“Hey, Derek, we’re going to the bar. You coming?” Harrison called to me, as I headed to the dressing room at the back of the arena.
We were the founding members of the country music band, Hometown. Harrison was the bass guitarist and had grown up with me in Oklahoma. I was lead vocals for the band and played acoustic guitar as well.
I nodded. “Give me twenty.” An evening at the bar would be just what my frazzled nerves needed, but first, I needed a shower. My hair was soaked with sweat and my black t-shirt clung to my body. Another two-hour set was in the books and we were almost halfway through our first headlining tour.
Harrison and I had spent a few years playing small bars for a little pocket change while we were in college. We had never intended to become famous or to end up with a number one album. But that is exactly what happened. We were approached by a talent scout after playing at a honky-tonk in Tulsa. In the blink of an eye, our little side gig turned into our livelihoods.
Within a few months of that chance encounter, we were in a studio in Nashville recording our first album. Our current headlining tour followed a six-month tour opening for one of the hottest country artists in the nation.
Since playing that bar in Tulsa, I had gone from Derek Edward Scott, a twenty-two year old ranch hand on my family’s ranch, college student, and struggling artist and songwriter, to twenty-four year old Derek Edwards. Derek Edwards was a country music sensation, playing sold-out arenas, various music awards shows, and oh yeah, a Grammy award-winning artist.
How the fuck did that happen?
Our first single had shot straight to the top of the charts and our lives had been an insane roller coaster ride ever since.
There was a part of me that missed just being a college student and working on my parents’ ranch in the summers. As quickly as that thought entered my mind, it was joined by memories of the uncomfortable Christmas I spent with my family three weeks earlier. I’d been dragged to church to listen to the pastor drone on about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I’d heard the same sermon so often I could practically recite it by heart.
What I hadn’t expected was the extra fifteen minutes of the pastor lecturing the entire congregation about how the “gay agenda” was threatening Christianity and the sanctity of this holy time. I’d sat in the pew with my mouth hanging open, wondering how the gays were killing Christmas.
Okay, so, maybe being a chart-topping country artist who only had time to go home for a couple of days every four or five months wasn’t so bad after all.
I showered as quickly as I could and headed to find Harrison and whoever else was going to join us at the bar. We had just finished playing in Nashville which proved to be every bit as insane as we expected. We knew we couldn’t go to a bar anywhere in the city because we’d be mobbed by fans. Instead, Harrison was on his phone searching for bars off the beaten path to hopefully give us a bit of anonymity and allow us some much needed time to relax.
“Where’re we going?” I questioned, as I pulled on a black and white plaid button-up over a white undershirt. I rolled the sleeves halfway up my forearms and grabbed an old college ball cap before being satisfied with my appearance.
Harrison grinned. “Franklin. It’s about thirty minutes from here, kinda the middle of nowhere.”
Gina, one of our backup singers,turned vital member of the band, clapped happily. “Night out!” She was a petite little thing, topping the scale at maybe one hundred and ten pounds soaking wet and was no more than five-foot-three. Her hair was purple, at least that week, by the next week it would likely be a different color.
The first few weeks of the tour, Gina had flirted with me almost constantly, but after pulling her aside one night and telling her I wasn’t interested in her, or any woman, she backed off and became a friend and fierce ally.
I’d been out in college and our management team had been quick to separate Derek Scott and Derek Edwards. The thought was if they could bury the existence of Derek Scott, an out gay man, then there wouldn’t be much dirt on me. I hadn’t been all that comfortable with the idea at first. I’d just gotten comfortable enough with my sexuality to come out to friends. The last thing I wanted to do was go back into the closet. A number of worst case scenarios had been thrown my way before I finally agreed to the name change.
It had been over a year and there didn’t seem to be many, if any, people who had figured out we were the same person. The media finding out had quickly become my biggest fear. Country music wasn’t ready for a gay musician, yet.
I had reluctantly agreed to go back into the closet with the understanding I would be able to tell the band. When we signed the contract, I didn’t want my personal life to be public knowledge anyway. I’d always been a private person and I prefered to keep it that way. In private though, I didn’t want to hide my sexuality. I needed the band to know I was gay because it was a part of who I was. Unfortunately, the fear management had ingrained in me made it hard to be open, even with the band. It had taken me months to come out to everyone on the tour with us. We were a tight knit group and so far nothing about my sexuality had been leaked online or to the media.
