Brandon was fairly certain Nathan had taken his jacket again.

It was not the first time for any of them. When you were all on the road together, suitcases tossed around from bus to hotel more times than should be possible, things were likely to get mixed up. Or borrowed. Or conveniently removed and not returned. Ben had been wearing a pair of jeans for the last few months that Brandon was almost sure had originally belonged to Mark, and Kyle’s hairspray constantly running out was probably not due to overuse but the fact that Nathan had started borrowing it when he was not looking.

Not that Brandon was guiltless. He was not quite sure where the comb in his pocket had come from, he just knew that Mark used to have one a lot like it.

It was his jacket, though.

Kyle was napping on the bed next to his, but he was not sure where the others were. Ben and Mark were talking about going shopping, so they were possibly out. Nathan could be in his room if he was not out as well.

London had been feeling a little too chilly ever since they landed from Mexico, and he needed his jacket.

He got down from the bed. Nathan was two doors away. He ambled down the hallway and was about to knock when he heard his friend’s voice, talking to someone.

“Come on. I miss you.” Nathan sounded like he was pouting. His voice was husky and shrill, making him ideal for the peppy numbers they did. But right now, it sounded deep and enticing. Brandon figured he was on the phone because he could hear no one else in the room.

“Why not?” His voice turned low, a bit sooky. “I love you.”

Brandon’s eyes widened in realisation. He was talking to his girlfriend, Ginny. As funny as Nathan was, he could be absolutely soppy when it came to love. He’d heard him spend entire nights on the tour bus talking to her on the phone, acting like a love-sick puppy.

“Aw, baby…” he soothed. “Poor thing. Can I kiss it all better?”

There was a laugh from him. “I will. I promise. Kiss you all over,” he sighed.

Brandon shook his head. He was, in all likelihood, trying to coax her into some phone sex. It was not surprising at all, considering they spent so long away from home. From what they had seen of Ginny, she was a firecracker.

And the Prime Minister’s daughter, of course.

The fact that Nathan was in a relationship with the Taoiseach’s daughter was something only the four of them knew. They had been together since they were sixteen, and had crackling chemistry. They were twenty now, and made an adorable couple. But since they were an up-and-coming boyband, with young girls as the target audience, they had to hide their relationships as best as possible.

He turned away from the door, deciding to not interrupt his private moment. When he entered his room, Kyle was awake and idly switching from one TV channel to another.

“Hey.” He looked at Brandon as he walked back to his bed and collapsed. “Where have you been?”

“Just… around.” He shrugged, reaching for his phone on the side table. They were supposed to be at a club for a gig that night. That meant more makeup, outfits, and fancy moves. They were also scheduled to appear on The Late Late Show after the performance. That meant answering more questions about their upcoming album. “What are we watching?”

“There’s nothing on TV.” Kyle shook his head, then yawned. “You want to pick a movie?”

“Not in the mood, really.” Brandon sank back against the satin pillows and sighed. Mexico had been fun, filming the music video, going out shopping, travelling, and exploring cuisines so different from their Irish fare. He had bought things for himself, as well as for his family and friends. His sisters had long lists.

His phone rang, his home number flashing on the screen. It was his father on the line when he answered.

“Hi, dad.” Brandon smiled. “How’s everything?”

“Everything’s grand, lad.” He could almost hear his dad smile. “Your mam wanted me to check if you had landed yet.”

“Yes, a couple of hours ago.” He looked at Kyle, who was watching a music video with the sound muted. “You folks are being flown down tomorrow for the gig, right?”

“We are.” Peter laughed. Their gigs were still small, but were quickly getting bigger, with everyone wanting a piece of them. Their security had also been heightened after certain untoward incidents by fans at airports, in front of hotels, or outside their cars. Now they had two guards each wherever they went.

They were the support act for Mariah Carey the following night, after having recorded a duet with her for their first album, and their families were being flown in for the show. It would be a new and exciting experience for them and their folks.

“Ben’s parents are also coming, right?” he asked, although he already knew they were. As busy as they were, they still tried to be present at most of their performances.

“Yes, they are,” his father replied. “Tom is home and Emily sounded very excited about watching you lads perform.”

“Oh.” He ran a finger through his hair, the weight of Kyle’s gaze on him. “I’ll probably get to meet you after the show, then,” he said, dropping the subject. “Say hi to mam from me.”

“You take care of yourself,” his father said. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”

He stared at the screen of his phone long after the call had ended. It was only when Kyle spoke that he was startled out of his thoughts.

“Okay?” he asked, balancing the remote on his knees. Brandon nodded. Kyle smirked, turning his head to look at the TV.

