. Adam said he got some messed up letters after that. Not death threats, but like…weird stuff. Blaming him."
"So he hired extra security," she said. "He didn't have bodyguards with him last night, though…."
"No, he. He called it an Anti-L.A. Birthday Party. No paparazzi, no fans. I guess that included no bodyguards, too."
"And given the disturbed mail he'd received, did that seem like a normal decision he would make?"
"Nobody there knew who we were," he protested, "that was the point. We could just be ourselves, without anybody asking for autographs or watching us. He shouldn't have needed security."
"Are you sure nobody recognized you? Lambert didn't know anyone there outside of your party?"
"Well, the DJ. That's how he heard about the place."
"The DJ. And what was his name?"
"I don't know. I didn't meet him."
"Okay. And no one else was watching him last night?"
"Not that I noticed."
She swiped at the corner of her mouth and Kris finally saw the smile change, watched her flex her jaw like her face muscles had cramped from keeping the charm in place. When she dropped her hand, the smile was back. It reminded him oddly of Adam's talk-show appearances. "And for this anti-L.A. party, Mr. Lambert intended to avoid the paparazzi? How did he manage that?"
"I don't know. Like I told the police, I hadn't planned on being there, so I didn't know any of the details. And when I got there, I didn't ask. You could talk to Shep, though. Ask how Adam got around him."
"Shep, you know, the skinny guy with the yellow vest? He's Adam's number one paparazzi-stalker. Wherever Adam goes, Shep's there for the photos."
"Does Shep have a last name?"
"I don't know. Call any of the tabloids—they all know him."
Agent Foltz smiled at him for a long, still moment, head cocked ever so slightly to imply a question. And then she took a breath and moved again, put her fingertips on the table top. "Mr. Allen, I'd like to give you the opportunity to tell us anything else you think we should know. Anything about Mr. Lambert that you feel has relevance here. Secrets, indiscretions, fears…."
That covered a lot of ground. Kris knew everything about Adam, or close enough to it. From his favorite toothpaste, to his favorite restaurant in Tokyo. From the way he gasped when he touched himself in the bunk above Kris, to the nervousness in his eyes when he'd handed Kris that room key. And that last was definitely something Kris couldn't say aloud in this room; that was Kris's, and he wasn't about to share it with anyone in the world.
He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. "I got some crazy letters, back when we did Idol. Some of them mentioned Adam. I can get them for you—my agent made me keep all of 'em."
"That would be a help. Anything else?"
He shook his head.
She stood up and reached out her hand, as though ending the interview.
"Agent Foltz," Kris said, staying firmly in his chair. "I really need to know what's going on here."
Her lips thinned slightly at the request. "We're doing our best to locate Mr. Lambert and make sure he's safe."
"Yeah but. Details. I don't know anything yet. He's gone—gone where? Who took him, and how? Why? Is he okay? Nobody's told me anything."
"I'm sorry, I can't discuss details. As long as this is an ongoing investigation, we can't share any of that information. When I know something I can share, I'll let you know."
Kris's shoulders slumped at the brush off. "Yeah, I get it."
She slid a business card across the table. "Here's my number. I want you to call me if you think of anything else that could be useful. Thank you very much for coming down. Your cooperation has been a big help."
"I doubt that," he sighed, pocketing the card as she left the room.
"I can't believe you called his mom," Cale said as they shoved out the door of their favorite taco place.
"The FBI wouldn't tell me anything," Kris said, trying to justify it. "I figured they would've told her though. She would've made them."
"So? What'd you find out?"
Kris took a seat on the curb and unwrapped his first taco. "There was blood on some of the glass. Just a little, but two types. They're checking it against Adam's today."
"Yeah," Kris agreed, his appetite vanishing as he thought about that, about Adam hurt. "And no one's called asking for money yet."
"That's…. Is that good?"
Kris shook his head, "Not if it's some crazy fan who wants to keep him tied up in a bedroom for years."
"Don't even make jokes like that, man."
"I'm not joking," Kris snapped, his voice getting strained. "It was Leila's idea. She's freaking out about it, convinced she'll never see her son again. She started crying. I couldn't hang up then. I had to stay on the phone and listen to her cry."
"Man," Cale said.
"She asked me to pray for them, and at least I can do that for her. She was always so damned nice to me, and I called her for information." He sneered over the last word, hating the level his desperation had driven him to.
"I bet everyone's doing that. And 'cause they're concerned, not 'cause they're assholes."
"There are already reporters outside her hotel trying to get interviews."
"Fucking fat-bodied ticks. Is Donald handling that shit for her?"
"I guess. She didn't wanna talk about it."
"God, this whole situation is seriously fucked up."
"Yeah." Kris forced himself to pick up the taco. "How long did the Feds keep you waiting?"
"Just a couple minutes. Anoop said it took like two hours for him. Hey, did you hear Matt's girl already bailed? Caught an earlier rotation to the East Coast. 'Cause that's not suspicious at all."
Kris nodded in agreement, distracted by Vanessa's latest emergency text, Do you want a limo before and after?
He set the phone next to him on the low curb and stared down the chicken taco. "What did you think of Foltz?" He took a reluctant bite.
Kris scowled and elbowed Cale's arm.
"She didn't ask stupid questions. Seemed smart, I guess. Kinda hard to concentrate with that rack, you know? I think that's part of her interrogation strategy."
He should have been able to laugh, to make a joke about Cale's kink for authority figures. Instead, Kris forced down the lump of lukewarm chicken and dropped his head onto his knees. "This is seriously killing me, dude."
His cell phone vibrated and started playing She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy. He snatched it up as Cale laughed around a mouthful of shredded carne asada.
"Hey, babe." He shifted the uneaten tacos off his lap and walked down the block for some privacy.
"Hey, babe," Katy echoed, and just hearing her voice was a comfort—the first comfort he'd had all day.
"Yeah, I just turned on the TV and holy cow, like, what happened?"
"I don't even know. He was there and we were…we were good, I think, and then he left and I was right behind him and he was just gone."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"I'm losing my mind over it."
"Like, if I don't go into denial every few minutes, I'm gonna completely freak out."
"Have you been eating?" And trust Katy to know that when Kris got anxious, food was the first priority he let slide.
He glanced over his shoulder toward the abandoned tacos. "I can't."
"I do, but then I start wondering whether Adam has anything to eat, and then I get sick worrying about him."
"I know, but. Just try. Don't make me call your mother."
Kris's throat had gone tight and he rubbed a hand over his face even though his ex-wife couldn't see him. Maybe if he'd stayed at home, with his own family, Adam wouldn't have left the club so early. He might not have been on the street alone, might not have caught whoever's attention. In a way, this was all Kris's fault.
Which was negative bullshit he didn't need. Kris ordered his guilty conscience to shut up and changed the subject. "How are your parents doing? They still here?"
"I just dropped them at the airport. They totally hate L.A. and swear they're never coming out again. You're gonna have to give me Conway next year."
"It's yours," he promised without hesitation.
"Geez, that bad, huh? That why you came back early?"
Damn she could read him. "Yeah," he admitted.
"You've gotta stop saying that, you know. That's my line. And the counselor said—"
"I know but…." Her sigh encompassed everything they used to have, all the ways she still loved him. "I know how you are with him. And I don't want you to…"
To hurt. Like Katy had.
"Babe," he started to apologize for the millionth time.
She cut him off with a loud breath. "So Cale better be taking care of you, or I'm totally gonna slash the tires on that clunker of his."
"We're at Taco Lucas right now."
"Good man; he's brought the horse to water. Now eat something."
"Yes, mom," he said, almost managing a smile.
"And talk to the Lord. Adam needs your prayers now."
"I'm praying," he promised. "Every hour, every minute."
"Good. We're gonna get him back, Kris. You're not gonna lose him."
"I kn—" he took a steadying breath. "I'm trying to have faith. But I just can't face the idea that—"
"Don't even think it," she ordered. "I'm praying, too. Your whole family is—they love him."
"I still haven't told them. About…about any of it." Not Adam's disappearance, and certainly not the fact that Kris was in love with him.
"You don't have to," she said, offering him an out. "If they're watching the news, they'll call you like I did. But I think we should be sending him all the love we can right now. And…and you should really talk to them about the rest of it."
Kris gripped the phone tighter and ducked his chin to his chest. "I will. Eventually."
She sighed, but not like she was disappointed, more fondly. "I'm holding you to that. Now go eat. And call me if you need to freak out at someone. Or the second you hear anything."
Kris reluctantly hung up, wishing like hell they were still a team, still the perfect two-person army capable of handling the world, the press, his agent. It was Kris's fault they weren't that anymore. He was the one who'd changed things. Not Katy. And not Adam, despite the hunch-shouldered guilt Adam betrayed every time Kris mentioned the divorce.
When Cale dropped him off at his apartment after sunset, Kris felt almost tired enough to sleep. There were a few photographers waiting for him, but he kept his head down and didn't make any comments this time. He got a beer and turned on the TV to torture himself just a little bit, standing with the remote until he found a news channel covering Adam's disappearance.
And then another channel. And another.
He couldn't turn away from the footage of Adam's red carpet appearances, his broad face glowing, happy smile shining enough to power the city. They had footage of the show at the Luxor, the last night of Adam's most recent tour, all pyrotechnics and sequins and feathers. They showed clips from his multiple interviews with Oprah and Ellen, laughing and letting them hold his hands and tell him how great he was. But every news piece followed the same script, devolving into shots of Adam looking hassled by paparazzi, flanked by bodyguards, pushing grim-faced through mobs of people. And images of the riot, the ambulances, and a list of the injuries. They crescendoed with photographs of the Audi abandoned on Lennox, police lights flashing over the deep purple finish, close-ups of yellow crime scene tape and FBI jackets.
And they all ended with the same breaking news: No one knew where Adam was. The FBI weren't making any comments. And the New Year's Eve show had been officially canceled.
Kris nearly spat out his beer. He grabbed his phone and called Vanessa, muting the television and chanting, "No, no, no, no, no..."
"Why is the show canceled?" he demanded, voice breaking.
"Kris, calm down."
"It's on CNN. I thought you and Robert were working out a new plan!"
"We are. There're just a few last details to sort out. The show isn't canceled; CNN's got bad intel."
"You—you mean it? It's not canceled?"
"No. Robert's been trying to kill that story all day, but it's got a life of its own. Soon as we have the contracts finalized, they'll make a big, splashy statement to set the record straight."
Kris forced himself to stop pacing and leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths to slow his pulse. He seriously could have punched someone for a few seconds there.
"And London came through on the reward, so if the paparazzi try to ask you questions about it, just explain it's 19E's reward offer, and you want everyone to call their tips in to the FBI."
"I'll do that, sure."
"The contract's turning out great, thanks for asking," she said pointedly. "Ted tried to shaft you on the percentages again. Claimed the ticket prices were so low the label's margin was only 2% after expenses. I said, 'Please, Ted, I wasn't born yesterday. 19 doesn't put on a bash for one of its biggest stars with a hand-picked audience like this for a measly 2%. There's gotta be a DVD behind this.' He wouldn't admit any plans to record, but I got you a cut of any future distribution deals if that tune changes. And upfront, you get a flat $15,000 for the night. I know it's small, but you're only on for half an hour, and you're sharing the bill with some other Idols. So I told them you wouldn't need your own band, since you'll be singing Adam's songs, and his band is already under contract. This way you won't have to split your cut."
"Sounds great," he made himself say. "Who else did they get?"
"Iraheta's flying in from El Salvador; and that Mormon kid, what's his name—he's in. Carrie Underwood might do it, but that's gonna be another nightmare 'cause they'd have to cancel a Nashville appearance she's booked at. Cook and DeWyze and Daughtry are tied up with their own shows, but I told them they should look into a celebrity emcee. Posh, if she's available."
"Great," he repeated, although it sounded a little strangled to his own ears.
"Oh and they're gonna pay your expenses. So go buy a nice outfit tomorrow, okay? Something sparkly for Adam's fans."
"This was a genius idea, sweetie," she said. "Exactly the kind of positive exposure you needed. I'm sorry Robert was an ass to you. I'm sure he'll apologize tomorrow."
"I'll text you when to come to 19 to sign. Now get some sleep, and start thinking about which four of Adam's songs you wanna cover. I want yours sewn up tomorrow; the other Idols can fight over the scraps."
Jesus H. Christ. Scraps.
"You're the best, Vanessa," he said and hung up.
Kris downed the last of the beer and stared at Adam's face flashing across the silent TV screen. He should feel good. He'd done everything he could think of for Adam—cooperated with the FBI, toed 19E's line, kept the New Year's Eve show alive. Adam could come back in a heartbeat and step right into his life, nothing derailed.
But what if Adam didn't get back in time? In one piece? Alive? Would Kris actually be able to stand on that stage and sing Adam's songs for Adam's fans? His throat closed up and suddenly it didn't seem like such a genius idea after all.
Kris put down the bottle and headed for the bedroom to get his Bible.
Kris woke up groggy from the sleeping pill he'd taken, one of the ones left over from the last trip to Africa. There were a whole bunch of messages on his phone: his mom wanting to know that Kris was okay after almost getting himself killed in a ghetto on Sunday; Allison threatening to kick him in the balls if he didn't call her ASAP and tell her everything that had happened to her adopted big brother; his rhythm guitarist Andrew wanting confirmation that they'd just been hired to play a New Year's Eve gig and, if so, who was paying to fly him out to Los Angeles with zero notice; and Cale explaining that he'd given the guys a heads up in case the label actually went with Kris's idea.
Kris turned on his TV and flipped through the news channels, hoping everything had somehow resolved overnight, and he wouldn't have to call them back. But there was no new news, except that the Glamberts were up in arms demanding refunds for their concert tickets, and FOX News had footage of Adam's mom crying outside the FBI building.
So Kris called his friends and family and comforted them as best he could, assuring them that Kris's endangerment had been minimal, that the FBI had leads, that Adam would be back in time, and that the gig was just a backup plan in case Adam didn't want to perform when he got back. They weren't lies—not really; they were positive thinking.
Determined optimism fueled him through the painful process of picking Adam's songs for his set list. He'd sung all of them before in his car, in the shower, in his studio, but never with a mind to singing them for an audience. And never when the lyrics meant so much, when the hurt was so fresh.
He'd just shoved the list of songs aside and gotten dressed for the gym when Vanessa texted: Come sign. 503b. Use a cab get a receipt.
An hour later, he was sitting in Ted Burke's office on the 5th floor of The Sunset, listening to Ted and Vanessa gossip like old friends. "Rob nearly had two strokes yesterday, but I think the stress is good for him. Ever since Adam started making headlines, Rob's lost a good 30 pounds. He's looking pretty good lately."
"If you go for guys with gray hair," Vanessa scoffed.
"Well, his assistant isn't complaining," Ted said with a sly grin.
She almost choked on her cappuccino. "Lisa Ann? Get out!"
"She thinks she's got the pipes for a recording contract. But from what I hear, they're only good for blow jobs."
"Oh, that's revolting!"
"What, you really think Rob's that bad?"
"For a girl her age? Definitely. And as pretty as she is, too. It's disgusting how everyone prostitutes themselves for a contract these days. Present company excepted," she said, patting Kris's arm.
Kris squirmed uncomfortably.
"Anyway," Ted continued, finally including Kris in the conversation, "we sorted out the access to the venue issues with Hopkins this morning, so the dress rehearsals are a go for Thursday and Friday. And if he gives you any shit when you show up, give me a call and I'll put the fear of god in him again."
"Oh, was that who I saw crying in the lobby when I came in?" Vanessa asked.
Ted rolled his eyes. "Probably. He didn't want us switching the talent 'cause he thinks his concessions will take a hit if it's not Lambert. He thought he had a say," he sneered. "As if I wouldn't have put full artistic control in that contract. He almost threw a fit when he realized he didn't have a legal leg to stand on."
"In other words, you financially raped him in the original negotiations and he's finally realizing how screwed he is."
"Hey, he got what he wanted—that club didn't even exist when we wrote that contract. Hopkins should be grateful for the startup capital." Ted gave a long-suffering sigh—the effect somewhat ruined by a self-satisfied smirk. "God save us from amateurs."
"Hmm, reminds me of those nasty little clauses you tried to sneak into the Nokia contract," she said. "I thought you'd be giving us the run around this time, too. But you're not so tough when I know your angle, huh?"
Ted's eyes narrowed. "Please, you got off easy here. I was gonna take you to the mat over that limo and the 10 backstage passes, but Rob just wanted this finished."
"Big talk from the guy who's giving us everything we want," Vanessa said breezily. "I'm just making sure Kris gets what he's worth. It's all about the bottom line." She scanned the papers in front of her one last time, nodding to herself.
Kris's PA, Mechelle, annexed four months ago to serve as Vanessa's private secretary, sat at seeming-attention in the corner of the room, but Kris could hear the tell-tale sound of texting coming from the folds of her skirt. Kris wondered distractedly if Mechelle's phone bill was part of his bottom line. He was pretty sure Vanessa's bottomless cappuccinos were.
Vanessa pushed the quarter-inch-thick contract toward Kris. "It's good to sign," she said.
He picked up the black pen and flipped to the last page of the contract, the butterflies in his stomach settling as soon as it was signed. He'd done his part. Adam could come home any time now.
"Now, where's your set list? Ted'll walk it up to Rob for us, won't you darling?"
Ted pulled the contract over and signed opposite Kris's name, ignoring Vanessa's suggestion. "I'll make you some photocopies…" he said, standing up.
"Oh, Mechelle can do it. Mechelle, go make us two copies. And get me another muffin."
Mechelle hid her BlackBerry in her purse and took the pages from Ted. "What's the copier code?" she sighed, resigned.
"Be right back." She slipped out of the office on strappy wedge sandals.
"Um, listen." Kris unfolded the half-sheet of paper he'd agonized over all morning. "I'm…. The show's gonna be great. The contract's great. But from what I saw on the news, I'm starting to worry…d'you think anybody'll show up for it? I mean, we're not Adam. His fans aren't gonna wanna see us."
"Oh, nobody's gonna want their money back, trust me," Vanessa said. "Robert's got that part all worked out."
"All the ticket holders are in the fan club; they've already drunk the Kool-Aid," she explained. "So Robert's calling your show the Vigil for Adam Lambert. They're gonna hand out candles and tissues and put up posters and graffiti-banners all over the walls for fans to write on. It'll be a total love-in for the Glamberts."
"Not to mention the must-have invitation of the night," Ted interjected. "The Beckhams are flying in for it, and we're looking at expanding the VIP area for at least half a dozen more A-listers. We'll have a press tent set up outside for the celebrity interviews—"
"Wait a minute," Vanessa said, sitting up straighter. "You didn't say anything about multiple celebrities. Or interviews!"
Kris's stomach suddenly dropped. "You're making it bigger?"
Ted leaned back in his chair looking imminently satisfied. "The publicity on the kidnapping is huge—everybody wants a piece of it. And thanks to you, we're in the perfect position to provide it."
"And all you're giving us is $15,000?" Vanessa squawked.
