This can’t be happening. You walk through a dark corridor directly onto the arena floor.
It gives you goosebumps to see the ginormous place so quiet, so empty.
All lights are off, except for those illuminating the stage beside you.
Is this the pit area? You glance around remembering the seating chart.
Yes, this is the left pit! Where you’re supposed to watch the concert tonight.
Your next impulse is to dash for the barricade. This is the chance of a lifetime—you’ll never be able to see Alec or any other artist from (literally) the best spot in the house.
But then you notice Ben standing by your side. The cute smile he’s holding, seeing you so excited to experience all this.
You grin back at him, every other thought vanishing from your mind.
“Please take a seat.” Liz, the crew host, points at the stands on the right. “Before we start our backstage tour, I need to explain a few rules.”
You do what she says, happy to see Ben protectively following—
“James!” your best friend shouts behind you.
Your heart beats out of your chest, trying to locate him. James McLaren is an absolute dream! You love seeing him on stage; you love the bromance he has with Alec!
It’s no accident that you have tickets for the left pit—also known as James’s side of the stage.
“Hi,” he shouts back from somewhere. You’re still spinning around, searching for his blue eyes.
“Benjamin?” The crew leader glares at him.
Only then do you notice the students’ stares, half in disapproval, the other half judgmental.
“I guess we better do our separate tour…” Ben apologizes, gesturing for you and your friend to follow him.
“That’s not what we agreed upon,” the crew leader says.
“Don’t worry, I take one hundred percent responsibility for them.” You feel his hand on your shoulder as the weight of his words hang in the air.
Ben rushes you out of sight, and guides you and your friend through the maze of dark corridors.
So this is backstage... You wonder how the heck you got so lucky?
“Thank you so much, Ben!” You turn toward him. “We don’t want to cause you any trouble but this really means so much to us that…” The words escape you when you understand where he’s taking you. When you get close enough to recognize the drum set through the black curtains of the stage.
“Just being here, seeing all this, it’s such a dream come true!” your friend finishes for you. “We’ll never be able to thank you enough!”
His cheeks go pink. “If I could, I’d take you straight to Alec—I know that’s what you’re here for. But he’s doing interviews until soundcheck, so…”
“It’ll be just as awesome to spend this time with you,” you say honestly, following him to the stage.
You’ve always liked Ben—and not only because he’s Alec’s twin. You’ve always seen something special in him. He’s one of those people you can just tell has a good heart.
“Oh my gosh.” Your friend sprints at the sight of James. “I love you so much!”
James catches her in a bear hug, smiling at you and Ben.
“Found these two waiting in the wrong line outside,” Ben explains. “It didn’t seem fair for them to miss out on all the fun.” He nods at the group of students headed for the backstage area.
James lets go of your friend, confused. “Then why…?”
“They’re real fans,” Ben says. “I thought they deserved a more…personal tour.”
“I see.” James flashes you a welcoming smile that sends a wave of warmth straight to your heart.
The next thing you know, your arms are wrapped around him. “It’s so good to meet you!”
“Likewise!” His voice is honest, even though he had no knowledge of your existence until a few minutes ago.
It’s funny the power music has to connect people. You don’t need to know their name or where they are from, if you’re vibing over the same sound you just know you made yourself a new friend.
And this power is so much stronger when the person you’re meeting is the artist! Because they’re the ones who put that piece of music into the world. So if they wrote something you can relate to, it means you’ve been through the same kind of emotional road.
“I adore your lyrics, James!” You pull away to look at him. “You and Alec—it’s like you can translate everything I’ve felt but was unable to put into words.”
“I’m glad to hear.” He meets your eyes with a pleased look.
“We’re so sorry half of the fandom doesn’t acknowledge you enough.” Your friend leans closer to hug him again. “But we see you—I need you to know that! We love you too, not only Alec!”
James holds her tight but can’t seem to find the words to say anything.
“We even got left pit tickets!” you tell him. “Just so we could be closer to you.”
“Thank you so much.” James cracks a big smile at the same time Ben’s phone chimes.
“Dad is…” Ben glances at James. “I need to meet him in the green room. Can you do me a favor and keep them company for a minute?”
“Sure.” James nods.
“Maybe start the backstage tour?” Ben suggests, already rushing off. “You know the place better than me anyway.”
“All right...” James glances between you and your friend. “Have you guys ever been backstage before?”
“Do my dreams count?” Your answer makes him laugh.
“Well, let’s start from the beginning, then.” James stretches out his hand, inviting you to follow him.
The stage is bigger than you expected. And a lot messier too. There’s a big area on both sides—where they hide the equipment cases—that isn’t visible to the public.
“This is Jeff. He’s part of our audio team.” James points at the guy behind the soundboard. “He’s the one who controls what we hear in our in-ears during the show.”
Jeff gives you a polite nod.
“That sounds less complicated than it looks.” Your friend frowns at all the sliding buttons in front of him.
