Stay a Little Longer
Jess Bryant © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Fuckin’ Heath motherfuckin’ Barber could go fuck himself.
Trent Thorne had been betrayed by a man he’d thought he could trust. The man he’d considered his best friend. The man who he’d convinced himself he was in love with. The man who he’d been delusional enough to believe might be in love with him too.
He white-knuckled the steering wheel and cursed his ex-best friend for the millionth time. He was an idiot. An idiot to have ever thought Heath reciprocated his feelings. An idiot to have ever said those three little words, to have ever said a thing about how he felt or who he was. A major idiot for ever having believed he could have it all.
He’d told Heath his biggest secret. The one thing he kept from everyone but a trusted few in his inner circle. Nobody on the outside knew. Not his record label or his band. Certainly, not the millions of people that bought his albums or the legions of women who threw themselves at him. He’d told Heath he was gay, and it had turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life.
Heath’s reaction to his confession had been swift and brutal. He’d recoiled, and he’d called Trent a liar. He’d said Trent had been lying to him from the moment they met. He’d said Trent had been lying to him every day for two years. Been lying ever since he’d hired the retired professional athlete as his trainer and then his personal assistant. Heath had been the person in his life he was closest to, only he’d said he didn’t know Trent at all.
And the thing was, Trent hadn’t been able to deny it. Of course, Heath didn’t know him. Very few people could say they did. Not the real Trent. Not Trenton James Thorne, Texas native, long-lost brother and exiled son with an unhealthy fear of firearms and dying alone. Because to be Trent Thorne, country music superstar, charmer and all-around lady’s man, he couldn’t be himself.
He couldn’t be gay.
That had been made clear to him from the day he set foot in Nashville, and in the years since, covering up and hiding his truth had been as much a full-time job as performing or recording. The first time that spotlight had hit him and the crowd went wild, he would’ve sold his soul to the devil to make that feeling last.
In a lot of ways, he knew now that he had.
He’d sold himself out for the money and the fame and the success of being worshipped by a bunch of strangers. Because he’d just wanted to play his music and he’d thought it was the only way. Because his manager, his record label, and his throng of adoring fans wanted the Trent Thorne who wiggled his hips and winked at all the girls, who sang bro-country anthems about hooking up with hot chicks down by the lake and crooned about soft bodies in moonlight.
Nobody wanted the real Trent Thorne. They never had. They never would.
The cell phone vibrating in the center console of his rental called him a liar now too. It hadn’t stopped ringing all day. Not since the news broke. It seemed the entire fucking world wanted a piece of the real Trent Thorne now, and it was all because he’d trusted the wrong person, fallen for the wrong person, shown his true self to someone who hadn’t liked what they’d seen.
Heath had fuckin’ outed him.
Considering it was his life being broadcast over every entertainment outlet in the western hemisphere, Trent was a little fuzzy on the details of how it had happened. He’d woken up to his ringing phone this morning. His manager, Rick, had said something about Heath telling a friend who told a friend who told someone who wasn’t a friend… or something like that.
It sounded so cliché. High school drama multiplied to the umpteenth level. Trent almost could have laughed. Almost. All of his carefully laid plans, skillfully guarded secrets, and he’d been outed by a game of telephone gone awry.
The entire fuckin’ world knew he was gay now, which meant life as he knew it was over.
Just that fast and just that easily, he was done in Nashville. He knew it. Had always known it would be the end of his career if he trusted the wrong person with his true identity and it got out.
But he’d thought he was in love with Heath, which was just so goddamn ridiculous in the bright light of today that he had no explanation for how he could have so monumentally screwed up.
He didn’t love Heath. He never had. He’d loved the idea of Heath. Loved the idea of having someone who was his, who knew every part of him, who he didn’t have to hide from. Someone he could trust with the heavy weight he’d been carrying for so long. But that wasn’t Heath.