"The profit margin's totally bottomed out," Ted shrugged. "We really weren't making any money off the original, and now with the added security for the VIPs, this is putting us well into the red. London thinks the vigil's the right move for the Adam Lambert brand though; as soon as he's back he'll be positioned as the performer to see in 2011."
"Is that why Robert wanted this rushed through? Before I found out about this?!" Her face was turning red.
Kris couldn't believe his ears. "Adam could be hurt or…or worse, and you're gonna use that to sell more albums?"
"Lemons: Lemonade. How long have you lived in L.A.? Don't worry; it's not as if we're putting up a merch table."
"But you're exploiting his fans' grief!"
"So are you," Ted pointed out. "You're getting $15,000."
"I don't care about the money!" he yelled, standing up. "When I go out on that stage, it's gonna be about Adam, and that's all."
"Really?" Ted asked, eyes going shrewd. "Because we can strike the remuneration if you're—"
Vanessa interrupted, "Ted, don't you even dare. That contract is final."
"I don't want their fucking money," Kris rounded on his agent, anger freeing his tongue. "Or a limo I didn't ask for! Or a green room or catering or anything else you put in that contract. This is so completely fucked up. You two've made a nice little…. You don't even need Adam anymore! You don't care if he comes back in time, do you?"
"We're working on a contingency plan for that." Ted reached for the wrinkled set list.
Kris slammed his fist down on it. "He's just a brand to you. Record sales, ticket sales, endorsements…."
"I think your client needs to take a few minutes."
"Honey, you're under a lot of pressure. Just calm down."
"You're supposed to be managing our music, not our lives. You managed my divorce, you're managing Adam's kidnapping, checking all the angles to protect your profits. This is crazy; you people don't have the right to control us like this—"
"Kris, it's just spin," Vanessa said soothingly, patting the back of his chair. "Nobody's controlling your life—"
"You're damn right!" he yelled. "And if Adam were here he'd say the same thing. What you're doing is wrong. It's evil."
"Ted, would you give us a moment, please?" Vanessa asked, her calm, professional veneer showing cracks.
"This is my office."
"I said please," she snapped.
Ted huffed but stood and left, closing the door behind him.
"What have you done?" Kris demanded, pacing the narrow strip of carpeting.
"What have I done? Honey, I wrote the contract you wanted. You didn't give me any moral checklists before waltzing off to god knows where yesterday."
"I was talking with the FBI!"
"All day? You couldn't have come back when you were finished? No, you left this to me like you always do, and I did my best. It's a great contract, it's an A-list event, and you're back in the label's good graces. You needed this one, Kris; this is huge for you. And right now, we're lucky if Ted isn't on his way upstairs to talk to Robert about your attitude. Do you really want to give them another excuse to delay your album?"
That brought Kris up short. "That's not fair."
"Of course it's not! And I keep hoping you'll wake up one day and learn to just play along. Adam's already at that next level because he knows how to give them what they want."
"It's not a competition. We haven't competed against each other since the show!"
"Every day and every album is a competition, especially within your own label. Adam is 19's favorite son; they'll let him do anything he wants, and they'll spend all their resources promoting him. And what does that make you? Passed over, that's what."
"I don't care about that," he insisted, knowing it was a losing argument. "I just need to get him back."
"You need to get your mind off Adam and focus on the New Year's Eve show. Before your career is the next thing that disappears." She grabbed his set list and held it up to read. "Now tell me you used your head when you picked these. Whataya Want From Me—good, that single was huge; Aftermath—a bit on the nose, but alright; Can't Let You Go." She paused and looked hard at him. "Kris, you know your range. Be honest. Can you actually sing this?"
"I'll take the chorus down an octave," he said defensively, slouching against the wall.
"Alright. But that's three slow rockers; you should be changing it up more. And Time for Miracles. Honey, not that wet noodle."
Kris ducked his head. "I need that one."
"Nobody liked that song, come on. Adam hasn't even performed it in a year."
"'I ain't giving up on us,'" he quoted softly, conviction and faith bolstering his stubbornness.
Vanessa sighed and rubbed her temple. "You're still hung up on Katy? We paid for how much counseling, they made you skip the whole fall tour season after the divorce, the album's been pushed back to April…and you're still not over her? This is not the time for public declarations about your ex. We agreed on a positive face for the media—"
"Not Katy. Adam."
There was a brief moment of stillness and then Vanessa's eyes bugged out. "What?"
"That's why I got divorced. I've been in love with Adam since…since the show."
"Oh no." Vanessa began patting absently at the bun that held her frizzy hair, making sure nothing had slipped free with the shock. "No, do not do this to me."
"When Adam gets back, we're supposed to finally get a chance to—"
"This is career suicide," she cut him off. "You've already ruined the wholesome Christian-boy image with the divorce. Now you're gonna come out of the closet? And you think you're gonna have any fans left?"
"If they like the music—"
"They'll never hear it! 19's gonna push the new album back to June and dump it in the summer sinkhole. That's if you're lucky enough to get it released. One of their stars turns another gay—those aren't good headlines, honey! At best, you'll be Brad Pitt dumping America's Sweetheart for a gay, over-sexed Angelina Jolie. The blowback's gonna be huge!"
"I don't care!" he said, hands balled into fists. "I've been keeping this quiet for years, and I'm done waiting. I've made it right with my—with Katy. And with God. And when Adam gets back, I'm gonna tell him how I feel. And I don't care if 19 doesn't like it, or if my album tanks, or if you decide you can't represent a gay artist."
He stared her down on that last point until her cheeks flushed and she looked down, busying her hands folding the set list. "I didn't say that."
"Just…don't do anything rash. Give me time to work something out. We're gonna need to do some major damage control if you wanna keep your viability. Maybe make a play for some of Adam's fan base—they're always obsessed with who he's dating."
Kris gritted his teeth. "You do that. Are we done here?"
"You're all signed, so. Yeah, that's it."
Kris grabbed his red windbreaker off the chair and headed for the door.
"Mechelle's got those letters you wanted…." Vanessa called after him.
He spotted Mechelle down the hall talking with a young guy in a Hawaiian shirt and a pocket protector. Kris made a bee line for her and stuck a shoulder between her and the object of her attention. "Mechelle, I need those letters."
"Sure." She pulled open her huge satchel and dug out the rubber-banded stack of envelopes. "And here," she thrust a set of loose pages at him. "Your copy of the contract."
Kris took a cab to the FBI building and waited in the lobby while they paged Agent Foltz for him. Two men in suits escorted him up to the 11th floor, where Foltz met him with a smile, a firm handshake, and a polite "What can I do for you, Mr. Allen," towering over him, at least 5'9" in 3" heels.
He proffered the creepy fan letters and she tucked them under her arm and escorted him to another small room, this one less like a doctor's office and more like a holding room at airport security. Maybe it was all the glass and metal.
"I'm glad you came," she said, placing the letters next to her.
"Has there been any news?"
She shook her head slightly. "You know I can't discuss—"
"What about the blood? Was it Adam's?"
"You're not supposed to know about that."
"I talked to his mom yesterday. Can you at least say how much they're asking for?"
Foltz held her smile for a long moment and then said nonchalantly, "See, Mr. Allen, that's the funny thing. Nobody's made a ransom demand yet."
"Really?" That didn't sound very funny at all.
"And that's unusual. Generally, these calls come within the first 24 hours. It's been almost 36."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that either something went wrong with the kidnapping—in which case it doesn't look good for Lambert—or there are no kidnappers, and this disappearing act is just that."
"Wait, you're saying Adam's dead?"
"I'm saying it seems far more likely that he's staged this disappearance as some kind of publicity stunt. It's not uncommon for celebrities; we see at least two of these a year. And I'll tell you, we really hate wasting our time like this."
"No," Kris rejected the possibility flat out. "Adam wouldn't do that."
Her smile faded away. "Mr. Allen, based on what we've discovered so far, calling your friend's behavior on December 26th 'suspicious' would be putting it mildly."
"Just because he went to a club with his friends?"
"We took your advice and questioned Shep Lonnagan; Lambert paid him $5,000 to lure the other paparazzi to a false location that night. He left his bodyguards at the hotel. He parked a luxury car in a part of town known for violent carjackings, and he left the key in the ignition—"
"That's not what happened!"
"These behaviors don't paint a flattering portrait."
"He just wanted a low-key night. For a friend."
"Or for himself?" she challenged. "He left the party early and alone—no one was on that street with him. For someone under as much media scrutiny as he was, it would be the perfect opportunity to slip away."
"He was going back to his hotel. I know he was."
She quirked a skeptical eyebrow. "According to the statements you and your friends gave, he told you he had to rest for an early rehearsal?"
"No, that was…that was just an excuse. That's not why he left."
Foltz leaned forward, her arms crossed on the table, propping up her D cups. "Why did he leave, Mr. Allen?"
The voice in the back of Kris's head that feared his label, feared losing his fans and disappointing his family, was telling him to shut up. But the rest of him was sick of hiding who he was and whom he loved. "He was meeting me. I was supposed to follow him, join him at his hotel."
He squared his shoulders. "For sex."
Her other eyebrow joined the first. "You were having a relationship with Lambert?"
"No. Well yes; we were gonna start one."
"And was anyone else aware of this?"
"Just our friends at the club. I showed them the hotel key he gave me. So he wouldn't have taken off. He would've gone straight back to his hotel."
She leaned back. "You seem very sure."
"I know Adam. He's wanted this for too long." Wanted me, he almost said.
"By your own admission, Mr. Allen, you weren't supposed to be there that night."
"No, I flew back early—"
"And surprised everyone; you said. Don't you think it's possible that Mr. Lambert had other plans for his evening?"
"And that your sudden arrival was a disruption to those plans?"
"It was just a party."
"You assume that Mr. Lambert would have changed all his plans the second you showed up. What if—and I want you to hear me out on this—what if he'd already set something important in motion, like a label-orchestrated publicity stunt? Would he have scrapped those plans for you?"
Kris's head swam as disparate comments fitted together like puzzle pieces. Ted had just revealed 19 Entertainment's "emergency" plan to make the New Year's Eve show the most important of Adam's career. And wasn't that what Adam had called it last month? This is the most important show I've ever done.
She couldn't be right. He and Adam—they'd connected, understood each other on Sunday. Even without talking about it, they were on the same page.
Except Adam had had Kris right there in front of him, panting and eager, and Adam hadn't even kissed him, hadn't offered to take Kris home himself. He'd given Kris a key and a pat on the head and asked him to follow at a discreet distance….
"I want to assure you that we're still considering this a criminal case. We're doing everything we can to find Mr. Lambert; we're working some other possible leads. But you should be aware that if this is part of some scheme to sell records, believe me, we will get to the bottom of it."
Her smile was long gone, and Kris didn't like what she'd been hiding underneath.
"And when we do, we'll be looking at pressing charges for conspiracy and filing false reports. And your name and Cale Mills's name are on that police report."
"I'm helping! I told you to find the photographer—"
"You've been very helpful in the investigation so far," she cut him off. "And we want that to continue. I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open around Adam's business contacts and share with us anything that sounds suspicious." Or else, her scowl implied. "Here's my card again. Use it." Foltz stood up and reached for the envelopes. "Thank you for the fan mail. I'm sure it'll be a big help." She gestured toward the door, and he jumped at the chance to flee the interrogation room.
Five minutes later, Kris sat on a bench in the sunlight just outside the front doors trying to wrap his brain around what'd happened inside. He'd just been threatened by the FBI. Foltz was convinced Adam was hiding somewhere, deliberately making everyone think he'd been kidnapped. And she hadn't been impressed with Kris's motive for Adam sticking around. He couldn't fault her reasoning; if he didn't know Adam, he might be suspicious himself.
But he wasn't.
Because Kris knew everything that Adam had done or thought for the last two years. They talked about everything. From the messy fights that had marred Adam's relationship with Drake to the play by play on Kris's divorce negotiations with 19E. Kris knew Adam; knew him from the soles of his favorite boots to the feathers on his false eyelashes. There was no way Adam could have hidden anything that big from him.
Unless Kris hadn't wanted to see it.
And suddenly the familiar doubt crawled out of its blind spot and waved at Kris, reminding him of the gaping hole in their history, the root of all Kris's procrastination and worry. The one thing they'd never said a word about.
It was hot on the stages, stifling on the buses, and beyond-suffocating outside. By the end of August, sweating had become a full-time occupation for the Idols. The transfers in the Midwest were twice as long as the East Coast, and the sleepless nights driving between cities in grinding, cramped quarters were wearing everyone down. Tempers were near boiling by the time they rolled into the Kansas City Sprint Center, and the only reason Matt and Mike didn't come to blows was the promise of a rare hotel night after.
The first thing Kris did when he got to his private room at the KC Ramada post-show was crank up the air conditioning and strip down to his boxers. He pushed and pulled the couch until it was directly under the air vent and sprawled out with a bottle of water from the mini-fridge, gasping out the heat and exhaustion of the summer, breathing in the gusts of cool, recirculated air.
Kris lay awake, staring at the ceiling, just enjoying the calm and the steadily dropping temperature for a good minute until someone knocked on the door. Reluctantly, he pried himself off the scratchy corduroy couch and lurched to the door, sweat still slick under his armpits.
"What's the password?" he asked, hand on the doorknob.
"Baby," Adam said loudly, just begging to be overheard by anyone in the hall, "I'm gonna lick every inch of your sweet Southern—"
Kris jerked the door open and stuck a mortified finger in Adam's face. "Don't say it!" A blush made his skin burn uncomfortably hotter, but he grinned anyway.
Adam slid his gaze down and up, eyes widening as he took in Kris's beat-the-heat-with-nudity strategy. "Wow. Uh, I was only joking about that…."
"Get in here," Kris laughed. He let Adam in and locked the door, throwing the deadbolt like security had reminded them to do every day since the tour kicked off. "Did you get it?"
Adam headed straight for the TV cabinet, pushed the sliding doors aside until the screen and DVD player were exposed. "Brad FedExed it to the front desk." He made a happy sound as he pulled a Season Two Robot Chicken DVD from its plastic case. "I keep asking myself what I did to deserve an ex this nice. Maybe it was all the rimming?"
Kris pictured Adam's tongue doing exactly that and quickly blinked the image away. He flopped down on the couch, only taking up half this time. "Less talking, more clucking."
"Bok bok bok," Adam obeyed, fiddling with the DVD tray. He sat down next to Kris and sagged against the pillows, groaning and throwing his arms out across the back of the couch, head tipped back, throat exposed. "Oh my god that AC feels good. Is this as cold as it goes?"
"Nnrgh." Adam grabbed the neck of his t-shirt and pulled it up, then froze and mumbled, "You don't mind…." with the shirt half-off, covering his face.
Kris took a moment to remember how to move his mouth, transfixed by the sight of all that skin bronzed by the light of the side table lamp. Adam's arms sparkled, and a V of glitter pointed down from his throat where the vest costume had exposed his chest.
"Go ahead," Kris stammered. He blinked at the remote for a few flushed seconds before he figured out how to change the input and get the DVD menu up.
Adam spread out again—Kris could feel the brush of his forearm against the back of his head. He could smell Adam, too, the cologne he layered on to cover the stink of sweat and makeup and...ew, that was actually Adam's armpit right next to his head, and Adam definitely hadn't showered since getting off stage. Kris wrinkled his nose but relaxed a little, glad for the mood-killer. He'd been getting worked up way too easily around Adam lately. He pushed Play All and leaned his head back against Adam's arm.
By the end of the first episode, Kris was shivering, his core temperature finally dropped enough to feel the chill in the room. But getting a blanket—or even clothes—would be admitting defeat to the humid hell outside, so he stubbornly stayed on the couch. Adam was radiating warmth, and Kris gravitated toward him, shifting closer until Adam had an arm wrapped around his bare shoulders and Kris was half-leaning against his chest.
He was so tired from the last three nights on the bus with a broken air conditioning unit—too hot to sleep deeply, and then waking up from fever dreams with the sheets soaked through. Now he was finally cool, comfortable, but his eyes wouldn't shut. He wasn't actually watching the show anymore, letting his thoughts drift away from the action figures on the screen. It felt like he'd been touring for a lifetime already. Idols Live was almost done, just two weeks left: 12 more shows, and 12 more nights on the bus. This last week had been the most grueling yet; the good times were still good, but the hard parts kept getting harder, and picturing another two weeks made him even more exhausted.
Under his cheek, Adam was laughing, and his hand rubbed absently on Kris's upper arm, nails scritching the short hairs and raising goose bumps. Kris let the feeling take his mind off the exhaustion. He was supposed to call Katy…but Katy would only reassure him that it would be over soon; Adam could actually distract him—find him a party, track down copies of Kris's favorite movies, or just put an arm around him and endure the suffering with him. There was something about being near Adam—and not just the erections he hated telling Katy about—the comfort in the simplest touch, like the warmth and pleasant chills Adam was giving him right now….
As soon as he realized he was getting hard, Kris automatically moved to put space between them. He'd had to do that more and more often; between the harmless flirting and easy friendship, their bodies had developed a kind of unconscious magnetism, always pulling toward each other. Without even thinking about it, he put his hand down for leverage and pushed away, but Adam jerked under him, arm gripping suddenly tight around his shoulders, body going tense.
Because Kris's hand was…his hand was in Adam's lap, his palm pressing down on the hard cock straining under the zipper of Adam's tight jeans. Kris was groping Adam's cock, and he'd just meant to get a little space, to move away from Adam's overwhelming presence, but he was….
Adam's arm lifted off him and his hips squirmed. Kris couldn't tell if Adam was moving toward or away from his hand. Adam was hard—had been hard while Kris cuddled against him. And Kris was getting harder, and he still wasn't pulling off and away.
Kris looked up to make some sort of apology for his inexplicable behavior—he knew it wasn't fair to push Adam so far, not with the open crush Adam had on him—but Adam's eyes were huge in the flickering light of the TV, thin blue bands around wide pupils, breath coming a little ragged, and when Kris carefully eased his hand off, Adam gasped and stared at him like he couldn't help it—not the gasp or the staring.
And he'd done that, made Adam look at him that way. The intense wave of satisfaction at that sent a thrill through him. It was dizzying and empowering, the rush of mutual desire, and Kris leaned up and pressed his lips to Adam's, opened his mouth and breathed hot against Adam's cool lips. Adam kissed back, a cautious press of lips brushed side to side, nothing more. Kris twisted impatiently on the cushions for a better angle, managed it without pulling away, so he could lean against Adam properly and kiss him again. And then there were two hands on the back of his head, Adam holding him there, kissing him with open mouth and tongue, meeting him halfway, Adam making desperate, high-pitched noises in the back of his throat that Kris understood somewhere down low, felt that same yearning of "please, finally, please."
Heat licked into his mouth, warming him from the inside. A cold nose rubbed against his, and hot skin dragged under his chest, and he wasn't cold anymore, not anywhere. Kris clutched at Adam, hands sliding across his broad shoulders, nails scratching down Adam's chest, flaking off rough bits of glitter like sand after a day at the beach.
