“Hi Jett,” he answers, and I hear sympathy there.

Every time I hear it, I’m reminded of what I’ve lost.

“Tom, why the hell have you left three messages for me today? You know I always get back to you eventually. I don’t need three fucking messages to remind me.” I’m a cranky bastard tonight but I’m helpless to stop it.

“I’m worried about you. We’re all worried about you.”

I want to punch something but I refrain; punching a hole in Presley’s wall would not go down well with her.

I rub my neck again and grind my teeth. “I don’t want people to worry about me, Tom! Fuck, I’m not the one who died.”

“No, but you’re the one left to cope with that death, Jett, and all I see is you shutting out everyone who cares about you. That’s not the way to cope.”

“I don’t need to fucking talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it!”

He’s silent for a moment. “How about we agree that I’ll call you once a day and you have to answer, but I won’t ask you how you are. We’ll just talk about other shit.”

And there’s that goddamn female group therapy club again. But I know he won’t give in on this so I agree. “Fine. You call, I’ll answer, and we’ll discuss the weather or some shit.”

“Anyone ever told you what a difficult asshole you can be sometimes?”

Usually, that would cause me to laugh, but today there’s no laughter in me. “Only every chance they get. And now I’ve gotta go because I’ve got three more fucking calls to make to the rest of our group therapy members.”

I hang up and then get my calls to Hunter, Van and West out of the way before dinner. And then I head into the kitchen to find Presley. And to see what alcohol she has in there. A drink is exactly what I need to take my mind off everything.

Sweat sticks to my skin, which in turn, sticks to my dress. God, I hate the heat of Queensland some days. We sat in the stifling heat of the church this morning for Claudia’s funeral and then we stood in the heat again at the cemetery, and now we’ve got about fifty people crammed into Jett’s parents’ house. And the house isn’t air-conditioned.

I find a corner of the living room that doesn’t have too many people in it and take a moment to collect myself. As I smooth my hair back, a hand lands on my shoulder and a familiar voice says into my ear – “How’s Jett doing?”

Turning, I look up into Van’s dark eyes. I’m fascinated with his eyes. They’re already dark brown but there’s something that lingers there that reveals his darker side. I’ve never asked Jett about it but looking at him now, I wonder what he’s gone through in life that’s touched his soul in that way.

He nods in quiet agreement before looking around the room. I follow his gaze and see Jett enter the room with a drink in hand. Shit, not again.

Van turns back to me. “How much is he drinking?”

“Well, he turned up drunk the night you guys were out and then he wrote himself off last night over dinner, and now it looks like he’s well on his way to doing it again.” I pause for a moment. “Is this standard behaviour for him when he’s down?”

“Not really, no. But he did drink heavily for a while once when he had a crazy fan stalk him. She caused the band and him so much grief that he ended up locking himself away from the public for months and drinking to forget it.”

“So you’re concerned he’s going to do that again?” I’m concerned right along with him.

“Yeah, we need to keep an eye on it. I don’t want to see him go down that path again.”

I contemplate him. He’s a mystery to me; assholey one minute, caring the next. And I’m not quite sure what to make of him. I take a stab at it, though. “You care a lot about Jett, don’t you? Even though you argue with him all the time.”

His intense gaze doesn’t let up. If anything, it deepens. “Jett’s the one person I care the most about in this world. My family has fucked me over, my friends use me for what they can get out of me, and my fiancé tried to rob me blind after she fucked me over… through all of that, the one person who always had my back was Jett. I forgot that for a while recently, but I remember now, and I won’t ever forget again. And yeah, I argue with the asshole a lot, but that’s because I’m a bigger asshole than he’ll ever be.”

I’m surprised by his words and at the same time, my respect for him grows. It takes a lot for a man to admit that kind of stuff. Smiling at him, I say, “You’re okay, Van. I wasn’t sure about you, but I am now. And you’re right about being a bigger asshole than Jett, but I suspect deep down there’s not an ounce of asshole in you. I think it’s all for show; to hide whatever it is you’re trying to hide. And I’m looking forward to the day you let us see the real you.”

His eyes widen slightly but only for a second. “Don’t hold your breath too long, babe, or you might be disappointed. What you see is what you get with me.”

I’m about to reply to that when arms come around me from behind and warm breath tickles my neck. “What are you two doing over here hiding in the corner? Should I be worried?” Jett’s words are already slurring together and it’s only four in the afternoon.