“Thinking of Izzi, aren’t ye?” he asked, his voice snarky. Brandon did not want to admit it, but he nodded anyway. Kyle laughed.

“What?” Brandon frowned at him.

“Just…” He switched a channel and stopped on a random movie. “I never thought you’d fall in love with her,” Kyle sniggered. “I mean, you’ve gone out with the most popular girls in town. You used to have a new girlfriend every week, remember? And then you get hooked on Izzi.”

He looked at him, that cheeky smirk plastered on his face. “I thought you went for the blondes.”

“Izzi is better than all of those girls combined,” Brandon retorted, his skin tingling. “She’s sweet, she’s mature and intelligent. And she doesn’t give me a headache with perfume or makeup or constant chatter.”

“That’s if she talked at all.”

“She does talk. You have to know the right things to say to her.”

“Uh-huh? Like what?”

Brandon shot him a glare. He had not changed, still the rascal trying to bully others. Even after he knew Isabel’s history.

“Why are ye so interested?” He snapped without meaning to. “Haven’t ye a girl of your own?”

“At the moment, no.” Kyle bounced his legs, his eyes fixed on the movie. “Don’t worry. I’m not after her. You’re the only sane person who’d want to be with a weirdo.”

“She’s gone through hell, Kyle.” Brandon’s voice rose. “How would you feel if you were locked in the attic, starved, and beaten up? Or…”

He trailed off, the very images nauseating him. Closing his eyes, he shook his head to clear his mind and got down from the bed.

“Fuck you.” Brandon snapped at him as he left the room and slammed the door behind him.

“Hey, Brandy. I was about to get you.” Nathan was leaving his room, smiling. “Your jacket was in my bag. Here.”

He threw the familiar brown leather at him. Brandon grabbed his jacket and slipped it on, walking slowly towards his friend.

“Are you okay, mate?” Nathan asked when he was close enough. Brandon nodded.

“Kyle’s being an eejit.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “That cocky little shite…”

“It’s okay.” Nathan put an arm around him. “He’s young and reckless. But he’ll get better.”

“I hope so. Because I don’t think I’ll keep his face intact if I hear him talking like that about Izzi again.”

Nathan frowned. “What did he say?”

Brandon sighed, starting to walk down the hallway. “Mean things,” he murmured, shoving his hands inside his pockets. “I don’t know how he can say all that about her. He knows her story… He should be more considerate.”

“He’s probably just jealous because she chose you and not him.” Nathan patted his back. “Ignore what he says. When he falls in love, he’ll understand.”

“I don’t think he’ll ever understand someone like her.”

“Maybe. But he’ll understand your feelings. Why you do what you do for her.” He squeezed Brandon’s shoulder. “Izzi is a sweet girl. I can’t even bring myself to imagine what she must’ve gone through all these years, but…” He smiled, tussling his hair. “…I love the way you love her. When we tour together, I’m sure she’ll get along well with Ginny.”

“You think that day will come? When we tour together?” Brandon’s hazel-green eyes glistened with tears. Nathan hugged him properly this time. He understood him, knew how he felt. It was not without reason that he thought Nathan was the most sensible guy in the band, and it did not have anything to do with the fact that he was the oldest among them.

“I do,” he said. “Don’t you?”

“I don’t know, Nat.” He pulled away, tears blurring his vision. “She’s so fragile… She doesn’t even seem human anymore. She doesn’t smile, doesn’t cry, doesn’t show any emotion.” Brandon looked away and closed his eyes, the tears trickled down his face. “She doesn’t sing. I can’t even remember now what she used to sound like singing.”

“Except when your phone rings.” Nathan laughed softly. That was true. His ringtone was Isabel singing Amazing Grace for him. It was probably the most emotional rendition of the song he’d ever heard. The first time she sang it to him, he had not been able to stop crying.

“I know how you feel.” Nathan nodded. “She’ll get over this, no matter how long it takes. The worst is over. Now… she only needs time to heal.”

Brandon nodded and wiped off his tears. Nathan slapped his back. “You want to grab lunch, right?” he asked. “I’ll get Kyle. You see what Ben and Mark are up to. They should be back by now.”

With another nod, Brandon forced a smile and headed further down the hallway.


Mark peeped at the audience from behind the curtain. It was certainly the biggest crowd they had performed to so far. And why not? That was the biggest music venue in London.

“It’s crazy out there!” He announced, coming back to the dressing room. “Five thousand people! Can you believe it?”

Nathan turned, smearing his hair with a generous amount of mousse.

“Yeah? Saw anyone?”