Adam was under him, and then over him, tipping Kris back against the cushions, mouth on his jaw, his ear, sucking and tugging on the lobe, and Kris gasped and writhed at the big hands that ran over his nipples and pinched until Adam's mouth could take over. He dragged his tongue across Kris's chest, licked at one nub and then the other, bit and sucked until Kris's back arched and he begged for Adam to move on. Adam obliged and slid further down the couch, his tongue trailing down the short hairs under his belly button, his hands holding Kris's hips down when he panted and tried to grind the air. And then Adam's fingers were on him, on his cock, and Kris didn't know where his boxers had gone, didn't miss them when Adam breathed over the tip of his cock and then swallowed him down.
He bucked and arched, cursed and grabbed for something to hold on to, found Adam's hand on his hip and tugged it up, desperate to smother the noises he was making. He sucked Adam's fingers into his mouth, bit and licked and sucked in counterpoint to Adam's mouth on his cock, Adam alternating teasing kisses and hard sucks, swirling his amazing tongue and humming, overloading Kris's synapses with pleasure. All the while, Adam fucked his mouth, pressed two fingers against Kris's tongue, rubbed them against the roof of his mouth, the insides of his teeth, half exploration, half mindless pushing. Kris held on to his wrist and groaned, thrusting his cock helplessly into Adam's mouth.
And then Adam took his hand away, rubbed one of those saliva-wet fingers just behind Kris's balls, making something throb inside, sweet and sharp, and he squirmed against it, up into Adam's mouth and back against the finger, feeling too hot, hotter than outside, even. His thighs were slippery with sweat against Adam's arms and he held on to the cushions for purchase.
Adam drew back, breathed deep and said, "Kris, I—I want you to—"
Kris's hips thrust again and he whimpered, "Adam," desperately, until Adam took the head of his cock back in his mouth, so wet, and dragged his finger back further, to a place that made Kris shiver, and then pressed inside, in and in and Kris didn't stop him, threw his head back and gasped his name, every muscle in his body contracting and tingling around that finger, against Adam's tongue and lips sucking him hard and tight.
He came apart with a shout, and Adam flicked his finger again, forced the aftershocks higher, fiercer for a long moment, licking his cock as it softened before taking his finger back despite Kris's body's best efforts to clutch that, too. Kris rode it out, eyes closed, listening to Adam breathe as he came down. Adam finally let his cock go, crawled over him and kissed him, sucking on Kris's tongue like it was another cock, as if Kris had any more to give. Kris groaned and bit his own tongue, rubbed his thumb behind Adam's ear and tugged at his hair, pleading wordlessly for a chance to breathe.
The Robot Chicken theme song was playing on the TV again and Kris reached his other arm up, groped for the remote control on the armrest behind him. Adam found it first, pressed it into Kris's palm and kissed his eyebrows, his temple, his cheek.
Kris found the power button without looking, got the damn TV to shut the hell up, and turned his head to find Adam's mouth again. Jeans scraped the insides of Kris's thighs and he groped at Adam's oversized belt buckle, helping Adam unclip it and get his jeans open, his pants shoved down below his hips. And then Kris sprawled back, got a knee hooked behind Adam's thigh and dragged him down to lie on him, nothing between them this time, Adam's leaking cock thrusting against Kris's pelvis.
Adam's neck arched, taking his lips away, so Kris followed, latching onto his throat, kissing and sucking to counterbalance the slip-rocking of their hips, the unpredictable spikes of electric pleasure as Adam ground against him. Adam was already shaking, moaning and panting—he wasn't going to last long. Kris sucked harder, wanting to take Adam into him—his blood, his sweat, his saliva—to somehow absorb Adam through his skin like holy oil or baptismal water.
Adam choked and froze, shuddering over him as his cock jerked and spattered hot over Kris's stomach. He braced his arms on either side of Kris's shoulders and gulped huge breaths like he'd just held the high note at the end of Starlight long after the rest of the music had cut out.
Kris stared up at Adam's face, naked and slack and achingly precious to him. Adam's cum was cooling on his stomach, and Kris slid a hand down, rubbed his fingers through it, feeling the lingering heat, the slick-stickiness. Awed, he brought his hand up to his mouth, but Adam caught his wrist and stopped him, dark eyes blinking heavily.
Kris wouldn't be denied.
When he leaned up to taste, Adam met him there, their tongues dueling between his fingers in a filthy and intimate kiss like nothing he'd ever experienced. It only intensified the irrational craving, the desperate desire to absorb, to possess, and Kris gripped Adam's hair with both hands and licked into his mouth, bit Adam's lips swollen and bruised, and held on until exhaustion loosened their limbs and they stumbled to the bed in each other's arms.
When he opened his eyes it was morning. Sunlight played through the blinds, painting vertical stripes on Adam's skin and hair. Kris blinked, focused on Adam's blue eyes, wide and watching with some expression he couldn't decipher. The bed was comfortable and warm, his bare arm freezing above the covers. He pulled his arm under the comforter and rubbed it against his stomach to warm it up. But he jolted a little more awake when his wrist brushed his bare cock and it all came back. The kisses. The couch. The blowjob and the cum and. Katy. And God.
And what had he done?
Kris bolted upright, his toes bumping against hairy legs under the sheets. He jerked his feet away, piled blankets in his lap to cover his nudity.
Adam sat up, too, and the look on his face mirrored what was on Kris's, because Adam's said "never again" with a vehemence that made Kris tremble.
Kris crawled backward off the bed and stumbled into the bathroom, fighting back tears of confusion and anger. He looked in the mirror and didn't even recognize himself. Because yesterday he'd been a man who loved his wife and God, a man who would never have broken his marital vows. Yesterday….
Today, he didn't know what kind of man he was.
He rang Katy's doorbell just past 6 p.m. after walking around for hours, trying to lose himself in the backstreets of Hollywood. She opened the door wearing a half-sleeved cashmere sweater and jeans, and he blinked, realizing he'd expected a sundress, flip-flops, loose blonde hair curling past her shoulders.
Those days—and that Katy—were far behind him now.
"Hey," she said, propping the screen door open with a knee. "You look terrible."
"You look good," he said and put his hand out to hold the door for her.
"Come on in. How're the folks?" she asked over her shoulder, heading for what used to be their kitchen.
"They're good. They seem happy. Aunt Jillian brought her whole family up, and Mom made enough food to feed an army."
"She loves a full house."
"That she does. How was Christmas with your folks?"
"Oh, same old. They complained about the smog and the traffic and the prices, but you just know they're gonna get back to Conway and brag all about the great time they had in Los Angeles."
He smiled. "Never happy, and always have to be the center of attention. I'd say it runs in the family, but you'd probably kill me."
"With a greasy frying pan," she agreed, jerking a thumb toward the pots and pans stacked in and around the sink.
Kris gaped. "Wow, I didn't even know we had that many dishes."
"I know. I've been staring at 'em for three days, hoping they'll magically wash themselves. If they're still there next week I'll probably end up hiring a cleaning service."
The two of them had been terrible about cleaning. His mother had always hoped he'd settle down with a sensible girl who would keep the house tidy, but he and Katy had been content to live like bachelors, washing their bowls as they needed them, out of the sink or the dishwashing machine they never ran. Being back here with Katy, in what used to be their home, it was almost as though they were still…not married, because they'd only been that for a couple years, but still together. And when she found someone new to share her life with, he hoped they'd still fit together just like this.
His smile turned nostalgic, and she saw it, leaned against the kitchen counter and bit her lip before asking, "Any news?"
The frustration and doubt came back to him in a rush. He sank down in his old chair at the table and shook his head. "They still don't know where he is or who took him. And now the FBI think it's all a stunt cooked up by the label, and that Adam's hiding out somewhere to collect on the publicity."
"Oh. No. No way, that is such a crock of shit." The ugly words jarred against her pretty mouth, another change since they'd moved to L.A.
"I know, but. Babe?" he held out his hand and she took it, sat in the chair next to him. "The things they have on him…. They're right; it looks bad. The way he set up the party, the way the label's handling the show…. If I didn't know him…."
"But you do," Katy reassured him.
"But what if I don't?"
"I keep going over and over it in my head; he would've told me, you know? He wouldn't have let me worry like this. But then I end up back in Kansas City, and I never asked his forgiveness. I never even apologized for it. I just used him and then rejected him, and what if he's never forgiven me?"
"He wouldn't've stayed your friend if he hadn't."
"But what if—"
"If you'd just talked to him about this," she sighed, her impatience rising to the surface. "How many times did I tell you?"
"At this rate, the two of you are gonna need more couples counseling than we did."
He almost managed to laugh, because he didn't deserve how much Katy was pulling for him—for them. She was still his best friend even after the way he'd let her down, been unable to fall out of love with Adam despite months of trying.
She got up and pulled two beers from the fridge, brought them to the table and let him uncap each bottle with his bare hands. "Alright. Give me specifics. What's the FBI have on him that's so bad it's got your head screwed on wrong?"
So he told her. He laid out all the facts for her, like he'd always done when something was wrong. Like he'd done that morning in Kansas City, called and told his wife of less than a year that he'd cheated on her, listened to her heart break from across the country, matching his own. This time, at least, he wasn't hurting her.
"She's completely wrong," Katy said when he'd finished, dismissing Foltz with a wave of her hand.
"That's what I told her."
"You obviously don't buy any of that bull. So what is it? There's something else that's got you worked up."
That was the question he'd spent the whole afternoon working on. But he had an answer now. "It's everything with the label. They're completely changing Adam's show."
"I thought it was cancelled."
"No, I…. It's important to Adam so I…volunteered to perform. They're bringing in Allison and some of the other Idols and we're gonna cover Adam's songs…. What?"
Her eyes had gone wide. "Oh my God, Kris. You're gonna do Adam's show?"
He shrugged, "I just couldn't let them cancel it."
"Oh my God, that's so romantic. You don't even know…." She fluttered an apologetic hand in front of her face and wiped at her suddenly wet eyes. "I'm sorry. That's just. You know how I am."
"Yeah," he agreed, used to it after six years dating her. Katy was such a sap.
"Okay, I'm sorry, go on."
He sighed. "So we're doing the show, but 19E's turning it into an A-list event, with the Beckhams and a red carpet and everything. They're calling it a 'vigil' so the fan club won't demand refunds, but really it's just about next year's profits. At this point, they're not even interested in getting Adam back in time; they've got a bigger plan all worked out."
Katy made a growling sound. "I can't wait 'til your contract is up, and we can get you away from those backstabbing bastards."
Kris nodded and pressed on. "So Foltz's theory—that 19 could have planned something like this—I can kinda see that. As long as Adam's back and performing next year, they're gonna rake it in. And there's been no ransom demand, so the kidnappers have to be planning to get their money from somewhere else. 19E…it makes sense."
"No," Katy said firmly, "it doesn't. Because they'd need Adam to go along with it, and he wouldn't. He would never do that to his fans; he treats them like gold. And he wouldn't do that to you."
"I believe that, I do, but then all the other stuff gets so loud, and I can't think straight."
"Hush. You know Adam wouldn't be a part of anything like that. Just hold onto that fact, and everything else is just a bunch of lame theories the FBI made up. They don't have any proof—that's why they want you to do the investigating, to dig up something they can actually use. And that's not gonna work, because 19E can't be responsible for this."
It sounded so convincing when she put it that way.
"Ignore everything Foltz said, because she's obviously missing something."
"Like where Adam is."
"Right. Bitch is barking up the wrong tree. There's been no ransom demand; if no one's asked for a ransom, then they took Adam 'cause he's all they wanted."
Kris's shoulders tensed up at the thought of Leila Lambert's obsessed-fan theory.
"Or they're after 19E's reward money," she added.
He shook his head. "19E wasn't even gonna— I mean, I don't think they were. I offered my own reward and Robert said I'd backed them into a corner where they had to offer one…."
"No, they've got insurance that covers rewards; I remember it from your label contract."
Kris could suddenly picture the very clause in his head. He'd read that thing cover to cover before he signed it, and he was ashamed to admit it had been the last of his contracts he'd bothered even glancing at. "Then why the hell'd he give me such a hard time about it yesterday?"
Katy sipped her beer and considered for a long moment. "You were stealing their spotlight?"
"Hmm. Maybe," Kris said, getting confused all over again. Why would his label deliberately jerk his chain about something like that?
"Hey, when's the last time you ate? And before you say it, no, that beer in your hand doesn't count."
Kris picked at the label on the bottle and didn't meet her eyes.
"Okay then," she announced, standing up. "You're staying for dinner. I'm gonna heat up some of my mom's leftovers. You thought you'd escaped the O'Connell Christmas dinner this year; ah ah, not so fast. We've got," she pulled open the door to the fridge, "honey-glazed carrots and parsnips, green beans with rosemary and thyme, her famous mashed sweet potatoes, and some rack of lamb." She loaded her arms with Tupperware and dumped it all on the countertop. "And for dessert, blueberry pie."
Kris's stomach growled and he came closer to the counter, trying to smell the plastic-sealed food. "I love your mom's pie."
She smiled and pulled a big metal serving spoon out of the drawer. "I'm gonna make you a plate, and I'm not letting you leave until you've eaten the whole thing."
"Thanks," he said, knowing it was inadequate to cover all the things she did for him. He walked around the island and pulled her into a tight hug, her small body feeling stronger and more stable than his own. "Thanks so much."
"Don't get used to this," she said, slapping his ass so he took a step back. "I'm just fattening you up so Adam has something worth squeezing when he gets home."
Kris blushed faintly.
"Now, you sit down and start brainstorming who—besides your label—could benefit by taking Adam."
It didn't feel like they made any progress in the 10 minutes it took to reheat everything, and then Kris was so hungry he didn't bother talking while he ate. Katy picked at her green beans and made a moat with her potatoes and gravy until Kris looked up, halfway done, and noticed.
"I'm kind of burned out on leftovers," she said, but Kris could tell that wasn't it.
"I'll make you a sandwich…."
"No thanks. I'm just." She rubbed her palms over her bare forearms.
His heart twisted painfully. "It gets to you," he said quietly.
She nodded. "Now that you're here, it's all I can think about. I'm really, really worried about him."
Kris put down his fork and closed his eyes. "We have to have faith."
Katy's hand reached out for his, and he bowed his head, let the prayers in his heart lift up to God.
Even after they'd given up on their dinners, he couldn't bring himself to leave. He tried tackling the dishes, but it was an unwinnable battle against the solidified grease and baked-on sauces. He finally threw in the towel and told Katy her manicurist would never forgive her if she didn't hire a cleaning service.
He hung around the living room for a while, distracting himself by playing what's-wrong-with-this-picture, trying to identify all the things that had changed in the room since he'd moved out two months ago. It didn't hurt like he'd expected; it actually felt good to know that Katy was moving on, continuing her life just like he was. He'd sat down at his piano and was running his fingers over the keys when Katy came in, her face freshly washed, and sat next to him on the bench.
"So tell me about the show. What're you doing?"
"You mean aside from being 19E's performing monkey?"
"Yes. Besides that."
"I'm supposed to perform some of Adam's songs. We split them up between the four of us; Vanessa made sure I got first dibs."
"Which ones did you pick?"
She rose to the challenge. "Music Again."
He shook his head.
"That's one," he smiled.
"Good thought, but no."
She got a wicked twinkle in her eyes. "Strut."
He snorted, "No."
"For Your Entertainment."
Katy smiled evilly. "No Boundaries?"
"Just stop," he protested, "I'll tell you."
His fingers slotted into position for a D Major chord and he pumped the right pedal, feeling the confidence he always found at a piano. "Aftermath. Whataya Want from Me. Time for Miracles. Can't Let You Go."
He held his breath, but her expression melted, going all dreamy. "That's good."
"Yeah? I mean, I have to work out some arrangements, 'cause I can't sing them in Adam's range, but…."
"No, it's great."
"I tried to think what I would wanna say to him right now, wherever he is."
Katy smiled at him for a long, gentle moment. And then she blinked a few times and looked down at the piano keys, "Do you wanna do that here? She's missed you, you know."
He caressed the keys and repositioned for A minor. "If it wouldn't bother you?"
"Nah." She leaned in and kissed his cheek and left him there to work.
He was tapping his feet to the track playing on Katy's iPod when his cell phone vibrated across the glossy black piano lid.
It was his agent's number, and he picked it up reluctantly.
"Hey, honey. Have you been watching the news?"
"No, why?" he asked, heart suddenly leaping into his throat.
"Robert did the press conference about the show. I wanted to let you know that everything's going great—all the channels are carrying it, and public reaction's been really positive."
"So it's time to get moving on rehearsals. You're meeting with Adam's band on Thursday, so you only have one day to work on those new arrangements."
She continued on like she wasn't listening. "We've got everybody's picks now and we're almost settled on that, except—and I can't believe I was wrong about this, but—you're not the only one who wants Time for Miracles. Carrie Underwood sounds ready to cut a bitch to perform that song. She thinks she can make it the next How Do I Live or something. So if you'll take Sleepwalker or Music Again, I'll let her know so she can start practicing, too."
There was no way he was giving up that song to anybody else. "No."
"Honey, come on. She's country's female vocalist of the year for three years running; I think she'll do it justice. Let her have it and we can put something faster in the mix."
"I said no, and I meant it," he snapped. "Carrie Underwood can go hang."
"Rrgh," she groaned. "Fine. Don't be surprised if she poisons your water backstage."
"I'll take my chances."
"Anyway, we have to pad out the show for another 45 minutes. Adam had a whole bunch of covers rehearsed, so I'll email you the set list and you pick a couple. And his band's gonna learn one new song for each of you, so you can do one of your singles. I already put you down for Live Like We're Dying. It's a little faster, and…honestly, it was either that or The Truth, and I can't even tell you how inappropriate that would be."
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say…. Kris's throat closed up. "That's fine, that's the right one," he choked.
"I figured; it fits into your whole 'coming out, love confessional' theme," she said, and he could hear the rolling eyes in her snippy tone.
"Vanessa," he said, belatedly worried that he'd pushed her too far, "you're okay with this, right?"
"Don't even sound like that," she tutted. "I'm sorry about earlier; you just surprised me, that's all. And you're gonna be okay as far as 19E, too. I did some digging—okay, Mechelle did the digging. That girl's amazing. I told you she was wasted driving you around and organizing your schedule—"
"No," he corrected her, "you told me I couldn't have attractive girls working for me in the middle of a divorce."
"Well. That, too. Anyway, she got one of the accountants to dish about what it would've cost them to cancel the show. Whether they're in the red or not, 19E would've been paying way more if you hadn't stepped up with this idea. If they ever give you a hard time about coming out, we can throw this in their faces."
His shoulders relaxed and he breathed a little easier. Going to war with his label was not something he ever wanted to do again.
"It'd be better if we cleared it with them first, though; give them some advance notice so they can plan the media response. Maybe work out something like we did with the divorce."
Kris's optimism fell flat on its face. "And end up missing the spring tours, too," he guessed.
