Read Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three) Online
Authors: Katy Atlas
The crowd was going nuts after our song, and I wished we had an encore.
Maybe Blake and I could write one
, I thought to myself, biting back a grin.
“Thanks guys,” I said
to the audience, smiling shyly into the crowd. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to being onstage, but tonight, I’d had a blast. I handed the microphone off to Liv, who tossed it casually to their lead singer as they segued into another song.
I snuck a quick
smile at Blake, and headed backstage to watch the end of the set.
There were beers in a cooler in the green room, and I grabbed one of them, giddy and relaxed now that everything had gone smoothly.
Had just performed a song.
hat we’d written.
Each part was too good to be true on its own, but all together? It was too much. I wanted to say,
it was the best day of my life
. But since I’d met Blake, I’d had too many best days to count.
, a little voice in my head reminded me. I’d had plenty of worst days too.
A few of the guys backstage murmured smiles
and congratulations as I took my place at the side of the stage, where I’d watched Blake’s concerts all summer.
I wished he could play Moving Neutral songs, the ones that he’d written, but he told me that
they were part of his settlement with the record label — he’d get royalties for as long as the band played them, but he couldn’t use them on his own. It didn’t seem fair — but then, a lot of things didn’t seem exactly fair about all of this.
For a pretty small ve
nue, the applause was thunderous when Blake stepped off the stage, almost running directly into me. We grinned at each other, his eyes focusing on me and turning tender, like he couldn’t stop himself.
or a second we just stood there smiling, like we didn’t have to say anything more.
“That was fun,” he said, moving away from the stage and picking up a beer.
“You’re welcome,” I said in a singsong voice, following him. “I guess you owe me one, huh?”
“I’ll take it off the list,
Don’t push your luck
was the clear implication. But there wasn’t any bite behind it. I pushed it anyways.
“I mean, first I write you these awesome lyrics, then I set you up for your first show of the year? And all I get is ‘I’ll take it off the list?’”
He tossed his head back, eyes shining.
We kept walking away from the stage, back towards the green room where the band had gotten ready before the show. Away from the chaos of the audience and the stage, Blake paused for a minute, looking at me carefully.
“Okay, Case,” he said, his voice quiet and sincere. “What do you want, then?” He looked down at me and for a second, it was like there was no one else in the room.
, I thought.
I want you.
The words were on my lips when Liv barreled up behind me.
“Time to celebrate,” Liv’s voice carried across the backstage area, as she jogged off the stage and set her guitar down on one of the stands. Her eyes had an excited glint as she motioned both of us towards the green room. She punched in the code and swung the door open, and immediately began to rifle through a leather bag that was stuffed behind an unused amp. Smiling triumphantly, she raised a glass bottle above her head.
“Beer’s fine,” Blake started, shaking his head but still smiling.
“But liquor is quicker,” Liv finished his sentence with an evil laugh. She unscrewed the cap and took a swig straight from the bottle.
exasperatedly, but when Liv passed it to me, I took a gulp — and promptly started coughing the second I swallowed.
“Ew,” I scrunched my face into a ball. “Come on, even frat parties have mixers.”
Liv claimed an armchair by rearranging the coats and bags that had covered it, and I did the same with one side of the couch next to her.
“Come on, Case — if you’re going to be a sometimes-rockstar now, you’ve got to start acting like one. Let’s break you out of Taylor Swift territory, huh?”
rolled my eyes and passed her back the bottle — still grinning, she broke down and grabbed me a diet coke from one of the coolers.
“That’s a c
haser,” she said firmly. “That’s not your drink, you got it?”
I started laughing
. Prim and proper Casey Snow would completely disapprove.
“Got it,” I said, flashing my best eager-beaver schoolgirl smile.
“Good,” Liv turned to Blake. “She’s a quick learner, huh?”
He paused for a second, and I thought I could see a flush creep up his cheeks. “
She’s amazing,” he said, looking right at me.
I love you I love you I love you,
I thought to myself. And then,
play it cool, Casey.
We passed around the bottle once more, and then slowed down. The rest of the band came over to say hi, and thanked us
— one of them still giggling over the look on Blake’s face when I stepped on stage.
I shot a nervous look at him, tr
ying to see if anger would surface, but he seemed relaxed. Happy.
After a while, it was just the three of us, and Liv started packing up her
“So, I hope this served as an adequate audition,” she grinned
at me, and then looked at Blake. “We play well together.”
“Thanks, Liv,” I said, cutting off the line of conversation. I didn’t want to freak Blake out when things were finally really good
— or at least, slowly on the way there.
“You guys can hang out as long as you want,” Liv said as she stood up. “There’s more booze,
snacks. Actually, there are probably some old guitars around here, if you want to write another song,” she grinned. “Just floating that out there…”
Blake threw a crumbled piece of paper at her. “I think you’ve done enough for the night.”
She paused for a second in the doorway, looking at the two of us with a slightly smug expression on her face. “I’d say I have.”