“Nope. Too dark there.” Mark came in front of the mirror, checking his own hair. They were in all black leather- trousers, sleeveless jackets, and gloves – and throughout that morning, they had rehearsed their moves for the night with their choreographers. En route to the arena, they had been convoyed in blacked-out, flashing vehicles, and later, Louis had not been able to stop hugging them. “I’m sure our families have arrived. They have VIP seating.”

He turned to look at Brandon, who on other days would be bouncing around the place like a rubber ball. He was the most energetic in the band, always full of mad vigour and enthusiasm that had less to do with him being the lead singer and more with his passion for the job. It was the best job in the world.

That evening, however, he was swinging in a chair, lost in thought.

“Are you alright, Brandy?” Mark asked him. He finally lifted his head and gave a faint nod. Ben looked up from his shoelaces.

“You seem down,” he observed. “Is everything okay?”

“Fine.” Brandon sighed, dropping his head back. He did not want anyone to know that he was missing Isabel. Watching Mark meticulously chew on his fingernails made him think about her even more, about her attempts at ridding their dimpled friend of his unhygienic habit. He wondered if she would come to watch them at their biggest gig yet. It was only a support act, but they had got the chance because they were the hottest thing on the block.

He wanted Isabel to be there, witness the moment. Wanted to share his joy with her.

As they huddled together and said a quick Hail Mary before the performance, Ben smiled reassuringly at him.

“Don’t worry.” He nodded. “I’m sure she’ll be there.”


 She was not.

Their stage time was no more than fifteen minutes, but it was madder than they could have imagined. The crowd cheered them with a deafening roar, threw flowers, bras, knickers, and teddy bears at them, and held up suggestive banners. It did not seem like they were only a support act. They owned the stage.

Even amid the madness, Brandon searched for Isabel in the audience. He could see his parents and his siblings. His friends were also there. And then he thought that maybe she was too shy to sit amid the audience and would choose to come and meet them backstage.

But she was not there either.

Brandon wanted to cry. He had not seen her in three weeks, had spoken once or twice, and both the times he’d been quite tipsy. He missed her. Wanted to see her, hold her. Talk to her properly.

Once he had caught up with his family, he made his way toward Ben’s parents. They hugged him, congratulating him on their remarkable performance.

“Didn’t Izzi come?” He asked them, unable to hold back any longer. Thomas and Emily exchanged a glance and then looked at him like he had asked something odd. Like he was stupid to expect Isabel to come and cheer for him amid a 5000-strong audience when she barely spoke to anyone or left her room.

“She didn’t want to,” Emily said with a weak smile. “And she has school tomorrow. We didn’t badger her.”

Thomas came forward, holding him affectionately by his shoulders. “Brandy, as much as you miss her, you have to remember that she isn’t fit to come to a place like this at the moment,” he explained. “She just wants to be left alone. She needs space.”

“And crowds make her uncomfortable,” Emily added. “She doesn’t even listen to music anymore.”

Brandon nodded. None of that was news to him. He knew Isabel just as well as they did. But darn, he missed her. He blinked, willing the tears to go away.

“Is she okay?” he asked around the lump in his throat.

“She’s fine,” Emily nodded. “And if it helps, she misses you too.”

“She does?” His eyes widened. “Does she… does she ask about me?”

“All the time, lad,” Thomas laughed. “Ask your parents, they will tell you better. She’s always asking about you, about all of you. She may not be here, but she supports you all the same.”

Brandon’s hand went to his chest. He breathed in, trying to not become emotional all over again. He knew she was there. When he’d spoken to her the other day, he had not asked if she was going to come to the show, because he wanted her to surprise him. But even when she was not there, he knew she still loved and supported him. After all, it was because of her that he’d got into the band.

“You’re coming back to the hotel with us for dinner, right?” he asked, and was relieved when they nodded. “I bought a show jacket for Izzi. Will you please take it back home with you?”

“You found her size?” Emily laughed. Brandon nodded. When he saw the first horse as a four-year-old, he was too scared to even go anywhere near it. But Isabel had already bonded with most of the horses at the barn, and was not afraid of being on the back of a galloping animal despite her short stature. It had come as a surprise to him because she had grown up far removed from the country and his barn was the first place she ever saw a horse up close.

“She’s excellent with the horses,” he smiled. “I saw the jacket when I was out shopping and thought that’s what she’s missing. She’ll look adorable in it.”

Emily patted his cheek, then drew him in her motherly embrace. “Thank you,” she whispered. “You’ve been very good to her.”

Brandon swallowed hard, hoping he never gave her reason to think otherwise.


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