I was happy to keep it that way.
Gina, Harrison, and I were joined by Clayton, Vance, and Neil, all backup musicians hired by the label, but we had quickly become friends. We climbed into a black SUV and Harrison leaned forward to input the address into the driver’s phone. “Please, keep us under the radar. We just need a night out,” he said to the man.
The driver nodded and began to follow the directions on his phone while we laughed and chatted in the back. The farther from Nashville we got, the more I was able to relax. It had been too long since I was Derek Scott and I missed going out with friends. The last eighteen months had been a whirlwind and it was nice to be able to take a step back.
“We’ve just snuck out,” I said with a laugh. “Sneaking out of Nashville is a lot harder than it was to sneak out of our houses growing up.”
Harrison laughed too. “Remember that night in high school when we snuck out of your house to go to the movies with our girlfriends and your dad was sitting on the front porch as we rounded the house?”
We dove into a row of bushes on the side of the driveway, both forgetting they were my mom’s roses. By the time we got ourselves untangled from the bushes, we were scratched and our clothes were torn from the thorns. Thankfully, we were able to keep our pained screams muffled and got away before my dad found us.
Gina shot me a mischievous grin. “Girlfriend?”
“You didn’t grow up in an Evangelical household. I faked it until I was in college. I didn’t come out to my immediate family until just before the tour started. I’m still not out to our fans. At this rate, we’ll be retired before I find a guy to be with.”
I was on track for the longest dry spell ever.
Harrison bumped me with his shoulder. “There’s no reason that has to be the case. You’ve made enough money on this tour to never need to go back to Oklahoma again. Be happy for once.”
I rolled my eyes at him as the SUV pulled into the parking lot of a small bar in the middle of a tiny town. “Good job, Harrison, you found a bar off the beaten path!” Clayton said, his voice laced with sarcasm. There were two SUVs with Sheriff Department markings in the lot and maybe ten other cars and trucks. We piled out of the back and headed into the bar.
There was a slight lull in conversations as the six of us walked in the front door of Steve’s Tavern. The most generic bar name in the most generic looking place ever. Thank you Harrison! I had to refrain from turning and hugging him in the middle of the bar.
Most of the bar’s occupants allowed their eyes to sweep over the five men in our group when we first entered. It was clear this was a local bar and outsiders were uncommon. And none of us were small guys, Neil was the shortest and slightest built of all of us, but even he was almost six feet tall and solid muscle. Once they took us in, they all seemed to notice Gina standing behind us and more than one set of male eyes appraised her. I pulled my ball cap down farther to avoid recognition.
“I’m here to have fun,” Gina whispered, “and so help me, if any of you pull the big brother card and gets in the way, I’m going to have your balls.”
We all laughed and headed directly to the bar. Gina already had a man approaching her, offering to buy her a drink, so I grabbed a beer with the other guys and we headed to a table in the corner.
An hour later, I excused myself to use the restroom in the back of the bar. On my way out, I was distracted by a text from my brother and I ran face first into a solid wall of muscle, knocking my ball cap to the ground. My six-foot frame was nothing compared to the tall, dark, and handsome man standing in front of me wearing a dark green uniform shirt that read “Sheriff Westfield.” His sleeves were rolled up over his elbows and his exposed arms were thick with sinewy muscles that moved hypnotically. He put his hands on my shoulders to steady me as I took a few steps back. I felt electricity zing through the spots where our bodies touched. “Sorry,” I muttered, as I bent to pick my ball cap up off the ground and slid my phone into my pocket. My brother could wait.
I had a hard time looking the gorgeous man in his piercing green eyes.
“No problem,” the guy, Sheriff Westfield I presumed, said in a deep voice with a slight tip of his own hat.
He walked into the bathroom and I had to pull myself together, quick. “Not now, Derek,” I scolded myself. “This is not the time, or the place. Jesus fucking Christ, you are on tour.”
My growing arousal was going to be a problem, so I started thinking of mathematical equations, the next tour stop, anything to make me stop thinking about the Adonis who had just walked into the bathroom. I finally pulled my phone out of my pocket again, thinking maybe returning my brother’s text would distract me enough my cock would stand down, and I could go back to my friends without a hard-on in my jeans.
“Can’t seem to get away from you,” a deep voice said from in front of me, causing me to jump slightly.
So much for distraction.