We both groaned in unison, and if I’d had anything nearby to throw, I would have hit the door behind her as it closed. Instead, I
leaned back on the sofa and covered my head with my arm.
And then, suddenly, it was just me and Blake. Alone.
It was everything I’d been waiting for, ever since Blake left his house in Santa Monica and never came back.
We sat in silence for a second — there was so much to say, but now that we were here, together, I’d forgotten how to make the words come out.
“Blake—” I said it as a whisper, and it hung in the stale, alcohol-tinged, sweaty air around us. He looked at me
nervously, like he wasn’t sure if he should stay or go.
As if making a decision, he smiled at me sheepishly. “So the next time I stop returning your calls, what’s your move? Guest appearance on SNL?”
I smiled back, taking the bait. “Superbowl halftime show,” I grinned, and then paused, biting my lip. “Is there going to be a next time?”
He looked at me warily. “I don’t know, Case. Do you really want to go there?”
“Listen,” I said, keeping my tone light.
“At this point, I think it’s clear that the universe is forcing us together, so I’m pretty sure we should just go with it.”
Blake cracked a smile. “The universe, huh? The universe planned this show?”
“Well,” I smiled back. “The universe was
in planning the show, for sure.”
“I’m humbled,” Blake leaned a little closer to me, “that the universe takes such an active interest in my musical career.”
I smiled again, suddenly shy. “Well,” I said, meeting his eyes. “The universe must care about you a lot.”
We were sitting on the tattered backstage couch, only inches from each other. For a second, it was like nothing had changed, like we were back on the Moving Neutral tour bus or behind the scenes at some show, waiting for the signal for Blake to go onstage.
I wondered if he missed it too.
I took a deep breath. There was only one way to find out.
“Do you ever think that maybe we should…” I trailed off, and then mustered my courage. “Do you think, maybe, we should record this song?”
t was like I’d poured a bucket of ice all over us.
Blake’s eyes narrowed. “
I can’t, Case. I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
Blake leaned back onto the couch, away from me.
After how much fun he’d had tonight, I’d thought for sure that it was the right suggestion.
“That’s final, Case.” He cut me off. “I just can’t. I’m sorry.”
I stared back at him, dumbstruck. I’d gone through all this, and he wasn’t even going to discuss it?
“That’s not enough,” I said stubbornly. “Come on, Blake, seriously? You’re just going to tell me no and not even give me a reason?”
He took a deep breath, guilt splashing across his face. “Case, I’m sorry. It’s out of the question,” he raised his drink up to his lips. “I guess I just didn’t… I didn’t even think you’d want to. It never even occurred to me.”
I blinked. “I don’t know what I want. I just…” I closed my eyes. “I’ve got to do something, Blake. Right now… it’s like I’m lost. I don’t know where my place is. If I’d never met you, I guess it just would have been school. But now, after all this, I don’t fit there.” I sighed. “I don’t fit anywhere. I don’t fit in college because I’m sort of famous, or whatever, and I don’t fit in at all the parties and events because I’m not
famous. I’m just your ex-girlfriend who ruined your life.”
Blake’s eyes were tinged with sympathy. “You didn’t ruin my life, Case.”
“Tell that to the tabloids,” I raised my voice. “Tell that to the girl who poured a drink down my dress in L.A. Tell that to all those commenters online calling me a slut every time someone writes an article about me. And those are just the ones I’ve seen.”
My lips were like a firm line, but I felt tears in my eyes
. Blake looked back at me, his expression hardening.
“Case, I’m sorry about this. I’m sorry about everything. This is what I was afraid of happening.”
I looked at him, feeling my heart sink. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, Casey. You’re not wrong. Both of us had somewhere we fit in before this summer. Sometimes I think it would have been easier on both of us if we’d never even met.”
His words punched me in the stomach, and for a second I choked on the air.
“But,” I hea
rd my voice shaking. “I love you.”
“Case, I know. I love you too. I love you so much, I’d do anything for you.
But you’re asking me to do something that I just can’t,” he sighed. “And honestly, I don’t know if it’s the best idea for you, either.”
“Since when do you know what’s best for me?” I stood up, wanting to be further away from him, from
his smell that I’d missed so much, from his blazing blue eyes.
I felt my knees wobble a little as I stood up, but I wasn’t sure it was from the alcohol or the conversation. Without thinking, I grabbed the bottle and took another gulp.
“Whoa, Casey, slow down,” Blake rose to his feet too, clasping an arm around me and pulling the bottle out of my hand, setting it out of arm’s reach on the table.
“Fine, Blake, then what
best for me? English classes? Multivariable calculus? Not the sorority, obviously,” I flinched at the memory. “Are you going to make me a careful list of the things that I’m not allowed to do?”
“Case,” he looked down at me through wide, concerned eyes. “I’m just
But I cut him off, moving over to where he was standing. I stepped up onto my tiptoes so we could be eye to eye. “You’re not my
dad, Blake. You don’t get to pull the overprotective card.”
And then, just as I’d made my point, fire in my eyes and feeling as fierce as I could muster
— my ankle slipped.