Somewhere along the way, amid the hiding and secrets, things had gotten all mixed up and now he’d lost everything he’d built on the foundation of that one lie. No more adoring fans. No more career. No more Nashville lights. He’d have been run out of the city by all those powerful classic country folks who abhorred his “lifestyle choices” so he’d done them a favor and left before they could get the torches burning.
Rick had tried to convince him to stay, to fight it, to deny it. It was just rumor and conjecture after all. Nobody had any actual proof or facts to back up their stories. It was all hearsay.
He could have fought it. Denied it. But Trent had made a promise to himself a long time ago, a compromise with his conscience, that if, or rather when, he was outed, then that was it. He wouldn’t lie about who he was anymore. No more hiding, no more lying, and he wouldn’t go back in the closet.
It may not have been his choice to come out. He may not have any say in how his record label reacted to the news. He might lose his representation. He might be blacklisted in Nashville. But for the first time in a long time, he had a choice in how he lived his own life.
He was free. Or at least as free as a man on the run could be. He knew he couldn’t outrun the impact this would have on his life, but he needed to escape the media firestorm for a little while and figure out what his future looked like once the dust settled.
The cell phone began vibrating again almost as soon as it stopped, but when he glanced down at it, there was a name instead of an unknown number. Trent sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face again. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, but he knew he couldn’t keep ignoring this particular phone call.
It said a lot that she’d called eight times already. He hadn’t heard from his mother. Hadn’t heard from his brother. But she’d called eight times and he supposed that kind of friendship made her his true family and his only real friend.
He hit the hands-free button on the steering wheel to answer and tried for a lightheartedness he definitely wasn’t feeling, “This is all your fault.”
“I know. I’m so sorry.” The female voice on the other end was heavy with remorse.
Trent frowned and couldn’t help but drop his gaze to the phone again to verify he was speaking to Lemon Kelly. The small-town girl turned country music superstar was like a sister to him. She knew the truth, had known almost from the moment they met. He’d trusted her instinctively, and it had paid off. She’d helped him cover his lies by being her normal, sassy, flirty, gorgeous self and he adored her.
But his friend Lemon, the girl he’d known for years, didn’t sound like this. Somber. Sad. Pitying. And he hated that he’d answered the phone. He’d rather have driven on in silence with only his own thoughts to taunt him than to hear Lemon sounding so sad and to know he was the cause.
He didn’t want Lemon’s pity. He wanted her spitfire sass and backtalk. He wanted her to crack a joke or pretend to flirt with him like they usually did. He hadn’t thought it was possible, but his mood plummeted even further at the sound of her quiet voice.
“I’m sorry, Trent.”
He gritted his teeth. “Damnit, Lem. Don’t do that.”
“You know exactly what.” He growled.
Another heavy sigh came through the speakers, “I’m the one that told you to tell Heath the truth. I’m the one that told you to put yourself out there and take a chance. None of this would be happening if I hadn’t pushed you.”
“Bullshit. Don’t be a martyr in my life, Lem. I told Heath because I wanted him to admit he wanted me too. That’s on me. I wanted my happily-ever-after and it’s nobody’s fault but my own that it blew up in my face. I should have known better. Hell, he’s not even gay. I had some fantasy that if I told him, he’d admit he’d been hiding too, but he wasn’t hiding. He was living his truth and I was living in a dream world.”
“You were only living in a dream world because I shoved my happily ever after in your face. It’s all my fault. I somehow managed to get the guy and keep making my music and I was totally out of line pushing you to go for it with Heath.” Lemon countered with a little bit more of the spark than he’d expected, “It’s my fault. Just blame me so we can be on the same page. I don’t like fighting with you, okay?”
He managed a small snort for her sass. “Okay, fine, it’s all your fault. My life is a mess. I’m out of the closet, the bright light of the sun burns like hell, and I blame you completely.”
“That’s more like it.” Lemon’s smile was obvious through the line. “So, since this situation is all my fault, I figure I owe you.”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m calling. Where are you?”