“I’m not gonna lie, kid, you’ve gotta know what you’re doing.”
You don’t doubt that for a second. “Thank you for all your hard work!”
Jeff gives you a surprised smile. “You’re welcome.”
“The audio team is also responsible for mixing the show for the audience.” James shows you the restricted area in the middle of the arena floor. “I can take you there later. But basically, that’s where the sound and lighting techs make the show happen for you guys.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” you say.
“Me neither,” your friend replies. “I mean, the lights, yes—it makes sense. But, to me, the sound was coming from the stage.”
“You’ve gotta take into account how big these venues are,” James explains. “We need a very powerful sound system to ensure people can hear us all the way in the back.”
You remember this TV show you saw about Alec once, where they showed the crew building the stage.
James follows your gaze. “Yep, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
“How many people does it take to put all this in place?” your friend asks.
“I honestly don’t know.” James sighs. “Something to ask our stage manager… But before we go backstage, let me introduce you to our backline crew.” James gestures at the men scattered over the stage.
James is right, the lights system and the giant speakers were one of the first things they put together the day of the show. You glance up, searching for them.
You recognize the one kneeling down right away—he’s the guy who helps Alec switch guitars during the show. The others, though, you don’t remember ever seeing before.
“These fellas over here are responsible for all our instruments on tour,” James continues. “They’re the ones who set everything up, make sure they are in tune, assist us whenever we need help onstage…”
You smile as James wraps an arm around his guitar tech’s shoulders. The affection between them is so obvious.
Among all of them, actually.
Glancing around, watching them work in sync—you can see this is more than a workplace environment. They are too “at home.” They’re some sort of family.
“Well, well, well… what am I am missing here?”
Your heart jumps. Zach McLaren—the drummer for Sunset Motion!
“Can I have a picture?” you blurt out. “With both of you, I mean!” You feel guilty for not asking James for a photo until now.
It’s not that you didn’t want one, it’s just that… James is so humble and soft-spoken that you literally forget you’re talking to a rock star!
Zach on the other hand… The way he walks in the room like he owns it…
“I would love to.” He holds your gaze with a smug smile.
And it takes you a second to stop staring and remember the picture you just asked him to take.
“You can go first this time.” Your friend pulls your camera from your bag for you, then take a step back as you go stand between James and Zach McLaren.
First Ben, now this… It must be my lucky day!
“Thank you so much!” You beam at them after the flash, then shift positions with your best friend.
Both Zach and James smile at her, and you realize for the first time how similar they actually are. You’ve known they are cousins for a while now—before Alec announced Sunset Motion would be his opening act on tour. But you thought the only thing they had in common was their last name. Their personalities are so different you need to see them up close to really notice they have the same sharp jawline. The same thick eyebrows. Almost the same tone of blue eyes.
“So, what’s going on exactly?” Zach asks. “To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?”
His chivalry gets another smile out of you.
“James is giving us a backstage tour,” your friend says.
“Oh.” Zach raises his eyebrows. “How nice of him! He’s usually not that involved with the fans.”
You can’t miss the double meaning in his words. Is this something they do? Get involved with the fans?
“They’re Ben’s guests.” James sharpens his tone. “I’m just doing him a favor.”
“I see…” Zach glances between you and your friend, a twinkle in his eyes. “Do you need help? You’re getting ready for soundcheck—maybe I could take them off your hands.”
A girl. Standing on Alec’s runway.
Wait, not just any girl… That’s Emma, Alec’s hairstylist!
Zach meets her gaze, but she dodges his eyes, typing something on her phone.
“It’s okay,” James says, uneasy. “I still have some time before soundcheck. And Ben must be coming back soon!”
“I’m sure my backstage tour will be a lot more interesting than theirs.” Zach ignores James, talking directly to you and your friend. “I bet they didn’t show you any of the good stuff. Alec’s guitars, his dressing room, his room on the bus…”
“You can get us on his tour bus?” your friend says, wide-eyed.
“Sure!” Zach smiles.
“Zach, you know you shouldn’t—”
“It’s my bus too!” he reminds James. “Besides, they’re under Ben’s watch. Nobody gets mad at Ben for long.” Zach places a hand on you and your friend’s shoulders, leading you across the stage.
A million butterflies flutter in your stomach.
You know leaving with Zach is a bad idea. Maybe even a dangerous one—from the way James and that girl reacted to it. But for some reason, you can’t bring yourself to stop walking. To turn around. To stay with James.
“Have you seen Alec’s collection yet?” Zach opens one of the equipment cases when you reach the other side of the stage.
“Oh my God,” your friend gasps.
Alec’s guitars! All his favorite ones!
And just like that, you’re sold.
The last thing you want is to get Ben in trouble, but there’s just no way you’re not letting Zach McLaren take you to Alec’s tour bus!
“What about this bad boy?” Zach shows you where they hide Alec’s grand piano.