"No way," Vanessa said forcefully. "I won't let that happen. Just…maybe do the talk show circuit for a few weeks, give the right interviews to the right reporters…. As long as you're not throwing it in everybody's faces all the time, they can probably cope."
Those actually sounded like compromises he could live with. But. "I already told the FBI," he warned her, in case he'd maybe shot her efforts in the foot already.
There was a beat of silence. "You told the FBI? That you're gay for Adam?"
She took a deep breath. "Okay, okay, there's a good chance that'll stay confidential. Who'd you tell?—I'll make a phone call, try to make sure it doesn't leak out."
"Agent Foltz. I have her card—"
"Good. Women are way more sympathetic about this kind of thing."
"You haven't met this one."
He gave her Diana Foltz's phone number and hung up, then noticed Katy standing in the doorway.
"Everything alright?" she asked.
"Yeah. Vanessa's taking care of 19E for me." He looked at the scribbled arrangement notes he'd made on a collection of napkins and played through the transposed opening chords of Can't Let You Go, not meaning to ignore Katy, just needing that connection with Adam all of a sudden. Because something felt wrong, like an earthquake under him, and he couldn't put his finger on the source.
"How's it coming?" Her frown was sympathetic when he looked up, like she thought that's what was troubling him.
Kris turned around on the bench, putting his back to the keys. "It's fine. I'm just…. Vanessa said something and it's got me thinking," he realized.
"She said I'm saving 19E money, 'cause they would've lost a fortune if the show were canceled."
"Sure, all that money down the drain," Katy nodded.
"It didn't sound like that." He rubbed his thumb between his eyebrows. "Robert mentioned a penalty clause yesterday."
"Penalty clause?" She sounded slightly alarmed.
"It's nothing bad." The few business courses Kris had bothered attending in college came back in a cloudy fog, along with a few lingering self-doubts. If he hadn't been so stupidly idealistic and dropped out to make music, if he'd actually stuck it out and gotten that degree, maybe he wouldn't have to rely so heavily on Vanessa to handle his music contracts. He concentrated, tried to remember the right vocabulary. "Whoever forfeits the contract has to…indemnify, yeah. They have to repay the other party for the inconvenience and lost opportunity for revenue. So it's a question of who 19E would have to pay if the show got canceled."
"All the performers, right? Adam and his band, the dancers…"
"That's part of 19's contract with Adam. But I think Robert was talking about the venue contract. If 19E canceled the contract with the venue, The Crystal Club would get the penalty clause payout." Kris got up and paced around the room, unable to hold still now that he could see a bigger picture.
"Which is a lot?"
"It could be. It definitely puts them in a position of power over the label."
"So the club gets paid just because Adam disappears?"
"Then they wouldn't need a ransom," Katy said.
"Yeah, that's just business. Nobody would question it."
"But why wouldn't they want the concert to go on? They'd make more money putting on the show."
"Maybe not. I've met 19E's top shark—Ted's brutal in negotiations. Maybe they could've gotten more money off somebody else's event, or off their own. Hell, it's New Year's Eve; they could probably throw a party with a DJ or something, charge a fortune at the door and make a ton of cash."
"Plus the penalty money," she realized.
"So they could…they could kidnap Adam to make sure the concert got canceled, and collect their money legally. That sounds crazy."
Kris pursed his lips. "It could work. But 19E are too tight-assed to give away money like that."
"And you single-handedly saved the show."
He ducked his head, not ready to accept that much credit. Robert was a smart guy—he'd probably have thought of a way to keep the event alive with or without Kris.
"You're gonna tell the FBI right?"
"It's just a theory," he hedged, despite the adrenaline surging under his skin.
"But it's the only good one we've had. You have to call them."
"Yeah," Kris agreed. He didn't care if it was after 11 p.m. If this was the right lead, the FBI needed to know about it as soon as possible. He fished Foltz's card out of his pocket again and dropped it on the piano, along with the plastic hotel key.
As a rule, Kris didn't lie to Katy. He never had: not when they were dating, not when they were married, not even after the divorce. All through counseling, he'd told her whenever he felt tempted by Adam again. And that was how they'd finally determined there was no moving past it. Not when he couldn't stop wanting him. They both knew she deserved better than that.
So she'd become his best friend instead of his wife, head cheerleader in his pursuit of Adam. But as supportive as she was in theory, he didn't think it was fair to force the details of their hookup on her. He didn't know what that would do to her.
He quickly shoved the key back in his pants and cursed himself for still carrying it around. "Nothing." Flushed with guilt, he dialed the number before Katy could ask again.
The phone rang four times and then forwarded to voice mail. "She's not answering," he whispered to Katy.
"Why not?" she demanded, impatient.
After the beep, Kris laid it all out: "Hi, Agent Foltz, this is Kris Allen. I did some thinking like you asked, and I think you should look at the owner of The Crystal Club. There's a clause in his contract where he gets a big payout if the show gets canceled." He suddenly paused, realizing the crucial flaw in his reasoning. "Um. Not that I've seen the contract or anything. So you should probably check that that's right."
He covered the receiver and mouthed 'shit' at Katy. She made urgent shooing motions back at him.
"But, uh, if he does get a big payout, I think it might be him: the bad guy. Um. That's it, good night."
He hung up and buried his face in his palm. "Could I have sounded any more stupid?" he moaned.
Katy rubbed a hand on his back. "I've heard you worse. Come on. I'll cut you some pie."
"Wake up! Kris, wake up! They found him! Wake up!"
Kris sat up on Katy's sofa and blinked in the darkness. She was tugging on his shoulder, it was still dark out, and she'd said— "What?"
He could hear sounds from the bedroom down the hall, the TV she couldn't sleep without. Katy was poking around his feet and legs, yanking the tangled blanket off. She was hunting for the remote, he realized, and scooped it up off the floor, turned the TV on and flipped straight to CNN.
The images on the screen were blurry—or maybe that was Kris's eyes reacting to the sudden light in the room—but CNN was airing footage of someone with black hair, wrapped in a blanket, being helped out of an ambulance. The news scroll at the bottom of the screen announced that pop superstar Adam Lambert, kidnapped two nights ago outside a bar downtown, had been found less than an hour ago in Pasadena. The FBI weren't releasing any details yet, but Lambert had been taken to the hospital.
"Oh thank God," he gasped, leaning his head against Katy's hip. She reached for his hand and squeezed it. "Is he okay?"
"I don't know; I woke you up as soon as I saw him."
The clock in the top right corner of the screen said it was just past 4 a.m., and the morning announcers were calling it a Christmas miracle, talking about the New Year's Eve vigil Adam's fans had planned and wondering if all those prayers had something to do with his speedy rescue. But they didn't have any actual news, like how Adam was, who had held him, how they'd found him, or where they'd taken him.
"I have to get to the hospital," Kris announced.
Katy nodded and squeezed his hand again. "Which one?"
There were at least a dozen options. He hesitated a moment and then said, "I'll call Donald." It wouldn't be the first time he'd called Adam's agent in the middle of the night, but hopefully it would be the last.
Donald didn't sound tired when he answered this time. He didn't even sound surprised. "Allen. I guess you heard?"
"Yeah, is he okay? Where is he?"
"He's alright. They took him to Ronald Reagan to check him out, but there's nothing to worry about, he seems fine."
Kris knew better than to believe Donald's spin. "Okay, I'm heading over there now. Should I call his mom? Does she need a ride—"
"I sent a car for her already. Allen, the hospital's for family only—"
Kris hung up and dug under the couch for his shoes.
"Call Special Agent Diana Foltz, okay? She'll approve me," Kris argued, trying to edge around the meaty palm pressed against his chest.
"Turn around and walk that way," the big security guard said, a warning in his tone.
"I'm not paparazzi or anything. Look, see? No camera!"
Kris looked up and spotted Adam's brother standing in the hospital lobby with a steaming coffee cup in his hand. "Neil! Tell this guy it's okay for me to come in."
Neil walked over and said, serious as Clint Eastwood, "He's family. Let him in."
"He said he was a friend."
"He used to be a friend. Today, he's family. Come on, Kris, mom needs all her sons with her." Neil turned his back on the guard, beckoned to Kris, and walked confidently away.
"Be right there, man," Kris called, and then eyed his obstacle carefully for signs of weakness. "You heard him; I'm family." When the guy appeared to hesitate, Kris pressed harder. "I'll call Special Agent Foltz for you. Hold on, I've got her programmed in my phone—" Which was true, if only so far as his list of recently dialed numbers.
"Fine, go on," the security guard grumbled, stepping aside.
"Thank you! Neil, wait up!" Kris sprinted down the hall and caught up with Adam's brother as he rounded the corner into the blue wing.
Neil threw an arm around his shoulders and hugged him, then half-dragged him through another two corridors at a fast clip.
"Where are we going?" Kris eventually asked, running out of breath keeping up with Neil's long legs.
"Dude, I have no clue," Neil admitted without stopping. "I swear, I only made one turn before I found the coffee machine, and now I'm so turned around I can't even find that anymore. But in my defense, this is only my first cup, and this place is like some kind of labyrinth."
"Can't we just ask somebody?"
"Hell no, that's how they spot the people who don't belong. That's how they got you, isn't it?"
Kris made a face. "Good point. So…do you at least know his room number?"
"No, I'm looking for the waiting room. Did I take that escalator?"
"I don't know, did you?"
"Let's find out!" Neil made a sharp turn for the up escalator and Kris checked over his shoulder; no one was watching them too hard.
Almost ten minutes later they finally stumbled upon a waiting room with big paintings of calm ocean scenes and pink curtains on the walls, despite the fact that it was an interior room. "See, it was the door I didn't remember," Neil said triumphantly, closing the heavy wooden privacy door behind him. There was another family in the 2nd floor intensive care waiting room. Kris smiled politely, watched their faces fall when they realized he wasn't wearing a white coat.
"How is he?" he asked quietly when he and Neil were seated in one corner of the room, their knees almost touching.
"He's okay," Neil shrugged. "100% intact. They're fixing the dehydration, and the doctors said he's good to go at discharge time."
"Can I see him?"
"Not yet. The Feds are guarding his door, and they're only letting one of us in at a time. Mom's monopolized him so far." Neil didn't actually look like he minded. He calmly sipped his coffee and Kris thought about getting his own, but he wasn't up to another trip through the maze of corridors.
"How's she doing?"
"She's been a mess," Neil sighed. "Bursting into tears every few hours. I don't wanna imagine what she's like in there right now."
"But he's really okay?"
"That's what they said. Hey, thanks for coming. They're gonna be real happy to see you."
"I had to," Kris explained, like it was obvious.
Neil just nodded. Maybe it was obvious to him, too.
At 6:30, Kris took one of the hospital visitor maps provided in the waiting room, slapped Neil's head with it, and made his way to the dining room on Level B. He bought two trays of pancakes, bacon, yogurt, fruit, and three more cups of coffee, and brought it all back to the waiting room. Neil ate most of the food and Kris downed two coffees, wondering if he could maybe knock on Adam's door to offer Leila some breakfast and sneak a quick peek inside while the door was open.
His conscience stepped in and told him not to be an intrusive jackass. He stayed where he was and drank the third coffee.
Leila finally came into the waiting room a little after 8 a.m., and when she saw Kris she opened her arms and started crying again. Kris hugged her and let her cry on his neck for a few moments until she straightened herself up and pushed at her long hair, wiped at her cheeks. "Thank you so much for being here," she said. "It'll mean a lot to him."
"I'm gonna—" Neil said, already heading out the door, and Kris fought down a wave of jealousy.
He got Leila seated in a chair and ran back to the dining room to buy her another breakfast. She held his hand and beamed when he got back, told Kris how wonderful he was, and how wonderful everything was now her baby was okay. Kris tried to get more details, but she just shook her head and smiled, and he didn't have the heart to pry for information again.
Half an hour later Neil slipped back in and nodded to Kris. "Hey. You can go see him now if you—"
Kris was out in the hall so fast he didn't even hear the rest of what Neil had to say.
He looked up and down the corridor and noticed the man in the suit with the ear bud standing outside one of the rooms. That had to be the one. Kris walked up confidently, like he knew exactly where he was going and had a right to go there, and the FBI agent didn't look at him for more than a few seconds. The door opened quietly and he slipped inside and closed it before turning around to see Adam.
Beautiful, limp-haired Adam, who was sitting up in bed and smiling so wide his cheeks nearly swallowed his eyes. "Are you hiding from somebody?" Adam teased, a laugh in his voice.
What there was of it.
Kris's breath caught and he stumbled to the bed, grabbed Adam's hand and sat down hard in the plastic chair. "The FBI. Oh my God, you're okay. You're okay, right?" he blurted.
"I'm fine," Adam smiled, all confidence and shredded voice. He sounded terrible, like he'd been swallowing tacks or singing a festival tour for three weeks straight. His face had been wiped clean, all the makeup he'd worn on Sunday gone; it showed the cuts on the left side of his face, thin red lines of broken skin. From the broken window, Kris guessed.
Still, Adam was demonstrably fine. Kris managed to take one deep breath and then another.
"Why are you hiding from the FBI?" Adam asked.
"I bluffed my way past security claiming I had Agent Foltz on speed dial. I'm really not supposed to be here."
"Kris Allen, you menace to society! Ah, screw them anyway. I'm glad you're here."
"Me, too," Kris whispered. He finally managed to tear his eyes away from Adam's face to look over the rest of him, took in the white and blue hospital gown, the IV in his arm, the thick white bandages around each wrist. "What's this?" Kris asked sharply, moving his fingers up to touch the gauze.
Adam jerked his hand out of Kris's grasp, but his smile stayed easy and calm. "Just a little souvenir of my adventure."
Kris really didn't want to ask. He didn't want to hear about "Rope?"
"Zip tie," Adam shrugged.
Kris pictured it and winced, licked his lips. "What happened?"
"I don't even know. One second I was getting in my car, the next I was getting carjacked. Fucking Lennox," he laughed. "I am never going back there again."
"And then?" Kris urged.
"They threw me in a van and locked me in some basement for two days. That's it."
"Yeah. You can't imagine how bored I've been." Adam looked amused, as though the whole situation was funny in retrospect.
The tough guy act was starting to piss Kris off. "Adam, you don't have to act like—"
Adam's smile dropped unexpectedly and he said, rough and painful, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. That wasn't how I'd wanted that night to go, standing you up like that."
"I know," Kris said. "I never believed them."
He couldn't bring himself to tell Adam that the FBI—his saviors—had all but written the star off as a conspirator in his own disappearance. Not yet, anyway. He shook his head, said, "I found your car, right after. I knew you were in trouble. I knew the whole time."
Adam's frown eased and his hand slid toward Kris's again, caught it and squeezed like Kris was the one who still needed reassurances.
Kris couldn't resist any longer; he reached out to touch the side of Adam's face. Adam's eyes went wide and he held very still, watching Kris's fingers approach like he didn't know what Kris planned to do with them, and Kris froze up, was just about to pull back—maybe this wasn't the time—when someone knocked on the door.
He sat up straight in his chair, got his hands in his lap before the door opened and Agent Foltz's charming smile walked in.
"Mr. Lambert, are you—"
"Speak of the Devil," Kris muttered, and then immediately felt bad about it. The FBI had freed Adam, after all.
She turned her teeth on Kris. "Mr. Allen. Nice to see you again."
"Agent Foltz, thank you. For everything," Kris said, meaning it.
She nodded without changing her expression. "I need to have a talk with Mr. Lambert, if you don't mind." She tilted her head toward the door and Kris hesitated; he'd barely had any time with Adam….
"It's fine," Adam answered for him. "I'll see you later, Kris."
Kris looked at Adam, surprised by the dismissal, but Adam's fake smile was back. "Okay, I'll…see you later," he echoed. He stood up and walked around Foltz to get to the door, glanced back over his shoulder to find Adam's attention fully focused on the FBI agent.
Kris said goodbye to Leila and Neil and caught a cab home to his apartment. He didn't fall asleep in the backseat this time.
Still wired from the coffee, Kris returned the phone call he'd missed from his mom and then kept his recent promises by calling Matt, Anoop, Katy, Cale, and Allison to let them know he'd seen Adam and he seemed okay. Most of them had been asleep, but they were all grateful for the call. They all asked the same questions, too—what'd he go through, who did it, was he really okay—and Kris didn't know the answers to any of them, not even that last one.
He turned the TV on at 11 a.m., hoping to see some kind of press conference when Adam was discharged. Instead, the TV crews caught Adam dressed in fresh clothes, smiling and waving to a crowd of well-wishers, even signing a few autographs before climbing into a black town car. Kris rewound the TiVo and watched it again, relieved to see Adam doing so well. It was only on the third viewing that he realized Adam hadn't said a single word on camera. Which was probably deliberate. If the press heard his voice like that….
No wonder Donald hadn't staged a press conference.
Kris paused the recording and argued with himself whether or not Adam would be able to sing a concert in 58 hours. He'd assumed, when he'd heard he was fine…but Adam wasn't fine, not his throat anyway. 19E might still try to stage the modified version of the show. In which case, Adam might be there, watching them. Watching Kris sing his songs. And Kris got an anxious knot in his gut at the thought, a complicated twist of stage fright and pride. What if Adam didn't like the new plan? What if he didn't like how Kris sang his songs?
Why did Kris still have to care about this show when all he wanted to care about was Adam?
There was an unopened e-mail in his inbox—Vanessa's message with the set list attachment. He'd put off opening it last night, and this morning at the hospital he'd been certain he wouldn't have to pick more songs. He wasn't so sure anymore. He thought about calling Vanessa, thought about calling Donald, and then decided if he wanted an answer without label spin, he had to go to the source. So he called Adam.
The line was disconnected. Kris had a stupid moment of panic before realizing it only made sense; Adam'd been kidnapped, God only knew who had his phone now. Of course it'd been disconnected. He typed him a quick e-mail instead; Adam could check that anywhere.
An hour went by with no response, and Kris couldn't justify putting it off anymore. If he actually had to get up on that stage, he owed it to Adam to be prepared. He downloaded the set list file and scrolled through both pages, eyes widening.
Kings of Leon.
Kris closed his laptop and went to stand on his balcony, looking out over the hills. Those weren't just his favorite artists. Those were his favorite songs by his favorite artists. He'd made Adam listen to all of them at one time or another, whether on tour, in the mansion, or e-mailed across the globe. Adam had liked a few, but mocked the rest. And now Adam was singing half-a-concert's worth of country and southern rock, and Kris's brain couldn't shake the suspicion that it was all about him, as though Adam had scripted a concert that only Kris would truly appreciate. Which was completely ridiculous.
It was well past noon already, and Kris couldn't waste any more time on this crazy emotional rollercoaster. He made himself go back inside and sit down with his guitar, his iPod, and the set list, to pick two more songs.
He sent his picks to Vanessa mid-afternoon and lost himself in the music, figuring out where his chest voice gave out on Livin' On a Prayer and practicing the switch to falsetto.
His cell phone rang after sunset from a number he didn't recognize. He was trying to get through Lincoln Avenue again—for the tenth time and he still couldn't do it without choking up—so he grabbed the phone, grateful for the distraction.