“I thought you were calling to check on me?” he asked with confusion.
“I am, dumbass. Just answer the question. Where are you?”
“Uh….” He hesitated and Lemon laughed.
“Don’t give me some crap about being in Nashville. I know you. You’re a lot like me. I mean, there’s a reason we’re friends. You bolted that city and probably that state as soon as you got burned. So, where are you? Where are you going to hide and figure out your next move?”
Trent sighed as he stared out the windshield of the rental at the open highway in front of him. She knew him well. He’d started packing his bag before he ever hung up the phone with Rick. He’d rented a car under one of his aliases. It wouldn’t be hard for his team to track him down, but it had given him a chance of escaping the cameras, at least for a little while. It was a move Lemon had easily predicted, because when her life had gone to hell a few months ago, she’d done the exact same thing.
Lemon groaned when he was silent for too long. “You’re heading home.”
“You can’t go home, Trent.” She cut him off when he started to interrupt, “And don’t say it’s what I did. I know that too, but it’s different for you. Nobody was trying to track me down. Nobody cared enough to stalk me because I wasn’t leaving on the heels of the biggest gossip to ever hit country music. With you, they’re going to want you in front of their cameras and they’re going to expect you to go home to lick your wounds.”
He groaned because he hadn’t thought it through that far. She was right. Again. He could only imagine the media that would descend on his small hometown. On his family. He still needed to talk to them, to explain, but he’d thought he could put it off until he got home. Now he could see that going home would only bring his troubles to their door, and there was no guarantee they’d let him inside in the first place.
He couldn’t go home. Not now. Not yet. Not when he wasn’t even sure he was welcome. He’d have to find somewhere else to hide.
“Yeah.” Lemon filled in the silence when he was quiet, “I had a feeling if you took a second to think it through you might change your plans.”
“Stop reading my mind, woman.” He rubbed at his eyes as the headache he’d been contending with all day throbbed harder.
“I’m not reading your mind. I’m just smarter than you.” She teased, “So, you’re headed to Texas, but you can’t go home. I figure that leaves only one option. Somewhere you can disappear for a little while and nobody will think to look for you.”
“One option? Try a million. Texas is a big fuckin’ state, Lem.”
“Nope, I meant one because you need somewhere you won’t be alone, getting lost in your head and making stupid decisions like when you decided to drive to your mama’s like the media wouldn’t be smart enough to look there first.”
He snorted. “I see where you’re going with this.”
“It’s about time, because I’m flashing a neon welcome sign, babe. Come to Fate. You’re probably no more than a few hours away. Come here and let me put you up for a while, for as long as it takes for you to decide what you want to do next.”
Trent tightened his hands on the wheel. It wasn’t a bad idea. Fate was a small town in west Texas. It was Lemon’s hometown. That was about the only reason on earth anyone outside of the county had ever heard of the place. Nobody would think to look for him there and he hadn’t seen his friend in too long. He could really use a friend right now.
But Lemon was forgetting one major problem.
“I seriously doubt your man wants me crashing in your love shack.”
Lemon’s fiancé hated him. Trent had never actually met Shane Lowry, but he knew with one hundred percent certainty the guy hated his guts. After all, Trent had gotten more than just a little handsy with Lemon at an awards show in front of hundreds of cameras knowing full-well she was in a relationship with the guy. It had been a mistake, one of his many. He’d freaked out when a reporter questioned his relationship with Heath and he’d used her to hide his sexuality. But even knowing he was gay wouldn’t soften a man like Shane. He was highly possessive and protective of Lemon, so letting a guy who had stuck his tongue down her throat into their home was not something he would ever greenlight.
“Oh, no. No. You misunderstood.” Lemon snorted. “You’re not staying with us. I love you, but I think you and Shane under one roof would be explosive and not in the fun kind of way I’d like to watch.”