I’d been partially balanced against a small amp, trying to get as close as I could to where Blake was standing, but when I stomped down on the amp, it just slid backwards, away from my foot.
And suddenly I was falling, off balance from the alcohol, and crumpling towards the ground.
— straight into Blake’s arms.
With one step, he moved forward and caught me, grabbing me with both arms and holding me steady, my body braced against his chest.
“Are you okay?” he whispered, his lips so close to my ear that his breath tickled my neck.
Both of Blake’s arms were around me, holding me to him like a giant bear hug, so tightly. Like he was afraid if he let go, I’d fall through the floor.
But let’s be serious: I wasn’t going anywhere. Blake’s touch on my body was like a live electrical wire, and all I could think about was the last time we were this close together, right before….
I pulled myself closer to him, and heard his breath catch.
He remembered too.
I tried to rise to my earlier indignation, feeling his breath on my cheek. “You made it pretty clear that you
don’t want anything to do with me, Blake. So stop treating me like I’m your little sister — I can manage just fine.”
Something glinted in his eyes, and he pulled me tighter. My whole body shivered and I could hear my heart thumping against his chest. He tilted his head down, so that it was almost against my ear, his lips just millimeters away from my neck, and I felt my eyes close involuntarily.
“No, Casey. You’re definitely… not… my little sister.” His breath tickled my neck with each word, and I felt my chest rise and fall against him.
. But before I could do anything, his body seemed to stiffen, and he dropped his arms, making sure I could stand.
“Right,” he said, his eyes still dark and wanting more
— but he fought it, taking a step back. “Let’s get you in a cab.”
What the hell was that?
Blake waited for me as I grabbed my bag from behind one of the amps, and pulled my jacket over my shoulders. As we emerged from the green room, the concert space had started to clear out, but a number of people were still standing around, finishing their drinks and talking in small groups. We quickened our steps as we walked towards the entrance, hoping to get outside without anyone noticing us.
Blake paused at the door, holding it open so that I could walk out in front of him. Pulling my jacket tighter, I slipped through the door into the quiet East Village street.
Only the second I got outside, the street wasn’t so quiet anymore.
The first voice jolted me into the moment, and I
immediately turned back to Blake, trying to stop him before he got outside. The last thing I needed was to ruin our night with a paparazzi run-in.
But Blake was already
out the door. Seeing the first camera flash, he recognized what had happened and, with a quick glance at me, he walked quickly into the street, holding his hand out for a taxi.
Four photographers had been staked out at the entrance, but now that they’d spotted us, they were like vultures. Following us into the street, they snapped shot after shot with blinding flash as Blake tried to get a cab. Thankfully, the traffic was moving, but the first two cars that passed us already had passengers.
“Are you guys back together?”
“Are you starting a band?”
I blinked, remembering the protocol. I thought back to when Blake and April were hounded by the paparazzi all summer, the way they’d bundle up in hats and sunglasses to avoid getting photographed. It had worked pretty well at the time, but wasn’t much good to me in the middle of the night, in the dead of winter.
“How was the show?”
“Was this all just a PR stunt?”
I looked down at the ground, following a few steps behind Blake. As much as I wanted to, I knew the worst thing I could possibly do at this point was to open my mouth.
“Casey, how’s Tanner?”
I saw Blake’s mouth set into a thin line, like he was pushing himself not to reac
t. The photographer nearest to me seemed to sense that he’d hit a sensitive topic, and kept going.
Love triangle, huh? Blake, is she worth it?”
I watched Blake’s whole body tense, and I knew I had to do something fast.
“Hey,” I said, turning around and facing the photographer head on. A flashbulb exploded in front of me and I raised my hand, trying to shield my eyes. “Hey, listen.”
The flashes subsided. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I lowered my hand.
“Hi,” I said, smiling widely at them. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Casey.” I held out my hand to the first photographer, acting like it was the most natural thing in the world.
He looked at me suspiciously, and then shook it. “
Kent,” he said.
I introduced myself to the other three photographers, trying to act like I was certain of what I was doing. “And I think you all know Blake?”
Blake was looking at me from the street, staring at me incredulously. The three photographers waved, and, mouth gaping, he nodded to them.
“Listen,” I said brightly. “We’ve got to get back to school, but if we pose for a few photos, do you guys think you could keep the narrative to yourselves?”
The group eyed me warily. Posed photos were less valuable to the magazines, but they couldn’t sell the images if we were covering our faces, and from their expressions, I guessed that they hadn’t gotten a useable shot of the two of us together yet.
The headlights of a cab turned down the street, and all of us saw it at the same time.
“Now or never,” I said, as Blake held out his arm to flag down the taxi.
The photographers seemed to decide in unison, each of them raising their cameras at the same time. As the taxi pulled up behind us, I leaned into Blake and
he slipped an arm around my shoulders.
“Body warmth,” I whispered, shivering under my jacket.
I could hear the smile in his voice. “You’re, like, the paparazzi whisperer?”
“Everybody’s got a skill,” I snuggled in closer,
crisis averted for the moment.