"Are you doing anything right now?" a voice growled, and it took Kris two full seconds to recognize Adam.
He forgot about the guitar in his hands and the food heating in the microwave. All that mattered was that Adam was talking to him. "Oh wow. No, man, nothing. You sound a little better," he lied.
"Can you come over?" Adam asked. "I really need somebody over here right now."
Kris's heart jumped, even if needing 'somebody' wasn't the same as needing him. "Sure. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, great," he said with a nonchalance Kris didn't believe for a second. Especially when he added, "Just…please come over."
"I'll be right there. Where are you?"
"The W. Thanks." Adam hung up and Kris knocked the guitar to the floor in his haste to get moving.
Someone snapped his photo when he hopped out of his car at the valet stand and ran into the lobby, but he barely noticed. He was on a mission, and aimed straight for the elevators, took them almost all the way up. He still remembered the suite number, but didn't bother pulling out the key card; this time he was smart enough to reason that if the phone had been deactivated, so had Adam's electronic room keys. Instead he knocked, loud, and stood back to watch the shadows in the peephole. A head blocked the light, and Kris waved like a dork.
And then the door swung open and Adam dragged him into a two-armed hug, squeezing him so tight it was hard to breathe. Kris closed his eyes and hugged back, letting the last of his worries melt away as Adam whispered his name. Adam was real, he was safe, and he needed Kris. Foltz and 19E and the kidnappers could go fuck themselves for getting in their way.
Adam finally eased up and tugged him inside, double-locking the door, even engaging the security bar. He didn't let go of Kris, though, kept one arm around his shoulders as he moved him out of the way. It made it easier, Kris supposed, for Adam to pull him in for the next hug, Adam burying his nose in Kris's hair and exhaling little puffs of air.
"You're alright," Kris promised, willing Adam to believe what Kris already knew for himself.
Adam shuddered and sniffled, and Kris realized that Adam was trying to breathe—and it was hurting him. "I am," Adam whispered, voice catching on a dry patch in his throat. He started to cough and cut himself off, hugging tighter and breathing shallowly until the urge to cough passed.
"Do you wanna hug all night? 'Cause we can do that sitting down just as easily," Kris suggested, nudging Adam into action.
Adam let go—but again, kept one hand on Kris—and let him get a look at the top-level suite. It was disgusting; twice the size of Kris's one-bedroom apartment, with three times the furniture, all five times more expensive…and that was just the living room. When he noticed the hallways on opposite walls leading to even more rooms, he decided to stop looking.
"This place is too much."
"I know, right?" Adam's eyes were wet, but the sweet smile on his face glowed down at Kris.
"I'm living in a so-called 'luxury high rise,' and this place makes it look like a college dorm."
"Don't be hatin', baby."
"Please, you think I'm jealous? Nobody needs this much, not even you."
"Ouch," Adam said, putting his free hand to his wounded heart.
And this was stupid. Adam shouldn't be talking at all with a throat that sore, and Kris was making small talk about a hotel room. "What're you taking for that throat?"
Adam shrugged and pointed to an industrial-sized humidifier cranking away behind one of the designer leather sofas. "Lots of fluids 'n' rest."
"You got anything to numb it?"
He wrinkled his nose. "Saving for Friday."
"You're—you're singing?" Adam nodded. "Do you really think you can?"
His face turned determined, and he nodded more forcefully.
"Okay," Kris said, dubious, and then smiled with relief. "Guess that means I'm off the hook, right? I can stop practicing?"
Adam's grin momentarily blinded him, and he held both Kris's shoulders and shook him excitedly, then hauled him to a leather chaise. "I heard—from Donald. But you tell me," he asked, clearly trying to minimize his words.
Kris swallowed in sympathy for his ravaged throat and tried to straighten out his thoughts so he didn't ramble. Adam was sitting right next to him, thigh against his own, wearing a dark blue t-shirt and yoga pants, his arms oddly shiny. He was still holding onto Kris, now grabbing his wrist like he thought Kris would disappear if he let go.
"I knew how important it was to you—they were gonna cancel it, but I knew we'd get you back and you'd wanna do it. I couldn't let them cancel it on you. So I offered to sing it, with Matt and Anoop."
Adam's brow wrinkled.
"Yeah, they liked my second idea better; made it all about the label, instead of your friends. Unless you're friends with David Archuleta now, I don't know."
Adam rolled his eyes.
"We went through a whole contract negotiation where I almost broke up with Vanessa, but yeah, the intention was to sing your songs for your fans. So they could have something of you in case you were still missing."
Adam's eyebrows asked Which songs were you gonna sing? It had to be killing him to keep quiet like this.
Kris laughed, "Which songs? No way, I'm never telling."
"Please?" Adam pouted, sticking out his pale lower lip, and Kris noticed the freckles all over again, flashed back almost two years to the beginning of all this.
He blushed and looked down at his lap, twisted his hand to rub a thumb against Adam's palm. "Maybe next New Year's. Or that Christmas party you promised me."
Adam smiled and leaned in, kissed his temple. "Posh?" he asked.
It surprised another laugh out of him. "You heard about that? 19E are dicks. I mean, I knew that after they postponed my album, but they're like…major manipulative dickheads. They were turning the fan concert into an A-list deal with celebrities and…probably a live broadcast with one of the networks, for all I know. They were exploiting you, and I kinda lost my head over it."
Adam squeezed his hand.
"I know; I don't want me to get dropped either. But if you sign another contract with them after this one expires, I'm checking you in for a psych evaluation."
Adam nodded, the corners of his mouth turned up slightly.
"Good. And I know you love Posh, and if it'd been your idea I would've been cool, but they were changing your plan, and…"
"Now I have to undo it all," Adam whispered, scrunching up his nose unhappily.
Kris pictured himself at the other end of that phone call, telling Posh Beckham she wasn't welcome at her high-profile appearance anymore. "Make Robert do it," he said. "Better yet, London; she's their client." Adam smirked, and Kris was so happy to see some of his cockiness coming back, he forgot to stick to yes or no questions. "What happened to you?"
Adam eased away an inch and looked around the room.
Kris thought about taking it back, not wanting to make Adam relive anything painful, but he had Adam right here next to him, and that might not happen again for a long time once 19E started the post-kidnapping press tour or whatever other scheme they concocted to cash in on Adam's current media exposure.
Adam made a small sound, like trying to clear his throat as gently as possible, and eventually whispered, "They had guns. I pissed my pants."
Kris winced, but Adam didn't look embarrassed, seemed fatalistic about that part, at least.
"Told me to get outta the car, get in a van. Tied my wrists," he tried to demonstrate, made an aborted gesture toward the small of his back for just a second before reaching out for Kris's hand again. "Dumped me in a basement with no light. No explanation. No threats. Like they forgot about me. I didn't know—" he started coughing and grabbed a half-full bottle of water from the table.
Kris squeezed his hand as Adam downed the bottle and gargled the last mouthful.
His voice was even more broken and faint when he said, "I didn't even know who they were. I screamed, yelled, sang. 'Til the Feds came."
Kris didn't know what to say to him; didn't want to imagine himself in that situation, alone in the dark, not knowing what was going on. No food or water, and no distraction. If he could have made a joke he would have, because Adam's face was tight with misery.
"I prayed for you," Kris said instead, swallowing against a hollow, painful wound that he hadn't been there, that Adam had to go through that alone.
Adam nodded, sniffed carefully. "I knew."
Kris took a chance, reached out and touched Adam's face like he'd wanted in the hospital. Adam closed his eyes and leaned into his palm this time, and Kris's hurt faded to a low ache that told him to get closer, to erase it with touch. He very carefully kept his distance, settled for just running his thumb over Adam's undamaged cheek. "I'm sorry, for all of it."
"Heh," Adam laughed, a dry, unpleasant sound. "Not half as sorry as I was. The things I wanted to do to you in this hotel room, and I had to go and get kidnapped."
Kris started to blush, told himself not to bother; Adam wasn't being serious; that was just the usual flirting. The kind they'd done before Kansas City. The kind they'd done even after, keeping up appearances for everyone else until they'd convinced themselves that they could still be friends, so long as they never talked about what had happened. So Kris played along now, for Adam. "Yeah, that was a dick move. Next time don't go running out on me when I'm trying to put my hands down your pants."
Adam choked and started to cough again. "You said," he gasped, "dick move. Fuck, Kris—"
Kris grinned at seeing Adam shake off the heavy memories, but the coughing didn't stop. Adam reached for the bottle on the table, but there were only a few drops left. "Which way's the kitchen?" Kris asked, standing up. Adam pointed, and he jogged down the left hand hallway, found the case of water in the fridge and brought back two bottles. He unscrewed one and pushed it into Adam's grip as he was doubled over, hand covering his mouth.
"Thanks," Adam wheezed and drank a few big gulps before slowing down to smaller sips.
Kris pet his hair, feeling the little bit of product Adam had applied since their short visit in the intensive care unit. He smelled like a different kind of cologne, something with sandalwood and almond, and it suddenly occurred to Kris that Adam couldn't even breathe, and Kris was thinking about licking the back of his neck, and maybe that was inappropriate on his part.
"I'm making you talk too much," Kris warned. "I…I probably shouldn't be here if you need to rest your voice."
Adam reached out and squeezed his wrist painfully tight, pulled Kris closer. "No. I need—"
Adam shook his head and sat up, eyes wet as he rasped, "Alone for two days. Felt like a week. Need someone."
Kris's heartbeat sped up and he sat still for a moment, letting Adam hold his hand and recover. And then he blurted, selfish for reassurance of his own, "Do you need me?"
Adam looked at him, bleary eyed, considering the question, maybe considering Kris.
Embarrassed, Kris changed the question. "Where's your family?"
"Sent them home."
Adam pulled in a careful breath, just shy of painful. "I thought I was fine. I wanted to be. Mom was…too much."
"Okay," Kris nodded, understanding.
"Realized I was alone and freaked out," he admitted.
Kris squeezed his hand. "You can call me anytime. I'm glad you did."
"Only person I wanted here," Adam smiled.
His heart beat even faster and Kris inched a bit closer. "Did you call anyone else, or do I have you all to myself tonight?"
"For as long as you wanna stay," Adam offered, fingers twitching against Kris's skin, and he felt it happen: the same cautious retreat from Sunday. Adam was holding back, refusing to make the first move.
Which meant it was up to Kris again. This time, he knew better than to skip the most important part. "Sunday," Kris started.
"We were drunk," Adam shrugged, apparently ready to dismiss all of it if that was what Kris meant.
"I wasn't," Kris protested stubbornly, then amended, "not that drunk. I knew what I was saying. I've wanted to say it for a long time."
"You didn't actually say anything…" Adam said, eyes searching his face.
Adam didn't have the voice to waste on word games right now, so Kris sucked it up and banished his doubts. "Katy's right. If we don't start talking about this, we're gonna end up in therapy."
Adam raised his eyebrows, an amused smile tugging at his lips.
"I'm gonna tell you now. And it's not because I almost lost you and I'm high on adrenaline, or relief, or whatever. I've been putting this off for months, and I wanted to tell you on Sunday: I'm divorced now, and I'm in love with you. I wanna be with you, and you know to me that means forever—"
That was as far as he got before Adam hauled him close and kissed him, fingers laced behind Kris's neck, thumbs stroking his jaw. Kris melted against him, sucked on Adam's tongue and closed his eyes, held on tight to Adam's shirt as Adam showed him he hadn't been wrong, not about any of it. And then Kris yanked Adam's shirt over his head and pushed it off the chaise, because it'd been more than a year since he'd had Adam naked and he needed it again, needed it like air.
Sandalwood wafted stronger around him and Kris's fingers skidded slickly over Adam's shoulders on some kind of grease. "What's on you?" he asked against Adam's mouth.
"Had a massage," Adam mumbled back.
Kris smiled, glad Adam had been taking care of himself. "Before or after you got rid of your mom and brother?"
"So I'm not the only person you called tonight." He squeezed Adam's shoulders, stroked firmly down his upper arms, massage oils smoothing the way, and then rubbed his thumbs over the nipple piercings Adam had gotten since last time. Adam groaned loud and bit at Kris's lower lip, tried to lift a knee over Kris's thigh. Kris tilted his head for a better angle, let Adam kiss him breathless and whisper "Love you, love you" until Kris was gasping into Adam's mouth, and Adam was…
Adam was making little hitching sounds in his throat, like swallowed coughs.
"Are you actually up for this?" he asked, trying to be considerate.
"What do you think?" Adam rasped, took Kris's hand and placed it on his stiffening cock, easy to feel through the cotton pants.
That wasn't what he'd meant, but Kris took it as answer enough, groped for Adam's waistband, twisted his fingers in to stroke the hot flesh underneath, and Adam gasped, body going suddenly tense before he started coughing again.
Kris sat back, withdrew his hand, passed Adam the open bottle of water and waited, tapping his foot impatiently while Adam got his breathing back under control. When Adam finally reached for him again, Kris stuck a finger in his chest. "Stop. We are not having sex if I'm gonna ruin your throat doing it."
Adam's eyes widened with dismay. "What?" he croaked.
"If you have anything you can take to numb it, you'd better use it now. Or we're gonna sit on separate couches and watch movies all night, and I'm gonna be really, really bitter the whole time."
Adam hesitated for a long moment, and Kris's eyes narrowed in frustration. And then Adam grinned and said, low and husky, "Couches are so last year, anyway. C'mon." He picked up the unopened bottle of water and lead Kris to the master bedroom, headed into the bathroom for the medicine cabinet. He came out with a small tube, held it up for Kris to see and said, "The things I'm willing to do for you," with a wry grin.
He kissed Kris's cheek and got on the bed, stretching out with his head on the pillows. Kris raised his eyebrows, came closer to read the label as Adam squirted ointment onto his index finger.
"Broadway secret. Only used as a last resort, and you're about to see why." He took a slow, careful breath and stuck his finger deep into his mouth, ointment-side down. When he pulled his finger out, it was clean. And then his nose wrinkled, his eyes started to water, and he coughed behind closed lips, gagging enough to shake his shoulders.
Kris took off his clothes silently, eased onto the mattress next to his hip and dragged his palms down the oil-softened skin of Adam's chest as Adam took painfully quick breaths through his nose and his Adam's apple bobbed up and down, sweat breaking out on his upper lip. "Shh," Kris said, leaning close and licking Adam's collarbone, sandalwood oil slightly bitter and greasy under his tongue. His fingers drifted lower, inched Adam's waistband down ever so slowly.
Adam finally opened his mouth and gasped, long and ragged, but without coughing. "I fucking hate that shit." He opened the bottle of water and swished his mouth clean, leaned over and grabbed a decorative crystal bowl of flower petals off the side table and spat in it.
"You're breathing better," Kris said hopefully.
He nodded. "Can't feel a thing, not for a good hour." His voice still sounded like rough asphalt, but the words were clearer, stronger. And then he actually turned his head and realized Kris was naked. "Oh, baby," he breathed, hands reaching out to touch.
"Worth it?" Kris asked, leaning down to kiss his lips carefully, without tongue.
Adam wrapped his hands around Kris's ribs, ran them up his back and down over his ass to squeeze. "Absolutely."
"And you're sure I'm not gonna hurt you? I'd better not hear any more coughing fits."
Adam leered, "Do your worst," and spread his arms wide.
Adam was spread out under him, a buffet of temptations Kris had fantasized about for months, years. And now that he finally had him all to himself, was allowed to touch Adam how he'd always wanted, Kris wasn't sure where to begin. But Adam had thrown out a challenge, was waiting for him to make some kind of start, so Kris kissed Adam once more and then slid down the bed and got his lips on Adam's cock for the first time.
Adam shouted a broken note of surprise and bucked hard, nearly throwing Kris off the bed. Kris grinned past his self-consciousness and repositioned, straddled Adam's legs so he would have a more secure perch to experiment with hands and mouth.
Mouth watering, he hunched over to lick at the cut head of Adam's cock, circled it with a slow, wet swipe. Adam rolled his hips in appreciation and Kris grew more confident. He rubbed his thumbs in the creases of Adam's thighs, already damp with sweat, just to tease, and then pushed the pants down past Adam's knees so he could rub his own cock against skin.
He hadn't had sex since the summer, and having Adam at his mercy like this was overwhelming, intoxicating. His hips rocked against Adam's legs unconsciously, a rough friction that wasn't enough. He ignored that, pressed a loving kiss to the underside of Adam's cock, then opened his mouth wide and took him in, tried to coordinate the mechanics of teeth and tongue and sensitive, hot skin. The smell of Adam filled his nostrils, sandalwood, almond, and musk, and his own cock was painfully hard already. He bobbed his head, gradually got a rhythm going with his lips on the upstroke, tongue on the down. He let himself drool, making the slide easier, and Adam groaned above him, hips bucking slightly.
Fingers brushed into his hair, tugged a little, and Kris looked up at Adam's flushed face. "Don't have to get fancy," Adam panted, massaging Kris's scalp.
If Kris hadn't already been bright red, he would have blushed at Adam's adoring condescension. Kris pretended to consider that for a moment, thrusting his cock against Adam's leg, and then ever-so-slowly repeated the down-up motion, sucking Adam's thick cock as tight as he could until his tongue ached with the suction.
"Fuck!" Adam yelped, his back arching off the blankets. Kris grinned and licked gently, sucked just the top, not quite as hard, and Adam gasped, "Never mind…you just…do whatever."
Kris hummed with pride and got back to his new favorite occupation; driving Adam out of his mind with pleasure. He bent even lower and inched back so he could reach Adam's balls, fingered the delicate skin and lapped softly over them as Adam whimpered and writhed.
Adam's shin shifted up against Kris's cock and Kris jerked, his breath catching as time unexpectedly ran out. God, he was too close already; he wanted Adam to touch him, could hardly wait any longer. Exploring, savoring Adam's body—he didn't have the patience anymore. Kris wrapped a fist around Adam's cock and squeezed and jerked, sucked at the tip again, milking Adam for all he was worth, just needing him to come, to know that he'd been able to do it—
Adam fell apart stunningly, utterly gorgeous the way he shuddered all over, muscles tense and crying out, fingers yanking at Kris's short hair until Kris's eyes teared up. He tried to swallow, only managed a bit before it was too much, too fast and foreign, and he coughed and pulled off, let Adam streak over his own stomach.
Kris crawled up Adam's body to lay down next to him, tilted Adam's sweaty face over and kissed him, found the odd lingering taste of the gel on his tongue. He squirmed, pressed even closer, rubbed his weeping cock against Adam's hip desperately until Adam rolled over and pinned his shoulders down, kissed him and grabbed his cock in his big hand, pulled and twisted a handful of times. It was enough, it was perfect, and Kris fell over the edge, coming hot over Adam's hand.
They collapsed, boneless, on the pillows, both of them panting side by side in the quiet. And then Adam reached out, touched Kris's hip, found his hand and traced fingers up the inside of Kris's arm, tickling.
"Stop," Kris groaned, batting his hand away.
