“Backstage girls!” Zach’s face lights up when he notices you approaching.
Your friend smirks at you. “Someone just lost a bet…”
You roll your eyes, holding back a smile.
“Hi!” Zach ignores the group of girls he was talking to and comes toward you and your friend. “Glad to see you again.”
“Me too!” She offers him a flirty grin.
Great, as if he needed any more reason to—
“How about we go back backstage and grab something to eat?” He reaches out and tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “You’ve been here all day, you must be starving.”
“We’re more tired than hungry, actually.” You shoot your friend a look.
She can’t seriously be considering hooking up with him. He’s like…a big mistake waiting to happen!
“Of course.” Zach steps back, an understanding frown on his face. “It’s just a shame you spent your whole day trying to learn what happens backstage…just to miss the after-party.”
Your friend turns to you, her eyes wide in a plea. “We’re not that tired, right?”
You glance at Zach—at the tiny little smirk at the corner of his mouth.
I don’t have a good feeling about this, you want to tell your friend. But she’s so excited about the possibility of seeing Alec again that you don’t have the heart to say no.
“Sure.” You give up with a sigh.
“Yay!” she squeals on the arena floor. Now mostly empty, apart from the personnel.
“We have to close, guys. Please—”
“They’re with me.” Zach shows his badge to the security guard, then gestures for you to follow.
Your friend links her arm through yours, offering you a silent “thank you.”
You force a smile at her, but deep down… This just doesn’t feel right.
It’s not like you’re breaking in—Zach has indeed invited you to the party. But you’re not as happy or excited like you should be. You’re nervous.
What am I gonna do if we see Ben again? Or James? Or Alec? We’re not supposed to be here anymore. They’ll think we’re overstaying our welcome!
Anxiety builds inside you. But now you’re backstage, there’s nowhere to run. Except—
“Sorry, I need to…” You point at the bathroom sign.
“Good idea.” Your friend glances from you to Zach. “Do you mind?”
“No, go ahead!” He flashes her another charming smile. “I won’t go anywhere without you.”
You scoff as she follows you through the door. You go straight to the stall only because you really need to pee, but after that, you and your friend are going to have a serious conversation!
It’s not right to crash Alec’s after-party. Even if she’s genuinely interested in Zach, this is Alec’s private moment with his friends and family, fans aren’t supposed to be here! And they’ve all been so nice to us this afternoon… You would hate for your last memory of the day to be an angry Alec, shoving you out the door. Or worse, you’d hate for Alec’s last memory of you to be those crazy fans who couldn’t give him the bare minimum of privacy.
You scrub your hands in the sink, rehearsing your speech for when your friend comes out.
But then a different stall door opens. And your jaw drops to the floor as you realize… It’s Linda González. Alec’s freaking girlfriend!
She stops at the sink beside yours and, as hard as you try, you just can’t take your eyes off her.
She’s so much prettier in person. Not that you didn’t think she was pretty before, but… “The cameras don’t do you justice,” the words slip out.
“Thank you.” Linda gives you a bright smile.
The lyrics of “No More Lies” immediately pop up in your head: Lost and blind, your smile showed me the light.
“Now I get it,” you say with a laugh. “All the light-smile analogies in NML.”
Linda chuckles, reaching for a paper towel. “So, you’re a fan?”
“A big one,” you admit.
A toilet flushes, and then your friend gasps from the third stall. “Oh. My. God.”
Linda blushes at her reaction.
“Don’t mind us.” You give her an apologetic glance. “We were just leaving.”
“No, we’re not.” Your friend rushes to wash her hands—and get as close to Linda as she can.
“Yes, we are!” You give her a look. “I’m sorry, okay? I know you want to spend more time with Zach, but it’s not right to crash Alec’s after-party like this…”
“But Zach invited us!” Your friend protests.
“What after-party?” Linda says at the same time.
You and your friend glance at her, confused.
“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, girls, but Alec doesn’t do after-parties. We just have dinner with our friends and go straight to bed!”
“But Zach said…” Your friend stops talking as she reads Linda’s “oh, honey” expression.
Your tone hardens. “So he lied to us?”
“Not necessarily.” Linda shakes her head, her eyes sad. “Zach is always partying. If that’s what you’re into, I’m sure you’re gonna have a great time with him.”
“Hard pass!” you tell your friend. “We’re going home.” You’ve had enough of his games.
“He’s not a bad guy, you know?” Linda continues. “He’s just a little…lost. And lonely.”
Your friend exchanges a long glance with you, then driers her hands with a paper towel. “You can go if you want. I’d like to stay.”
You let out a sigh. But Linda smiles as she opens the door, giving your friend all the encouragement she needs.
When we walk out the bathroom, though, Zach is no longer alone.
That’s Emma! You recognize Alec’s hairstylist for the second time today.
“And I…” She stops mid-sentence, staring back at you and your friend. “Never mind.” She turns around and rushes off .
“Emma!” Zach sprints after her, then stops as if remembering his original plan. “Can you please…?” He exchanges a glance with Linda.
“Go. I’ll keep them company till you come back.”
“Thank you!” Zach doesn’t spare you and your friend a second look before running after Emma.
“Are they together?” You’re shocked by your own question.
You’ve seen Zach flirting with lots of girls today—yourself included! But the way he looked at Emma… It reminds you of the moment AJ found you on the tour bus. Another glimpse into what he so carefully hides behind this I-don’t-have-a-heart mask.
“I—” Linda shrugs as Zach disappears into the corridor “—honestly don’t know.”
“I think I’m ready to go now,” your friend says, hurt. “Thanks to Ben, we had the most amazing day; trying to make it ‘better’ would probably just ruin everything.”
“Wait, you’re Ben’s special guests?” Linda lets out a laugh. “It’s so nice to meet you! I heard so much about you today.”
“You did?” You raise your brows.
“Yeah! From Alec, Ben, Matt and AJ—even Nina!” She chuckles again. “I was genuinely sad before the concert that I was the only one who didn’t get to meet you guys.”
“Wow…” Your friend smiles, her mood shifting from upset to overjoyed.
“Come on, now you’ve gotta have dinner with us!” She pulls your friend by the hand. “It’s nothing like Zach’s after-parties, I can tell you that much. But the whole gang will be there—they’ll be happy to see you again!”
You follow her fast pace. “You mean...” you stutter, “even Alec?”
“Yep.” She grins back at you. “You don’t have to eat his vegan pizza, though! He loves to make people try it, but you absolutely don’t have to…”
You chuckle as she talks about her version of Alec Brock. This ordinary guy that can be annoyingly insistent at times; that gets cranky whenever he’s hungry; that likes to go to bed early after a long day’s work.
You’ve been in Alec’s world literally all day long. But only right now, when Linda stops in front of his dressing room, do you feel like you’re actually stepping into it.
You’re already visualizing him relaxed on the couch—wet hair, comfy clothes—having a drink with his friends.
You can’t believe you’ll get to see James again!
And Matt and AJ! Maybe learn more about their love story…
You picture Ben next to them. You wonder if Charlie was right about him and Hailey Dawson.
Is she here with him? Is she really the bitch Charlie claimed her to be?
You’re so ecstatic when Linda opens the door you even forgive Zach for lying to you. You wish him only the best with…whatever is going on between him and Emma.
“Look who I found out there,” Linda shouts over the voices, drawing everyone’s attention.
Alec smiles from the couch, just like you imagined he would. But it’s James, standing by the door, who invites you in.
“Welcome back,” he says with a heart-stopping, blue-eyed grin.