He heard a male groan in the background and a stern, warning voice say, “Lemon…”
She laughed, “Uh oh, I’m gonna get in trouble for that one.”
Trent smiled as he listened to the couple tease each other through the phone. From his conversations with Lemon over the past few months, he knew she was happier than she’d ever been. She’d found her home, the place where she belonged and she was building a life with the man she loved. She had a family and three almost step-daughters. But hearing it for himself, after being shot down by Heath then outed and publicly flayed open, made his chest hurt.
“Trent, you there?”
“Yeah,” he answered roughly when Lemon finally came back on the line.
“Look, Shane doesn’t hate you. He feels bad about threatening your pretty face even. I said you should stay with us, but he thought you might prefer some time alone. There’s a trailer house that Shane’s brother owns. It’s empty. Seth has been renting it but his tenants moved out a few months back, and he hasn’t found anyone to take it off his hands yet. Shane talked to him and you can stay there. It’s out of the way and you’ll have your own space so nobody will bother you.”
“Lemon, I don’t know…” He hesitated even though he wanted to leap at the offer that sounded too good to be true. “It’s a small town. Someone will see me and say something and it’ll spiral, and then the circus will descend on you and your hometown instead of mine. I don’t want that, and I know that cop of yours doesn’t want his town involved in my shit either.”
“The first thing you need to know about Fate is that we protect our own.” Lemon argued, “Nobody is going to talk about you to anyone outside of this town. Oh, they’ll gossip about you behind your back, but nobody’s gonna sell you out. I promise.”
He thought about that. It was true that when Lemon had run away she’d hidden in Fate for a month and nobody had splashed her whereabouts all over the tabloids. The people of Fate were accustomed to having a celebrity in their midst. And he trusted Lemon. More than he trusted anyone maybe. But the last time he’d trusted someone he’d been burned and the flames were still bright in his rearview mirror.
“I’m not one of you though. I’m an outsider.”
“Not if you’re with me. If you’re my friend then you’re Shane’s friend and if you’re Shane’s friend, you have the entire Fate Sherriff’s department at your back, and nobody’s gonna mess with you if that’s the case.”
That sounded far too simplistic. “Lem…”
“This is my fault, Trent. I shouldn’t have pushed you so hard to tell that bastard how you felt. Let me make it up to you by doing this.” Her voice softened again, “Please? I want to see for myself that you’re okay. At the very least, stop through and spend the night. We can talk in the morning and if you still want to keep moving, you can.”
He rubbed a hand through his hair for the hundredth time and sighed, “Okay.”
He found himself agreeing before his mind had truly processed it all. It was one night. He needed to get somewhere and sleep. It was getting late and he’d been driving most of the day. He could crash in Fate for one night, and if tomorrow he still felt the urge to run he’d keep heading west until he hit the coast, or the media circus died down, or he figured out what he wanted to say to everyone who thought they had a right to know his personal business.
“Okay.” He repeated when Lemon skeptically asked if he was serious. “Yeah, I’ll come to Fate.”
“Oh my God, I didn’t think you’d actually agree.” She gave a whoop of delight that almost made him smile. “I’m hanging up before you change your mind. I’ll send you a drop pin for the trailer and you can go straight there. I’ll swing by and make sure it’s made up for you. Crash and call me when you wake tomorrow. We’ll talk more then.”
“Okay,” he repeated.
“See you soon.”
“See you soon.”
The line went dead and silence filled the rental except for the sound of his tires on the highway. A few miles later a notification popped up on his phone giving him the location of the trailer, as promised. He programmed the GPS to take him there and listened as the robotic voice told him he would arrive in Fate, Texas at approximately 9:57 p.m. Just in time to fall into a bed, get a few hours’ sleep and recharge his batteries.
He’d spend one night in Fate, and then he would come up with some life-changing decisions tomorrow. It seemed like as good a plan as any. After all, the place was called Fate. Maybe it held the answers he was looking for, even if he wasn’t sure yet what the questions even were.