"Mmm," Adam said and turned on his side, looked at Kris with sleepy, satisfied eyes.
Kris brushed the bangs out of Adam's face, his fingers clumsy with exhaustion, and smiled at him. "Still worth it?"
Adam yawned something that sounded like, "Lemme decide in the morning."
Kris swatted at Adam's thigh and rolled over three times, climbed off the other side of the huge bed. He brought back a warm towel and wiped Adam down before they turned off the lights and got under the covers. Kris tried spooning up with him, wanting to be close, but it was too hot, and he had to settle for fingertips on Adam's bandaged wrist, the rest of Kris's body stretched out between the cool sheets, taking up most of the bed.
The night settled in, the sounds of the traffic outside fading as night slipped into morning, everyone in Los Angeles sleeping…except Kris. He laid awake, listening as Adam's soft snores became uneven, took on a strained quality he couldn't help worrying over. Unable to get any rest without doing something about it, Kris wandered naked into the living room and considered the mammoth humidifier for a few moments. And then he removed the 5-gallon tank of water, unplugged the machine and carried it to the bedroom, fought with it in the dark until he got it put back together and working. Warm mist puffed against his face and he coughed a little, quickly got back under the covers, and listened for a positive change in Adam's breathing.
Kris's sleep cycles were hopelessly screwed up.
He woke up sweating at 5 a.m., Adam's arm thrown across his chest. Kris folded the arm carefully back onto Adam's side of the bed and pushed the blankets off, trying to cool down so he could get back to sleep, but it was hopeless. It was humid as a rain forest in the room, and he needed fresh air. He got up and dug a pair of Adam's too-long sweatpants out of a drawer so he could go out on the balcony and cool down in the December chill. He paused in the bedroom doorway, listening past the hiss of the humidifier to hear Adam's breathing, now slow and quiet. Kris sighed in relief and closed the door behind him.
The view was spectacular—moonlight making the Getty Museum glow ghostly white in the darkness of the surrounding hills. Kris leaned against the steel railing and looked down onto the pool area, noticed the silver Christmas tree and fake snow display sparkling around the cabana tents, and smiled wistfully. Closing his eyes, he said a prayer of thanks for everything that had gone right and everything that could go right in their future.
When he eventually retreated to the warmth of the ultra-chic living room, he found his phone on one of the couches and checked his e-mail. There was a new message from Vanessa, letting him know that 19E was officially voiding his contract to perform at the New Year's Eve show. She was certain he didn't actually care given the circumstances, though. He smiled at the despairing tone of her text and sent her a thank you note; he honestly wouldn't have gotten through the last two days without her.
Now that Kris was completely awake, he wanted to wake Adam up, wanted to kiss him, touch him, and spend time with him, but Adam needed his rest and—to Kris's chagrin—that swampy air. So he stayed where he was and played with his phone some more, scrolled through his messages and found the e-mail with Adam's set list. After a quick glance at the hallway to make sure Adam wasn't standing there watching him, Kris opened the set list again and looked at it with new eyes.
A little after 7, Kris heard the toilet flush in the master bathroom and finally placed the call for room service.
Adam stumbled out in boxers a few minutes later, and the first thing he did was slump next to Kris on the couch, cuddling up against him. "You're here," he said, voice rough from sleep and two days screaming in a basement in Pasadena. Kris shied away from that thought and got an arm around Adam's shoulders, squeezed his warm, soft skin.
"Course I am," he smiled. "Sleep okay?"
Adam nodded. "Yeah." His head slowly relaxed back onto the pillows and he closed his eyes, and Kris listened to his much improved breathing for a long time before he noticed how slow it was getting.
"Are you falling asleep on me?" he asked, indignant.
Adam's eyes fluttered open for a moment and then sank shut again. "You're watching The Weather Channel," Adam yawned.
"It's the one station not talking about you."
Adam grinned, and Kris fondly watched his face relax toward sleep. And then Kris sighed, untangled himself, and went to haul the damned humidifier out of the bedroom.
Twenty minutes later room service knocked on the door and Kris jostled Adam off his shoulder. "Hey, breakfast, wake up."
Adam grumbled and let Kris prop him against the back cushion. He was still blinking heavily after Kris had sent the waiter away with a $10 tip and wheeled the full cart over to the couch, but he seemed to come back to life when he sniffed the food. "Coffee?" he asked hopefully.
Kris poured himself a mug of black coffee, slurped a big, noisy sip, and set it down on the low table. "No coffee for you."
"I got you decaf lemon tea. With honey." He dunked two tea bags into the pot to steep. Adam's jaw stuck out like he wanted to fight him on it, but Kris gave him his mom's I-know-what's-best-for-you look and lifted the silver lids off the plates to distract him. "And sausage, bacon, and western omelets."
"Yes, and your sausages are tofu. Although considering the last few days, you don't need to worry about what you eat for a while."
"You haven't seen Friday's costume," Adam said, working his mouth into a tired smirk. "Gimme."
Kris transferred the plates to the glass coffee table, along with the glasses of orange juice and silverware, and dug in.
Adam plowed through his omelet and sausage, and then ate half of Kris's bacon while he was watching the forecast for Arkansas. "Hey!" Kris protested when he caught Adam reaching for the last piece.
"What?" Adam asked, batting his eyes. "You said I shouldn't worry about what I ate…."
"I didn't mean my breakfast!"
"Go ahead, try to hate me," Adam dared with a smile.
Kris huffed and considered Adam's plate, but there was nothing left worth stealing. "Drink your tea," he ordered.
When they were done eating, Kris leaned back against the arm of the sofa, his feet in Adam's lap, third cup of coffee in hand. "You sound so much better than yesterday."
"I know," Adam agreed happily, still talking softly, but sounding almost normal. "I was really worried about that. But I think if I don't talk for two days, I'll be good to go by show time."
"You'd better be. I'd hate to hear you croaking and hacking your way through your Kris Allen: This Is Your Life retrospective."
He watched carefully for Adam's reaction, although he needn't have bothered; there was nothing subtle about the bright red flush that spread over Adam's skin or the way he ducked his head over his tea.
"This is the part where you explain your crazy-ass set list," Kris prompted, nudging him in the stomach with his toes.
"I'm sorry," Adam mumbled innocently into his cup, "'m not supposed to be talking."
Kris ignored the excuse. He'd made his big declaration last night; now it was Adam's turn to confess. "You're singing The Allman Brothers. What the hell are the Glamberts gonna think of that?"
"I'm not gonna tell them it's The Allman Brothers," Adam said weakly. "We made it less country, and anyway, I sound really good on it."
Kris could imagine. Please Call Home was so heartfelt and bluesy; he could already hear how Adam would wail the bridge.
"And that was totally a secret. Who showed you the set list?"
"Your band! I was supposed to sing it for you, remember? You made me choose between all my favorites; it was kinda hard not to figure out you were up to something."
Adam sighed and leaned forward, picked up his fork and pushed at a bit of green pepper and cheese on his plate. "I thought…I wanted to impress you. So you'd, you know…."
"So I'd what? You made an entire concert for me, so I would…." He waited for Adam to fill in that blank, but when no answer was forthcoming, he started offering his own ideas: "Put out? Hit you on the head and drag you back to my cave? What?"
"…Admit you wanna be with me," he finished reluctantly.
"Admit I want to be with you? Adam, I did that on Sunday."
"I know, and you totally stole my thunder," he complained, sullen blue eyes looking up through his eyelashes. "I had it all worked out to make you fall for me, and you go and throw yourself at me less than a week before the show!"
He sounded so annoyed Kris actually had to laugh. "I'm sorry I ruined your plans," he said, not really meaning it. "But why on earth did you think you had to do all that? You know me; all you had to do was be yourself."
"I didn't wanna screw it up like before. And Katy knows you better than anyone," Adam explained—as though that explained anything.
"Okay, maybe," Kris allowed, "but what does that have to do with the show?"
"I've kind of been talking to her. A lot. Asking for advice," he admitted. "Don't be mad."
Kris wasn't mad, he was just really confused. Because Katy hadn't said anything about it, which didn't make sense when they'd spent the last few days talking about nothing but Adam. "What? Since when?"
"I called her, after the divorce was finalized. I wanted to apologize for everything—"
"It wasn't your fault," Kris tried to cut him off.
"And that's what she said," Adam continued. "She was so fucking sweet about it, it blew my mind. Said all she wanted was for you to be happy now. And that meant getting us together."
"Oh God," Kris groaned. Why was everyone he knew determined to play matchmaker for him and Adam?
"She told me you were in love with me," Adam said, a sympathetic grimace on his face as if he appreciated the depths of Kris's embarrassment. "But that you would never, ever do anything about it until you got your head out of your ass."
"Uh huh. Go on." Kris turned to his coffee for solace. His coffee would never rat out his secrets to the object of his affection.
"So I had to show you how I felt with a really dramatic gesture. Using the concert was her idea—she helped me pick which of your songs—"
"Wait," Kris said, sitting up and cutting him off, his own embarrassment suddenly forgotten. "Katy told you you could, what, 'win my heart' by…. She said I needed a big, over-the-top spectacle?"
"Adam. Dude." This was rich. This was absolutely priceless. "She may know me, but I know Katy. Her favorite movies are romantic comedies. You know, the ones that end with the guys in tuxedos standing in the rain making humiliating, public declarations to win the girl back."
Adam's sympathetic expression started to look a little strained. "Uh."
"Yeah. My favorites are action movies. She likes to see the men grovel and crawl. In public."
"Uh…." Adam was looking positively pale.
Kris threw back his head and cackled, "Oh, this must've been a dream come true for her! You let her talk you into standing in front of your fans and making a big 'I'm in love with Kris Allen' spectacle of yourself?"
"That could be one interpretation of tomorrow's show," he said faintly.
"Oh, man. This is gonna be hysterical."
"It was going to be fucking touching," Adam protested too loudly, his voice going hoarse as he pointed an accusatory finger at Kris. "You totally would've fallen in love with me!"
"You already knew I was in love with you, dumbass! And let me guess: Katy wanted a ticket so she could watch the humiliation firsthand?"
Adam wadded up his linen napkin and threw it at him. "She's punishing me, isn't she?"
Kris rolled his eyes. "Are you kidding? She adores you. This is just her idea of grand romance. But since you already know I love you, and I know you love me enough to sing country, I guess you don't have to go through with it—"
"Of course I do! The show's tomorrow! It's all costumed and choreographed! I can't start making changes now: 19E would kill me!"
"And Katy would be crushed."
Adam sighed, resigned. "So tomorrow night it's the Hey-World-I'm-in-Love-with-Kris-Allen show. And you'd better not even think of skipping it."
Kris's grin softened into something gentler. "Why would I wanna miss that?" he asked.
Adam shot him a disgruntled look, probably expecting another joke at his expense. But Kris leaned over and caught Adam's hand to pull him closer.
"Hey," Kris said, getting distracted from his goal of kissing the frown off Adam's face. He thumbed the edge of one of the white bandages. "Can I see?"
Adam frowned at the thick gauze wrapped around his wrists and shook his head. "They're not pretty."
"I don't care about that," Kris coaxed, edging a finger along the tape, looking for the seam.
But Adam shook his head again. "If you look, then I'm gonna look. And I really don't wanna do that."
Kris thought about being stubborn, because he really wanted to see them; in his head, he could kiss them and magically make them better. That wasn't how the real world worked, though. "Okay," he relented, let go of Adam's wrist and reached up to kiss his mouth.
That part worked like a charm. Adam smiled, frown forgotten, and cupped his cheek, kissed back, lips tugging at Kris's lower lip. Kris pressed a little closer, looking for a deeper caress, and Adam leaned in, tongue sweeping in to stroke and tease, gentle at first, and then more insistent when Kris moaned.
He pulled back. "I meant to go slower last night," Adam breathed, stroking his palm across Kris's collarbones. "I waited so long…."
"My fault, all my fault," Kris said, his heart wrenching unexpectedly. He bit Adam's lip to prompt another kiss.
"Gonna take my time with you," Adam promised, mouthed a kiss at the corner of Kris's smile. "Show you everything we could've…." Adam licked hard up his cheek, wet against the stubble, and then tipped Kris's chin back so he could look him in the eyes. "Gorgeous," he whispered and kissed him again, this time fierce and possessive. He ducked his head, kissed under Kris's chin, along his jaw, down to his throat, and Kris's back arched under the torturously slow onslaught, Adam's skin hot against his own as Adam sucked a mark into his neck, stinging and dizzying.
Kris gasped and held on to Adam's shoulders as that amazing mouth worked on his neck, teeth dragging over the sensitized flesh, making Kris shiver uncontrollably. Adam was getting hard in his boxers, and Kris jerked and moaned again when a wet patch of cotton brushed his thigh. He remembered that taste, from last night, from more than a year ago, remembered how he'd craved it, like a fever in his blood. "Please," he begged, holding Adam's head right there, where he was marking Kris, telling him without words how much he'd always wanted him.
A loud knock startled his eyes open. Kris blinked and loosened his grip on Adam's hair, but Adam hummed and bit lightly, and Kris's body shook, breath catching in his throat. He shifted to lie back against the couch, pulling Adam with him until the taller man was stretched out between his thighs and they were skin on skin, Adam's pulse beating in time with Kris's.
The knock came again, louder. Adam grumbled and said, "They'll go away."
As if the visitor had heard, the knock trebled in speed and force, making the locks rattle. "Adam, I know you're awake! You ordered breakfast from room service!"
"Fuck off, Donald!" Adam yelled back.
"No, you fuck off! And open this fucking door!"
Kris reluctantly moved his hands off Adam's head, and Adam eased off of him, contrition on his face. "I'll get rid of him. You stay right—" he kissed Kris, deep and lingering, igniting sparks in Kris's veins again, "—here."
Kris's head fell back and he closed his eyes, counted to ten so he wouldn't touch himself or scream or drag Adam back down to the sofa.
Adam stomped to the door and flipped the locks and security bar. Kris heard the soft whoosh of the door opening, and Adam demanding, "What do you want?"
And then there was more stomping on the carpet, and Donald, sounding a lot closer, shouting, "What do I want? I want you to do your fucking job is what I—"
Kris's eyes flew open and he stared at Donald, who was standing in the hotel room staring at him, at Kris sprawled shirtless in tented sweatpants, still flushed, an extra bloom of heat on his throat. Kris knew this looked bad, wouldn't even fool the casual observer, and Donald was anything but casual as he glared and shook off Adam's attempts to push him back out the door.
"Seriously, I'm busy. You need to come back later. A lot later."
Donald whipped around and said, still loud, "Yes, you are busy. Busy getting ready to go. Dress rehearsal starts in half a fucking hour, and if you want to sing at your own concert, you're going to fucking be there. You are not going to keep your band, eight backup dancers, and a dozen techs and assistants waiting while you fuck the American Idol, even if I have to stand here watching you to make sure that doesn't happen."
A ferocious argument started between Adam and his short agent, and Kris was glad to be out of the line of fire for the moment. He picked up a tiny orange pillow and placed it in his lap, trying to look inconspicuous.
Finally, after a lot of insults and an intense staring match, Adam sighed and backed down. "Fuck. Whatever. Ten minutes," he rasped, voice deteriorated by all the shouting.
"Ten minutes of getting ready," Donald insisted, and Adam scowled and marched over to the couch, leaned down and licked into Kris's mouth for a wet, defiant kiss. His thumb rubbed hard against the bruise on Kris's neck and Kris whimpered when Adam pulled back to smirk at Donald.
"Come on, baby," Adam said and dragged him off the sofa, pulling him toward the bedroom.
Unfortunately, all they did in the bedroom was get Adam dressed. Kris found a long-sleeved t-shirt long enough to cover his bandages, and Adam squeezed into skinny jeans and low boots. He threw some water on his face, gelled his hair into place, put on a little eyeliner, dabbed concealer on his left cheek, and then pulled Kris back out to the living room.
Adam banged on the balcony door to get Donald's attention, and the agent came back inside, hanging up his phone. Adam grabbed a messenger bag off the armchair and headed for the kitchen, leaving Kris and Donald unexpectedly alone together.
"Um," Kris said awkwardly.
Donald sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, said, "Don't even. Just. What's Vanessa's phone number?"
Adam came back a minute later drinking a fresh bottle of water and shoved a bag filled with a dozen more bottles at Donald. "I'll meet you downstairs," he said pointedly.
Donald took the bag but stubbornly stood his ground.
"Alright, god," Adam huffed. He walked over to Kris and frowned, reached out toward Kris's face again.
Kris dodged this time, walked around him to get a small box off the room service cart. "Here. I got you cough drops. And no singing, okay?"
Adam beamed and took the box, looked at Donald and gave Kris a quick, gentler peck on the lips. "I promise. See you tonight?"
He moved to lock the door after them and heard Donald saying as they headed to the elevator, in a much friendlier tone, "Marty and Big Joe are downstairs. And I got you that new cell phone—this one's an upgrade…."
No one tried to take Kris's photo or grab an interview as he walked up the drive to his apartment building an hour later. They were doubtless back to stalking Adam already. Kris enjoyed the anonymity while he could—things were going to be pretty different once the press figured out they were a couple. Speaking of….
Kris called Katy as soon as he got inside; she deserved to know before anyone else.
"Hey, babe," she said when she answered the phone, and he heard the sound of running water.
"Hey. You're not doing those dishes, are you?"
"No way," she laughed. "Just watering the plants. What's up?"
"Oh, I um. I wanted to tell you something. Before you saw it on the news."
"Too late, I already saw," she said, getting excited.
Kris gulped. She'd already seen? How was that possible? They hadn't been out in public…there had been paparazzi outside the W last night, but none this morning….
"I can't believe we called it," she gushed. "I mean, they're saying they suspected as early as Monday, but I don't know if I believe that."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"The guy from The Crystal Club. Why…what were you talking about?"
The conversation Kris thought he was having took a sharp turn, and he had to catch his breath for a second before blurting, "Wait, what?"
"You've been watching the news, right? You saw they arrested him?"
"No! Was he really the one who took Adam?"
"Yes, oh my God, where have you been?!"
"With Adam!" he defended himself. As far as he was concerned, no news—even this news—could have been more important than that.
"With…." She was silent for a moment, making her own course adjustment. "Is that what you were gonna tell me? Kris, did you and Adam hook up?!" she demanded.
He coughed. "Um, yeah? He called last night, so I went over to his hotel and uh." He trailed off, unwilling to go into any more detail.
"Oh my God!" she shouted, forcing him to pull the phone away from his ear.
"Yeah," he agreed from a safe distance.
She sounded confused, uncertain when she said, "I thought…. I mean, this is great. But I thought it would take you—"
Kris knew exactly what she'd been thinking, and he couldn't help a satisfied grin. "Uh huh," he interrupted. "Sorry if this ruins the dramatic finale you and Adam were planning for me."
"What?" she squeaked.
"You are so busted; Adam spilled the beans about your strategy sessions."
"Oh goodness. Kris, sweetie…."
"I can't believe you didn't tell me!" he rubbed it in, determined to make her squirm. "I can't believe you were planning this behind my back! I can't believe you didn't tell me when I told you I was going to sing it myself! You were practically crying!"
She laughed nervously. "I'm sorry, but it was just so…."
"Romantic, I know."
"Okay, I so wanted to tell you when you were freaking out, because I just knew Adam wouldn't duck out on that concert. But we'd worked on it for months. And if we'd pulled it off…you would've loved it."
"I'm sure it'll still be something," he allowed, hoping she couldn't hear his smile.
"Wait, is he still gonna do it?" Katy asked, sounding confused.
"Of course; I'm not gonna let him off this hook. He's rehearsing it at the club right now."
"But. How can they still have the show there when the owner's been arrested?"
And the conversation veered left again, catching him off guard. "I don't…. Tell me what the news said about it. I haven't heard any of this."
"They said the owner paid two of the club's bouncers to hold Adam until the show was canceled. They kept him in one of their houses, tied up. The guy's been in prison before!" her voice was hushed with dread.
"Who, the owner?"
"No, the bouncer. But the owner—E! admitted he was their source when they said the show was canceled."
So Hopkins had planted that rumor himself and then called 19E to pressure them into canceling…. Kris's hand clenched in a fist and he dragged his knuckles over the edge of the counter to feel the sharp, controlled impacts. "Son of a bitch."
"The Feds claimed they'd focused on him from the beginning 'cause he took a lot of cash out of his bank on Saturday. And when the bouncers started spending all of it, they worked on them until they confessed everything. It sounds to me like the Feds are covering their asses, though. They didn't tell you anything about this when they were beating up on you."
He wanted to agree with her, he really did, because he still resented Foltz for the way she'd scared him, but she'd also said she had other leads. And of course she couldn't have talked about them at the time. It was his own fault for assuming she was at a dead end just because she wasn't letting him in on confidential information.
Foltz could have at least said something to him in the hospital, though. Like 'you were right; good job.' Or 'sorry I threatened to put you and Cale in jail.'
Kris wasn't sure if he owed Foltz an apology for doubting her competence or if he should strangle her. But she had saved Adam. Maybe he could live with an apology after all. He shook out his hand, rubbed his knuckles, and made himself answer Katy's earlier question.
"I'll ask Adam what's up with the club. He's been texting from rehearsal."
"How's he doing? Like, really, how's he taking everything?"
Kris smiled and settled into something he actually wanted to talk about; how amazing Adam was.
Adam's texts to Kris on Thursday morning were a series of banal updates, barely more enlightening than his first official Tweet back: Home safe & sound! Gonna celebrate being alive w/ singing & dancing tomorrow. Who's with me?
He texted Kris about the fans lined up outside the club to welcome him back; about the salad his PA brought him for lunch; about Monte doing all his talking for him; about how hard it was to not sing too soon. He even answered Kris's question about the venue-situation, just saying the club's manager was totally a lovely person. Unlike the asshole-owner.
He sent Kris a picture of his shiny performance hair and makeup reflected in a dressing room mirror as a sneak peek. Kris was more interested in the bottom half of the picture, where he could see Adam's whole chest bare down to his belt. He wrote Adam back: Not nice to tease. Take off yr pants.
The texts got a lot dirtier after that.
Sexting in public wasn't actually a good idea, Kris discovered over burgers with Allison, Anoop, and Matt. One moment he was blushing and typing under the table, trying to come up with gay dirty talk to keep up with Adam, and the next Allison had grabbed his phone and was reading his messages for the other guys to hear.
She giggled as she quoted Adam's latest, "You're gonna scream so loud I'll have to gag you with my cock—" and Anoop spit his soda across their burgers.
Matt turned lobster red, Kris's twin, and slapped the phone out of her hands. "Put that shit away, man," he begged, staring at the phone like he thought it would bite him.
Kris shoved the phone in his pocket, so embarrassed he could barely speak for the rest of the meal.
At 5 o'clock, Adam texted, Fuck. Overtime. Meet me when I'm done?
Just tell me when, Kris answered, and grabbed a bag of chips while he settled in to watch one of the Bowl games he'd TiVo'ed on his big living room plasma.
Someone pounded on his apartment door just past 8 p.m., and Kris looked up, confused. No one made it past the high rise's front desk without calling up, and his phone was sitting on his chest, absolutely silent. "Who is it?" he called.
"It's me," said someone who sounded like Adam, and Kris threw the empty bag behind the couch, turned off the TV, and hurried to open his door.
"You didn't call—" he started to say, but Adam was already inside and pushing him against the wall, kissing him hard, urgent, nothing like that morning. "What's—" Kris gasped when Adam gave him a chance to breathe. "What's the matter?"
Adam shook his head, said, "Nothing, everything's amazing. Baby. Baby." And he kissed Kris again until he was almost drowning in it, barely aware of Adam tugging Kris's shirts up.
"Adam, what's the matter," Kris repeated muzzily when the fabric slipped over his head, interrupting the kiss. Because this wasn't what he'd expected, and he wasn't sure it was what he wanted, either, not if Adam was upset. "Did something freak you out?"
Adam shoved him even harder against the wall, bent his knees to grind their hips together and said, sucking on an earlobe, "Agent Foltz came by, said it's closed, they all confessed. And she said— She said you'd figured it out, too, without her even telling you anything."
Kris's stomach twisted and he turned his head away, not sure he could deal with the gratitude, Adam's or his own, not with Adam's cock hard against his thigh, his own cock getting hard in his jeans under the insistent friction. It was too much for right now.
Adam kept whispering against his skin, voice breaking, "They could've gotten it wrong—they don't know me or the people I work with. But you do. If you hadn't been looking for me, I might still be there, in the dark—"
And that undid Kris, the thought of Adam still missing, still alone and hurting, and suddenly he was just as lost as Adam, a fist of emotion closing off his air, choking him. Kris grabbed at his hair and kissed him frantically, held on like Adam might be taken from him again.
Adam's hands were between them, unzipping Kris's fly and pushing his jeans down, and Kris could feel Adam's fingers shaking against his skin. Adam dragged his lips down Kris's throat, found the mark he'd put on his neck that morning and bit. Kris writhed and bucked, nails scratching heedlessly at Adam's scalp, and tried to catch his breath as he fell apart.
"You," Adam was still whispering, "you knew. You found me," and Kris should make him stop saying that—the FBI had found him; Kris had just guessed long after the wheels were in motion—but it was heady, that feeling like he'd done something right for Adam, helped bring him home somehow. All Kris could do was close his eyes tight and whimper.
And then Adam was on the floor, kneeling in front of him, getting his boxers down and licking at the head of his cock. Kris bucked toward his mouth and Adam sucked him in deep, until his cock was touching the back of Adam's throat and a single clear thought pierced through the haze of heat and need.
"No, stop," he gasped, yanking hard on black hair until Adam pulled off with a complaining note and looked up at him. "You can't. Your voice," Kris pleaded, hoping Adam would agree. He wouldn't be able to stop him a second time, not faced with Adam's red lips, wet with saliva, so close to his weeping cock. Adam pressed his face to Kris's thigh and inhaled deeply, fingers digging into Kris's hips when he exhaled on a groan. Stubble rubbed against the too-sensitive skin of his cock and Kris whimpered, trying to keep his legs under him. "Please," Kris said, tugging more gently.
Adam climbed to his feet and leaned against him, tipped Kris's head back to lick into his mouth for a suffocating moment. "What do you want?" he asked, voice rough with urgency.
A million possibilities overloaded Kris's brain, all the things Adam had texted, things he'd never even dreamed of wanting before now; they left him mute and shaking.
Adam bit at his jaw line. "Kris, tell me."
"You," was the only answer Kris could give, and he arched helplessly when Adam rolled their hips together, denim and metal rough against Kris's naked cock.
"Anything, you can have anything," Adam promised, mouthing at his cheek, his upper lip.
Everything felt so good with Adam, there was no way he could make a decision like that. He slid his hands under Adam's shirt, managed to pull it up and off despite the tangle of heavy jewelry, tried to show him how much he wanted Adam, just Adam, by touching him everywhere he could reach.
"Fuck me," Adam said in Kris's ear, and Kris was so distracted by Adam's hot skin and his intoxicatingly familiar scent of rehearsal sweat that it took him a long time to notice the difference in the stresses. It wasn't an exclamation; it was an offer.
Lust punched him in the gut, a hard hit that left him breathless. "You— Oh my God," Kris choked and shoved Adam away so he could get off the wall, could grab Adam's face and kiss his lips, back him toward the bedroom on tiptoes.
Adam held on tight, a strong arm locked around his waist, his teeth biting at Kris's lower lip. Kris kicked off his own pants, and they tore at Adam's belt buckle together. When Adam sat on the end of the bed, Kris wrenched his boots and tight jeans off before following Adam across the tangled covers. He came down on top of him, chest to chest, and kissed him again, unable to stop the frantic pace of his heart, the feeling he would die if he didn't get as close as possible.
He ground their cocks together, got a hand between their stomachs to grab Adam's hard length, rubbed his thumb across the head and Adam arched off the bed.
"C'mon, baby, I need you," Adam pleaded, his eyes closed.
Kris wanted to comply, wanted to take care of Adam, give him anything he needed, but he didn't know how. He put his forehead down on Adam's shoulder, tried to catch his breath and concentrate. "Adam," he husked desperately, unable to stop jacking his hand. "What do I need?" One of Adam's messages had described working Kris open on his fingers, getting him slick for his cock. Kris had lotion under the bed, but he was pretty sure that wasn't what Adam had meant.
"Pocket," Adam said, and Kris turned around, reached over the edge of the bed and grabbed Adam's jeans.
He found a condom and a little black packet of personal lubricant and smiled with relief. "My fingers, right?" he asked, already tearing the packet open.
"Yeah, slow, work the muscle open."
Adam spread his legs for him, knees coming up a little. Kris crawled back up the bed and looked down and gulped, squeezed the slick liquid onto his fingers. It was silky smooth, felt insanely good, and he thought of it on his cock. Later. First, he took a deep breath and pressed a trembling finger to Adam's hole, not sure it would work but pressing in anyway. His finger sunk in slowly and he gasped at the tight heat, Adam squirming and shifting to get more comfortable. Kris made himself move slow like Adam had said, pushed in and pulled out, twisted his finger like Adam had done to him once.
And it came back, the memory of what that had felt like, the pleasure so sharp and startling. Kris bit his lip and watched Adam's face, needing to see that sensation reflected there, to know he was making Adam feel good. Adam had his head back, mouth open, but he wasn't gasping with pleasure like Kris had done. Kris frowned and moved his finger around, tried to do something different. It wasn't working, and he wanted to cry with frustration.
Adam sighed, said, "Okay, two now." And then he jerked and gasped, hips twisting under Kris's hand. Kris did it again, pressed right there, and Adam shook. "Fuck! Oh, that's it, honey. You're a natural," he panted, his voice pitched higher.
Hot pride replaced frustration and Kris squeezed more slick on his fingers and pushed in with two. It was tighter, but he knew what he was aiming for now, and Adam made the most amazing moans when he pressed, slid out, pressed again.
"Three," Adam begged a minute later, urgency back in his voice, his neck glistening with sweat, fingers squeezing and rolling his own pierced nipples, hips rocking up on Kris's fingers. Adam's cock was leaking precum onto his stomach, and Kris couldn't resist ducking down and licking it off, salty-bitter and delicious, before pulling his fingers out.
"You're beautiful," Kris said, marveling at the way Adam's body stretched open for three fingers, the way Adam tossed his head. There were smudges on his cheeks from eye makeup sweating off, and he was still wearing all his necklaces, silver shining on his flushed, freckled skin, light catching the barbells in his nipples, and Kris couldn't tear his eyes away, not even to blink.
He twisted his fingers, squeezed a bruise into Adam's hip when he arched off the bed, and then Adam gasped, "Okay, you now. Come on."
Kris reached for the condom and got it on, smeared the last of the lube on his cock and shuddered, all the concentration he'd been lavishing on Adam suddenly divided as his own body clamored for immediate attention. He squeezed hard at the base of his cock, trying to get himself under control.
Adam shifted around him, lifted his knees to his chest, and Kris stared down at him, awed and a little afraid. "Please, baby," Adam said again, his blue eyes open and desperate.
Kris couldn't worry when Adam was looking at him like that, so he moved, carefully positioned the head of his cock against Adam's body and pressed forward. Adam shivered and exhaled loudly, body somehow opening up and taking it, and Kris lost the ability to breathe.
"Kris," Adam whispered when he was fully inside an eternity later, his long, lean body trembling under and around him.
"Oh my God," Kris whimpered, feeling like he was about to come just from the intense pressure, the silky heat, and the knowledge that it was Adam, that he finally had Adam. "I can't even."
"You found me," Adam said again, hands coming up to pet his cheeks in wonder. "You'll always find me—"
Kris's hips bucked hard, out of his control, as Adam's words lashed him with raw emotion; too much trust, too much love and everything that went with it. He closed his eyes and tried to stop himself, but the drag as he pulled back was so sweet he thought his heart would burst.
Adam kept talking, kept saying things like, "You were all I thought about—getting back to you before you left," and, "You were looking for me the whole time."
It was more than he could bear. "Stop it. Stop, Adam, please," Kris begged, even as his hips slammed forward, his arms braced on the mattress, rocking in, in, in, until he lucked into that magic spot again and Adam's words dissolved into moans of ecstasy.
Kris tried to hang on, tried to make it last. Adam was jerking himself off, knuckles brushing against Kris's stomach in counterpoint to his thrusts, and Kris bent himself over and got his mouth on one of Adam's nipples, licked and sucked, doing everything he could think of to get Adam there first.
Without warning, Adam arched off the bed and yelled, his strong body clenching down so tight around Kris's cock that Kris came, too, with a surprised shout, his entire body shaking as it hit him like lightning, a jolt of pleasure through his whole nervous system that left him twitching and gasping, all his muscles gone weak. He managed not to land on Adam, rolled to the side when Adam's legs sagged open, his cock slipping out. After a long minute he was finally able to strip off the condom and check on Adam, who was still breathing hard, a blissful smile on his face.
"Are you okay?" Kris asked, not sure why he was worried but putting it out there anyway, hoping for a blanket reassurance.
Adam rolled toward him languidly, ran fingers from Kris's lips down his chest to his stomach. Kris's eyes widened as Adam dragged his fingers through his own cum on Kris's belly in a circular motion, rubbing it into his skin. "Mine," Adam purred, his eyes half-lidded. "Mine."
Kris's head dropped down on the pillow and he gave himself up to the sensations, happy to have his Adam back at last, confident and in control. He didn't care if Adam asked him to never shower again. He would probably like it, knowing he had Adam in his skin all the time.
"You," Adam said, voice just a whisper away from his lips, "are my hero."
"Hmm?" Kris sighed, too relaxed to get worked up again.
"You're like…some kind of super-stealth-detective. How could you not tell me about the tip you called in?"
Kris yawned and stretched, eased his body a little closer. "It was just a guess."
Adam licked Kris's lips, his hand still trailing across Kris's stomach, catching here and there, sticky and dry. "Okay, Clark Kent, play the mild-mannered musician all you want. But you know you might be able to collect that reward, right?"
Kris snorted and said, without thinking, "Which one? Mine or 19E's?"
Adam's fingers stopped moving and Kris opened his eyes, saw the soft expression on Adam's face. "I heard about that, too," Adam said.
Kris tried unsuccessfully to shift away. "I'm gonna roll over and die of embarrassment now, thanks."
"Oh, no you don't. I need you very much alive for round two." Adam ran his toes up Kris's shin.
Kris grinned. "And three, and four…."
"Mmm, mind reader." Adam leaned in and kissed him, tongues tangling together before he sucked on Kris's lower lip with promise. "So I'm gonna tell you something. Don't be offended," he warned, a teasing light in his eyes when he leaned back.
Kris smiled and nodded.
"Before the tour, I used to tell myself you sucked in bed. Good Christian boy from Arkansas, only one partner, you had to be the most uptight, missionary-position-loving, vanilla-white-bread redneck in the country."
"Hey," Kris protested half-heartedly.
Adam ignored him and feigned indignation, his hand absently drifting up to tweak Kris's nipple, sending a mini-echo of his orgasm through him. "And then on the tour, you suddenly turned into this dirty, insanely hot version of yourself, and it was all over. I couldn't even use bad sex as an excuse not to fall for you." He frowned for a second longer, and then smiled down at Kris like what they'd done in Kansas City was a sweet memory, and not the single worst thing Kris had ever done to Adam.
In the wake of everything they'd just shared, Kris couldn't take the sudden reminder. He flinched hard against the guilt, turned his head away.
"Hey, you're not really upset, are you? I was just teasing."
"I'm sorry," he blurted. Late, he was so late saying it, but Adam needed to know.
"Honey? Kris, come on." Adam brushed his forehead with sticky fingers.
"I knew," Kris made himself explain, forcing the words past the lump growing in his throat. "I knew how you felt about me. And I was…I was so selfish. I only thought about myself, not what it would do to you."
"No it's not! I gave you something I knew you wanted and then pretended it didn't happen. Pretended it hadn't meant anything to me. You should have hated me."
"Kris, I can read you like a book," Adam said. "I knew it meant something. Besides, I was already crazy in love with you—that night didn't change anything for me."
"I made it worse! You were already with Drake; you should've been falling in love with him."
"Doesn't work that way," Adam said, a forgiving smile on his beautiful, makeup-stained face. "I couldn't've gotten over you any more than you could've gotten over me. And I know you tried."
"But you and Drake should've…. I wanted you to—"
Adam rolled onto him, his hips half-pinning Kris's, a thigh thrown over his legs. "That wasn't your fault," he said firmly. "I tried to be there, but Drake was jealous of the life, not you. I was always flying off to some city or other, never spending more than a day or two with him, and that wasn't what he wanted. He's the one who left, not me."
And those were the same reasons Adam had given Kris when he and Drake were breaking up, just two months after Kansas City. Kris had assumed Adam was lying, covering up the wounds Kris had inflicted for the sake of saving their tenuous friendship. The old doubt must have shown on his face, because Adam tipped Kris's chin up and pressed a finger to the tip of his nose.
"You're supposed to believe me, here," he insisted, blue eyes flashing. "That's how this works; I tell you the truth, and you believe me."
Kris blushed, stammered, "I— I do."
"Good. 'Cause this next part is really important: I never blamed you. Not when you freaked out on me and hid in the bathroom. Not even when you made me wait more than a year for this. Which, by the way, really sucked."
It had sucked for Kris, too. "I'm sorry," he apologized all over again. "I just…wasn't ready." To let go of his marriage, to risk rejection from the man he'd fallen in love with.
"I know; that's why I waited. And you came through in the end, so it was worth it."
And that was the answer to the question Kris had asked last night. It shouldn't have mattered, the coincidence of a repeated figure of speech, but somehow it mattered more than anything, fitting into the guilt-shaped hole in his chest until it didn't hurt quite so much. Kris leaned up and kissed Adam once, twice, repeating the words in his head: it was worth it.
Adam laughed ruefully, "And Katy said this conversation would be easy," and he leaned their foreheads together.
"Shows what she knows," Kris agreed.
"Anyway," Adam said, shifting his weight off of Kris and forcefully changing the subject, "that was my amazing, foot-in-my-mouth way of telling you you're hot as fuck in the sack. And that we're gonna start trying out all those positions I texted you as soon as I can feel my legs again."
Kris smiled despite the mess of emotions still clogging his chest. "You couldn't've said it that way the first time?"
Kris was so worn out by rounds two and three that he slept almost to noon, not even waking when Adam got up. When he finally crawled out of bed, aching in places he didn't know he could ache before, he found wet towels on his bathroom floor—apparently Adam had gotten so used to hotel-living he'd forgotten that apartments didn't automatically come with fresh towel service—and a note on his kitchen counter that read "you only own plaid !" When he checked his phone, he found a message from Adam, They're all v. confused, with a link to a TMZ photo of Adam, flanked by his body guards, walking into the club two hours earlier in one of Kris's white wife-beaters, his favorite tan-plaid shirt hanging open over his broad shoulders.
Didn't know I was providing the costume, too, Kris texted back.
Adam responded immediately: Yeah, K said plaid was the way to your <3.
Sing me the Lumber Jack song tonight!, Kris demanded.
Adam sent him a frownie face and threatened to let the costume designer go at the shirt with a bedazzler.
Kris didn't tease him about raiding his wardrobe again.
An accident on the 405 held him up nearly half an hour, and by the time Kris's cab pulled up at The Crystal Club there were only a handful of people still out on the sidewalks, most of them smoking or talking on cell phones. He got a few looks from Adam's fans, but nobody approached him until he got inside. Before he could even pull out his ID for the bouncers (and his hackles only raised a little as he eyed them), a woman in a staff t-shirt grabbed his elbow and pulled him into a back hallway. She slapped a VIP access sticker on his thigh and sent him down the hall to the backstage area, telling him his party was waiting.
Side-stage he found Allison chatting up one of the guitar techs, lustfully fondling the strings of an electric guitar. He grinned and picked her up from behind until she squealed and squirmed out of his grip, bounced up and planted a kiss on his lips.
"Thank god you're here. You totally missed Adam's freak out."
"What freak out?"
"I don't know, but he was running around the green room with half his face done and flapping his hands a lot. Katy had to calm him down."
Kris checked his phone, but Adam hadn't sent him any messages since the last one early that afternoon: Sang two songs, sound fine.
"Should I talk to him?"
"Are you kidding? Bad luck to see the bride; you'll totally jinx him! Katy's upstairs—go that way." She pointed at a set of narrow steps and pinched his ass when he turned his back.
Upstairs was a small green room with a private balcony overlooking the stage. He found his friends hitting the open cooler of beers and Katy standing out on the balcony, leaning over the railing. "Hey," he called, stepping out with a beer in hand. The crowd noise below them was a thrilling murmur he recognized from his own tours, and the hairs on his arms prickled with the electricity.
"Hey!" she smiled, turning around to see him.
She looked him up and down, checking out what he'd decided to wear, so he held his arms out and did a turn for her. "How'd I do?"
"Fair," she admitted, reaching out to smooth down the collar on his black blazer. He'd figured black on black would be acceptable—if nothing else, it would probably match his boyfriend.
"I heard Adam freaked out?"
She waved his concern away. "Just being a diva. He'll be perfect."
"What was he stressed about?" She looked at him pointedly until he flushed and stammered, "He knows I love him; this show doesn't mean anything now. It's just icing."
"Really romantic icing," Katy insisted, folding her arms.
"Okay, fine. Really romantic icing." He folded his arms right back at her and shook his head. "I can't believe you made him do all this. You honestly thought I couldn't get there on my own?"
"I was pretty sure hell would freeze over before you said anything to him. I wasn't willing to take that chance. And neither was he, or he wouldn't have gone through with it."
Kris sighed at how little faith the people he loved had in him.
"And hey, you think you know everything that's gonna happen just cause you saw the set list? Think again." She had that devilish smile on—the one that said she had plans and he wasn't going to like them. "I happen to know Adam didn't tell you everything."
"Whatever you've got planned…." She grinned even wider, and he narrowed his eyes to tease, "I bet you stole it from Lifetime."
"Oh!" she gasped, outraged. "Oh, that's just mean. I swear, you are going to thank me for this, Kris Allen, or so help me God."
He nodded and saluted her with his beer, "I'll take that bet," and walked back into the green room and found a spot on a new-looking couch next to Cale. He kicked up his heels on the low table, happy to drink his beer and wait now that he knew Adam wasn't in any kind of trouble.
Cale clinked beers with him and then cleared his throat and said, "I'm only gonna ask one question, and then we're never gonna speak of it again, do you hear me?"
Kris sipped his beer to hold back a laugh; he had a pretty good idea what Cale would ask. "Mmhm," he nodded.
"Is he as good as the websites say?"
"Dude," he said with a dramatic pause and everything, "you can't even imagine."
Cale scowled, red creeping up his neck, and turned back to his own bottle. "Okay. I'm very happy for you. And now we will never talk about it ever again."
"He did this thing with his tongue—"
"Shut up!" Cale yelled.
"Seriously, he can push the whole thing—"
"I don't wanna hear it!"
"Ooo, are we talking Adam-sex?" Allison demanded, sitting down on Cale's lap.
She wrapped her arms around Cale's shoulders, stole a sip of his beer, and said, "'Cause I wanna hear all about it."
"Gaah!" Cale fled the couch, lifting her up so he could wriggle free, abandoning his drink to her evil clutches.
Kris promptly relieved her of the beer and set it on the table. She pouted at him, but he shook his head. "Sorry, Rugrat."
"Come on, it's not like I haven't drank with you before." He held firm, and she settled back against the cushions. "Well then, tell me about sex with Adam. Has he fucked you yet?"
Taunting Cale with it was one thing, but no matter how old she got, Allison would always be 16 to him. Kris turned pink and looked at the half-empty bottle in his hand. "Oh look, need a refill. Back in a sec…." He stood up and sought shelter with Will and Anoop by the cooler.
The opening act went on while Kris was telling Anoop about the feud he'd almost started with Carrie Underwood. Once the drums started, they couldn't hear each other over the speakers hanging right outside, so the three of them gave up on talking and went out on the balcony to watch. It was some 80s cover band Kris had never heard of, wearing tight white bodysuits and throwing glitter all over themselves. At least the crowd seemed to like them well enough.
Kris leaned over to yell in Katy's ear, "Oh wow, you know what, I think he really loves me!"
"You suck," she yelled back and patted his hand on the railing.
When the openers were finished, Matt belched loudly and looked down at the packed floor. "There's nothing in the world like this, is there?"
Kris shook his head, reminded again to be grateful for his career, his recording contract. Despite all the stress 19E caused him, he owed them everything, from his hundreds of thousands of fans to meeting Adam in the first place.
"That's why I can't stop," Matt admitted. "I got a taste on the show. And then that tour. I gotta get that back, for myself."
"You will," Kris assured him, bumping their shoulders together.
Matt nodded and watched the crowd of mostly-women, stripped down to minimal clothing in the humid heat, try to crush even closer to the stage while the tech guys reconfigured the microphones. "Seriously," Matt muttered, staring. "That's hot."
Kris couldn't help laughing just a little at the inappropriateness.
At 10:00 exactly the house lights dimmed, the crowd screamed loud enough to shake the steel beams under the balcony, and Kris's heart unexpectedly squeezed in his chest. Anoop and Allison tried to fit in around them, so Kris stepped behind Katy and wrapped his arms around her, fitting his chin easily over her shoulder so he could see below.
"This is all for you," she reminded him, tipping her head back to see him out the corner of her eye. "So you'd better love it."
A single spotlight turned on, illuminating a baby grand piano at the far side of the stage, and he grinned. "Really? I coulda sworn this part was for you."
"What?" she asked, as though she didn't know what he was talking about.
"Nothing." Katy could swear up and down that she'd done all this for him, but that was Katy's favorite Harry Connick Jr. song Adam was about to start the show with. If she'd put a little Christmas present to herself in the set list, Kris wouldn't hold it against her.
Adam stepped into the light in a black tuxedo and bright white dress shirt with the top few buttons undone, a bow tie hanging open around his neck. The shrieks cranked up another octave, and he sat down at the piano with a smile and a wave to the crowd. Kris was so floored at Katy's gall putting Adam in an absolutely cliché tux that he didn't even realize the significance of the piano until Adam placed his fingers on the keys and played a few soft jazz chords, taking his time and letting the notes fill the space.
The crowd quieted down and Kris's throat tightened up. Because Adam didn't play piano—couldn't play piano. Kris had tried to teach him; they'd spent a few bored mornings in the Idol mansion playing around in the practice rooms. Adam could read music, could play some scales with his right hand, but was hopeless at coordinating his fingers into chords. After three days of drills, Adam had thrown up his hands and vowed he would only learn to play if his life depended on it, à la Goonies.
And now, Adam had learned. He was obviously nervous, watching his fingers the whole time and taking an extra half-second between chord changes, but Adam had learned and kept it a secret. For this. For him.
Kris's jaw hung open and his eyes started watering before Adam had even sung the first smooth note, so slow and heartfelt. He hugged Katy tighter, as close as he would get to admitting to her that maybe he'd been wrong; maybe Katy wasn't the only sucker for over-the-top romantic gestures.
It was almost too much, watching Adam play and sing for him. Kris took a relieved breath when Adam crooned the last line of the verse a cappella, sliding off the piano bench just as someone in all black slid in on the other side to take over, and the spotlight followed Adam to center stage as the lights came up on the rest of his band for the chorus of What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Katy gave a blissful sigh as the last notes faded into applause and said, "He has to sing that for me every year."
Kris nodded, speechless. Adam was standing twenty feet away from him in front of a room full of his fans, wearing a full tuxedo glowing in the spotlight, and looking up at Kris. Kris couldn't even clap, just gripped the railing and tried not to jump over it to get to him, to make the emotional intensity stop. Adam nodded like he understood, gave an almost embarrassed smile, and then turned back to the crowd and shrugged off the jacket.
Which set the shrieks off again, because Kris had been wrong about the "full" part of the tux. Adam had removed the sleeves from the dress shirt, and now he shook out his bare arms, making the swirls of silver body glitter flash in the stage lights. The silver and blue cummerbund was cinched corset-tight, and wide patent-leather cuffs covered his wrists. He winked at the crowd, batted huge black eyelashes, and struck a pose in ridiculously tight black slacks, slipping into the familiar role of glam god.
"I don't know about all of you," Adam purred into the microphone, "but I came here to party!" Everyone in the club screamed back at him, including Kris and his friends. Adam snapped his fingers, and Monte and LP kicked out the opening riff to Music Again, and a troupe of silver lamé-clad dancers ran out to surround him, one of them handing him a white Michael Jackson hat to match the spats and a black boa to match the fingerless gloves.
The intensity eased off after that. No matter how personal the lyrics were, or how nostalgic the cover songs made Kris, it was still intended as a show. It didn't have to hurt like a raw wound, like regret for all the time he'd wasted, unless either of them let it. The way Adam had mixed Kris's songs in with his own, Adam's fans didn't even notice the second layer to the show. The Bon Jovi was just a nostalgic throwback and a cute nod to the opening act. The Allman Brothers didn't sound country at all when Monte poured that much soul into the guitar.
But Cale picked up on what was going on somewhere during 3 Doors Down. He leaned over and shoved Kris's shoulder until Kris turned his head to mouth, "What?" at him.
"What the fuck is he doing?" Cale demanded, knowing full well how much Kris had obsessed over that album in college.
Kris blushed, but he knew Cale wouldn't see it in the dim light of the balcony. "Impressing me," he yelled back, owning his embarrassment the way Adam had done.
"Jesus Christ." Cale shook his head and turned back to watch the show.
The time absolutely flew by. Kris almost wished he hadn't seen the set list, because he'd been keeping track in his head and he knew Adam was almost done—the show was amping up to midnight with Adam's biggest single, If I Had You, and Kris sang along loudly, meaning every word of it.
Allison grabbed Kris and Katy's arms during the second chorus and yelled, "I'm gonna crash the stage for the finale. Come on!" and started dragging them toward the stairs.
Kris half-expected Katy to stop Allison, but she just laughed and let herself get dragged, tugging Kris along by the wrist behind her. They made it down the cramped staircase without falling to their deaths, and Kris blinked against the brighter lights at the edge of the stage, Adam that much closer now. He took a few moments to enjoy the pelvic-thrusting at eye-level, not bothering to hide his leer from Katy.
When the song ended, Adam shouted the last line pointing at the ceiling like always, but staring right at Kris. Kris started to smile back, wondering if he was cheesy enough to blow Adam a kiss, and then someone was putting a guitar strap over Kris's head, and Katy and Allison were pulling the blazer off his shoulders, and Kris froze and blurted, "What are you doing?"
Adam was beaming at him and telling the crowd, slightly out of breath from the choreography, "You guys are so amazing, for serious. If it weren't for all your love, I don't think I would've made it here tonight. So for this last song, I wanna bring out someone special for you. He's extra special to me. Kris Allen, get up here."
The crowd cheered, and Katy and the guitar tech shoved Kris up onto the stage. He stumbled up the steps, clutching the body of the guitar and feeling completely unprepared for no good reason. He knew this song; he'd spent an afternoon on the tour bus teaching Mike how to play it. But Bowie was Adam's favorite, and Kris had completely missed the personal significance of Golden Years as the finale song; the surprise of it left him feeling caught with his fly down in front of a thousand witnesses. Speaking of which, he made a quick check under the guitar. Safe.
Monte intercepted Kris on his way over to Adam, shouted in his ear, "You lead, I'll follow."
Kris nodded automatically, knowing better than to doubt Monte's improv skills, and stood in front of Adam and Adam's fans, all of them smiling at him.
"Ready, baby?" Adam asked off-mic, his cheekbones stunningly high under the blush and lights, his lips covered in a shiny silver lipstick he'd applied more suggestively than was humanly possible during For Your Entertainment.
"You're…." He couldn't think of any one word that captured how audacious and incredible Adam was, so Kris just shook himself all over and went with it, laid into the classic groove, Monte, LP, and Tommy following right behind him. Monte sang the back up wop-wop-wops without harmony, and Kris got a clue and drifted over to share the microphone, taking the lower of the two notes. Monte beamed, and Tommy tipped his head at him, although that might have just been Tommy's trademark thrashing.
Adam grinned and bopped and shimmied around the stage, dipping his dancers and working his hips for the crowd. He really dug into the vocals, growling the low notes and popping into a breathy falsetto for the flirty descants. It was Adam at his most campy, and Kris couldn't take his eyes off him, a black and white, shimmery magnet of sex.
It was the best time Kris had had all night, all week, all year, playing a song he loved, with Adam singing promises that things would only get better, flirting with him in front of what felt like the whole world. Kris couldn't contain the giddiness and smiled until his cheeks ached with the goofy smile he always tried to avoid in public.
The fifth time through the chorus, though, he realized he'd let himself become distracted making plans for 2011 with Adam, and he suddenly wondered if he'd missed a signal to stop, and they were still following his lead. He caught Monte's eye, who jerked his chin at a large digital clock side-stage. 11:58:20. "Keep playing 'til the countdown, and then strum," Monte said in his ear.
Kris nodded and leaned into the microphone to sing again, mind returning to his goal to make this the best night of next year, too. It started with kissing Adam….
It finally clicked. Kris finally realized what he'd missed when he'd thought he'd figured out Katy's plan. He'd focused on the spectacle, the public humiliation. But the movie scripts always ended with a kiss. The hero earned that kiss; he deserved that kiss by the end of his humiliating speech. Katy had shoved Kris out on stage just before midnight for only one reason. Kris marveled at her genius for a distracted moment. If he and Adam hadn't already sorted themselves out, if Kris had still had any doubts about Adam's feelings for him, this concert would have obliterated them all. And yes, he would have gotten up the courage to kiss Adam at midnight; he would have risked public rejection with everyone watching.
Katy could manage his life any time, he decided.
The stage lights suddenly started strobing, and big numbers flashed on all the walls of the club. Adam stopped singing mid-phrase and yelled, "58, 57, 56," into the microphone and then held it out over the crowd as they started counting down with him.
Kris and the band switched to frenetically strumming the same chord over and over, LP killing himself to pound as many drums as he could in one minute.
"It's the end of 2010!" Adam shouted into his microphone over the crowd's chanting. "I hope you've done everything you wanted to do, seen everything you wanted to see. Kissed everyone you wanted to kiss." Kris couldn't see the leer, but he could hear it in Adam's voice, and the countdown dissolved into hoots and squeals until Adam got it back on track. "43, 42, 41! I want you all to make me a promise. I want every one of you to not be afraid. You're beautiful, you're loved. If there's someone you love and you've been too afraid to tell them, I want you to take that chance in 2011. Trust in the universe and put the love out there. 19, 18, 17! And if they're in this room, if they're dancing next to you right now, you know what to do. In 10, 9, 8…."
It was laying it on a little thick; Kris didn't dare look at the balcony, where he was sure Cale was dying. But when Adam turned around and looked at him, something in his expression read like the original script; a kind of hopeful expectation, like he wasn't sure Kris would actually do it, and Adam wasn't going to make him.
Kris didn't hesitate, jumping the gun at two-seconds to midnight. He slid the guitar behind his back and grabbed Adam's shirt, rhinestone button covers popping off under his fingers, leaned up and kissed Adam as the music crescendoed.
The lights went floodlight-bright, and glitter exploded into the air at the stroke of midnight, raining down over everyone. Kris closed his eyes and let the screams of the crowd, the pounding bass, and crashing cymbals fill his ears louder than his own heartbeat.
They were still kissing when the band started the traditional Auld Lang Syne sing-along, Monte doing an impressive job with a Hendrix-style guitar solo that almost drowned out the cheers from the crowd. Kris tipped his head the other way to get a better angle on the kiss, slid a hand into Adam's hair and sucked on his tongue, thankful Adam's costume hadn't involved platform boots. If he'd had to climb Adam to get this kiss, by God, he would have, but the YouTube videos would have been humiliating.
Adam rocked his hips against Kris's and held him trapped in his arms. Above them, Kris thought he heard some familiar catcalls. He ignored them in favor of the way Adam's cock was pressed against his stomach, Adam's lips soft on his.
The second time through Auld Lang Syne, Tommy nudged them from behind with his bass guitar. "Adam," he prodded.
Adam just licked deeper into Kris's mouth and slid a hand down to squeeze his ass. Somebody was prying Adam's other hand off Kris's lower back and Kris turned his head to protest, caught a flash of red hair, and Allison started singing into Adam's bedazzled microphone, carrying on with the show.
Kris laughed and wondered if Katy was going to kill them for blowing the dismount, and then stopped caring when Adam tugged at his hair to bring him back in for another never-ending kiss.